Now, if you lose sight of the ball, it’s because you blinked
Few things bring as much joy as the feel and smell of nighttime air on a tennis court. But the perfect game of nighttime tennis cannot be played under poor lighting. You need to see the ball clearly and follow it well in flight–which requires as much light as possible, evenly distributed across the court.
With Har-Tru Advantage Lighting, you can improve the playing experience for as little as $12 per day. Visit hartrulighting.com to find out more.
20% Discount for TennisOne Members
- "Keys to Modern Tennis Technique: Topspin Forehand," by Doug King Public – Members (login first before accessing)
How You Can Play Better Defense
“In singles the main error of many players is the lack of knowledge of when to defend and when to attack.” − Bill Tilden, in his 1925 classic, Match Play and the Spin of the Ball.
What do Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Kim Clijsters have in common? These thoughtful stars revel in playing great defense. Just as a penny saved is a penny earned, the frugal foursome saved many points by making difficult, even seemingly impossible, gets on the dead run, and eventually earning the point at the U.S. Open.
During the fifth set of Djokovic’s sensational 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 semifinal upset over five-time champion Federer, CBS analyst John McEnroe raved: “Djokovic’s movement has been what’s kept him in the match. It’s unbelievably good. He gets a lot of balls back. He’s very good at making you work when you serve.” Similarly, ESPN2 guest analyst Chris Evert, another all-time great, noted: “Court coverage is Clijsters’ biggest asset.”
In an era of baseline bashers and explosive servers, effective defense is more necessary than ever to stymie your opponent’s offense. Here are several ways you can play the Big D with skill, strategy and confidence.
Analyze your opponent
Think about which of his weapons put you on the defensive the most and how you can best extricate yourself. For example, if his slice serves pull you in or outside the alley, should you hit your returns down the line, crosscourt or deep toward the middle of the court?
If he volleys sharply and deep, what kind of passing shot works best in terms of power, placement or lowness, or should you lob? When he puts you in a defensive position, does he position himself on or even inside the baseline and pounce on your floating returns and put away volleys like Federer and Nadal, or does he run you around the court repeatedly as Andre Agassi did? Charting your matches will give you the statistical evidence you need.
At all levels of competition, the mental game can be a factor. If you play great defense, does he become frustrated and start making errors sooner or later? Even The Mighty Fed committed an uncharacteristic 66 unforced errors when Djoker slowed down and sometimes even foiled his offense with terrific retrieving in their U.S. Open thriller.
Practice the four Fs
Tennis today requires tremendous physical and athletic attributes. Defensively, you need fleet feet to get to the ball in the first place. Make 5-, 10- and 15-yard wind sprints in various directions – forward, backward, laterally and diagonally – part of your daily practice sessions.
Click photo: Impeccable footwork, balance, and movement are Federer trademarks. He always seems to be in the best position to strike the ball.
Second, when you arrive, correct footwork will enable you to align yourself properly and with balance in relationship to the oncoming ball. The ability to slide on clay is mandatory. Watch how Nadal and Federer take small, quick steps as they arrive at the desired destination.
Third, flexibility, as best exemplified by Gael Monfils, Djokovic, and Clijsters, allows you to bend, stretch, reverse direction quickly, and make last-second adjustments to deal with the most difficult shots. Clijsters repeatedly ran down and returned Vera Zvonareva's best shots during the Belgian's easy 6-2, 6-1 U.S. Open final triumph. Jim Courier calls quarterfinalist Monfils "the best pure athlete tennis has ever seen."
Fourth, fitness will give you the stamina to sustain your fleetness, footwork and flexibility for several hours without getting exhausted or injured.
It is no coincidence that 16-time Grand Slam winner Federer, who trains in the 100-degree F. heat in Dubai, has not retired during a tournament match since he was 16 and has competed in 44 straight majors. In case we hadn’t noticed, equally ambitious and fit Nadal says: “I just try my best in every moment, every practice, every point.”
