Adam Gale's article is spot when it comes to Tsonga and 99% of today's pros. They are afraid of the net because they:
1. Do not know how & when to get to the net
2. Topspin approaches sit up for those great passing shots. Copy Bjorn Borg, who had no right winning 5 successive Wimbledons. Develop underspin approaches that hit low and skid ala McEnroe, the best I ever witnessed.
3. Once they do get to the net behind questionable timing and approach shots they do not know how to play at the net. Net play requires positioning, timing and proper technique. How many times have I seen today's pros in the wrong position, hitting volleys close in to their body/late with too little or to much underspin!
4. They do not have the mentality it takes to persevere. Everyone including McEnroe, Edberg, Rafter, Laver, etc, etc, have been passed many times at the net, BUT they still come in at the right time with the right approach and the right technique. Why? Because those great passing shots at 3-3 in the first set become monumentally more difficult at 4-4 in the final set. Ask Bjorn Borg!
5. Tennis instruction in general has relegated net play to a secondary (probably lower than that!) position in importance.
I would like to add one more comment to the article. Tsonga has a frail mentality at times. He comes to some matches with very little purpose and energy we never see in Djokovic and Nadal. I would also add that of these second tier players del Potro has broken through and won a tough major at the US Open. He has what it takes but injuries have not only sapped his confidence a bit, which is improving, but he is not hitting his ground strokes, especially the back hand flat and hard like he did previously. He has become more consistent by hitting with more topspin, but he will never beat Novak and Nadal in who lasts longer from the baseline. He won the US Open and a ton of other tournaments that year and the year before by hitting out more and flatter on his ground strokes. He could hit through ANY player on the tour.
The top 4 can be over powered by these kinds of strokes, especially Federer and Murray He destroyed Rafa in the semis and over powered Roger in the final of that US Open. I do not know if this is an issue with his wrist or confidence, but if he can get back to that old form he can beat anyone, especially on hard courts. He can beat 2 or 3 top level players in succession in a major. The other second tier players may never.
Thanks for your comments! You make a good point about Tsonga's (relative) mental frailty. I think aggression is key again -without a commitment to purposeful attack, he has too much time to think and too much time to doubt.
As for del Potro -he's definitely got the greatest attributes mentally of the second tier, and it absolutely wouldn't surprise me if he bags another major at some point. In general, though, I think the Big Four are so remarkable in so many respects that it's unlikely anyone else will join their ranks as an equal contender for the big ones.
Of course, if Federer fades/retires and Nadal's injury resurfaces, the odds for other guys go up substantially...
Thanks again for your email.
Great article Paul. Your summary and comments on the AO were enjoyable to read.
Your question: How can—should—pro tennis reverse this alarming trend?
I think, like evolution, there always be the survival of the fittest in tennis. Part of being fit, is being intelligent about how to use the fitness.
We might see more “Zen-like” players; more relaxed, effortless power is getting quite popular.
But, changes will happen, that we may not even imagine.
Maybe it’s a good thing that some of the top players get injured. It gives other players a better chance to advance. Ferrer is an example.
They make enough money to take a “forced” break from tennis.
More players might adopt a Federer-like style. Less physical stress.
Maybe the court surfaces will change to accommodate the more intense athleticism.
At a certain point rules might be needed about the strings and racquets used, since technology can get out of hand.
Changes can happen fast now, not like with the wooden racquet period.
Glad you like the article.
Around 2003 John Barrett and about 35 big names in tennis petitioned the ITF to decrease significantly the maximum allowable width of the racket head. That would have reduced racket power. The ITF did nothing to change this important rule. Who knows how that might have affected the number and kind of injuries.
"Survival of the fittest" is fine -- unless that results in fewer and fewer players surviving in matches, seasons, and careers.
Federer is an interesting case because he revealed that early in his pro career he used to have a sore arm a lot. But he did several things subsequently to minimize the frequency and extent of injuries.
Nice article by Adam! It is thought-provoking and I agree Del Potro certainly won't crack the top 4 in 2013.
