A highlight from Dissecting Djokovics Reign, Cocos Title & the 2023 US Open With Craig OShannessy
Welcome to the official tennis .com podcast featuring professional coach and community leader Kamau Murray. Welcome to the tennis .com podcast. I am your host Kamau Murray and we are here with one of our usual suspects. We always have to do our Masters 1000 Grand Slam wrap up with Mr. Data, Mr. Analytics, Mr. Guy in the bunker with his pen and pad, Craig O 'Shaughnessy. Craig, welcome to the show. Pleasure to be here. Pleasure to be here. I just got back from the US Open. I was there for two weeks. It felt like eight. It's the most draining slam of all. It was a good tournament, some great matches. It's tough, I think way tougher to be there for the duration than any other tournament that there is. 100%. You survive. And the matches, the tournament goes so late and the process to get to and from the site makes it just a haul, right? And it makes the day just long. At an hour and a half to the front and the back of your day, in addition to sitting there watching matches and this thing. Before we get to Coco Sabalenka, because that'll take up the whole show, right? You and I normally, we dibble and dabble on the girls and then we dive into the men's. I want to do the reverse. I want to dibble and dabble in the men's because I don't think anyone's surprised about what happened because if we start talking about Coco and Sabalenka now, it'll just be the whole hour. So when you look at a whole two weeks, right, and I was there for the first part of it, seeing the energy, talking to the players, touching, feeling them, seeing how them and themselves A, were enjoying the atmosphere, sometimes a little too much, B, managing the atmosphere or C, trying to just control their bubble within the atmosphere. And I think that process probably, those three sort of situations probably cost Francis a further run, right, kind of getting caught in the matrix, right, absorbing a lot of atmosphere. And then Ben, with the experience of his family, his dad, controlling the atmosphere, probably had a lot to do with his long run. But I think the match that I think had the biggest impact on the tournament was definitely Novak versus Jerry. Did you see the match? What did you think when Novak left the court, down sucess to love, goes to the bathroom and looks himself in the mirror, what happened? Yeah, when he left the court, you know, it was, he's down two sets to love, Jerry's controlling the back of the court with his backhand, his backhand was the best shot on the court in the first two sets. But to be honest, even then Novak goes in, he's still the favorite, still the favorite down two sets to love. He's done it before, you know, it's one of those things where can your opponent play three blinding good sets out of five? Maybe not, probably not, when Novak goes in, you know, you just kind of reset, look in the mirror. He did exactly the same thing against Tsitsipas at Roland Garros, came out and just mowed over him in the last three sets, mowed over Jerry in the last three sets. It was a carbon copy, it's like Novak looks in the mirror and goes, okay, we've got that out of the way. Whether it's a combination of Novak being a little tight, playing, you know, a fellow countryman, it's a combination of early rounds being a bit tight. It's a combination of the opponent just playing spectacular tennis, but you can see right from the start of that match, Novak wasn't, his A game did not turn up right at the beginning. He was pushing, he was prodding, he was spinning, you know, just watching him play a thousand matches, you look at him and say, well, he's not there yet. And even after two sets, he's not there. But you know, sometimes for players, when you get down, it can relax you. It's like, well, I can't fall any further down this hall, I'm two sets to love down. May as well relax, may as well chill out, may as well believe in myself, may as well hit the ball, and Novak's the master of that. So I'm not so, I'm not surprised by the final result. And I think overall, it really helped Novak to play such a quality match and have to overcome some adversity early on. So I agree with you, very pivotal match for the men's draw. Well, let me ask you this, because from a coach's standpoint, when I see, when I see that type of performance, my mind goes to, it wasn't ready to play, right? When I look at like Francis and Ben Shelton, it looked like Francis wasn't ready to play. When I'm sitting in a coach's box and my player goes down 3 -0 or 4 -1, and they're like, deer in the headlines, don't know what to do, it was like, what was not clear prior to the match? You've spent a lot of time with Novak, Novak's got one of the best teams out there, he's the most methodical and committed to his regimen. How does something like that happen to a player who's number one, Jerry is Serbian, right? So you knew who you were playing, right? How did you come out not ready to play? I mean, is there a chance that at this big of an event, at this point in the event that he just wasn't ready or wasn't clear on what to do or from being close and inside, what do you think? Yeah, I think if you look back to Novak's seven matches, I think he will have a slightly different explanation for