Since my esteemed Players to View series was rudely interrupted by the weekend, just as it was picking up some e-steam, I’m hoping that I can quickly get back up to speed by profiling a couple of speedsters today.
You know, for all our talk in tennis about forehands, backhands and volleys, the game is mostly about movement. After all, it doesn’t matter how good your shots are if you can’t get to the ball first.
When I first started getting serious about the sport, both from a playing and viewing perspective, I was obsessed with shotmaking. But these days, there’s nothing I enjoy more than watching a fleet-footed player glide and/or scrap his way around the court.
The two guys I’m profiling today are very similar players — not just fast, but fit, athletic and agile. Both righties in their early 20s, currently ranked in the mid-200s, they can crank serves and forehands (albeit a tad inconsistently) and are somewhat steady and even occasionally transitional with their double-handers. Once they figure out how to be more imposing and less defensive off the ground, they’ll start to have some very solid results, I believe.
Until such time as they become ATP Tour-level regulars, treat yourself to watching them motor around the court on the HD livestreams. There’s hardly anyone better to watch at the challenger level, movementally. Also, if you play the game yourself, you’ll find a lot that you can ingest and incorporate into your own play.
I’ve been watching Ben buzz about the baseline since late 2009, when he’d just turned 17 and was playing the Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs. Shortly thereafter he made the Wimbledon Boys final as a qualifier, losing to Marton Fucsovics. I then got to see him blazing to the Bendigo Futures final in 2010, where he lost to Player to View Number One, Sam Groth.
I won’t bore you with all his results since then, but he’s somewhat stagnated after a blistering 60/20 first-year-as-a-pro season as an 18-year-old in 2011, during which he won four Futures titles and rose almost 400 spots in the rankings to No. 214.
Now 21, he currently sits at #250, which — while no longer precocious — is still good enough for Top 20 in his age group. He’s weathered a nine-match losing streak in 2012 and a six-match loss streak in 2013 to steady himself and start to get some decent results again.
But however unbalanced his recent results may have been, Ben is hardly ever off balance during a rally, keeping a wide base and bent knees as he careens about the court, his center of gravity low and constant as he seamlessly shifts between big and small steps, posture upright throughout.
Though hardly ideal, this YouTube vid shows a little of what I’m talking about with regard to his fluid footwork:
Another video of somewhat dodgy quality, but this is a very good match Ben played recently against countryman Luke Saville:
If you do nothing else, go to 17:30 in the above vid and watch the scrambling Mitch does in the far court.
The next chance to watch Ben will be at the Guangzhou Challenger next week.
Oh, and lastly (regarding Ben), an embarrassing admission: I started watching a show on The CW called “The Tomorrow People” solely because Ben’s older bro Luke stars in it, and Ben was hyping it up on Twitter after saving 5 MPs in a win over Rhyne Williams at the Tiburon Challenger.
Embarrassing admission continued: I still watch it.
Also, tennis players can have exotic, hard-to-pronounce names, and Ben Mitchell is no exception. So be sure to adhere strictly to the following pronunciation guide:
My next Player to View is, as I’ve said, quite similar to Mr. Mitchell. Speed, balance, agility, athleticism, fight and fitness. Check, check, check, check, check and check.
The 2012-13 ITA National Player of the Year for University of Virginia, and NCAA Doubles Champion (with Mac Styslinger) that same year (as well as, roughly, a billion other collegiate accolades), Jenkins has only been a full-time pro since graduating last June.
Since that time, he’s amassed a 34/15 win/loss record, including 2 challenger semis, a Futures title and two finals. Jenkins can seem to defy gravity at times, his athleticism commanding your eyes’ attention, as Pete Hawkins so aptly characterized in his Q&A with Jarmere.
Some fine illustrations of Jenkins’ nimble mobility have been captured by the award-winning cinematographer, Colette Lewis, here:
And here (especially on the second point):
Since the ATP’s HD Livestreams are archived, you can also check out some of his 2014 matches at Maui, Burnie and West Lakes if you follow them there links. Higher quality versions of Ben Mitchell’s matches also are available at those cyber-destinations.
At 5’11” (180 cm) and 6’0” (183 cm) respectively, there’s been some question as to whether Jenkins and Mitchell can generate enough pop to truly penetrate at the pro level. There’s also been some who’ve wondered whether the pressure of expectations (from within and without) can often undermine their performances.
I honestly have no idea if either of those rumblings will pan out and reveal themselves over time as a legitimate stumbling block in their careers. What I am certain of, is that I truly love watching these two guys scrap and fight their way through a tennis point. And that during most rallies, they’re quick off the block and rarely do they stumble.
“People are too concerned with results and statistics that they miss out on the more important things,” Jenkins said in a September Q&A with The Tennis Nerds website.
Indeed. And, from a viewing/spectating standpoint, why not just watch and enjoy?