But one must also consider relativity. Federer and Nadal already peaked and are getting weaker in the next couple years. I think Roger has 2 more majors, but they will come 1-2 years apart. I think he can still win one at age
33-34 but that would be the last and an extraordinary one. Nadal, even if recovered will no longer make a extended run at #1. He could get to #1 for a few months and he has 2-3 more majors in him if healthy but considering he will be 27 this year, for a player relying on speed, his game isn't getting better although he could maintain form for 1-2 more years.
Most players built on speed and movement have peaked in the past at younger ages. They make up the extraordinary teens. For example, Mats Wilander or Michael Chang. More complete, rangy players often peak later, especially those based on power. Todd Martin and Goran Ivanisevic are great examples having their best years near age 30. Also given today's strength requirements and more brutal tour matches, players tend to peak at age 24-30 rather than 18-26 like in 1990. That is, given they take care of their bodies. With given modern care in recovery, training and nutrition and the teams of personnel around the best players, they can extend their careers to some extend (but still, might time take its toll?)
I suspect Del Potro's game will get better, he will become a more complete player. When Nadal and Federer retire,
Del Potro could get to the top 3-4. However, it depends on if his generation of players can cut the gap. That is,
Raonic, Janowicz, Tomic, Nishikori, or Dimitrov. Or others. It's not as talented as Murray/Djokovic/Nadal so in 4-5 years, perhaps Del Potro can get there by default. However, of course, which youngster looms on the horizon may have something to say. However, I agree, Del Potro's game will be always limited by his movement. He should win another major and make 1-2 finals over his career. He is in the same boat as Raonic, neither being a great mover but Raonic has a bigger serve. Janowicz is a slightly better mover (although many say he moves great, yes, maybe for a 6'6" player but average for a smaller player) and he is a threat at top ten, even top 4-5. Cilic doesn't have enough game. I think Tomic neither. He lacks a big serve or real weapon and to rely on finesse and craftiness won't give him a top 2-3 spot although he has talent to be top 10 for a long time. Dimitrov has serious game and does everything well. So of this crop, it could be like Roddick/Nalbandian/Ferrero...good talent but not overwhelming which could open doors for Del Potro. I personally like Grigor's game, he has a complete package but I'm not sure if that will get him to #1. It is quite interesting to see what happens after the current crop as relativity is important (and has hurted a player like Roddick who peaked with Federer peaking and Nadal in the wings).
In addition, perhaps there is another way of expressing the table with the percentage of points won. It's not very clear and the table is mislabeled. For example, rallies 6+ shots won by Del Potro and his opponent don't add up. Are those the specific opponents in the match (Federer at Basal, for example) or a general tendency of winning for Del Potro's matches? It's unclear and mathematically doesn't add up. In addition, it does not seem to prove what you mention, that Del Potro wins in extended rallies. I would interpret his winning percentages vs Federer and Nadal as lower with extended rallies, dropping from 78% to 57% vs Federer and 44% to 38% vs Nadal. So the increase with Djokovic is rather isolated and not statistically meaningful. It would be nice to explain more clearly. Even with my quantitative background, I don't follow the numbers well.
In the end, a fine article. But can you clarify the table? Thanks!
Doug Eng EdD PhD
PTR & USPTA Master Professional
Thanks for your email –I really appreciate your feedback. You raise some
interesting questions about which other players will be challenging for
the big titles over the next few years.
I’ll be watching to see whether Nadal has indeed shrugged off his injury.
If he has, I think he’ll still be quick enough (something that is so
important to his game, as you say) for a couple of years to contend fully
with Djokovic and Murray.
As for the youngsters, I agree that they seem analogous to the
Roddick/Nalbandian/Ferrero/Hewitt generation (ignoring a certain Roger
Federer, that is!) –lots of very good players, but no true all-time
greats. I must say, though, that I had to revise my opinion of Tomic based
on his Australian Open performances (and in the events just prior to it).
