Identifying Key Position Points
David Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
If there were only thing that would summarize advanced players or skilled play, it might be: “Pros swing with repetitive, reliable swing patterns on all similar shots.”
While there can be many other objective statements that define advanced play, this one sentence also can describe effective players who don’t necessarily follow conventional form. I have said in several articles for TennisOne that no matter what grip, swing pattern, or footwork pattern a player chooses, the concept of “keeping the plane the same” (or keeping the racquet face the same during a stroke or shot), will help any player develop consistent strokes.
However, if players want to maximize the effectiveness of certain shots, (both from a consistency standpoint as well as the ability to add pace, spin, touch, angles, depth, and disguise), they will want to adopt specific “foundations” from which they can build from and improve as they become more practiced and experienced. We see these foundations (I call them “Advanced Foundations” in my two books, Tennis Mastery and my new book, Coaching Mastery) among all pros with few exceptions.
See if you can
identify the key position points of Shahar Peer and David Nalbandian in
the two videos. While there are identifyable difference, we
see the foundation of their key position points being
While many pros might use one or two hands on the backhand (and more now being seen using two-handed forehands), or have idiosyncrasies that are based on player evolution within their Advanced Foundations, we can still see similarities among the pros and perhaps more importantly, we see similar stroke patterns from one shot to the next shot for any given pro; i.e., one topspin forehand similar to the next topspin forehand.
We have all seen Novak Djokovic mimic Maria Sharapova’s service preparation and even her delivery. Many of you can recall John McEnroe’s very closed stance on his left handed serve or Nadal’s reverse finish on his western grip forehand. The point here is that it is nearly impossible to “Clone” players into becoming something of an assembly-line, machine-like carbon copy of each other. Players develop their own style and playing personality based on their own strengths, perceptions, and individualities.
I have trained over 3000 players over my nearly 35 years teaching and in that time no two players have ever played exactly the same…even though I have used the same “Advanced Foundation” training techniques for vast majority of these players. Still, most of these players developed an advanced game, one that featured what I call “Key Position Points” that they could indeed build a game from.
Sharapova both establish the same key position points: Hands to the
left hip; racquet head pointing down prior to the contact phase; back leg
stays back at contact; right elbow stays close to the player's side; left
elbow points to target after contact.
There is obviously more to developing a great game than just these key position points--from drills to overall stroke production, the acquisition of sound strokes takes time and training.
However, I think these “reference points” are extremely useful and can serve as a building block in the formation of any skilled stroke. A great example of this can be seen in Doug Eng’s recent feature, “Comparative Analysis of the One-Handed Backhand” where Doug clearly identifies the key position points pros adhere to on the one-handed backhand.
In the first of a series of newsletters designed to help you identify some of these key position points, I want you to look at the standard two-handed backhand. Below is a list of what I consider important key position points that are easily identifiable as well as keys to establishing a solid and consistent two-handed backhand.
Backswing I: Hands to the hips. Regardless of a player using a full loop, half loop, or straight back backswing, almost all players get their hands close to the hips on the backswing. This sets up the backhand to produce consistent topspin.
Backswing II: Head Tilt. The player will tilt the racquet head down at this point, the amount of tilt is usually relative to the amount of topspin desired.
Contact I: Straight Line from tip of racquet through the center line of the racquet, through the forearm to the elbow. This position is usually held before contact and well after contact.
Contact II: The dominant elbow remains close to the body at contact and after. This provides a stable pivot point for the two-handed backhand as well as preventing players from leading with this dominant elbow as so many recreational players do (usually because they open the hips too early).
Contact III: Non-dominant arm is fairly straight. While there is some variation in this based on certain situational positions, most players will try to maintain a fairly straight non-dominant arm through contact.
Follow-through I: Sideways “L” shape of the forearms.
Follow-through II: Non-dominate elbow points towards the target.
Follow-through III: Butt-cap of racquet points at target.
- Follow-through IV: Back of non-dominant hand near opposite cheek of player’s face.
Based on footwork patterns, you will often find many similar position points on specific strokes. While the backhand can be hit open stance, the majority of pros using two hands on the backhand use a neutral or closed stance, preferring the front foot to be used as a pivot point and where the weight of the player ends up. The back leg tends to “toe drag” before releasing into a brake-step well after contact.
By recognizing the key points of a stroke, a player can begin to repeat a stroke more easily and accurately. However, no matter how much one tries to copy a stroke, individual characteristics and personality will evolve. But by copying the best foundations, you will be well on your way to building a solid game of your own
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