Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray Scale Tall Peaks

antiMatterSenior Analyst IJanuary 24, 2010

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 24:  John Isner of the United States of America plays a forehand in his fourth round match against Andy Murray of Great Britain during day seven of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 24, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)
Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

The orb was hurled down at full speed from atop the towering altitudes of the raised hands of the tall giant, and aided by gravity it reached super-sonic speeds on impact (that is not possible in physics anyway, but this is fiction); on collision with the ground it jumped up almost vertically and arched into the deep waters behind his rival.

But the foe was not to be subdued. Pushed back, he wouldn’t give up. He leaped into the water behind the shadows, swam under the surface invisible and conspicuous, and at the right moment, leaped out of it, met the falling flaming orb and with a war cry, clubbed it back straight at his mountainous opponent with momentous effect. This was unexpected and nigh impossible. The giant lost a step and missed it.


In another story, the long hands of the giant pushed the warrior out from the top of a cliff. The pit was bottomless and nobody could scale it. Sure of his triumph he cast aside the sphere of life contemptuously on the battle-field. He would not die now.

But the hero had clung on to the edges of the cliff. With a massive push that dealt on the earth a down-force that no one else could deliver on her, he launched himself at the orb. Reaching it just in the nick of time, he projected it back at a deserted part on the other side of the field. He followed up the weak resistance by a sledge-hammer of a thumping.


Indeed at times both Murray and Nadal had to play at their very best to overcome the towering giants John Isner and Ivo Karlovic respectively, and the efforts juxtaposed with the number of opportunities they had make them heroic, almost isomorphic with climaxes of Hollywood thrillers.

Well, not only at their best tennis, but also at the best concentration levels throughout the match, for they wouldn’t know in advance when an opportunity was going to present itself.

No wonder when they could seize it they let their emotions be known to the whole world. Indeed they were the Davids. Well, modern versions of him at any rate. They do not just have a slingshot and good brains, you know?

When the tall men are at their serving best, it is impossible to return. With first serves over a 210kmph and second serves matching the speed of the opponents’ first serves, both are virtually assured of 90 percent of their service games against 90 percent of players.

To top that, the vantage point at such heights allows them to utilize a bigger proportion of area of the service box than other players are able to. So, add unthinkable angles to such serve speeds and well, the combination you get is again, well, unthinkable (I couldn’t think of a better word; that’s why we call it unthinkable).

You are at the mercy of their mistakes on their service games. If they are in the mood, they can pound ace after ace and apart from where you are lucky and get the anticipation right, voila, a love hold. It draws resemblances to the goal keeper trying to save consecutive penalty kicks by Roberto Carlos.

But nature is kind to normal sized men. What is present in their serves is absent in other areas of the game. And they do not always serve like that. They give enough number  of weak enough second serves; but its only just enough. It is like a difficult level in Dangerous Dave—you surely can win the game, but you only have three lives.

Isner’s serve doesn’t quite rank up there with Karlovic’s and is slightly more inconsistent. But he has a better all round baseline game. He can thump a forehand when the ball sits up and hit a descent two hander backhand, and even a good pass.

Karlovic has probably the best first serve. He has clocked the fastest second serve. He also has good touch and feel at the net. But he is a goner from the baseline with a forehand that just works and a backhand that is, when successful, always a slice.

It is difficult to pass both men completely, simply because it is “difficult to miss” such a huge target at the net. But a good passing shot, though it would be hit with the racket, more often than not earns you points since both being big men are slow to move.

This also means that while they are difficult to break, it is also difficult to get broken for a top player against these guys. If you get more first serves in, the return is going to be weak and you get to dictate play.

In effect, the relative comfort that you have on the rest of your game should be more than the relative comfort they have on their serve (with respect to your return; which is anyway huge, and hence almost absolute). Otherwise you would need to work harder for your service holds, since winning points with “the rest of your game” takes more than a single strike.

Andy Murray was at his strategic best in his match, creating deft short angles taking off the depth mixed with deeper strokes, and putting in a lot of low slices from time to time confusing the opponent, and forcing him to make a lot of quick physical adjustments which he was not able to do given his size and weight. And whenever he was in trouble he would come back with one of those story-line passes.

He would sometimes challenge Isner to the net and then give him a low wide ball to stretch volley or half volley, at the level of his shoe-strings. Pete Sampras would have pulled them off, but not Isner.

It was beautiful tennis, not the kind of dynamic beauty that Federer brings to the game, but a sort of kinematic beauty.

Nadal on the other hand over powered the Karlovic backhand in his service games which were the only ones where rallies were appreciable. Nadal did not really think much about any other strategy since it was evident who had the better slice, since the slice would have been the other strategy.

On the Karlovic serve it was more of amazing winners and passes from Spaniard on the return or the second strike, when he broke. On many an occasion he ran down drop volleys sometimes hitting his own winners, and at others hit passes forcing Karlovic to do the guessing game this time.

Add the fist pump to the mix, and you have some exhilarating and inspirational tennis.

The similarity of the matchup lay in the similarities between the tall men. The differences lay in who faced them across the net.

The two matches were just two more experiments proving that Karlovic and Isner are not phenomenal talents but phenomenally unbalanced talents.

The climb to the top of the peak is simply difficult. Steep, tough and cold—punishing you for each mistake you commit in the execution. You will scale dizzying heights in conquering it.

It seems both men climbed from opposite directions and reaching the top, now they find pitted against each other, for only one man can survive here. They have to fight each other now…

Here’s to a hell of a quarterfinal…