His forehand and serve seem to have become real weapons, though I still
believe he lacks the movement and physicality to match a Djokovic or a
I feel I should clarify the table. For four specific matches, it shows the
percentage of points won in different length rallies, on serve. So, for
instance, in the del Potro-Djokovic match at the US Open, del Potro wins
13% of short rallies on del Potro’s serve, while Djokovic wins 54% of
short rallies on Djokovic’s serve. It thus wouldn’t need to add up, though
I think I should have made that clearer.
My point about del Potro’s success in longer vs shorter rallies was that
del Potro has a comparative advantage in longer rallies, rather than an
absolute advantage. So, against Nadal in the US Open, del Potro is indeed
more likely to win shorter rallies than longer ones (44% to 38%) on his
own serve, but then so is Nadal on his own serve.
The fact is that Nadal does relatively even better in shorter rallies on
serve than does del Potro (50% to 38% vs 44% to 38%). For this specific
match, then, you’d say that del Potro’s strength relative to Nadal was in
longer points. Both do equally well (or equally badly) in longer rallies,
but Nadal does better in shorter rallies than del Potro.
What I intended to show was that del Potro does not depend on keeping the
rallies short against these guys any more than they do against him (though
it is still absolutely better for him if the rallies on his serve are
I appreciate this probably doesn’t come over from the table all that well
(I should have provided more explanation, or maybe a bigger table!), but I
hope I’ve cleared it up!
Thanks again — you’re keeping me on my toes!
I would like to comment on the above course (double helix serve). I thought it was fantastic and please pass on my appreciation to Doug. In my view it is one of the best serve courses on the net if not the definitive course; it is so comprehensive.
There is a lot of instruction on the serve on the net, some of it OK, some of it frankly wrong but the Double Helix course is something entirely different. Furthermore I doubt very much that one could get comparable quality from a live lesson; the serve seems to be ignored by a lot of coaches. I managed to master the slice serve — something I have been struggling with for over a year — in about 3 hours more or less following Doug's instruction and progressions.
Particularly with the slice serve a lot of web instruction is plain wrong and Doug shows why (though he doesn't make reference to this). For instance I had been puzzled for a long time as to how pronation or "spike" worked on the slice serve and this was addressed straight away on DH. On his previous courses I had wondered slightly whether there was a little over complication but I now see that the technical detail helps the self-analysis and self correction by offering anchor points which can be checked as you go through what is actually a very complicated process. For example you can add in each of the elements of the serve and then find it's not working but without this knowledge you don't which element is causing the breakdown. I am now a devoted fan of Doug and of TennisOne.
Thanks for your generous comments…it shows that you've really absorbed the approach Doug has been taking. We think the next course, tomorrow, takes things to yet another level. Thanks again.
I have an advance tennis player who is having arms problems and she is seeing a physical therapy. I was showing the physical therapy the serving motion so she would know what my player is doing when she is serving. The physical therapy ask me why should a player land on the on the left foot if the player is right handed. The Physical therapy thought it would make more sense to land of their right foot if you are right handed like throwing a ball. Can you give me a physiologically/biomechanics reason why because that is how the physical therapy understands things.
Bob Farrington PTR
I'm surprised that the physical therapist would make this kind of uninformed remark. When anyone throws a ball, they generally wind up and step forward with their left foot when throwing right handed. In fact, if you watch every single major league pitcher throw, they land on their left foot while their right foot kick very high in the air. Of course, after the delivery, the right foot finally comes around as a landing leg after the sequence is complete.
In serving, this action is even more important because if the right leg comes around during the contact phase, the player will be open at contact and they either pull the ball way out to the left or they will end up having to decelerate the racquet or pronate very early and hit the serve flat, (as in a "paddy cake" serve). In tennis there is always some action of the racquet moving across the ball, even on so-called flat serves. If we open our hips and swing the right leg around during contact, we have no option other than do what I have just described. The same thing happens on the forehand groundstroke. If the player opens up too early, they will have to decelerate the racquet or end up pulling the ball way wide to the left.
The best advice I can offer is to download pictures of pitchers or tennis players, (and even bowlers...who similarly, kick their back, right leg behind them as they release the bowling ball so they can drive their swinging right arm up the lane), at release or at contact, showing how the back leg kicks back and, in fact, doesn't even come close to coming around until well after release of the ball or contact of the ball as in serving.
