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Dinara Safina's Backhand - ProStrokes 2.0 Feature This Week
See sample of Dinara Safina's backhand in ProStrokes 2.0 Slow-Motion in this week's edition.
The following material is not meant to contravene all that has come before, nor to short circuit the instructional material we publish, but rather to consider how to reframe one’s perspective about the game. In the recent video by Pat Dougherty, “The Cylinder and the Whip,” Pat aptly described how so many of the players who come to him are looking everywhere for information, but that such a search may be counterproductive because of information overload. His spoken word may do this concept more justice than this written exposition, but the concept simply stated is that perhaps the keys to the game are simpler than one might expect. So at a tennis conference many years ago the question was posed to seminar attendees, “If you could say just one thing to a student what would it be?” And though truly there is no correct answer to this, you might even ask yourself what is the one thing most important, the one key that unlocks the game for you.
Recently the Tennis Channel rebroadcast an old McEnroe, Vilas match. And Mac, as usual, bunted the ball around the court, floated it deep, angled it short, rarely charged around the court, and with his improbable grips always positioned the racquet correctly at impact. One of the best coaches in our area, Henry Kamakana, has said that had he coached Mac as a kid he would have changed his ground stroke grips to something more traditional. I wonder though if, in the process, he actually might have wrecked Mac’s game. For certainly using one grip for all shots (this includes the forehand backhand, serve, and volley), perhaps not a continental but rather a universal grip, has served Mac quite well. And I think this gets to the idea of teaching methodology and paradigms, where one of our main tenets is that certain grips work better than others, and many times recreational players are stymied by their inability to understand how certain grips either inhibit or enable certain types of shots.
So unless I have already lost you in this meandering article, I want to suggest two keys to the game two simple ideas that many of our good players intuitively understand, and yet somehow these same two keys remain entirely elusive to the majority of players on court today. Manage the point of contact. Know the court. And that is about it. No matter one’s fitness, nutrition, or competitive instincts, the rubber meets the road when the racquet touches the ball. And often counterintuitive grips work quite well.
Historians may remember Francois Durr’s thoroughly unorthodox backhand grip, modern coaches would cringe at the sight, but it worked just fine for her. And similarly, Mac’s genius lies in positioning his racquet at impact, more or less using deflections to steer the ball around the court.
Secondly, knowing the court simply refers to the awareness of one’s own court position and what the opponent is likely to do, and equally seeing the opponent’s court position and which shots make the most sense. On that score, in a round robin at our club, one of our cagiest players, LS, stroked the ball simply, rarely missed, but anytime her opponent was just a little to close to the net she lobbed easily, and anytime the opponent was just a bit too deep she angled niftily.
Wall to the Ball
Years ago, I asked Bill Maze, an old friend and now an eminently successful college coach, for some insight into the McEnroe volley. Bill had played doubles with Mac at Stanford, and with customary candor Bill said, “Wall to the ball.” I asked for more than that and he reiterated that simply Mac positioned the wall/strings to the ball at impact. No information of take back, spin, follow through, or footwork, just “wall to the ball.”
And gang, that may be all there is to hitting the ball, and perhaps our over analysis and biomechanical jargon obscures this simple truth. Wall to the ball. Try it on court; place all your awareness on the racquet face at impact. Credit your good shots to the wall, and understand your errors as a function of the wall. Pretty simple stuff really. And note examples on other courts of players attributing their errors to a host of secondary issues while overlooking the primary cause – wall to the ball.
Knowing the Court
Click photo: Mac's game was the model of simplicity, he put the wall to the ball.
I believe that when focused mightily on technique, attention may inadvertently shift internally, where our energies focus entirely on hitting the ball, without any reference to the opponent’s court position, and equally to our own court position. The game can be played with a wide array of shots, but truly that array is contingent on where you and I are on the court. Too often I see players with extreme topspin strokes mismanage their replies to a drop shot, over hitting into the net, when a more suitable reply would be a subtle drop shot return. Other times I see these same bangers, when driven well behind the baseline, aim the ball low and into the net when something arcing higher makes much more sense. And this gets so much back to McEnroe, who floats the ball so he always has time to recover, and who stings the ball when the opponent is out of position. You and I can do the same, but truly only when court awareness becomes a priority.
Span of Control
Click photo: Note Federer's complete lack of tension on his face throughout contact.
Old friend, teacher and mentor to me Don Kerr, often talked about span of control, the concept about the sum total of things we can reasonably do at once. And though multitasking appears to be the modern way of the world, I believe that same approach fouls up one’s tennis, because it leads to simply too much internal noise while playing. And if one can reasonably control only one thing at a time, then choose either wall to the ball, or knowing the court when playing. Nothing more. And if perhaps you have a span of control of two, then become your own club’s McEnroe – and place the wall to the ball while sensing every aspect of the court.
My suggestion, followed by gales of laughter, was to “smile at the ball.” And I attempted to explain that first any tension in the face radiates throughout the body, on this one you can always contrast Federer with Roddick at impact, serenity vs. brute force, effortlessness vs. over effort. But secondly, as this is a wonderful game for a lifetime, smiling at the ball might actually help one discover the joy rather than the struggle and work inherent in this game.
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Developing Volley Skills for ½ Court Players (5-7 Year Olds)
In his continuing series about developing 5-7 year old players using balls and courts scaled down to the size of children, Wayne Elderton moves on to net play development. The goal of Progressive Tennis is to develop an all-court game and on smaller courts with lower nets proportioned to the size of the child, players are able to approach and cover the net effectively.
Chips, Chops, Lobs, and Everything in Between
Variety is the spice of life and, while we might bemoan the lack of diversity in playing styles at the top of the game these days, it’s still very much alive and kicking at the club level. But there is not a player in the world who does not have a weakness - or three. The challenges in beating anyone are two-fold: firstly, identifying those weaknesses and secondly, exploiting them. Philippe Azar identifies eight distinct styles of play and shows you how to compete against each one.
The High Volley
The high floating volley is perhaps one of the most difficult shots in tennis and the most often choked. There are several reasons why this is a difficult shot: The incoming ball is typically moving slowly which requires us to create our own power, it is perceived as an “easy” shot, which adds to the pressure we put on ourselves, many players never practice the shot, and the ball is out of our normal strike zone. Jorge Capestany and Luke Jensen show you how to master this often awkward stroke.
ProStrokes 2.0 - Dinara Safina's Backhand
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 backhand.
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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