“I got goose bumps. I know Boris did, too, because that was so old school.”
– John McEnroe with Boris Becker on BBC.
McEnroe wasn’t just talking about a journeyman tennis player from Ukraine beating former world number one and seven times Wimbledon champion Roger Federer. He wasn’t talking about Sergiy Stakhovsky ending Federer’s run of 36 straight major QF showings either. Upsets happen and we’ve seen enough of them happen this season; this tournament.
He was, in fact, talking about the manner in which Stakhovsky, ranked 116th in the world, beat one of the greatest grass court players of all time; he was talking about serve and volley; he was talking about the 61 of 96 net points that were won; he was talking about the 76 percent first serve points won and the 64 percent second serve points won.
And it wasn’t just McEnroe and Becker that got goosebumps. Almost everyone watching did. It’s hard to imagine the crowd backing an unknown player against Federer at Wimbledon — there were times last year when even though he was playing against Andy Murray, the crowd was still backing him — but last night the tide turned.
The tennis itself was riveting — a clash of styles with Federer staying on the baseline and Stakhovsky rushing the net… not once or twice but throughout the match. But it wasn’t kamikaze stuff. He directed most of his serves to Federer’s backhand — just like Jo Wilfried Tsonga at the French Open or Rafael Nadal in every match he plays against Federer — but he also kept changing the spin and the angle… just enough to keep the Swiss master off-balance.
Too often in the recent past have we seen Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal slug it out from the baseline; too often have we seen tennis being reduced to a battle of stamina. But Stakhovsky showed that serve and volley is a good tactic that still works, provided you use it smartly and in doing that he almost made one feel as if we were watching classic, old-school tennis.
The points were shorter, the tactics sharper and there was never the thought of playing safe. This wasn’t chip and charge… this was more ‘hit the good groundstroke and charge in after it’, this was more ‘place the serve cover and cover the angles.’
You give notice no longer represent like Stefan Edberg and say I leave dish out and volley every tip because that is my plot. The rickets are dissimilar, the counters are more knock-down and there always is a risk of infection of go throughing lips. But Stakhovsky desegregate it up – there represent metes when he would delay back on the beginning service and then again, there represent metes when he would look sharp to the profits on the 2nd service.
But none of that would have mattered if he hadn’t been able to volley well. There wasn’t a weakness at the net – his coverage was almost Sampras-like, his touch was like McEnroe – the drop shots were breath-taking and he made them with confidence and his spirit was like Becker – he dived around on Centre Court in a manner the German had made his own.
Stakhovsky was gunning for Federer and the venerable Swiss star could do nothing about it. The third seed broke Stakhovsky’s serve just once (in the third set) and that tells us he was always up against it – not given a moment’s respite.
“He was uncomfortable to play against. He served and volleyed really well. I think he did really well,” said Federer after the match.
That uncomfortable tone represent a solvent of a revitalisation of an nontextual matter many thought numb. Everyone learns to dish out and to volley but to coiffure them together requires a clean stage of meat and expertness.
In the presser that followed the victory, Stakhovsky said that he didn’t know for sure how many matches you have to play to win a Slam title. To that we would say, don’t worry about the number of matches – just keep playing; just keep serving and volleying.