Here are couple images that should demonstrate this action clearly!
Hope this helps!
David W. Smith
While Paul Fein makes some valid points, I do not agree at all with his assessment for the upcoming Open. While history has demonstrated that any of the top players can get blown out by another, his abject criticism of Federer deserves a response.
First let's look at Federer's loss in the gold medal match. He was physically and mentally spent from Wimbledon and from his semifinal war with Del Potro, and Murray was riding a wave of emotion from Wimbledon and playing in England where he enamored the fans. Del Potro goes on to beat the Joker in the bronze medal match in straight sets, so if he cannot beat Delpo, who had to be physically and mentally spent also, he would have had no chance against Fed.
I admit Fed is getting up there in age and he will not recover as well from tough matches as his younger foes, but on any given day he can beat anyone, except Nadal on a slower surface due to the heavy topspin forehand of Nadal's to Fed's one handed backhand.
The Joker is a much more favorable match up for Fed, and he has the confidence to know it. Do not forget he had two match points against the Joker in the last Open and lost because of an unbelievable forehand service return. He had the Open in his hand against Delpo, but did not close the deal. Look what Fed did to the Joker in Cincy: 6-0 first set. When was the last time the Joker was shut out in a set?!
I agree the Joker should win as he is in the prime and playing the best tennis of his career. Remember who beat him last year convincingly at the French for his first loss of the season. The lack of Nadal at the Open will give Fed more confidence and he is my second choice by a hair, but it could go either way. If it comes to the finals with these two a lot will depend on how difficult a road each has to overcome to reach the finals. I will say the Joker has superior recovery ability at this juncture in their careers.
One last criticism of your commentary is that the Joker never had, nor claimed to have a true gluten allergy or intolerance. He claims he made the dietary change because he thought it may help him, and he has played better since the change, BUT he made several changes during this time period with the result that he was better conditioned, which improved his confidence.
The biggest improvement in the Joker has been in his head and there is NO evidence that his dietary regiment played a significant role, although he may have gained psychological confidence because he simple believed it helped him - placebo effect! Mr. Fein makes some astute and pertinent points, but I find his commentary lacking objectivity and in some cases lacking veracity. Who did he predict would win Wimbledon?
Good to hear from you — hope all is going well with you since we last chatted. Thanks for sharing your views. As for the your "gluten" and "veracity" claims, here is the scoop:
His doctor-nutritionist, Igor Cetojevic, deserves plenty of credit for discovering that the lithe 24-year-old suffers from celiac disease, an intolerance of the small intestines to gluten found in many grains, such as wheat and barley. "I can't eat stuff like pizza, pasta and bread," explained Djokovic whose family, ironically, owns a pizza and pancake restaurant near Belgrade. "I have lost some weight, but it's only helped me because my movement is much sharper now and I feel great physically."
With his new gluten-free diet this year, Djokovic was no longer gasping for breath after punishing points or retiring from matches because of breathing problems and exhaustion.
Whilst there is still some interesting debate on when / how much / how many challenges etc relating to this relatively new technology — to me and several of my teaching pro friends and pupils there seems to be some doubt about how the actual bounce is recorded.
Some pictures of challenges made where the ball 'SEEMS' to the eye to be just in or maybe a fraction out are shown to be well out, or at least 2 inches out. The 'pictures' of the ball on the bounce, where the ball hits the court seem to me to be inaccurate, since the ball is not or hardly ever dropping vertically and yet most 'pictures' show pretty much a round shape at this moment in time, when in actual fact the trajectory (speed and spin and resulting bounce) is always or almost always a pear shape.
The ball actually skids a little on contact with the court surface more particularly on grass and if the ball is hit with slice, If you add the start of the pear shape to some of these pictures showing the ball just out (say within 2 inches or so) it would result in the ball actually being in!
You can't be serious I can hear John Mac calling out on most of these close calls / Hawk Eye pictures.
