Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Way of Strategy (5): When A Good Strategy Was Not Enough

When I coached basketball many years, my responsibility was on the defensive side of the game. Many weeks before the season began, I prepared my players on the different defensive alignments and traps that I was going to call during the season. I kept the execution of each defensive alignment quite simple. The starters and the bench had to learn it. Despite the offensive prowess of certain players, everyone had to play defense. I gave them historical and statistical reasons why playing defense was important to their success. The team understood with my reasoning and agreed to play defense.

The head coach and I chose weak opponents to practice our arsenal of "pressure" trap maneuvers. When the entire team mastered the current page of tactics, I either added more variations of the traps to our playbook or increase the level of opposition to raise their quality of play.

After a progression of success, the belief of team defense created a high level of team camaraderie. We reached the Championship round with a formidable defense, but lost the final game.

Regardless of the outcome, it was a lesson of where the grand process of planning and preparation prevailed.

Thoughts on Elena Dementieva's Coach Strategy
Elena Dementieva's coach could have developed a strategy that she was not prepared to implement consistently. Sometimes, the player's inability to adjust at a short notice, is a major obstacle to the best strategy.

Strategy has no value if the implementers disbelieve its criteria. Disbelief usually creates a level of apathy that influences the implementers from executing it properly.

The smart strategist prevails due to his assessment of available talent and the various elements around his settings. He also succeeds because the foundation of his strategy is based on the given talent of the coach.

The focus of a good strategy is to give the team a general perspective of what is their goal and the direction that they will take. If the team believes in the plan, they would comply with it. If the team disbelieves in the plan, they would either fight it or flee from it

Conclusively, the expectations of the goal never exceed the expectations of the implementers.

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July 3, 2009, 11:06 pm

A Good Strategy Was Not Enough for Dementieva

The Serena Williams-Elena Dementieva match was played at a remarkably high level for close to three hours. Dementieva’s serve may be the most improved shot on the tour, and she won a high percentage of both first and second serves against Williams, arguably the game’s best returner. Like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on the men’s side, Serena and Venus Williams have elevated the level of play on the women’s tour, with their big serving, aggressive returns and seemingly indomitable wills. Give Dementieva credit for responding to the challenge; she was a shot away from the final, and, for long stretches of the match, outplayed Serena.

In addition to her improved serve, Dementieva wins matches with superb footwork and solid, heavy groundstrokes, struck flat with just a whisper of topspin. Her game plan Thursday was to direct as many penetrating shots as possible to Serena’s forehand, which can go awry if pressured. If you look at the serve statistics from the match, Dementieva served to the forehand a great deal, especially in the deuce court. She mixed it up, of course, to keep Williams from dialing in on her return. But in the deuce court, Dementieva hit 21 first serves wide to the forehand, winning 13 points. On her second serve, she was even bolder in attacking Williams’s forehand, serving 18 out of 21 second serves out wide. She won 17 points, 15 when going to the forehand.

In the ad court, Dementieva served wide as well, aiming 19 first serves out wide and converting on 15 of those attempts. On the second serve, she tried to go at the body, hitting 10 out of 13 right at Williams. Interestingly, she was less successful in the ad than the deuce. Perhaps adding a serve up the T in the ad will help Dementieva in her future battles with Serena Williams. It might have made a difference in Thursday’s match.

A tactic Dementieva employs against Serena Williams is to rarely engage in backhand crosscourt rallies. One way to think about playing Serena is to view her as a lefty with a huge forehand, and try to steer more balls to the forehand side. Craig Cignarelli, an excellent coach based in Los Angelas, calls this “switching the rally” in an article on John Yandell’s Web site, Dementieva did this brilliantly for the first two sets, but less so in the third. Give Serena credit for working harder to set up on her forehand side, and she also went back up the line more often rather than always going crosscourt. This forced Dementieva to hit more often to Williams’s feared backhand.

There was a pivotal rally late in the match that illustrated why Dementieva hatched her game plan in the first place. With Serena serving at 5-6 in the third, deuce, both players locked on to a scintillating backhand crosscourt rally. It was strength against strength as Dementieva and Williams hit heavy, high percentage crosscourt shots on a big point. I kept hoping Dementieva would change direction and go down the line to Williams’s forehand. But that would mean going over the slightly higher net into a smaller court, and changing the direction of the ball, no easy task against Serena’s pace. The point built in drama and tension, but Serena’s pace and depth increased, until finally, she ripped a deep, unreturnable backhand that skidded low on the worn grass, bringing a dejected Dementieva to her knees. She would only win two more points after this rally, which would have given her a second match point had she won it.

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