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As campers we tried to hit our backhands like that, too, and we burdened our forehands with topspin. Our instructors would call us into the net and tell us to shorten our backswings, to reverse our opponent’s power and block back the ball, to hit not with force but with angles, to be canny, to focus on our footwork and fitness. Then we’d return to the baseline and send our ground strokes into the back fence.That was in 1996, the year Kimiko Date-Krumm retired. She later married the race car driver Michael Krumm.) She had pushed Steffi Graf that summer at Wimbledon, a semifinal match stretching over two soggy days. She was the kind of player I hated to play, the kind who knocked every ball back. Graf came back the next day and won the third, and I thanked God for English weather.
Since I find some pleasure in watching players blast each other off the court — beauty in the big backswings, the range and fluidity of those strokes, the sheer athleticism — I’ve never been bothered by the decline of the old-school grass game.
But it was a wonder to see Date-Krumm, and the way she turned defensive shots into aggressive ones.
Later in the day, Roddick stepped onto Centre Court for his match against Victor Hanescu. He’s become a more tactical player, adjusting his game, attacking when called for, playing it safe at other times. When his massive serve began to fall off just a little, he adjusted it — even though it was still one of the best in the game.
When Andy Roddick turned pro in 2000, he reminded me of my tennis camp instructors — the guys who looked better under baseball caps and wore logos a little too large, the guys who smiled a little too broadly at the older female campers, who, in fairness, were only a year or two too young.
Really, though, it’s the way Roddick cocks his racket on his backhand that makes me think of those clinics.
His stroke is unusual, always considered his liability; his grip and set-up constrain him.
But it’s exactly the backhand that I remember that our instructors, some decent junior players, would use to bludgeon the ball, showing off while we drank our water.
You’ve probably even heard something about the match — how Date-Krumm played a thrillingly retro style, chasing down balls that she had no business reaching, charging the net, hitting slices and drop shots and lobs.
With a white Yonex racket and her flat abrupt strokes, she looked like an elderly club player facing her more powerful daughter, dominating her at times (doesn’t it always work like that?