You have brought up a question that I too have pondered. I agree, some of the shots Hawkeye produces don't seem to reflect some of the appearances of a ball that appears to the naked eye as being well out when Hawkeye shows the ball landing much closer to the line...or, as you mentioned, even touching the line.
I have a hard time believing that the images produced by a number of cameras positioned around the court are exactly correct for every line and for each tournament. Personally, I believe that there is an incidence of error that the technology can't resolve perfectly.
That said, I love the system for two reasons: it takes the degree of disagreement out of the hands of humans. We have so few arguments about line calls now and most of the pros seem to accept the system and the subsequent calls without much fanfare. This keeps matches free from disruptions, emotional turns, and momentum swings that often corresponded with players who would argue calls with the umpire or the linespersons themselves.
I also love the system as it is fun for the spectators to anticipate a replay and ultimately have closure on a point that ended on a close call.
No system is perfect. I believe that you are also correct in that the shape of the ball, as it hits the ground, changes its shape considerably, not just round or pear shaped, but there is the element of fuzz that is constitutes a part of the ball that may come in contact with the line. I realize that those who created Hawkeye have calibrated the system to include this average degree of tennis ball fuzz involved in each shot. However, depending on trajectory, pace, and spin, the shape of the ball at the bounce can indeed be different each bounce, as you have alluded to.
I don't know if you just wanted an opinion or if you were seeking more definitive response. However, the system seems to be working well and I'm sure that there will be even more improvements to it as the technology allows.
Thanks for a great, thought-provoking question!
David W. Smith
Senior Editor, TennisOne
Thanks for the video (Dave Smith) on the two-handed backhand. I just would like to make a little comment when you explain about the footwork used on the video. I know what you meant with open/neutral stances but in the video it was not possible to see your positioning of the feet. Maybe for the future that a camera can take your whole body when explaining mechanics.
As always, I greatly appreciate any and all feedback regarding articles! You are right about the limited view of the clips I included. I was very pressed for time leaving for an Alaskan vacation before getting that article finished and published. So, while I was disappointed in not including the actual stances I was alluding to in the clips, I had to be satisfied with what I had to work with.
I will definitely take your advice and use better clips to translate my concepts for our readers!
Thanks again for taking the time to review the piece and write your thoughts!
Best to you!
Great article regarding tennis and the Olympics. Many good points, and clearly Olympic tennis has increased in importance to the players. I still don’t think professional tennis should be a part of the Olympics (nor NBA players, etc. either) because it’s already a high-profile, high-dollar sport. Seems like the Olympics should be reserved for those sports that are largely ignored in non-Olympic years. If the big sports are going to be a part of the Olympics, it should be at the amateur level.
Thanks for your email and your comments. It’s a tough question about which
sports should be included in the Olympics. Should it be for all sports or
just a select few? It does seem they’re becoming more inclusive -golf and
rugby are coming in for Rio 2016, I believe.
The good thing for the small sports is that people still seem to warm to
them, despite the presence of the big beasts. In fact, they tend to get
more attention. I don’t think that football/soccer, for instance, is
particularly prominent at the Olympics, despite being the biggest sport in
the world by far. I think there is a sense that it’s not right for there
to be sports at the Games, for which the Games are not the most important
Dave Smith's article on the two handed forehand was terrific. The added visuals were just great and much of what he says about shot production and consistency is very true.
I have hit a two handed backhand for years but am now moving into a two handed forehand as well. As an older player, I realize that the I must count on form and consistency and not just athletic ability to hit the shots I want to hit. Great to read up but the logic is very solid.
Also, as with the two handed backhand, setup and prep mistakes are eliminated and that takes a lot
of errors out of your game.
Excellent piece. Thank you for publishing it.
Thank you for taking the time to write in and share your experiences with your two-handed forehand! I appreciate your kind words and certainly appreciate knowing that my article was informative and meaningful to you. I hope others too gained insights from it.
Players like you who take a moment to share their thoughts about our articles, (good and bad!), help us all evaluate the usefulness of our articles.
Thanks again and best wishes on continued success on the court!
David W. Smith
Senior Editor, TennisOne