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FedEx Reliability Zone: Hard-Court Heroes

Career Hard-Court Records

Federer© Getty ImagesRoger Federer has one of the greatest winning percentages on hard court of all time.

Using the FedEx ATP Reliability Index and exclusive insights from former pros, we explore the secrets of success on North American hard courts and what it takes to become a powerhouse on the surface .

Over the course of the next six weeks, ATP World Tour players will hit the courts of the Atlanta Tennis Championships, Farmers Classic, Legg Mason Tennis Classic, Winston-Salem Open at Wake Forest University, the Rogers Cup and Western & Southern Open, which form the Olympus US Open Series, all looking to fine-tune their games and pick-up silverware ahead of the final Grand Slam championship of the year.

The endurance required for clay-court tournaments and the shorter points of grass tennis will be replaced by medium-speed hard courts, generally considered the fairest of all the surfaces that neutralises any advantage a player may have.

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"So many players can compete well on hard courts now," Brad Gilbert, the former World No. 4 and coach, told ATPWorldTour.com. "The ball obviously bounces higher and it takes a little time to adjust, but the surface suits any style.

"The temperature at a particular tournament can dictate the pace of the court and balls, but anyone can succeed if they play their game."

Former pro Justin Gimelstob, now an ATP Board member and television commentator, agrees with Gilbert, telling ATPWorldTour.com, "The great thing about hard-court tennis is it requires the most diverse variety of skills. Every type of player can be successful because every style can be rewarded."

Since Wimbledon, some players will have undertaken more distance running and track work to build a solid physical base and core strength for the stretch ahead. For others, who have continued to competed on the ATP World Tour, the switch from clay or grass to hard courts can take a few days. But as World No. 8 Tomas Berdych admitted to ATPWorldTour.com, "I won't change my game dramatically.

"Hard courts suit my game quite well. I like to play aggressively from the baseline. It is good that the bounce is always the same. It isn't physically tough, but it is tricky to keep the body, your joints healthy during the US swing.

"It will be really hot during the swing. It is tough to prepare. You need more endurance on clay, but on hard I feel you need power. You have to focus on the beginning of rallies to put pressure on your opponent. It is tricky playing defence on hard, as everything is that much faster."

LendlSpeaking to ATPWorldTour.com, former World No. 1 Ivan Lendl says, "Physically I had to learn how to move on hard courts because I grew up on clay."  Gilbert, who grew up on hard in California, had "a natural confidence on the surface. It was a familiar change after the clay or grass tournaments."

Lendl, who leads the FedEx ATP Reliability Index for career hard-court matches (as of 22 Aug., 2011) confesses, "After playing shorter points on grass in mostly cool weather, I had to work hard on my conditioning for the run to the US Open.

"But tactically, I did not think about it. I just adjusted automatically." He reached eight straight US Open finals between 1982-1989.

Rod Laver, the 1962 and 1969 Grand Slam champion, a winner of 11 major singles titles, says, "I was fortunate not having a large frame, to stay competitive I had staying power. But one important part was making sure you are timing the ball off your racquet and finding the middle of your racquet. I was always trying to get my first serve in. Depth on my ground strokes kept the pressure on and gave me the opportunity to attack.

"It's a good idea to stay close to the baseline on hard courts and be ready to attack the short ball. Hitting the ball at the top of the bounce is important. I always tried to move my opponent around so I had the chance to get to the net and keep them off balance and finish the point off. I was never big on just keeping the ball in play. Getting off to a good start was always important."

Gimelstob believes, "The most successful players on hard courts are well rounded. They need weapons: to get free points on serve, to move and defend well, to feel comfortable finishing at the net and also they need to be fit, especially during the intense heat of the US summer hard-court swing."

It goes a long way to explain just why (as of 15 Aug., 2011) Lendl (394-83, .826), Roger Federer (702-101, .824), Jimmy Connors (509-108, .825), Laver (126-29, .813), John McEnroe (292-68, .811), Pete Sampras (427-104, .804), Novak Djokovic (230-60, .793) and Andre Agassi (598-159, .790) are ranked the top hard-court powerhouses since 1973. Each of these players have left their mark at the US Open.

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January: Fifth Set Career Records
February: 52-Week Clay-Court Records
March: Current ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Records
April: Career Clay-Court Records
June: Career Grass-Court Records

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Who will pick up the most titles during the summer North American hard-court swing?
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FedEx ATP Win/Loss Index

Performance On Hard

Current* Index Career Index
1. Jimmy Connors .000 .827
2. Ivan Lendl .000 .826
3. Novak Djokovic .907 .826
4. Roger Federer .780 .825
5. Rod Laver .000 .825

© Bill Kallenberg/BB&T Atlanta Open

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