Easy

By Jane Voigt

January 15, 2013 -- We've all said it, 'They make it look so easy.'

Roger Federer 'dances' on court, he is so smooth. Do a quick Internet search on the #2 seed at The Australian Open and thousands of photos and videos will instantly be at your clicking command. 

You'll see the ease with which he swings his Wilson racquet. The consistency of his serve. And his keen ability to hit one of the widest varieties of strokes on tour. 

Rafael Nadal plays each point, or soon will, as if it's match point. The spin on his shots are hundreds of rotations ahead of others. 

Novak Djokovic slides into shots, on clay and hard courts, and doesn't lose a beat ... even match points down. 

The women are the same, especially the top 10. Their tennis skills are as sharp as a chef's knife, just watch a slice serve. 

Forehand after forehand, serve after serve, volley after volley. They are consistently and forever professionals. 

And that's why we watch with such intensity and glare at their accomplishments -- because try as we might we don't possess a drop of their talents, which actually makes perfect sense, but would love to hit just a couple shots like them. 

But touring pros have to be the best. Tennis is their livelihood, their bread and butter ... their job. 

Their journey to the upper echelons of our sport was, for most, arduous, scattered with doubt and enough reward to motivate daily routines on and off courts.

They make tennis look easy because they have hit millions of tennis balls, under blue and gray skies, in calm conditions and gale force winds. 

The 2009 men's and women's final in Indian Wells presented one of the most difficult challenges ... a sand storm. Ana Ivanovic and Vera Zvonareva improvised shots while fans squinted at faint images of action. Zvonareva improved with greater flexibility and won the title. Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray fought the same conditions, but Nadal hoisted the trophy.  

He attributed his win to footwork. "I played a really complete match, moving very well," he told the press. "I never stop moving during all the match, and I think that was key all today, no?"

And that brings us to another reason they make it look easy -- footwork. 

Tennis is a running game, and improved fitness has taken over the sport so players can get to the ball. 

Mats Wilander once told a group of energetic students during a Wilander on Wheels clinic, "If you can get to the ball you have a chance." Simple, yet not so easy for most club players.  

Ivan Lendl and Martina Navratilova sparked the fitness trend in tennis. Their improved results and reduction in injuries nosed everyone toward gyms around the world. Today's players spend more time there than on practice courts. They can get to the ball and hit it with aplomb because, well, they can get to the ball easier. 

Most of the touring pros at this year's Australian Open have a dedicated coach and perhaps a physio-therapist that travel the world at their sides. The higher ranked players, those in the top 40, can even afford for their families to join the entourage. 

This nomadic troupe creates home away from home, and emotional stability. Couple that with fitness, good food, and footwork, and we have a nice base from which to see inside their ease of play. 

Of course they all have topnotch forehands, backhands, volleys, and serves. They can direct shots at will and spin them like experienced politicians. 

But what separates the cream of the crop, let's say the top 10, from others is timing ... when they hit the ball. 

Hit the ball on the rise, use the pace to your advantage, and precious milliseconds will be swiped away from an opponent. Do it with consistency and opponents will soon be catching up and on the defensive. 

Talent, skills, athleticism, and a will to win are all part of the pro package. Toss in a dollop of luck and good genetics, plus a splash of humility and voila! An easy-chair of tennis-quenching coverage whether on television or through your favorite electronic device. 

That everyone hits a forehand, or whatever shot, in differing manners is the added layer of style. 

Some prefer smooth, some prefer aggressive. Some like more between the leg shots, and some would like a variety. Gael Monfils, unseeded at Melbourne Park, and Alexandr Dolgopolov put on a spectacularly dizzying show of variety yesterday.  

The match was a tough first-round encounter for both men, but a bitter one for Dolgopolov who was seeded #18. Monfils' ranking fell to 99 a week before the tournament began because of a nagging injury to his right knee. The draw was the culprit but can't be bypassed, easy strokes or not. 

These two men, especially Dolgopolov, have unconventional strokes and approaches to their games. Both are lightening quick. Both are willing to rush the net, drop a shot over the let cord, or reverse spin a groundstroke to gain an advantage smack dab in the middle of a lengthy rally. 

The match was fascinating to watch, the styles were delightfully athletic and graceful at times, and at other moments a knockdown smash-a-roo fest. Fans most likely had to hold their breath at times to contain the range of emotions they felt as Monfils put an end to the young Dolgopolov's hopes, 67(7) 76(4) 63 63. 

Players work extremely hard to achieve a measure of success. Not everyone gets to the top ten. And when we gasp at their games maybe we should consider what was put into them to seem so seamless. 

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013