Power in Every Stroke and Precision in Every Shot
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Playing the Ball Late
"Play the ball out in front." "Shift your weight into the hit." "Play the ball; don’t let the ball play you." All true and commonly heard advice. But sometimes we are simply late – the ball is deep, or worse, it is fast and deep and the ball gets too far into our contact zone. In these instances you can actually change your grip, and simply cut the return. Floaters don’t win points necessarily, but they do not lose points either, and certainly this is far better than the outright error that occurs when you over hit a deep and difficult return.
The Squash Shot
Consider the latest invention on the pro tour, the so called “squash shot.” I have seen Federer hit winners on this shot, but for the time being let’s observe Nadal. Rafa determines immediately that the ball will be deep and likely behind him in this case on the forehand side. He instantly changes to a continental if not a subtle eastern backhand grip, and then cuts sharply down as contact occurs clearly behind him. Contact is not in front. This is not the bold semi western Nadal vicious topspin. Just good old defense, but in this case with contact behind him.
As an aside, consider the following “rules”: Rule number one – keep the ball in play. Rule number two – when possible, drive the ball from a contact position well in front. In this instance Rafa was forced to settle for rule number one, and simply kept the ball in play. On that score, he has won some close matches recently, including his back to back five set wins in the semifinals and finals of the Australian Open. I believe the entire men’s field (from Federer on down) believes that in the crunch Nadal will absolutely not beat himself. This squash shot is just such an example. His stroke said, “You can win the point (perhaps) but I am not going to lose the point on this shot.” And in the end this may be the mantra when cutting the ball defensively and late – Beat me if you got the juice, but I ain’t beating myself.
The Reverse Forehand
Another way of handling a ball that gets behind you has been the development on the pro tour of the reverse topspin forehand As contact moves further in front, one’s hand and grip should rotate more under the handle, approaching the semi western if not full western grip. Certainly this grip and contact position appear quite different from the squash shot. But as regards the reverse finish, so named because of a follow-through that finishes up over the head and behind, I think (hunch here) this type of stroke allows the player to meet the ball slightly later than usual but still impart topspin.
Click photo: Nadal changes to an under spin grip and lets the ball come well into the strike zone.
I heard Robert Lansdorp discuss the reverse at a tennis conference at Stanford. He said that both Pete and Maria (Sharapova) were sometimes hitting the ball with this reverse finish. Initially he admonished as only Robert can do, until either they convinced him or it occurred to him that this “reverse” finish worked, and made absolute sense. And as he explained, this stroke, we now see it all the time on the tour, allows still an extreme topspin hit but with a slightly later contact point. Not as far out in front as Robert had once demanded.
There was considerable discussion about changes in the Nadal forehand at the start of the 2009 hard court season. Uncle Tony had been tinkering on more of a driving forehand with a wrap rather than a reverse finish. Inasmuch as Rafa always says he is improving little by little and day by day (and I do believe him) he does not favor the wrap as much as Tony may prefer, but believe me he will grow more comfortable with even more of the drive. Though it may be hard to imagine how one could improve on such a monstrous hit.
Click photo: Nadal on the "squash shot" note the initial grip change. Here and in the slice above, Rafa plays the ball late but still manages to stay in the points.
Compare Rafa with the “wrap” finish, where he appears to penetrate ever more slightly, with the “reverse” finish where the follow through is different and the point of contact is slightly later. Still out in front, but less so.
In some cases you simply cannot hit the ball as far in front as you may want. Next time on court experiment with your own version of a heavily cut backhand, if not a squash forehand. Allow the ball to come far further into the strike zone, almost letting it get behind you, and then with an open face swoop down on the ball. There will always be more to the game than brute power (if you don’t believe me consult McEnroe, Santoro, Mecir, Gilbert or Murray). But for this project, the end point will not be to let the ball get behind you, but rather to have an answer when the ball winds up behind you.
And secondly, I do encourage you to experiment with the reverse finish. I have found that it tends to “true” the topspin with a number of our junior students. Be very careful on the finish, I have seen players bonk themselves in the cap (if not forehead) but it the shot occurs throughout the pro tour, there just may be something to it.
See Jim McLennan's "Essential Tennis Instruction" website.
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Open the Court with Deep-Short Combinations
Often when we think of good baseline rallies, we think of deep topspin drives. The average junior or club player will try to out-rally an opponent by hitting deep. Even on the WTA tour, we see many pros try to drive through their opponents with relatively flat, powerful groundstrokes. But driving the ball deep down-the-line or crosscourt doesn’t fully utilize the court. Doug Eng presents some other patterns for taking control of a point.
The Wrist and the Shoulder Turn
In every stroke, the two most important things to understand is the turn of the shoulders (and hips) and role of the wrist. Each stroke has its own specific, methods of turning and using the wrist that all of the best pros in the world execute in almost exactly the same way. By identifying these methods that are common to the world’s top players and incorporating then into your own game, you may just realize a lasting improvement. Dan McCain
ProStrokes 2.0 - Victoria Azarenka's Serve
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. Sheis 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 Serve.
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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