Category: Players To View


Challenger Tennis Top Ten Players To View (Part III)

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.

No Relation To Alejandro or Santi, Who Spell Their Surnames G-O-N-Z-A-L-E-Z

No Relation To Alejandro or Santi, Who Spell Their Surnames G-O-N-Z-A-L-E-Z

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.

Ben Mitchell

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 OneSam 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.

Ben Mitchell All Smiles

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.

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Challenger Tennis Top Ten Players To View (Part II)

Part two in my epic mini-series, in which I altruistically point your eyeballs towards challenger-level players who are oh-so-well worth watching. If you need to know the methodology behind these selections, or just would like to (re)familiarize yourselves with the tennistical forces of nature that are the first two men in this series (said forces would be Sam Groth and Dustin Brown), here is Part I.

Now then. Every single damn day, it seems, my next subject makes me regret not choosing him as one of my Top Ten Players to Watch for 2014. After all, the dude has a 10/3 record on the year, with wins over Pablo Carreno-Busta and Somdev Devvarman among others. Plus a challenger title in both singles and doubles.  So I’m certainly not going to whiff on my opportunity to include him on my Players to View list.

I’m typing, of course, about…

Yuki Bhambri

Less than six months ago, this 21-year-old Indian lad had a ranking of #593. But then, after missing all of May and June with injury, he made the finals of the $120,000 Kaohsiung Challenger in heroic fashion, and posted a 30/6 record to finish his 2013 campaign, rising to #195 on the ATP Rankings Manifest.

And now, the Australian Open Boys and Orange Bowl champ of 2009 will be a career high ~#142 when the new rankings come out this Monday.

Someday I'll Stop Using This One Pic I Have of Yuki. But It Won't Be Today.

Someday I’ll Stop Using This One Pic I Have of Yuki. But It Won’t Be Today.

Blessed with a pure, natural-looking ball-striking ability and penetrating groundies which I’ve often compared to those of Marin Cilic, Bhambri needs only to shore up his serve before he becomes an ATP Tour-Level regular. And to stay healthy, of course.

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Challenger Tennis Top Ten Players To View (Part I)

Recently, I had the nerve-wracking* pleasure of being on Amy Fetherolf and Jeff Sackmann‘s Margin of Error podcast, during which we discussed the ATP’s amazing new HD Challenger livestreams, Keith Crowley‘s important petition and ongoing efforts to increase prize money at tennis’s lower levels, and a bunch of other good stuff.

At one point, though, Jeff had the temerity — the sheer sac, man — to ask me to name, for the spectator just dipping his or her tennistical toes into challenger-watching waters, the five (seriously, Jeff: just FIVE?!) players a person should look out for.

More specifically, who are the crazy/good/weird players who’d consistently treat that spectator’s eyes to something special. Furthermore, these players shouldn’t necessarily be the next young, up-and-coming stars, many of whom I’ve already identified here.

Well, in my estimation, I totally whiffed on my answer to that question. I mean: have you ever walked into a grocery store without a list and immediately forgotten everything you’re supposed to get? That’s what happened to my brain there.

So, since I have a website that I occasionally even update, I thought I’d take advantage of that and give you a more considered answer to that question. Without further ado**, I give you the official Challenger Tennis Top Ten*** Players to View:

Sam Groth

Before I discuss the man so boldly listed above, I’m going to take you, dear reader, on a journey backstage at Margin of Error HQ. A special trip in which we peek behind the podcast curtain**** and take a look at what goes on behind the scenes.

Immediately after my inaugural podcastic performance came to a close but while everyone was still on the call, I started kvetching about how I’d totally choked the Top Five question. And five seconds after that, we came to a unanimous agreement that Mr. Samuel Groth really is Top Five on all of our lists.

Sam Groth Reacts To Learning He Made The Collective Margin Dwellers' Top Five

Groth Reacts To Learning He Made The Margin Dwellers’ Top Five (and/or to winning at the Champaign Challenger)

Confession: I’ve been a fan of this 26-year-old Aussie for aaaaages (kindly pronounce this with an Ozzer-bite in your vowels: “iiiiiges”). Like, since the only YouTube video of him was a through-the-back-fence shot of him taking serves while practicing on some side court. Like, since even before he beat Janko Tipsarevic in Nottingham quals in 2008.

But enough about me. Here’s why you should watch Groth:

1) A mammoth, monster, weighty, whopping, walloping first (and second) delivery. Currently the world record holder for fastest first serve at something like 800 MPH, give or take.

Land of the Grothed

Land of the Grothed

2) One-handed backhand, all-court game. Variety. He’s more than just a servebot, folks.

3) Color commentates his own matches as they happen. If there’s a more vocal player in all of pro tennis, I can’t think of him. In addition, he has several go-to verbal plays, most of which I’ll let you discover for yourselves.

But here’s a slight spoiler: I’d not only happily attend, but would pay money to happily attend, a one-man epic-length spoken-word opera performed by Mr. Groth entitled, “Towel, Please!”

The sheer dynamic range of emotion and pathos the man can inject into those simple syllables has to be heard to be believed.

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