Memphis Triple Towers Dish On Life As Big Men
If they were an NBA team, such as the Memphis Grizzlies, they'd probably slow the game down, taking their time on every possession and making sure they fed the ball to the big men in the middle of the lane.
But 6'11” Ivo Karlovic, 6'11” Reilly Opelka and 6'10” John Isner are ATP World Tour players, so they try to play fast, blasting serves that skid off the court and leave fans wondering how they strike so many aces.
The power and athleticism of the tallest players on the ATP World Tour have been on showcase all week long at the Memphis Open, which is played on the indoor courts at The Racquet Club of Memphis. With the aforementioned tall trio, along with 6'8” Kevin Anderson and 6'6” Sam Querrey, the tournament contemplated making last-minute alterations to the club.
“I almost had to go through and adjust all the height rails on our stadium to make sure we could accommodate the guys,” Tournament Director Erin Mazurek said jokingly. “We almost have an NBA roster.”
Karlovic said the diversity of heights shows tennis growing as a sport. “It means that the sport is evolving,” he said. “We bring a little bit of a different game to the sport, which is good.”
The handful of big men in Memphis spoke to ATPWorldTour.com about the advantages and disadvantages of their height, what tactics they'd use to beat a taller player and the future of big men on tour.
Unsurprisingly, the players all agreed that their serve is their biggest advantage. “It just puts pressure and stress on your opponent, knowing that I'm probably going to hold serve almost every time,” said Opelka, who is a part of the #NextGenATP.
The taller the player, the better their angle to hit the serve, Anderson and Karlovic reminded. Isner said, “Our serves are our biggest weapon, no doubt.”
It's not all aces, though. Taller players, because of their longer strides, might not move as quickly as shorter guys, which can be especially disadvantageous in tennis, a sport that features countless, abrupt changes of direction.
“I also have to take higher risks from the baseline, go for more because I don't want to get my movement exposed,” Opelka said.
Despite that drawback, Anderson is optimistic about big men going against more nimble opponents. “As you've seen in the last few years, taller guys are moving better and better,” he said. “If you are in position, I think being a bit taller you can create a bit more power, dominate your opponent a bit more.”
So how do you beat a big-serving big man who can roll through a match, sometimes hitting three or four aces a game?
“You're going to get one or two opportunities a set, maybe even a match, and you've just really got make sure you capitalise on those break points or set points,” Querrey said.
Opelka named a scenario that Isner and Karlovic know well: Tie-break. “It just comes down to who is more clutch in those moments and who is serving better,” Opelka said.
FUTURE OF BIG MEN
At the moment, movement might be the top worry for big men. But Anderson doesn't think that will always be the case in tennis. He, like Karlovic, thinks the sport will continue to evolve. The South African points to another international sport, basketball, as an example.
“These days you have guys my height, 6'8”, moving around like guys who are 6”... So it will be interesting to see as the years progress in tennis,” Anderson said. “I think if you had a guy who was 7', who was able to move as well as say Novak or Andy Murray do, you're going to have a heck of a tennis player on your hands.”
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