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How to Play in the Wind – and Win
“How many things are now at loose ends! Who knows which way the wind will blow tomorrow?” – Henry David Thoreau
Gene Kelly, the legendary dancer, produced an iconic performance in the musical film “Singin’ in the Rain.” He embraced the weather and made it his friend. Like Kelly, you can also embrace the weather and sing a happy tune when you’re playin’ in the wind. The keys are understanding what the wind does to the ball and planning how you can take advantage of it.
Vera Zvonareva (left) survived the nasty wind conditions while Ana Ivanovic showed far less patience.
These keys explain why the finals at the recent BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, were surprisingly one-sided. World No. 1 Rafael Nadal routed fast-rising Andy Murray 6-1, 6-2, while Vera Zvonareva pulled away from Ana Ivanovic and prevailed 7-6, 6-2. The winners better analyzed and handled the swirling wind – that was measured at 20 mph with frequent gusts up to 50 mph – while the losers were confused and frustrated by it.
“The conditions were very difficult, but I think I had good strategy and played a really good match in these conditions,” commented Nadal, always a high-percentage player. “My strategy was to move all the time. When there is a lot of wind, the important thing is you don’t have to hit the shots close to the line. Put balls in play. Maybe not in the middle, but not close to the sides. Moving very well, keeping the legs moving, that was the key.”
Murray, normally one of the tour’s cleverest players, agreed. “It was tough. I haven’t played in conditions as windy as that for quite a long time. Rafa dealt with it very well. He hit the ball cleaner and just seemed to get himself in better positions than I did,” acknowledged Murray. “You don’t necessarily want to be doing a whole lot of defending and running. You want to be in the best position possible to hit each ball, and I wasn’t. That’s why he managed to dictate most of the points.”
Click photo: Zvonareva kept the ball away from the lines and waited for Ivanovic to make a mistake.
You can learn these and other valuable lessons from the Indian Wells finals. Here are 16 ways to make the wind your invisible friend, rather than your evil enemy.
1: Note the direction and speed of the wind by looking at the net and anything else that is moving, both before the point, and as best you can, during the point. If you’re still not sure, throw up blades of grass in the air. Figuring out how the wind is blowing becomes extremely difficult when it changes directions and speeds during points. Ivanovic, who committed a whopping 41 unforced errors in the first set, called the final “the toughest conditions I’ve ever played in. It was very hard to judge where the ball would bounce and where the ball would end up.” How well you calculate the wind and judge how it affects the moving ball is so vital that it sometimes determines whether you win or lose.
2: With the inconstant wind playing tricks on your perception, footwork matters more than ever, as Nadal pointed out. So keep bouncing on your toes, take smaller steps and be ready to run or even lunge in any direction. You have to expect the unexpected and improvise more than ever. Zvonareva was actually aced by an ultra-slow Ivanovic second serve. The ball was held up so much by the unpredictable wind that Zvonareva lunged forward, swung and missed, and then fell down.
3: Shorten your backswing on groundstrokes and volleys, particularly when the wind is with your opponent. Otherwise, a late swing often results in an error because your margin of error is much smaller on very windy days.
4: Grip the racquet more firmly than usual when you return powerful shots that whiz even faster with the wind behind them. If you don’t, the racquet will turn in your hand at impact, and you’ll end up with a weak shot or a mis-hit.
Click photo: Rafa's heavy slice serve to the ad court proved particularly difficult to return in the wind.
5: Hitting the “sweet spot” on your strings takes on added importance when the wind is against you. If you hit off-center, you will be penalized severely with a considerable loss of power. So keep your eyes on the ball and your head down as long as possible, as Roger Federer does, and be ready to bend your knees more if the ball accelerates faster and lower than usual.
6: Playing “percentage tennis” becomes even more important when the wind plays havoc with your shots. Zvonareva let the more adventurous, impatient Ivanovic take the risks and make the errors, while she smartly minimized the errors by stroking safer, medium-speed shots well inside the baseline and sidelines.
7: Adjust your court position, both according to the wind and to your opponent’s ability to play with and against the wind. For example, if he is having problems hitting through the heavy wind and can’t threaten you, stand on or even inside the baseline during rallies. Conversely, give some ground – but never more than two or three feet – when he is exploiting a strong head wind and is starting to overpower you.
8: Use more topspin than usual on your groundstrokes when the wind is behind you to keep your shots in the court. Conversely, avoid heavy topspin when hitting against strong wind because somewhat flatter shots will penetrate the wind more effectively. You also have to hit higher over the net than usual to achieve the necessary depth.
