Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Good Bodo, Bad Bodo

I told you will give credit when it is due. Over at ESPN.com, Bodo wrote a short post about legendary tennis coach Robert Landsdorp and his ties to second round opponents Lindsay Davenport and Maria Sharapova. Landsdorp also schooled Tracy Austin and Pete Sampras on their groundstrokes. 

Of the four players, Sharapova is the odd woman out and just as that thought entered my mind, Bodo concurred:
Davenport might be Lansdorp's greatest success story, because he shaped her game in a way that minimized her liabilities (relatively poor mobility and a surprising degree of awkwardness in someone with such great hand-eye coordination) and maximized her assets. He once told me "the thing with Lindsay is that if she had a coach who was heavy into top spin, she would never have seen the top 50, no matter how much desire she had. She was kind of lucky that I taught a flatter game. Lindsay surprised me when she won her first pro event at 16, on clay. I was like, 'How the hell did you win a clay-court tournament?'"
As a Lansdorp project, Sharapova is not nearly as fully realized. The stroking discipline we saw in the built-by-Landsdorp ground games of Davenport, Austin and Sampras are fitful in Sharapova. Maybe that's what she gets for hedging her bet and coyly playing Bollettieri and Lansdorp off each other, while Uri (Sharapov) claimed exclusive coach status. The most successful players who were developed by Lansdorp are, not coincidentally, the ones who most completely trusted his abilities.

Sharapova is capable of blasting Davenport off the court (remember, at 31, Lindsay is 11 years older than Maria), but I like Davenport's chances if stroking consistency and discipline become issues.
He's right-on with this analysis. Sharapova has so much ability but half the time she can't hit the broad side of a barn. Only an egomaniacal tennis parent would think he knows more than Landsdorp. (In the same article Sampras says if he wanted his kid to learn groundstrokes he would send him to Robert Landsdorp).

Landsorp's comments about Davenport bear repeating because Lindsay's flatter groundstrokes are indeed unusual in this topspin obsessed era. We wish more coaches would bother developing a game to match the player instead of a one-size-fits-all, hit-the-ball-as-hard-as-you-can, never go to net, grunt-and-squeal game. Fortunately this problem is mostly on the women's side of the net now. Here's hoping they grow out of it, and soon.

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