US Open Tennis 2011: Rafael Nadal and the Most Athletic Players in the Open
The 2011 US Open got underway on Monday, and there are some athletic specimens competing for the title this year. In recent years, the quality of the athletes in tennis has increased exponentially. More and more stars have been emerging from the ranks, and some of them are physically spectacular.
Rafael Nadal may be the best overall athlete in the Open, but he sure is not the only one. On the men's side of the draw, there are several players who manage to make shots that are just mind boggling, and contort their bodies in ways unimaginable to make a play.
Whether it is running down a lob shot and hitting it between their legs for a winning point, a amazing defense at the net, or a serve ripped through the box for an ace, all the men on this list are spectacles to be seen on and off the court.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
We all learned how great of an athlete American player John Isner was after his marathon match against Nicolas Mahut in 2010 at Wimbledon, where he won a match that last 11 hours and finally ended after 3 days. Anyone that can withstand that kind of physical stress on their bodies is a spectacular athlete.
To go along with his marathon match, John Isner is a big man. He is 6'9" and 245 pounds. His long body has allowed the world's No. 22 player to lead the ATP in aces in 2011, and have him near the top in every other service category.
Isner has a very powerful forehand and is able to use his long wingspan to reach for balls most players could not reach and return. The only downside of Isner's size is that it causes him to be less efficient when he is forced to move north and south on the court. Despite this, Isner is a fairly talented net player, but usually chooses to stay near the back of the court so he does not get burned by lobs.
Isner will try to use his length combined with his hard and accurate serve and forehand combo to tear up the hard court in Flushing throughout the tournament.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
To some, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga may come as a surprise on this list. For Tsonga, it is amazing how he is able to play the serve and volley game for his size. He is just 6'2" and weighs upward of 200 pounds. On paper he seems like a player who would rather sit back, than lumber towards the net for a diving volley.
Tsonga is one of the few professionals who still utilizes the art of serve and volley, but his strong forehand from the backcourt also allows him to wreak havoc on opponents. The strong serve and forehand combo cause weak returns from opponents, and Tsonga can use several shots from his arsenal. Whether it be his wicked backhand slice, or his incredible and unsuspected drop shots, Tsonga can win a point on just about any shot.
For the 29 year old player, Tsonga has found success since a finals appearance in the 2008 Australian Open-where he lost to current world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in four sets, but has still yet to win a Grand Slam event.
The collective arsenal which Tsonga possesses is an athletic feat in itself. There are very few tennis players left that can say they have a nearly complete game, and Tsonga could be mentioned among them.
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Mardy Fish may be considered one of the more impressive athletes on this list because of the injuries he has had to overcome. A wrist injury that required two separate surgeries early in Fish's career would for many players be career ending, but he kept working and eventually rehabbed enough to return to tennis as early as 2006. In addition to his wrist struggles, the current No. 8 player in the world underwent knee surgery in 2009 as a result of being overweight.
Since 2009, Fish has lost over 25 pounds and has become an incredible player on the court. Most people had counted Fish out in 2009 after the surgery and started to consider him washed up. In 2011, Fish has proved them all wrong and is now the No. 1 ranked American in the US Open.
Fish has gone from a one-dimensional hard-hitting player, to one that is much more agile and able to move around the court much more easily. He has also improved his backhand-making it among the best in the game today.
Comeback story aside, of all the players in the men's draw at the 2011 US Open, Mardy Fish is definitely among the most athletic.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
For the first time in eight years, Roger Federer enters the 2011 US Open outside of the top 2 in the ATP world rankings. Yes, you read that right, eight years. People always love to count Roger out and say he's lost his touch, but come on people, he is still the No. 3 player in the world. He's got to be doing something right.
A player cannot have the career Roger Federer has had without being a sensational athlete. The 6'1", 187 pound player is one of the best all-around players the game has ever seen. He can play on any surface and doesn't need to change his style of play.
Federer mostly plays from the baseline, but is capable of moving around the court if he needs to. Everyone knows the famous between the legs, blind shots he has hit throughout his career when recovering from lobs over his head, with some of them resulting in winners.
Though Federer may be passing his prime, or players are just entering into their own prime and beating Federer, it does not mean he isn't an amazing athlete, and Federer will be out to prove his doubters throughout the Open in September.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
The world's No. 1 player has to be on this list. In order to achieve the amazing 2011 season Novak Djokovic is having, he has to be among the top athletes in the US Open.
Djokovic is an incredible 57-2 all season and seems to be eyeing John McEnroe's historic mark of 82-3 from way back in 1984. Besides his loss to Roger Federer in June, the second loss came because of a bout of food poisoning forcing him to retire from a match.
To go 57-2 proves the incredible stamina which Djokovic has. His backhand is probably the best in tennis right now. He utilizes his backhand down the line most of the time, and it is almost untouchable. Djokovic is very agile, and uses his light size to his advantage by being able to cover all areas of the court. Though he is mostly considered a baseline player, he won't restrict himself to the backcourt.
Novak Djokovic is the No. 1 player in the world for a reason. He has an unbelievable tennis IQ and is very good at predicting the shots of opponents, making him among the best defensive players in the game. Djokovic not only uses his physical athleticism to win matches, but also utilizes his brain to out think his opponents on the court. A true athlete in all facets of the game.
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Ranked second among ATP players, Rafael Nadal may not appear to be unbelievable on paper when looking at his stature. Nadal is just 6'1" and 188 pounds, but up close an personal he is a whole different animal. It appears as though, every nook and cranny on his body is pure muscle.
With every movement Nadal makes, you can visibly see a muscle clench or release. Nadal is the kind of athlete we may never see again in tennis. He can hit shots where it seems as though there is no way he will get to it. There are others on the defensive side where he extends a rally by running cross court for the ball and turns it into an offensive drop shot.
Rafael Nadal also utilizes a unique stroke release which sees him follow through with his arm above his left shoulder as oppose to across his body. This stroke allows him to have an insane amount of topspin on the ball, making it difficult for opponents to make returns. In addition to his strong ground strokes, Nadal is very quick when moving all around the court and not much gets by him unless it is an error or a spectacular hit by the opposition.
Rafael Nadal may not be the No. 1 seed in the 2011 US Open, but he is the No. 1 athlete.