Top Men & Women at BNP Paribas Open
(March 5 - 18, Indian Wells, CA)
See all the top men and women players at the magnificent Indian Wells tournament. Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Sharapova, Wozniacki, you have them all in one venue! Click here for tickets.
Raw Talent is Not Enough!
I spent last weekend filming players on the practice courts of the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships to get more footage for both the Pro Stroke Video Library and for future Stroke Video Lessons. Yes, I am “that guy” that hangs out by the practice courts with a camera for hours at a time.
After watching Victor Troicki and Philipp Kohlschreiber’s practice session finish, two players that I had never seen before stepped onto the court. Not knowing who they were, I decided to review the footage that I had just taken. After a few minutes of warming up, the two guys began to pick up the pace and intensity of their practice. At first I was barely watching but soon I was captivated. I realized that both players were not missing a shot. Their rallies were lasting for minutes at a time. And add the fact that they were hitting the ball so incredibly hard that the fuzz was flying off of it.
Click photo: I watched Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Matthias Bachinger (not shown) hit ball after ball with perfect strokes and not missing.
I picked up my camera and started filming this incredible display of power, accuracy, and total control. I was stunned; they were playing perfect tennis with perfect strokes. I asked my head pro and TennisOxygen.com webmaster, Cody, who was filming on the court behind me, who they were. He informed me it was Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Matthias Bachinger. After a quick Google search, I found out they were ranked 93 and 94 in the world, respectively.
I had really only recognized one of the two player’s names, Garcia-Lopez from Spain, but I had never heard of Bachinger, who is German. I asked myself how two players of this caliber could have flown under my radar for so long — but more importantly, I wondered how these guys could not be ranked higher than they were. They were able to keep up their combination of accuracy and power for the entire sixty minute practice session that included a mix of rallying and practice points. My first thought was that one of these two players is going to win the tournament.
I was so impressed that I showed the footage to a good friend of mine, Alan Van Nostrand, who happened to be watching the tournament with his son. Alan, like me, coaches tennis for a living and is equally passionate about the game. I told him about the incredible practice session that I had just seen and showed him a few slow-motion video clips.
Like two passionate teaching pros would, we looked at the footage from a technical and analytical standpoint. After agreeing that both players were technically perfect and incredibly talented, we both wondered why they would not be ranked higher than they actually were.
When I got home from teaching on the court the next day, I checked the draw to see how these two superhuman displays of tennis perfection had fared. I couldn’t believe it, they had both lost in the first round! And, they both lost to unseeded opponents; Garcia-Lopez in straight sets, Bachinger in three. How was that possible? I was shocked!
I picked up the phone and called Alan right away. Alan has had quite a bit of experience coaching tour level players. My first reaction was that there is so much depth in men’s tennis and there are so many great players competing. This is true, but Alan soon made me realize that talent was not enough to be able to compete consistently at the highest level.
The Talent Flaw
Alan called it the “talent flaw.” So many players on the tour have talent and natural ability but in a way, it is somewhat of a curse because they don’t have to work hard to be able to play well. To be a consistent top ten player, you need so much more than raw talent or as he said, “You need more than killer skills.” Don’t get me wrong, these two players have been successful their entire lives — they had to be to get to where they are today. They have probably won 80% of their matches from junior tennis on up, but to make that final leap, to become a true champion, talent alone is not enough.
Alan mentioned how the recent rise in rankings of Mardy Fish was a great example. For most of his career, Mardy was an extremely talented player who underachieved until he learned to put in the hard work and started playing with a more driven mind set. Roddick was the complete opposite of Fish, Andy was an over-achiever, no one worked harder on and off the court while having a lesser amount of natural ability. Andy won a Grand Slam and became number one in the world and stayed in the top ten for nine years with only two weapons, a serious serve and a serious forehand.
Breaking Into the Top Ten
It is difficult to pin down the exact variable needed to become a great player and to break into the top ten, but Alan brought up a few variables/tangibles.
The first is that the player must play for the right reasons 100% of the time. If the player is not 100% committed and playing for the right reasons, than he is flawed. Verdasco is a great example. He maybe one of the most gifted guys on tour but worries perhaps a bit too much about the fruits of his labor (dating fashion models, hanging out with celebrities, etc.).
