On behalf of our team of 18 here at TennisOne, I wish you all a Happy Holiday. We appreciate your support and generous comments throughout the year. Below are some of the best-of-2006 articles by our outstanding editors and senior writers. Enjoy, stay tuned to TennisOne--the best is yet to come!
Kim Shanley, Publisher
A Feel for the Court
During the past few weeks I have been mulling tennis projects for the New Year. Not necessarily mine, for the problems on my forehand side seem to age less like wine than the transition from wine to vinegar. No, I am working on projects for our club members, ways they may significantly improve their play in the New Year. Not really spring training, as in baseball where one goes back to the basics to refresh and reinforce the nuts and bolts of fielding, throwing, and hitting, but rather to explore an area often neglected in tennis – simply said, the notion of a feel for the court.
Consider the wealth of information available to you. Articles on TennisOne, analyses by the talking heads who populate televised matches, instructional material in tennis magazines, as well as tips from your friendly local pro (and I hope you have contact with such a person). Truly, between grip changes, revised stances, wrap finishes, inside out forehand plays, and more, no one can keep track of all these things simultaneously. At the end of the day, perhaps one or two ideas may resonate when on court. And, at 4-5, 30-all, one may be less aware of an opponent's court positioning, or the nuances of the incoming ball, and simply determined to drive the ball down the line with a semi western forehand where a delicate crosscourt lob would have been less risky and much more likely to win the point.
What I am saying is that in nearly all instances, there occurs one shot that carries less risk and offers more reward than all the others. The art of the game lies within the skill to identify and then the ability to execute that particular shot and expose an opponent's flank (as it were).
Within the men’s professional game, three players come to mind who exhibit an uncommon feel for the court. First and foremost, Roger Federer has a knack for topspin, backspin, offense, defense, ground strokes, volleys, and the feel to change spin, direction, and even tactics seemingly at will. In total contrast to the big bangers who hammer away from the baseline without much variety, Federer is a breath of fresh air to all who value the breadth of the game.
Federer seems to have the uncanny ability to always hit the right shot at the right time.
Similarly, Andy Murray displays this all court knack. Topspin backhands, under spin backhands, subtle change of pace, and wonderfully varied tactics. Murray is knocking on the door of the “Top Ten” but more due to his overall skill than a sledge hammer forehand.
And finally, who can forget John McEnroe, dominating the game from the baseline, from the net, on the serve, and on the return. In fact, his feel for the court was totally evident when at the ripe old age of 47 he captured the 2006 SAP Open doubles title, outplaying every opponent with touch, with angle, and with smarts, but certainly without the brute power or reflexes of his younger opponents. One can only imagine how limited many of our current crop of bangers would appear were they to compete at a similar age.
A few years ago, Pete Sampras described the magical day that occurred now and then on court, when, as he said, “My shots and my decisions are perfect.” Meaning, in the wink of an eye, whether serving and volleying, mastering Agassi’s blistering returns, or scrambling along the baseline for his trademark running forehand winner, Pete had to decide whether down the line or cross court, sharply angle or heavy to the corner, deep and down the middle or a low skidding approach. In each case those decisions flowed from an acute awareness of his and his opponent’s court position.
Well the same occurs with you and me. But somehow many players seem fixated on a particular stroke in nearly all situations; they rigidly employ the same strategy no matter the opponent; or remain stuck in particular court positions without regard to the length and difficulty of the incoming shot. In contrast, those who continue to win (often without elegant strokes) appear flexible, able to improvise, to use lobs, drops, and drives depending on the court position of the opponent. Take a look around your home courts. I am willing to bet you can find one of the better players who exemplify just this; canny, varied, gifted, and capable of many shots, all depending on the nature of the situation and the position of the opponent.
So if this strikes a resonant chord as you select a New Years resolution, how
might you go about it?
See the Court
Don’t simply watch the ball as it travels back and forth. Pay close attention to your opponent’s location and balance at contact. Note when he/she is well behind the baseline, when slow to recover from a wide ball, or when crowding the net after an approach shot or volley. When out of position, there is always a particular shot that will expose an opponent's vulnerability, but first one must recognize the situation and then, and only, then execute the shot.
