Did Garcia Lopez prove our point?
While at the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships two weeks ago, I watched a very intriguing practice session between Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Mathias Bachinger. After a lengthy conversation with my good friend and fellow tennis professional, Allan Van Nostrand, I wrote an article entitled "The Talent Flaw". Through my discourse with Allan, we decided upon the notion that it takes more than talent alone to become a consistent top ten player. The article is currently on the home page and it is now accessible to the public after receiving such a positive response from our TennisOxygen.com members.
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What a difference a couple of weeks can make. Two weeks ago, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez lost in straight sets to the 67th player in the world, Xavier Malisse, in the first round of the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships. Two nights ago, he defeated the number 4 player in the world, Andy Murray, in straight sets at Indian Wells.
Hopefully some of you got a chance to watch the match live like I did, or the replay Sunday morning and were able to notice in Garcia-Lopez what caught my eye during the practice session in Delray Beach.
Murray did not play poorly. Gracia-Lopez simply outplayed him. He showed the same incredible mixture of power and control that was on display at the Delray Beach practice courts. But most importantly, he kept it together mentally.
I have seen similar matches go the other way. So often the lower-ranked player will dominate during the first set, only to unravel in the second set because they are unable to maintain a high level of play as the match progresses. It happens all the time, but great players are always able to weather the storm. Agassi was the master of weathering the storm because opponents would get so pumped up to play him and bring their "A game" early in the match. Agassi, like the great champion that he was, would always keep his cool knowing that his opponent would not be able to maintain that high level of play. His opponents would eventually self-destruct and Agassi would edge out his opponent after a close first set. Next time you take a look at a draw sheet, check out the score difference between the first and second set of Djokovic's, Nadal's, and Federer's early round matches when playing much lower-ranked players. You will see a pattern repeat itself.
The truth is that I was torn during the entire match because Andy Murray's coach, Ivan Lendl, is a close friend of mine. Plus, I had just spoken to him on the phone only a few hours before the match. I really wanted Andy to win to help him on his quest to become more consistently successful. But on the other hand, I wanted to prove one of the points we made that there is very little separation in ability between a top ten player and a player ranked inside the top one hundred.
From the get-go, Garcia-Lopez came out matching Murray stroke-for-stroke; winning most of the long rallies and hanging on to produce the only break of serve and win the first set 6-4. One of the most impressive moments of the match was when Garcia-Lopez did not fall in the trap of letting his foot of the gas after winning the first. Instead he showed even more mental toughness by breaking Murray's serve in the first game of the second set.
Both announcers were waiting for Garcia-Lopez's wheels to fall off throughout the match, especially when Murray had a few break points early in the second set and in the closing moments of the match. To be honest I did too. A friend of mine, tennis professional Tom Allsopp, also thought that there was no chance that Garcia-Lopez could keep that high level of play, he decided that he liked the odds and placed a legal bet on Murray to prevail during the second set. Needless to say we were all wrong, and Garcia-Lopez finished the match strong by holding his serve at love. In the final moments of the match, Garcia-Lopez displayed the variables needed to be a true top ten player and avoided showing any signs of the common curse of being afraid to win.
Did he capture lightning in a bottle for that one night only? Or, will he be able to repeat it over and over? History has shown us how difficult it is for Garcia-Lopez to repeat such high-level performances.
The next round might reveal who Garcia-Lopez really is, and show us why he has not been able to break through into the top ten. This may sound mean-spirited, but there has to be a reason why he has not been able to consistently repeat the high-caliber play he displayed last Saturday night against Murray. He got to number 23 in the world early last year after 10 years on tour but found his way back down just inside top 100 by the year's end at number 93.
I do wish him the best of luck but reality might rear its ugly head in this coming match or in the round after that and show us that raw talent can only take you so far.
Garcia-Lopez plays young American, Ryan Harrison, tonight at 8:30 PST! You know that I'll be watching.
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