Andy Roddick (left) reached number one despite having only a serve and a forehand, but no one worked harder on and off the court. Mardy fish took a longer time to learn that lesson and his recent results have shown that.
The second is simply motivation. Why is the player playing? Did he start out playing because his parents or coach made him? Does he love the game? Does he love to compete? Lleyton Hewitt was, and still is, so tough because he is motivated to compete every time he steps on the court. He simply loves the nature of competition.
Third is the ability to recognize and take advantage of opportunities within matches. Great players always seem to rise to the occasion. Great players are consistently ready mentally and physically to take advantage of those moments. Great players always seem to want it more and respond extremely well to big moments and this is especially true on the biggest stages. Great players always seem to take advantage of opportunities.
The fourth is having command and belief over your game; knowing your game so well that you will know when to raise the level when needed. Pete Sampras was the master of this. He did not care about his opponent’s strengths or weaknesses, he just played his game. He had complete belief and command over his game and his skill set. Pete rarely lost matches by beating himself. When he lost, it was typically because his opponent rose up and played better on that particular day. Other players who stand out in this category are Ivan Lendl and Novak Djokovic. The best example of this was when Novak hit a clean winner return of serve down match point to Roger Federer at the 2011 US Open Semifinals. It was not luck but simply a pure belief in his own capability and command over his skill set.
And lastly, the fifth is knowing what you don’t know. Roger Federer early in his career, while already being labeled as one of the most talented players on tour, could not win on a consistent basis. He was tired of losing and he did not know why he was not winning consistently until he realized the most important part of the winning formula was missing. He began to work not only on being mentally ready to win but also physically ready to win, and the rest is history. In 2010, the year before Novak Djokovic went on his great tear through the ATP World Tour, Novak came out and said that the game is 80% mental. Is it a coincidence that after this he then had his most successful year to date? Did his focus and motivation shift? I think so.
There are so many more variables that come into play in developing a top ten player, but the five discussed here are a great start to heading in the right direction. I truly believe that very little separates the ball striking ability between the number 1 and the number 100 player in the world. They are all extremely talented but the true champions have afforded themselves the work ethic and motivation to believe in their abilities when the opportunity presents itself. The Lendl’s, Federer’s, and Djokovic’s of the world are certainly not flawed.
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Exploding into Motion
See a short ball and your first thought should be "explode into motion." At the Bollettieri Tennis Academy, Pat Dougherty takes this a bit further. There they work on isolating specific techniques and get enough reps on them so that the body knows it as well as say, tying your shoes. In this way, it comes out naturally in competition. Here he works on a footwork slalom drill and creating heavy topspin using a semi-western grip and a windshield wiper motion.
Every tennis game has patterns. The pros have patterns. Look past their power and their personalities and you’ll see them. Recreational players have patterns too. Look beyond the randomness and the errors and you’ll see them also. And your tennis game has patterns as well. Left unexamined, your patterns may help you or hurt you. Marcus Paul Cootsona suggests you friend your patterns, because if you don’t, your opponent will.
ProStrokes 2.0 — Juan Carlos Ferrero, Serve & Net Game
Originally one of the best clay-court players in his prime, Juan Carlos Ferrero has become a great all-court player, possessing a more aggressive game than most of his Spanish compatriots. His forehand is a good one to emulate and is considered one of the game’s best. A pro for thirteen years and a former world number one, Juan Carlos has reached the quarter finals in all four Grand Slam events, a rare feat among players today. While Ferrero is no longer the elite player he once was, he still possesses the kind of game that commands respect even among the top players. New this issue, Ferrero's serve and net game.
TennisOne Writers Store
One of your many new benefits as a TennisOne membership is your ability to purchase selected instructional DVDs at 20% off ($7.50 off each) in our new TennisOne Writers Store (login in first to access members links):
- "Building Your Serve from the Ground Up," Jim McLennan Members Public
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- "Achieving Peak Performance the Wholistic Way: The Mental Game," Happy Bhalla Members – Public
- "Building a World Class Serve," Phil Dent Members – Public
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- "Keys to Modern Tennis Technique: One-Handed Topspin," Doug King Members Public
- "Best of Ken DeHart," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Corrective Techniques & Myths," Ken DeHart Members – Public
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