Growing up as a tennis fan in the mid 2000s, I remember staying up past 3AM watching matches played in Australia. I remember matches I’ve seen in person around, from New York to New Haven. But if there has been one constant through my tenure in tennis fandom, it has been the omnipresent Live Scoreboard.
Like most who have followed a tournament in the last decade, I cannot tell you how many hours I have wasted staring at a pair of names, willing numbers to flash for one combatant or the other. I would skim the pittance of stats the scoreboard offered in the effort to create a mental picture of the match. How was the momentum swinging? Who was converting the most break points? Did refreshing the webpage make the scores update any faster?
Analyzing a match this way can be more difficult than guessing a meal based on five or six uncooked ingredients. Oh, and you’re blindfolded.
But the more you “watched” a player via the Scoreboard, the simpler it became to a trace certain seemingly minute patterns. Suddenly, why a player wins or loses becomes as black and white as, well, the Scoreboard itself.
Over the years, the technology that aids tennis fans has evolved, and marquee matches are indiscriminately broadcast on streams (legal or otherwise). But every so often, usually during big tournaments like Indian Wells, matches of interest get moved out of the spotlight, and spectators are once again subjected to that maddeningly numerical game of Pong.
Today, the flashing names in question were Nadia Petrova and Julia Goerges. While a match between these two naturally talented athletes would have been a joy to watch by court or by stream, this match-up was fascinating to dissect via the (almost) all-knowing Scoreboard. From years of following the tall Russian’s matches, I can attest that her serve, particularly the first delivery, makes all the difference.
Far from the Tour’s best mover, Petrova’s powerful serve literally makes or breaks her. Serving at a high first serve percentage, she can take advantage of short returns and finish points quickly with thundering groundstrokes or aggressive forays to the net. Forced to hit too many second serves, her biggest weapon is neutralized and big-hitters like Goerges can take control of rallies by getting the Russian on the run.
The first set was over in a flash, but the Scoreboard made it easy to see how Petrova was able to tame her German opponent. Serving at nearly 70% against an intimidating returner, the Russian veteran kept her service games short and efficient, without facing a single break point. With an apparent rhythm on serve, she was allowed to take risks on the return, breaking the Goerges serve three times in the process.
But anyone who has watched Nadia Petrova play (on any medium) in the last decade can tell you that her biggest hurdle is anything but technical. Blessed with immense physical gifts, the Russian has struggled to maintain composure at a match’s critical stages to the point where her career will likely be defined by its losses rather than its wins. A successful campaign to cap off the 2012 season came to an abrupt end when she split with coach Ricardo Sanchez in January, and her results have been middling all year.
Against Goerges, Petrova was clutch in the important moments. Facing six break points in the second set, she saved five. Faced with the opportunity to break Goerges’ serve six times, Petrova achieved a rare perfect conversion rate. Put those numbers together and the Russian easily dispatched the No. 21 seed 6-1 6-2 to set up a fourth round encounter with Caroline Wozniacki.
Theoretically, one has not seen Nadia Petrova hit a tennis ball, save for those who have been courtside. How can we, the tennis cognoscenti, know if she is playing as well as she was last November, when she last played (and beat) Wozniacki? The arcane system of live scoring can be frustrating at first, but taking a few cues from what it tells can help a fan uncover a match’s nuances, and be amazed by what the numbers truly show.
The seeds had no trouble advancing to the quarterfinals of the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam today, as Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro, Viktor Troicki and Richard Gasquet all dispatched of their opponents, and Roger Federer was involved in an entertaining exhibition match for fans.
Second seed Berdych advanced to the next round after only 19 minutes on court as Marcos Baghdatis was forced to retire due to a left foot injury.
Del Potro had to overcome not only his opponent in another battle, but a slightly bloody nose near the beginning that required a medical timeout. He eventually prevailed over qualifier Karol Beck 6-4, 7-5.
“He played so fast and hits with such a low bounce, I really had to keep up,” said Del Potro of Beck. “It was tough. But I focused in the last game on trying to get an ace. I got one and I’m just glad that I’m through.”
Frenchman Richard Gasquet, seeded fifth, continued his steady progress at his second tournament appearance by defeating Alex Bogomolov, 6-3 6-2, while Andreas Seppi dispatched German Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-4 6-2. Viktor Troicki also defeated wildcard Jesse Huta Galung, 7-6(2), 6-3, but not before the match’s second game lasted a brutal 17 minutes.
Finally, what was supposed to be only a super tiebreaker between Roger Federer and Igor Sijsling turned out into an all-out battle, but with plenty of smiles from both players. Federer was given a place in the quarterfinals after his second-round opponent Mikhail Youzhny had to withdraw the day previously. Federer finally prevailed 6-7(2), 6-4, 11-9.
Catch all the action this week and follow professional tennis photographer Rick Gleijm as he covers ATP Tour’s ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. The gallery below includes not only day three action, but a behind-the-scenes look at Ahoy Rotterdam, the indoor arena the tournament is held in.
(All photos © Rick Gleijm)