how he started in all sevens. You get all your ducks in a row, you watch the video, you talk to the team, you get the game plan, but at the start, it was like Novak, in that match, he may walk out there and sometimes he feels the energy of the crowd and it excites him. Sometimes you feel the energy of the crowd and you may go away a little bit and then come back. But I thought that he was attempting to work his way into this match, to start off even to let his resume do the talking early, let the other guy go away, let the other guy spray balls and it didn't happen. It just didn't happen. So all of a sudden, the opponent's not missing a thing, the opponent's playing at a much higher level than Novak was and you're just not ready for that. He's not ready for that. You're going to play a match like that. In the course of a season where these guys are playing about 80 matches, you're going to have these subtleties with how the opponent's playing, how you're playing, are you really ready, are you working yourself into the match, are you coming out guns blazing? And it was just a bad combination of layers for Novak where Jerry threw the first punches, Novak's tasting blood, and it took him a couple of sets to recover, but there was never any doubt in my mind that he would still win that match. And I think that's the oddest thing. I think the odds makers, after being two sets, Novak was still the favorite and I was like, wow. That's probably the first time that I've seen that, I'm not a better, but the odds makers were still favoring Novak. So let me ask you this. Another pivotal match in the tournament, I think, was TFO Ben Shelton. Yeah, I was at that match. I think we all knew Ben Shelton could play. I thought it was very impressive, him beating Tommy Paul, right? One of the things, and I don't know the reason for this, is when he beat Tommy Paul, the crowd, obviously they had to choose, both Americans, Ben and Tommy, but when Ben beat Tommy, I was a little disappointed that the crowd was kind of quiet, right? But we don't have to hop on that, but I do want to point it out that the crowd was eerily quiet after the win of that. But with him and Francis, one of the things that concerned me about Francis was in that New York environment, with all the celebrities, with all the kind of like, and I mean, first of all, we got to keep it going. More non -tennis people, more non -tennis athletes, musicians, entertainers, artists showed up to the US Open this year than I can ever remember. And we need to do that for the sport to grow. But you still got a tournament to play, right? And this generation who loves that, loves the attention, will have to learn to balance how much is too much, how much gets me off kilter, and how much gets me off track. And I thought that the day before the Ben match, you saw Francis with Bieber. I thought that that was a little too much and perhaps maybe took for granted that Ben would shit his pants, and he didn't, right? You know what I mean? Because when you get to that point in the tournament, when you are the veteran, you kind of expect the young guy to give you a couple, like, ah, if I just play solid, he'll know who he is, and the shock factor will cause him to make a few unforced errors or some bad decisions, and it didn't happen. And to me, that goes in the book of, Francis didn't look ready to play, and I think he'll learn from this experience on managing the energy, managing his energy, for that late in the tournament. But I mean, Ben brought it. What was your take on Ben now when you look at the stats, when you look at the 149 mile an hour serve, what is your take on him now having seen him play six matches? Well, the Tommy Paul match was really good. I liked how he managed the ability to say, okay, this is a ball to pull the trigger on. I spoke with his dad at the start of the tournament, and I mentioned possibly our discussion that we've had in other ones is that I think Ben's maturity is going to come from figuring out when there's one more ball that needs to be hit. There's just one more ball. And I think maybe I talked to you about it last time, but it goes back to me to the 2000 Australian Open final. Agassi beats Kefalnikov in four sets. Agassi's one in the world, Kefalnikov's two. Agassi goes to the post -match interview. Bruce McAvaney is interviewing there, and they're watching some film, and Agassi's just going, you know, Kefalnikov moves well, he lights the ball up, the surface helps him, and he throws this line in there, he goes in the middle, he goes, and he's only looking to pull the trigger one time in the point. So he's a really tough opponent. And that just has always stuck with me. And that's what I said to Ben's dad is that Ben needs to just go, I could pull the trigger on this ball, but it's not quite the right one yet. I could pull the trigger on the next ball. Literally, you could pull the trigger on every ball he hits. But growth, his his maturity, his tennis development and tennis IQ is getting better because you're hitting a ball that makes the opponent uncomfortable, you're hitting a ball that can extract an error, and you don't always have to hit the winner. So Ben's development is going to be predicated on one more ball in the court and making a better decision on