The men's professional tennis tour “stormed” through town last week at the SAP Open in San Jose. Not exactly like the days of old when the pros toured in pairs from town to town, barnstorming as it were. The game was slower then. The venues were often very small and spectators got quite close to the action. In my fuzzy memory, it may have been easier to actually see how they played, and perhaps the game played then may have more closely resembled the recreational games of the spectators.
I have no quarrel with the modern game, but I suspect that you and I may lose sight of the simple things these players (still) do and instead, note the leaping forehands, tweeners, and 140 mph serves, all of which are out of our (or at least my) reach.
That said, let's take a look at a few stills from the SAP that may either reinforce techniques you have already learned, or enlighten you about elements of the game you haven't actually noticed.
As simple as it sounds, there are a number of important elements here. The posture is absolutely perfect, the back is straight. The shoulders head and neck are held in a relaxed way. The knees and ankles are engaged, meaning both are lightly flexed, nothing excessive. Further, the player's weight is ever so slightly forward.
Note that the posture, the balance, and the legs – all are poised to enable the receiver to quickly turn either to the forehand or backhand side. Not the racquet back and not a big old turn and step. Just a simple and small turn where the weight moves ever so slightly to the outside foot.
Mardy's weight is behind the volley and delivered into the ball.
At our club, we often laugh when I remind someone to “Get Ready” and somehow, they thought I said, “Bend at the waist.” For in that position the knees and ankles are usually locked and the player crouches uncomfortably from the waist. Ready means ready to react to the forehand or backhand, nothing more, and certainly there is a balanced position that most enables that quick reaction.
Volley out in front with a firm wrist
Here, the volleyer uses the momentum of the incoming ball to generate pace, and whenever possible, creates backspin so the ball will shoot through the bounce and stay low. Leading with the lower edge of the racquet at contact creates underspin. When the ball is met well in front, the wrist lays back. The bones in the hand and lower arm enable the wrist to lay back only so far, and, as that point is approached (as it is here), the joint becomes locked so to speak not because of the muscles but because of the bones. Finally, it appears that all of Mardy's weight is behind this shot and delivered into the ball. Textbook underspin volley.
Interestingly, in the 2004 Siebel Open, Fish lost the singles final to Roddick and won the doubles title with Blake. In the doubles, Fish was clearly the best player on the court, with serve returns and, as we see here, outstanding volleys.
Andy Roddick gets down for the low forehand.
Get down to the low ball
The pro's all use a wicked underspin backhand drive to keep the ball low, and to reduce the opponent's chances to knock off a forehand.
Often when a player moves inside the baseline for this low ball they won't really approach but rather restart the rally waiting for a ball that affords more options. In this photo (left), you clearly see Andy get down to the ball. His knees are really bent, and they have to be, but equally, he is getting the racquet down as well. From the looks of it, this will be a topspin drive, but clearly he is working from under the ball.
At the recreational level either the racquet is low and the player isn't, or the player is low but the racquet is above the ball. This looks pretty good.
Players create topspin by brushing up against the ball at contact. This can be done by any number of actions, straightening the legs at impact, lifting the arm and racquet up and through the ball at contact, or in the modern instance, rotating the forearm and racquet in somewhat of a propeller fashion.
Thomas Enquist and the propeller finish.
There remains reasonable disagreement as to whether this forearm rotation can be injurious. In my mind, it all depends on the amount of momentum the racquet has when the forearm rolls. If the player has used his legs, torso, and arm to get the racquet moving, then there is little harm to add an upward hitting action from forearm rotation at impact. On the other hand, if the arm and forearm are the only levers accelerating the racquet, and this can be a common recreational occurrence, then yes, be careful with your elbow and forearm.
Try to feel the body swinging the arm, and when felt, there is an easy accumulation of momentum in the racquet. Avoid feeling the arm swinging the racquet, for in this instance, the swing is muscled, forced, and generally not flowing. Enquist looks pretty good here.
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