Friday 10 to 1: acrobatic players
With the claycourt season showing off players' movement and athleticism, we've decided to pay tribute to the game's most acrobatic players in this week's 10 to 1.
With claycourt tennis built around excellent footwork and movement, we’ve been seeing the players break out some rather athletic moves of late and it got us thinking – who are some of the most athletic and acrobatic players to ever take to the court?
The Bulgarian was the player who inspired this week’s edition of 10 to 1, after images and vidoes were posted on Twitter of Dimitrov sliding into the splits on the red clay of Madrid. The rapidly improving 21-year-old’s game appears to be a compelling blend of Roger Federer (stylistically) and Novak Djokovic (athletically) – more on the Serb later in this post. Below you can see Dimitrov’s extreme court coverage and flexibility in pasting a winner past Djokovic in the Spanish capital.
The Pole is a waif in the world of big-hitting female baseliners that rule the WTA Tour, making it all the more incredible that she’s been ranked in the top five for more than 12 months now. Her ability to match it with more powerful opponents comes through soaking up their biggest drives and sending them back with interest. One way she does this is with her distinctive, reactive crouch ground strokes – requiring great power in the legs – that ensure she’s not pushed off the baseline.
The Serb has a flair for the dramatic, and nothing is more so than the extreme splits she employs when reaching for a wide ball laterally along the baseline. On clay, Jankovic’s sliding abilities are notable, but it’s this winner and splits combo on hard court in Stuttgart (view the video below) that really got the fans going.
Also showing her flexibility is Serena Williams, who is most famous for her incredible power. But complementing that power is exceptional court coverage, helped by surprising elasticity – the video below compiles a montage of Serena’s exciting splits over time. The winner in Toronto is of particular note.
Boris “Boom Boom” Becker, who won three Wimbledon titles, was almost as famous at the All England Club for his propensity to dive onto the turf to retrieve volleys as he was for his many match wins. In the video below you can see the athletic German plying his unorthodox craft, to superb effect.
You’ll find that the countdown becomes very French in the next few entries, with this flamboyant playing group thrilling tennis fans with some of the most memorable acrobatics ever. Taking a leaf out of Becker’s book, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga launches himself all over the grass at Wimbledon to play some spectacular diving shots, even often outdoing the athletically gifted Djokovic in the video below of their memorable 2011 Wimbledon semifinal.
Pierce is memorable for her flamboyance on the court, and her extreme power and athleticism helped her capture two major titles – the 1995 Australian Open and 2000 French Open. During that run to the Roland Garros title, Pierce pulled off one of the more extraordinary and acrobatic shots you will ever see, sending her French fans into raptures on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
The sinewy Frenchman is like a rubber man, able to contort his body any which way in sliding, stretching, leaping and diving for balls. It’s made him one of the more entertaining players on the tour, and his acrobatics are captured in this video.
Along with Monfils, Novak Djokovic is one of the most flexible men ever to grace a tennis court, with the Serbian’s ability to stretch, lunge and slide (even on hard courts) making him one of the best retrievers in the game. His signature shot? An open-stance, split-sliding backhand, during which he maintains extraordinary precision, power and balance. But he’s also pretty good sliding to the forehand – you can see both in the video below.
With a professional soccer player for a father and a gymnast mother, Clijsters was always going to have explosively athletic genes. And she displayed this throughout her playing career, pioneering the hardcourt slide that had crowds gasping the world over. Her flexibility and dynamic movement was extraordinary, evident in the 2010 Brisbane final against Justine Henin in the first video, and in the spectacular rally (see the 7:13 mark) against Venus Williams in the second. The WTA loved it so much they felt compelled to use it in their Strong Is Beautiful campaign (third video).