Clay Court Tennis – Is it Really that Hard to
- Pat Hanssen, Lee Tennis Court Products
In Houston I watched Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, from Spain, give a clinic on how to play on clay. In fact I wish I had it on film because he so clearly illustrated the simple but basic tactics required to be successful on clay. But since, to the best of my knowledge, it was not filmed, I attempt to summarize on my blog in hopes that perhaps one or two Americans will take note. Please click here to read more.
To Aim or not to Aim?
David W. Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
Using targets such as cones, buckets, towels, and the like, have been a staple of tennis teaching professionals and students of the game for generations. However, are such targets always helpful? The answer is both yes and no.
Stroke Development versus Aiming Development
It is common for students to be offered targets to hit towards when starting out in tennis. The concept is that the player will receive feedback from aiming the shot, and subsequently, the player will adjust his/her aim unless the target is hit. Regardless of form, the act of hitting a ball at or near a target will often validate and encouraging the repetitive use of such form. But the reality is, when such an event occurs, it is more likely based on luck rather than skill.
When the use of targets are introduced too early in a player’s development, the practice can not only prohibit progressive improvement, it can actually promote poor mechanics and bad habits, which often lead to a player not moving towards more skilled play. Let me explain.
It is human nature to manipulate the swing in tennis to account for aim. Players often compromise form for aim. When a player is trying to develop a particular stroke (volley, serve, groundstroke, etc.), if there is a target to be aimed at, the player will manipulate the swing to meet the perceived need of how to achieve that goal. This is where the problems begin. As is so often the case, beginning players, (and intermediate players too!), seldom are in optimal position to execute a stroke correctly within the context of timing and balance. When this happens, the player will resort to a different type of swing or stroke to meet the ball in such a way as to get the ball towards the target. This stroke is usually very ineffective, if it could be called a stroke in the first place!
Every skilled tennis player has strokes that are reliable, repeatable, and consistent. The ability to do this is not developed by changing the swing for every ball in every situation. On the contrary, all skilled players use their feet to manipulate their position so that they can indeed use the same stroke as often as possible, as opposed to manipulating the stroke to account for their position relative to the ball.
Parents and Kids
I often see parents tossing balls to their youngsters, with the typical result: balls hit with every conceivable method except those that tend to lead to more advanced play. It is as if the parent believes that simple repetition (hitting thousands of attempts) will someday lead to prolific strokes. Many believe that tennis is something you are “born” with, and in this way, the parent will find out if the kid “has it” – or doesn’t have it for that matter. Ironically, the more a parent does this, the more likely he will prevent the child from becoming a high performer – even if the kid did “have it.”
Develop the stroke first
After a player first develops the desired stroke pattern, then targets can be introduced – a very important step in developing aim within that stroke pattern. This encourages proper footwork for positioning, the timing of strokes for aiming, and a understanding of how spin, speed, and gravity work together. These steps come naturally when a student is introduced to stroke development first.
Speed of Learning
Click photo: Caroline Wozniacki, like all pros, has learned to hit ball after ball with the same repeatable stroke pattern.
Interestingly, those kids and adults who are allowed to simply figure out ways to hit a ball towards a target (without specific instruction), tend to achieve this goal faster than those who are taught to develop a desired stroke first. Since players who are given limited or no instruction will use what ever pattern is familiar at that time, they tend to swing within a level of comfort. However, because more advanced stroke patterns are seldom initially comfortable nor familiar, 99% of such players use form that does not translate into hitting more effective shots more consistently. That is, they usually push, bunt, dink, swat, slap, or steer the ball with very rudimentary swings.
The problem occurs when these players attempt to hit with more speed, spin, angle, finesse, power, or depth. With few exceptions, these players (even if such means allow them to hit to a certain target with some initial level of success) become dinkers and pushers because they have not developed strokes associated with more effective results. And even though many can "dink" with the best of them, such players usually never reach levels associated with their potential. It is like teaching a basketball player to shoot “granny” style just so they can hit the rim or make a basket. Such methods, we all know, will not allow a player to compete effectively against players who have learned to shoot (and defend) using much better technique
Players who work on very specific form may can take a little longer to develop skills to the point of consistency and mastery, however, because many associated grips, swing patterns, and footwork patterns are often unfamiliar and uncomfortable when first attempted. Yet, when these players eventually master more advanced strokes, they almost always surpass those still using rudimentary methods.
Click photo: Not everyone can play on the pro tour but most people can develop dependable and repeatable stroke patterns.
There is a saying that those who have the most trophies are those at the 3.0 or 3.5 levels. This is often a true statement. However, it must be understood why this is the case. Players who use inadequate or unconventional methods tend to stagnate at lower levels. As I’ve mentioned, players working on using more effective methods take longer to learn how to utilize such methods in both a consistent and opportunistic way. Thus, these players will initially lose to those “seasoned” players, those who have been at the 3.0 or 3.5 levels for a long time. But, in time, what usually happens is the more effective players hop over the 3.0 or even the 3.5 levels and move into the 4.0 levels and above, often without ever winning at the lower levels. Ironically, this leaves those stagnated at the 3.0 or 3.5 levels for life to win more trophies against the next group of up-and-coming players who will also eventually pass them by.
It is important to consider what level you want to reach in tennis. Not everyone can play on the pro tour but most people have the ability to play at high levels if that is their goal. (Only a few players out of 3500 I’ve taught lacked adequate the athleticism and coordination to reach the higher levels of skilled tennis.) If you do indeed want to play tennis at high levels and would enjoy the ability to hit more effective, interesting, and prolific shots consistently, (and have more exciting rallies in the process!), then you will want to consider establishing your strokes before aiming at targets. While this is just one part of the overall picture of reaching higher skills in tennis, it is important to understand it clearly so you can avoid failing victim to the common faults that others do when using targets too early!
Go to tennismastery.net for exciting excerpts from Dave Smith's Tennis Mastery book and a host of tennis information!
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
There's More than One Way to Hit a Backhand
Though topspin gets all of the press today, legends such as Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova, and Steffi Graf know that slice is a great way to enhance both the control and consistency. All in all, it’s a great way to develop a consistent shot on the backhand side that for many players is a real weakness. Greg Moran like to think of the slice as your lifeboat in a sea of backhand errors. Try it, it works!
Doug King talks about one of the keys to any successful tennis stroke, racquet control – how it works with the arm and the body and how it feels in the hand. The key here is feel. Doug uses a trowel and two racquets to help you understand how technique, contact, and timing effect affect the way the racquet feels in your hand and consequently, the quality of the stroke you make.
ProStrokes 2.0 - Victoria Azarenka's Forehand
Victoria Azarenka has been on a fast track since joining the WTA tour. After knocking off Serena Williams in the Sony Ericsson final in a one-sided affair, her career-high ranking is now at No. 8 heading into the clay court season. At 19 years of age, her power and accuracy is certainly showing she is ready for center stage. Azarenka has a penetrating style of play, reminiscent of the way Monica Seles. She is not afraid to take balls early and finish points off often with an all-out, aggressive swing on both sides. Check out her stokes in Prostrokes 2.0. New this issue, Victoria Azarenka'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.
If you wish to be removed from our newsletter list, please send an email to email@example.com and leave the subject line blank. A confirmation email will be sent to you, and you will be removed from our newsletter list once you reply to that confirmation.
Copyright Notice: The contents of the TennisONE web site and contents forwarded to you by TennisONE are intended for your personal, noncommercial use. Republishing of TennisONE content in any way, including framing or posting of these materials on other Web sites, is strictly prohibited. See our full copyright statement