Dinara Safina's Serve - ProStrokes 2.0 Feature This Week
See sample of Dinara Safina's serve in ProStrokes 2.0 Slow-Motion in this week's edition.
Since it happened back in May, the worst news of the 2008 tennis year is quite possibly forgettable. But not for me.
Word of Justine Henin’s retirement was exceptionally disturbing. In one quick day, tennis had lost one of its greatest contemporary players. Certainly this holds true on the women’s side where, as I see it, Henin is the supreme female player since Steffi Graf.
Yes, it’s true that Henin won seven Grand Slam titles compared to Serena Williams’ nine and Venus Williams’ seven. And the truth is that both these players pretty much had their way with the Belgian on any surface but clay (save for Henin’s wins over each at the ’07 U.S. Open). So if the quantitative tally will give the Williams sisters an edge, in raw tennis terms – as opposed to larger cultural significance – I still favor Henin.
The great backhand was Justine's signature shot.
What I admired and miss most about Henin was her supreme dedication. Billie Jean King once said, “We want to look back when we’re 50 years old and not have to ask, ‘What if?” Henin conducted herself in a way that showed she had little desire to leave anything on the table (that is, until she walked away from it all just like that). From the way she approached the practice court, to the way she prepared, hit, and competed, there was always a powerful sense of urgency around her – a sense that, yes, this tennis life is truly special and not something to be compartmentalized or subordinated. She cared.
The work ethic was one way of overcoming a weakness Henin admitted to early in her career – nerves. If at times it was easy for her to take command, closing out matches was tough. And so, in the manner of such exemplary champions as Roy Emerson, Ivan Lendl, Jim Courier, and Martina Navratilova, she made herself exceptionally fit. The will to win is one thing. But the will to prepare to win is what separates the enduring champions from the pack.
At Indian Wells one year I watched Henin and Martina Hingis walk out to practice. Prior to entering the court, Hingis, exquisitely facile on and off the court, clutched a football, joking that “my mother thinks this will help my serve.” There might have been a time when Hingis wholeheartedly would have believed this. But by this stage, Hingis was post-modern, ironic, nearly indifferent to boosting her game. Her so-so heave fluttered with the velocity an eight-year-old might generate.
Picking it up off the ground, rearing back with hips and shoulders, Henin fired it back to Hingis with the zip of an aspiring Brett Favre.
Henin turned her forehand into a weapon to augment the great backhand.
So at her core, Henin was a grinder, less world-weary than pained, less cocky than determined, unquestionably insular but also graced with a vision that saw a spectacular range of oncourt possibilities.
For it’s rare when a grinder is also a shotmaker. Henin’s ability to construct points was enchanting. The backhand, of course, was the signature shot, the personal gift she’d had since childhood, a free-spirited shoulder turn and willingness not just to let go and fling it into corners but also the wisdom to mix in slices, lobs, drop shots, and other variations. Any stroke that leaves John McEnroe in awe is surely a sign of genius.
To her credit, Henin knew a great one-handed backhand was hardly enough. First to upgrade was her forehand, a shot she learned to make terminal in a way that augmented the backhand. Then came the serve, a stroke she indeed struggled with frequently throughout her entire career. So many times I would notice her various takebacks and discuss them with her coach, Carlos Rodriguez. So many times he would explain to me why she was taking one approach or another.
Justine and Serena in a more cordial moment.
Most of all, what I loved was seeing Henin so engaged. Steve Stefanki, a coach I admire very much, told me once he cares about people perceiving themselves as contenders – people engaged in refinement, in improvement. Outcome, he noted, is passive. But process is active. More than any woman player of recent times – and on a par with the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – Henin was a supreme activist.
I won’t claim she was a saint. Unquestionably there were times when Henin’s will to succeed got the best of her, when she would engage in, yes, a moment of cheating in her ’03 French semifinal versus Serena, when Henin had signaled for Serena to pause when serving and then neglected to tell the umpire about it. There was a bluntness to her comments that with a touch of thought might have earned her more kindly love. But there was never a doubt just how much she wanted it – and how much raw passion, focus, tenacity, and even beauty she brought to her craft. I only wish we could have more. We shall not see the likes of Justine Henin for many years to come – if ever. And as I contemplate the rash of injuries and withdrawals that have plagued the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, I miss that very much.
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The Serve - Do You Throw Like a Girl?
Not long ago Ian Barstow watched Alicia Molik ask a ball boy for a ball and then throw it to the diagonally opposite corner of the court. This excellent throw reminded him of Richard William’s proclamation. “Girls can not throw and this is why they can not serve.” Well obviously Alicia Molik can throw and maybe this is why she has a great serve, because a great serve is all about technique and not about strength.
The Opposite Hand on the Forehand
Most people think that when a right-handed player hits a forehand, the right hand and arm are doing all the work in the stroke. The right hand and arm take the racquet back, the right hand and arm create the swing by dropping the racquet head below the ball and brushing up the back of and through the ball, and then of course, the right hand and arm finish the stroke with a follow-through someplace over the opposite shoulder. And that’s it, right? Well, not quite. Dan McCain
Return of Serve - Inside Out Backhand
In doubles, at the club level, the player with the best backhand usually plays the ad side (right-handers) but is this the smart thing to do? Returning effectively from the deuce court requires an inside out backhand to keep the ball away from the net player, a much more difficult shot than the crosscourt return from the ad side. Here, Monty Basnyat offers a simple solution to this difficult shot.
ProStrokes 2.0 - Dinara Safina's Serve
Dinara Safina, younger sister of Marat Safin, is gradually stepping outside of her big brothers shadow and with four WTA titles in 2008 and presently ranked third on the Sony Ericsson WTA tour rankings, she appears poised for yet more success. Safina has the tools to climb to the top of the rankings. She plays a very aggressive, close to the baseline, taking the ball on the rise game. She flattens out the spin very well, and this may be the key to her success. Check out Dinara Safina's game in the all new TennisOne ProStrokes Gallery 2.0. New this issue, Safina's Serve.
The Etcheberry Experience DVD
For more than twenty years Pat Etcheberry has been providing athletes from around the world with the winning edge. We call this the Etcheberry Experience, and players with an Etcheberry experience have hoisted Championship Trophies at over one hundred major championships, including 28 Australian Opens, 18 Wimbledons, 22 UP Opens, 22 French Opens and 15 Olympic medals.
And now it's your turn! This is your chance to experience the same drills, exercises and words of tennis wisdom that Pat gave to Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Jim Courier, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and others, that helped launch them on their incredible careers. For the first time, Pat Etcheberry shares his training secrets in a series of DVDs for players of all ages, their coaches, and trainers.
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