when to pull the trigger. And I thought he did a great job in the Tommy Paul match and a great job in the Francis Tiafone match of not pulling too early. And then he went and played Novak and just everything went to hell in a hand basket. And it didn't. But that was, you know, I was for the Tiafone match getting back to that. You know, I'm watching at the start and the first kind of 10 minutes, it looked kind of even, you know, good decisions, both sides, good points, both sides. Francis was so quick coming to the net. He does such a great job of, you know, hitting a ball and he's already leaning on it, you know, with his short little backswing on the backhand. And all of a sudden he's almost leaning over the net, spiking these volleys. I'm like, oh, my God, this guy has figured out, you know, the only person I saw that really blew me out of the water with that was McEnroe, John McEnroe. He looked like he went through a time warp, whereas it takes, you know, all of us 1 .5 seconds to move from the baseline inside into the service box. But he goes through this time warp that looks like 0 .2 of a second. He's like, how does he get in there that quickly? Francis showed me that early on. But then the focus, the concentration, the locked in, the decision making started to erode at around the 10 to 15 minute mark, and he never recovered from that. Yeah. So you get Ben has Novak in the semifinals. And I think that Novak, I mean, just has this ability to you know, it's what I was it's kind of what Coco did. I call it cumulative pressure. And it is. I'm going to run the ball down, I'm going to make you hit an extra ball, I'm going to make you play one more ball every point on your serve so that later you feel it. You may not feel it now, but later you feel it. And that was an example of what I call cumulative pressure that kind of got to Ben. Yeah. What was your take on what Novak did to Ben or vice versa, what Ben did not do that match that he did the previous matches? Yeah, good point. That was that was a really fun match to be at the energy, the atmosphere, you know, the old guard, the new guard. You're exactly right. There was, you know, on that court in twenty eighteen, I worked with Novak to defeat Del Potro. And a lot of the commentators, when you go back and go through that match, they're like, Del Potro is dropping 135, 138 and Novak's putting it back in his shoes. And the commentators are like, how in the world is he doing this? Well, there's only one way that you do that is that you study Del Potro's patterns and you know what to say. When Del Potro needs a point in the juice court, he's going to and when he doesn't need a point, he's going to go, why? Novak's sitting there on it. And I felt the same thing is that Ben's dropping heat on especially on first serves. And Novak is putting so many balls back in play that you're exactly right, that it just kept accumulating and accumulating. The other thing that really stood out to me. That I don't know why is that Ben sliced so many returns, just this slow, just not even like a Federer kind of knifing, dark slice, it's this blocking slow slice that's not as good as Wawrinka's. It's not within a meter of the baseline. It's there was once he's just too defensive. So he's putting no pressure, no pressure on Novak because because he overdid the slice. Now, all of a sudden, he's got to deal with so many serves coming back and then the decision making. Then he starts, you know, the fingers kind of on the trigger, then he starts pulling it too much. And then, you know, Novak knows why this kid is potentially a real problem for me. But I've already figured him out about 15 minutes in. He's not doing anything against my serve. I'm doing everything against his serve and putting times back. I'm just going to press cruise control and take a nap for the next 30 kilometers. Yeah. And I think that was probably the one mistake and probably a tactic that was misinterpreted was, hey, if on his serve, put pressure on because you get racket on every ball, not to bunt every ball. Right. Because Novak is the is the history, the best returner in history, but he's not the best server in history. And he I don't want to call it vulnerable, but you will have an opportunity or two against Novak on his serve in a five set match. And I thought, Ben, with as great of a service he had, with as big of a service he has, he didn't take enough risks on the return gains and he didn't play. Correct. And when I say aggressive, I don't mean like crazy out of this world, we're winners, but controlled aggression. There was no reason Novak serving a buck 21, a buck 22 for you to block the serve back. You can have plenty of time to take a full swing and at least send a message for the rest of his career that your serve doesn't bother me. Right. Part of being a young guy is how do I apply cumulative pressure that may not work this match, but in three or four matches from now in the next semi? Right. Because you still got to go through Novak that shows them I'm not bothered by your serve and you better be you will be bothered by my serve. Right. And I think that was sort of a missed opportunity for Ben to take some cuts at Novak serve. And I think that set the tone for the match that allowed Novak to kind of steam roll.