Hello everyone, welcome back to the Ace Advice blog!!! A quick update about Ace Advice: I have now created a YouTube Channel, where I will be analyzing matches and different strategies, as well as interviewing players and coaches! But don’t worry–I will still be writing these posts as well.
Because of COVID-19, I have been sitting impatiently in my home waiting for tournaments to start up again. And, finally, my wish has come true! Today I will be analyzing a UTR Pro Series LIGA MAPFRE match taking place in Valencia, Spain, with Pablo Andujar (Ranking: 53) going up against his fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta (Ranking: 25). The Battle of the Pablo’s. Now, because this is no ordinary tournament, there is more at stake than just simply winning this match. This tournament has two teams: Team Rojo and Team Blanco. Team Rojo’s players are: Pablo Andujar, Roberto Carballes Baena, Pedro Martinez, and Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Team Blanco’s players are: Pablo Carreno Busta, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Jaume Munar, and Carlos Taberner. These two teams are playing 3 singles and 1 doubles match per day, over a course of around 3 days. It is also a tiered point system: 1 pt per match on Friday, 2 on Saturday, and 3 on Sunday. And, you guessed it, this match took place on Sunday so a lot is at stake! The team with the most points at the end of all the days wins the whole thing! And before this match, Team Rojo was up 8-7. Want to know which team was leading after this match? Me too! Let’s start analyzing!
A question you should always ask yourself before analyzing a match is: what surface are they playing on? The surface is a really good indicator of what kind of strategies you should be using, because the height and speed at which the ball moves varies according to each surface. So, in this match, the surface was clay. In other words, the Spaniards’ favorite surface. Both Carreno Busta and Andujar love the clay. On clay, the advantage is that the ball moves slower, so you have more time to get to every ball. But that is also a bad thing: the points are longer, and it is harder to hit winners. So, for players who love clay, they love the long rallies, and they love being far behind the baseline. However, in order to win a match on clay, especially if you are not Rafael Nadal, there is a lot more strategy that has to be involved to win the points. Trying to overpower someone on clay is very hard. Almost impossible. So let’s discuss the do’s and don’ts of playing on clay, using the Battle of the Pablo’s as an example.
In the first set, I already knew who was going to win, all because of who was hitting with too small of targets. Within the first few games, Andujar was hitting very aggressively, and way too close to the lines. As I was saying earlier, when you are playing on clay, it is okay to be aggressive, but you have to be aggressive in a smart way. You cannot easily overpower people on clay, so you have to be able to open up the court with a few shots, instead of trying to hit a winner after the point has only begun. Andujar was aiming for lines, which in turn led him to start hitting way too many unforced errors early on in the match. On the other side of the net, Carreno Busta was hitting with lots of net clearance, and with big targets, eventually getting Andujar out of position to take control of the point.
One strategy that proved to be effective for Carreno Busta in opening up the court was pushing Andujar back, drop shotting him, and then passing him, either with a lob or an angle. This strategy has proved effective over and over again on clay courts. One thing that both players did do well was dictating with their forehand. Because the ball moves a lot slower on clay courts, you have the time to move around balls that are going to your backhand and hit your forehand. Always take advantage of the extra time that clay gives you. Once you take control of the point with your forehand, an excellent way of ending the point is to hit behind your opponent. Carreno Busta did this flawlessly in the first set. He would push Andujar out wide, Andujar would slice or lift it back, and Carreno Busta would move around the ball to hit with his forehand, and as Andujar is recovering, Carreno Busta would hit behind him for a winner. So effective! Andujar, on the other hand, was hitting only to the open court, in turn making his shot selection way too predictable. Sitting across the Atlantic Ocean, I knew where Andujar was going to hit. So imagine how comfortable Carreno Busta was. Another important strategy on clay is taking second serves early. Because balls on clay bounce up higher than normal, imagine how much higher kick serves bounce. Instead of waiting for the ball to drop into your strike zone from behind the baseline, you should step into the court and take that second serve early, giving you control of the point from the beginning. Carreno Busta did this very well, since Andujar’s second serve landed in the center of the box. Because Carreno Busta was setting up the points by opening up the court, being unpredictable, dictating with his forehand, and taking second serves early, he managed to win the first set 6-3.
In the second set, the roles were reversed. It could be because Carreno Busta started to lose his focus after winning the first set. That happens to a lot of players: they win the first set, and then their focus goes away in the second set. Carreno Busta started to hit too big of shots from behind the baseline, which is a mistake that Andujar was making in the first set. In addition, I was pleasantly surprised that Andujar started to hit behind Carreno Busta–finally! I knew that if he maintained that strategy, all while dictating with his forehand and hitting with big targets, he would win the second set. Another strategy that Andujar started utilizing was exploiting Carreno Busta’s backhand. In the first set, it was hard to tell that Carreno Busta had a weaker backhand because Andujar was trying to end the points way too early on in the rallies. However, in the second set, Andujar started setting up the points a lot more, exposing Carreno Busta’s weaker side. A great way to exploit your opponent’s backhand, which Andujar did well, is to angle a shot to the forehand side, and then their backhand side is fully open to hit to with big margins. That way, your opponent will not have time to recover and run around the ball to hit it with their forehand. Because Carreno Busta lost his focus, and Andujar starting using the right strategies, Andujar won the second set 6-4.
Alright, we love when players split sets!! It all comes down to who utilizes the strategies the best at the finish line. So, who came in clutch?
In this tournament, if the two players split sets they play a 10 point tiebreaker for the third. And, to sum it up briefly, Carreno Busta put his mind back into the game, and Andujar just could not keep up with him. For deciding sets and tiebreakers, it is common for the higher ranked player to pull off the win, mainly because of confidence and experience in big situations. That’s why upsets are all the more exciting! However, not to have an anticlimactic ending, but Carreno Busta wins the match 6-3, 4-6, 10-5. A great match to watch, and hopefully this analysis helps you in your clay court games!
Team Blanco is now up 10-8.