Having Problems With Your Serve?
- Do you practice with focus?
- Has it been some time since you have improved?
- Would you like more zip with far less effort?
- Do you suffer from tennis elbow or a sore shoulder?
You Will Improve When You..........................................
- Jim McLennan
Women's Tennis – The State of the Game
The 2009 Bank of the West WTA tournament at Stanford boasted an all-time best field. All-time best ever! Serena, Venus, Maria, Elena, Jelena, and so much more. The women’s schedule leading up to the US Open changed ever so slightly, and now everyone (or so it appeared) was in town. Fitness, power, long, long rallies, corner to corner drives, pinpoint backhands – these women play a game that barely resembles the one played in a more genteel era dominated by Billie Jean, Chrissie, and Martina.
These girls positively bust the ball – not much variety, not much guile, but they hit that ball. In the Friday night quarterfinal match between Venus and Maria, neither player gave an inch, neither player chipped or floated the ball. This was a heavyweight title bout and both boxers stood in the center of the ring and traded punches – no jabs, just power shots back and forth. And in this edition of their slugfest rivalry, Venus prevailed 2 and 2.
There are interesting differences between the men’s and women’s game. The men’s game is about huge forehands, often from deep in the backhand corner. The women prefer the backhand side, and rarely run around that shot to hit forehands. The men vary their shots with heavy arcing topspin (think Nadal), whereas the women play the ball lower and much flatter. The men all use huge kick serves up and out wide to the backhand side, whereas in the women’s game that tactic makes less sense. For some reason, they are less adept at getting the ball to kick up.
During the tournament, a number of the WTA players were filmed for a Stanford research project. Players hit six flat, side spin, and top spin serves – all coordinated by an intricate computer system that managed the images of eight cameras and a laser body scan. Pretty impressive science. But few of the WTA volunteers were able to really kick the ball, Samantha Stosur being the prime exception, and truly she is known for her “kicker.”
Three thoughts on this. First many believe the kick serve places undue stress on the shoulder and it follows that some coaches suggest this serve is ill advised (I am in that camp). Second, nearly all of the WTA pros turn professional at a very young age, such that much of their international formative experience occurred as very young teenagers. I am guessing that a young girl/woman would have an underdeveloped throwing motion at that age, and perhaps that creates the barrier to the development of a fluid serve. And third, if the women play bigger backhands than forehands, it may make less sense to even attempt to develop this particular service delivery as the kick serve plays to the women's strength – the backhand.
Thoughts on the Forehand and Backhand
Click photo to go to website: Frankie couldn't hang with Venus when trading backhands.
The WTA players use local teaching pros as hitting partners. Some eight years ago, one of our staff professionals warmed up Venus during the week. Frankie remarked that he could hang with Venus in forehand to forehand exchanges (men vs. women?) but was at sea when trading backhands. Said again, no problem forehand to forehand, but impossible backhand to backhand.
This year, another of our local pros (JJ) was involved with one of the top four as a hitting partner. He said he could remain in the point if he got the ball into the corners, but anything short was knocked off with piercing accuracy. But, he said, "If he cut the ball off the backhand wing with low skidding under spin, his WTA partner was totally uncomfortable moving forward." This is the exact same shot Federer uses against his baseline opponents.
As to the comparative youth of many of the WTA players, as well as the majority who turn pro at age 16 – there is something about the women’s game that may be easier to learn at a young age. Most hit heavy drives back and forth (players feeding one another power and feeding off one another’s power), so it often appears that they all play a similar style. With less nuance, approach, and change of pace, that style may be more easily manufactured at any of the academies/factories. Consider that Lleyton Hewitt and Federer are the same age, and Lleyton had captured two Grand Slam titles (Wimbledon and US Open) playing a baseline game well before Federer’s game had matured. The same was said years ago about Laver, it wasn’t until his mid 20’s that he truly found his way around the court.
Now to the Take-aways
Many times our primary attention resides on our side of the net– watch the ball, time the ball, balance, topspin, etc. It's all about what we want to do with the ball. But, equal if not greater importance, is what occurs on the other side of the net. And not necessarily strengths and weaknesses, but also the style of the opponent's play.
Sometimes we can actually play a type of game that enables the opponent to play better than normal. Consider how people practice against either a ball machine or with a teaching pro. The balls all arrive at the same height, speed, and depth. This sameness promotes rhythm. Somehow I believe that is either the strength or weakness of the overall women’s game. Strength, for this creates great tennis theater, where two players trade heavy flat ground strokes at a furious clip. But weakness, in that if everyone is geared to play against flat baseline drives, the player who comes in to mix things up will ultimately disrupt the opponents flow.
You can become that savvy player who has “all the shots.” The player others hate to play against. But you have to be always watching to see if your style actually feeds into your opponent’s strength or saps it. And who was the WTA player in recent memory with “all the shots” – Martina Hingis of course, and she's likely to find her way into the Hall of Fame.
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.
Feeling your way through a game-based approach. In a recent TennisOne article, Happy Bhalla commented on the interesting phenomenon on how humans learn to walk. This is a process where people successfully learn without the help of a coach. What then are the applications to learning tennis? The key is that intention is the driving force behind learning a motor pattern. If your body knows the goal it is striving for, it will attempt to arrange muscle movement to accomplish it, much the way children learn to walk. Wayne Elderton
After Age 50, Emphasize Placement and Control
Some of the most significant changes in your body as you age are typically the loss of muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility. These three factors demand that you change your game as you age. The good news is that you can adjust your play and continue to enjoy tennis for several more decades by working on off-court fitness training to stave off and postpone the decline of your muscular fitness and flexibility and emphasizing placement and control over raw power. Kathy and Ron Woods
Taking Reflex Time Away
Alan Margot went down to the Paribas Open at Indian Wells last spring and brought back some great tips on doubles tactics and strategies – particularly on poaching and where to put the ball. When you poach or move to the center to cut the ball off, where do you hit it? Is it down the middle? The middle looks wide open. But surprisingly enough, that's not what the pros do.
ProStrokes 2.0 - Dominika Cibulkova Serve
This 20 years old, from Bratislava Slovakia is having a breakout year on the WTA tour, reaching the semi-finals of the French Open this year, her best results in aGrand Slam event.TheSlovakian is another Eastern Europe beauty whose game is as flattering as her looks. Setting up points with a two-handed backhand, Dominikacrushes her forehand andpossesses a solidbackhand slice and net game. And, at 5 foot 3 inches, Dominika packs a lot of power in avery small frame! New this issue, Cibulkova'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.
If you wish to be removed from our newsletter list, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org 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