Use the Lob and Drop Shot
When an opponent is at the net, too often we attempt to hit the ball through them. If in fact the overhead is the least practiced shot, then a nifty crosscourt lob (the court is longer in this direction) pays generally good dividends. And further, when an opponent is well behind the baseline, we are often unaware of or reluctant to use the drop shot. Before you can ever “put it where they ain’t,” you must have control of the shots that can do just that.
Think Outside the Box
Every opponent has a tendency, a style of play, and a preference for certain positions on the court. Play the match as though you are an observer. Calmly note where they tend to play on the baseline, how they position themselves at the net, and how quickly they recover when out of position. The match is not always about you. The winning and losing can be as much or more about the opponent. But just as every opponent has strengths and weaknesses in their groundstrokes, the same occurs with their court positioning.
Yes, grips, technique, footwork, and fitness are the building blocks of the game. But once assembled, it is the artisan who choreographs these elements into a complete game – Mac, Federer, and Murray create masterpieces, much like spiders weaving a web. Imagine that you might do the same.
(Click link to purchase Jim's McLennan's Secrets of World Class Footwork Video.)
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
The Cycling Model
I selected the Cycling Model
because I particularly like the comparisons this article makes as it draws on so many elements that fit into key feels and concepts that make sense to me and my students. The ability to take an abstract concept and translate it into something simple and familiar is one big key to learning. I feel the The Cylcing Model accomplishes this.
First it addresses one of the key feels of "connecting" or holding the ball, with the analogy of the gear (ball) and chain (racquet) engaging. It addresses the role of the racquet in aligning and the role of the body in powering and the timing between these two components. It explains the principle of leverage, and the position of the hand to the ball and the body in tennis (like the foot and the pedal and the body on the bike). It also relates to the nature of turning for a more efficient transfer of power. - Doug King
The Serve: Spin Axis, Body Position, and Swing Path
In my experience there are two distinct areas of tennis that are usually the culprit in preventing player progression. These areas are the volley and the serve. Many 3.0 and 3.5 players can hit topspin and slice strokes from the baseline well enough; however, their inability or fear at the net and their serve (more specifically their second serve) prevents them from moving up to higher NTRP levels. I believe that the possession of an reliable second serve, one with effective spin and placement, can boost the confidence of players in many areas of their games.
Many have written me on the value of this particular serve article. I believe it answers the questions of not only how to develop an effective second serve, but it describes the differences between the different spins and many of the contributing problems players encounter when trying to improve their serve and the tools to fix them. - Dave Smith
Tension is the Enemy – How loose is loose?
I love this game of tennis, and am so lucky to be able to play it, teach it, and study it. Over the course of the year I read many many articles on the game, with varying points of view. Then I experiment on court both with my own game and with many of our students here at Fremont Hills. The biggest breakthrough I have had on court (both playing and teaching) has been to experiment with a much looser grip tension. The story of how a ball rebounds equally from a racquet balanced on its butt cap, compared to the rebound from a racquet held firmly in a vise is so counterintuitive, but ultimately compelling. In nearly all instances students have been able to feel a dramatic difference in their ease and rhythm. And further, this notion of “how loose is loose” helps me personally as I continue to tinker with less and less effort on the court. I hope the opportunity to reread this article will help you as well. - Jim McLennan
T1 Super Slow-Mo™ Videos - Kim Clijsters
Kim finished the 2006 year ranked fifth in the world. With semifinal finishes at the Australian, French, and Wimbledon championships, she was unable to defend her 2005 US Open title due to a wrist injury. With that one Grand Slam title, Kim has had a stellar career, capturing the season ending WTA championships in 2002 and 2003, and has been ranked number one (August 11, 2003) and finished the year ranked number two both in 2005 and 2003. Known for incredible movement, perhaps quicker than anyone on the tour, she has played at or near the top of the tour for the past six years, and if she can stay healthy, there is more to come. For those of you tuned in to footwork technique, Kim routinely uses gravity turns to cover the court.
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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