Linear vs. Circular
It is no secret the game has changed in the past 20 years. Video highlights of Wimbledon championships from the 1970's appear to be in actual slow motion. Players worked the ball from corner to corner, with change of pace, varying spins, and a variety of shots not really seen much in modern tennis.
One could argue that the modern game had its beginnings in Bjorn Borg's patient, accurate, heavy topspin backcourt game
Perhaps the two greatest influences leading to our modern game were Bjorn Borg and Ivan Lendl. Borg demonstrated as well as dominated with a patient, accurate, topspin backcourt game. Then Lendl followed with the really big forehand, and a power game based on a big serve followed by a forcing if not outright backcourt forehand winner (sounds a little like Roddick). Certainly the legions of young players copied elements of those games, and now many of the young players are either professionals, or are the coaches working on our game.
But learning the game in the 1960's (showing my age here) it was all about stepping in and following through. And really stepping IN, and really following THROUGH in a forward direction, no racquet over the shoulder, but just out to the target. The quality of the collision was somehow more important than racquet speed, and though many shots were hit with spin, there was no real emphasis on "heavy" spinning shots.
Two advantages accrued from this style. First, it enabled you to move forward, move through the ball and take the net. Second, and equal if not greater importance was improved timing. Meaning, the racquet was in the contact zone and aligned to the target longer - so if you hit the ball slightly early or slightly late you still had relatively good aim.
Sometimes this is known as a three, four, or even a 10 ball hit - imagining that three four or ten balls are touching in a straight line toward the target and you are trying to hit all ten balls with the same racquet face. Jimmy Connors played this game, yes he turned into the hit, but in general he was about stepping in, moving forward, and finishing the stroke well out toward the target.
Jimmy Connors turned into the hit, but in general he was about stepping in, moving forward, and finishing the stroke well out toward the target.
Because the linear style works more with collisions and does not maximize racquet speed, this is actually a workable version on the volley - where alignment of the racquet and timing of the hit are paramount. It may also explain why so few players volley these days, if in fact learning the rotational racquet speed style as juniors made it harder for them to learn a seemingly opposite volley technique. Further, it may be that these players have led us to the "swing volley" for certainly that was not within the teaching manuals in the 1970's.
Conversely, the rotational model is not about stepping in, but rather using both legs to drive a dramatic hip and torso turn which then whips the racquet around and into the ball. Often hit from an open stance (which then reduces all potential for forward movement) the circularity of this swing looks quite different from the long linear strokes when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
There really is an "around" to the swing. I have seen junior players mishit and frame many a shot when learning this technique. I have even heard that Federer was prone to mishits some years before he truly mastered this style. And when looking back on the juniors, it is true that the rotational style was much harder for them to "time" to the hit, but once learned they all now hit much bigger shots than do the kids who were content to time their shots with a pushing (linear) style.
As there are many ways to "hit the ball" and many ways to play the game, I make no particular recommendations here, but do have a few pointers on awareness. As to the linear style, it is again about collisions and moving forward.
Tom Stow once said to me, "Jim, every shot should feel like an approach shot." And though I did not have the courage to ask how or why, he then demonstrated a forehand finishing position with the weight entirely on the front foot, so much so that the back foot would then swing forward as though walking to the net - this being the approaching model - with body weight balanced and positioned as far forward as possible.
If you are taking the net on the forehand side in the deuce court against a weak second serve - monitor your footwork - are you actually moving to the ball and through the hit and getting to the net or are you abruptly stopping and then starting again after contact. On the return of the heavy first serve, can you feel a "borrowing" of pace, where the racquet swings slowly and carefully and the power comes from the precise collision, rather than any excess racquet speed.
And for awareness of the feel and feels of the rotational style, experiment with sensations in your hand and fingers. If you create a forceful hip turn and an "around whipping" arm action, you may actually notice the feeling of blood rushing into your fingertips, and if so that is good. Ideally, this "heaviness" should occur in the contact zone, and certainly that is an apt description of Federer's heavy whipping hits.
Now for some speculation - and I would enjoy critical feedback here (and anywhere else for that matter). On the history channel recently I observed a stunt pilot diving and then sharply pulling up out of the dive, he pulled 6 g's, and this centrifugal force actually made him 6 times heavier than usual (a 200 pound pilot now weighed 1200 pounds, and even wore a special suit so the blood would not all be thrown into his legs and feet and cause him to lose consciousness).
So, I imagine, does something similar occur when swinging around on the forehand? Does Federer somehow know how to make his hand and racquet heavier because it changes direction within the contact zone? Certainly that would cause many a mishit when this swinging change of direction occurred too early or too late, but equally once mastered it may explain the incredible power we see from seemingly effortless swings. Or at least that is what I daydream about when I'm on the court.
As always, we would love to hear your views on the subjects raised in this newsletter. Please click here to send your email directly to me.
Jim McLennan TennisOne Editor
(Click link to purchase Jim McLennan's Secrets of World Class Footwork Video).
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