09 June, 2009 | 13:06
It’s a pretty grim morning in London – heavy skies and frequent showers (thank you, John Kettley). Jamie and his new partner for the grass season, Jonathan Erlich, are scheduled to play their Queen’s first round at 5pm today but at the moment it looks like they may not get on ‘til tomorrow. Since I’m not meeting up with Jamie at Queen’s until this afternoon, I thought I’d take the chance to update you on the events of the last couple of weeks.
The first thing that Jamie said when he came off court after losing with Pavel Vizner in the first round of the French Open was “I felt pretty good out there – so it’s a bit worrying that we lost 3 and 2.” While it’s true that playing badly and losing sucks, maybe it’s worse to feel like you played OK but still lost comfortably! Having said that, the match was more competitive than the score suggests, with a lot of great rallies and a few tough breaks for our guys. On top of that, the hard work that Jamie’s put in on the practice court since then has taken his net play nearer to the level he was at in his prime (his prime so far I should say...).
During the match at Roland Garros, Jamie volleyed pretty well but he wasn’t playing proactively at the net and really ‘sticking’ the ball – that is, moving forward to take the shot early and accelerating the racket head through contact. The difference at this level between playing reactively or proactively at the net is huge because if you give the opposition time to set up for their groundstrokes then they can choose from a number of options and really hurt you. This is particularly true on clay, where the ball sits up far more than on faster surfaces if you don’t stick your volley well. Over the past few months, for a number of reasons, Jamie’s ability to take the ball early at the net and volley destructively had dropped a level.
We’ve been lucky enough to have Louis Cayer on court with us a lot during the last fortnight, and he was able to identify that Jamie needed to make a few important changes in order to regain and exceed his previous best level of net play. Jamie never lost his ability to volley from very close to the net, he just wasn’t putting himself in that position very often in matches. Louis has helped him to play more often from close to the net again by refocusing on his footwork patterns and the importance of executing a forward split-step and strong first step to the ball. As a result, he’s feeling more comfortable and aggressive at the net now.
All this hard work started to pay off last week at Nottingham, where Jamie teamed up with Gilles Muller of Luxembourg for the first time (maybe Rob should add a ‘Partner Count’ graph to the website next to Jamie’s ranking graph...). They’ve known each other since Jamie spent 6 months in his teens training in Paris, and it showed in the relaxed atmosphere they generated on court. They beat the top seeds, Kerr and Coetzee, in the quarters (Gilles hit 6 clean winners in the deciding breaker!) before going down to Jamie’s fellow Scot Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski in a tight semi during which Jamie and Gilles had a set point in the first and Ken managed to hit Colin on the head with his racket while trying to hit a smash!
So Jamie goes into Queen’s in a positive frame of mind, really looking forward to getting out there and playing some aggressive tennis. By coincidence, they’re playing the Czechs Friedl and Skoch, the same team Jamie lost to in Paris. I think that the last 2 weeks’ training have shown Jamie how he could have felt like he was playing well at Roland Garros while still losing fairly comfortably. Now his level at the net has risen back near to his best, I’m really optimistic of a good performance and a good result this time, especially as the grass favours Jamie and Jonathan more.
Away from the court, it’s been good to come back to Britain for the grass season as it allows Jamie to stay at his flat in London and not have to worry about flights and hotel changes too much. Even when we were in Nottingham and next week in Eastbourne, he’s only an hour or 2 away from home. In the kitchen, he’s added a new dish to his ever-expanding repertoire: chicken marinated in Sainsbury’s sticky BBQ sauce. Very tasty. Last year he had to turn down Celebrity Masterchef because he didn’t think they’d let him do pasta with a jar of sauce every week; I reckon he might be able to pull it off this year...
And finally, I have to mention a conversation I had with my roommate at Roehampton this week, Colin Fleming. Last night he claimed that an alligator is capable of running faster than a horse; I was sceptical to say the least. I just checked on the internet and apparently alligators can travel on land at 10-15mph, around the speed of “a slow human.” Colin claims that his information is reliable as it came from a Florida native. They must have some pretty geriatric or out-of-shape horses over there...
Anyway, bye for now. And well done Roger!