Click photo: Backspin can backfire on windy days and this negated one of Murray's best tactics.
9: Backspin can backfire on windy days. In his 1925 classic book, Match Play and the Spin of the Ball, the astute Bill Tilden advised: “It is almost impossible to successfully slice or chop in a high wind, as the wind will catch the floating ball and blow it far out of its intended direction.” Specifically, slice shots entail a double risk. Wind gusts can grab these relatively soft, floating balls and propel them beyond the baseline or into the alleys. Conversely, fierce winds can greatly slow their flight (or even push balls backwards) and turn your underspin, slice groundstroke into a weak, attackable shot.
10: Holding serve becomes less of a factor, the greater the wind. Try your utmost to win both games when playing on the side with the wind behind you. You have a big advantage there, and you will find it more difficult to hold when serving against the wind.
11: How can you best press your advantage when the wind is with you? Nadal did it by repeatedly hitting topspin crosscourt groundstrokes fairly deep to push Murray off the court. Not even Murray’s superb strokes, anticipation and speed could cope with Nadal’s well-conceived and -executed strategy. Murray arrived a bit late and often made errors against Nadal’s viciously spinning, wind-aided shots. You can also approach net more easily with the wind behind you, but, unless you are a skillful, confident volleyer, passing shots blown around unpredictably by the wind can confound you.
12: You can often exploit stroke weaknesses on windy days. For example, if your opponent struggles to hit solid shots on his backhand or forehand, the wind will magnify his technique flaw. One-handed backhand players, even the great Federer, have problems generating and handling power, especially on windy days. So, attack their weak links relentlessly, especially when you enjoy a tailwind advantage.
Click photo: Nadal repeatedly hit deep topspin crosscourt groundstrokes to push Murray off the court.
13: Changing the pace of your shots can throw off your opponent’s strokes and timing in normal weather, as 1980s star Miloslav Mecir, Fabrice Santoro and Murray have demonstrated. On gusty days, changing pace can hamper, or even ruin, your opponent’s already uncertain timing.
14: Crosswinds confound players because they either position themselves too close to or too far from the ball. If you measure crosswinds accurately, right-handers can hit wicked slice serves in the deuce court to capitalize on the wind, and left-handers the same in the ad court. On the other hand, down-the-line shots, especially passing shots, are much more risky and error-prone because crosswinds often push them into the alley.
15: Overheads are much more difficult to reach, set up for, and time in heavy wind because the ball is buffeted around so much. So watch the ball intently, and keep taking small steps to align yourself properly. If the lob is very high and held up by the wind, let it bounce because the bounce will be almost vertical and you will have time to set up and crack a powerful smash.
16: Stay calm and focused no matter how disconcerting and bewildering the windy conditions are. Accept the fact that you’re not going to play your “A Game.” If the pros can’t excel in the turbulent winds that climate change increasingly causes, neither can you. Fortunately, neither can your opponent. That’s what makes The Wind Challenge so much fun. Embrace it. Relish it. Many players can perform well when conditions are ideal. But only the prepared, the determined and the disciplined can tame, or at least not be defeated by, the cruel wind.
May the winds of good fortune be with you!
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Secrets to Championship Doubles -- Part 3: The Targets
In part one of his three part series on championship doubles, Ken Dehart discussed the talk – what to say to your partner before, during, and after a match. In part two, Ken covered the dance – how to move on the court based on where the ball is and how to work as a team. In part three, Ken discusses the targets – where to aim the shots. This series is truly a primer for any team that wants to better understand the game of doubles and improve their play.
The One–Two Punch
Tennis and boxing have many elements in common. Throwing and taking a punch, bobbing and weaving, stamina, determination, and the ability to outlast one's opponent and come up with the goods in the end. Well as regards combinations, tennis has its own version of the "one-two punch," and nobody does it better than Rafael Nadal. The absolute best one-two punch in tennis is the Nadal sidespin serve out wide to the ad court followed by nearly whatever he does with his opponent’s return. Jim McLennan
ProStrokes 2.0 - Tommy Haas' Backhand
This stylish German player is gradually winding down a career that began in 1996. Currently ranked 64th, he was ranked 2nd in Mary of 2002, and has amassed in excess of $9 million in prize money, A product in the long and prestigious Bollettieri assembly line, he plays as flowing a one handed backhand as we have seen on the tour in a long time. At 31 years old, Haas is still a dangerous floater in any draw. Check out his stokes in Prostrokes 2.0. New this Issue, the Haas 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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