Don’t be too proud to play defensively when it’s necessary. Instead, be proud when you play well defensively. James Blake is the best example of a pro player who disdains defense and pays a heavy price. Ironically, his athleticism, particularly his outstanding speed, would often enable him to retrieve balls, recover his position and then retaliate offensively. Instead, the former world No. 4 frequently flouts the percentages and tries to blast winners from untenable situations. Blake fancies himself as “a shotmaker” who can turn defense into offense with one spectacular shot. Unfortunately, he often doesn’t need to try such high-risk shots in the first place; and when he does, he frequently misses them, particularly backhand returns off powerful first serves. Against high-percentage, ultra-solid groundstrokes of Djokovic, Blake was outthought, out steadied, and outclassed 6-1, 7-6, 6-3.
Avoid the opposite extreme, too. In the U.S. Open quarters, Monfils, infamous for rejecting the sound advice of his several coaches, played far too defensively by chopping forehand service returns and hitting much too softly during rallies. Djokovic exploited Monfils’ foolish tactics and routed him 7-6, 6-1, 6-2. As Courier pointed out, "Monfils shouldn't play defense unless he has to."
Use the four Ps
No matter how skilled and athletic your defense, keep in mind that your opponent’s offense will still put many balls away and force you to err. Therefore, you need patience. During a point that finds you scrambling, sometimes one more medium-speed shot deep to the center of the court, or one more lob, will induce an error.
Even if the score and the momentum is swinging against you, maintain your poise. If you lose your temper, the odds increase greatly you'll lose the match. And blowing up will only give your opponent more confidence and energy to finish you off.
Tennis is a sport that involves hundreds of split-second decisions in every match, and when sprinting to retrieve a tough shot, your prudence in selecting the best possible shot is tested as much as your physical attributes. During the changeovers when you can rest and relax, evaluate your defensive decision-making.
Finally, not even the greatest defenders want to play defense all the time. So when you find yourself scrambling and stretching repeatedly and even starting to wear down, your perseverance will be severely tested. Never give up! “He plays like he’s broke,” is the way Jimmy Connors, an ultimate warrior himself, once described the fiercely competitive Nadal.
Remember these tips
Retrieving and counterpunching is much easier when playing with the wind and much more difficult when playing against it. So hit higher over the net and harder when you retrieve against the wind to achieve the depth you need to hang in the point.
Top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki failed to adjust to the wind, became flustered and was upset 6-4, 6-3 by Vera Zvonareva in the U.S. Open semis. Unlike Federer, Djokovic, and Clijsters, Wozniacki didn’t take the little adjustment steps to line the ball up properly and frequently mishit shots and erred. As Robin Soderling noted after losing decisively to Federer in the quarters, “He can play really well in the wind. He moves well. He’s always in the right place.”
Your opponent’s powerful shots can turn your grip and racquet face unless you have a firm, strong grip. At the same time, though, you sometimes have to absorb your opponent’s power by shortening your backswing and swinging with less racquet head speed. If you swing wildly under duress, you will lose the precise control you need to keep the ball in the court.
The final piece in the defensive puzzle is topspin. Watch how Nadal, like 1970s superstar Bjorn Borg, adds extra topspin when he’s sprinting and out of position. Many of his topspin shots clear the net by five or more feet, preventing errors into the net. Second, topspin gives Nadal enough time to regain his position in the middle of the court behind the baseline. Third, even if Nadal’s defensive shots land a bit short, they bound rapidly and deeply which makes it more difficult for opponents to attack. When in trouble, the 24-year-old Spaniard also throws in backhand slices, but they are generally less consistent than topspin because they skim the net and less effective because they are slower and more attackable.
In many sports, a good offense is the best defense. In tennis, as the U.S. Open showed, a good defense can save points and also transition into the best offense. How diligently and rigorously you practice defense may determine your tennis success.
Paul Fein has received more than 30 writing awards and authored three books, Tennis Confidential: Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies; You Can Quote Me on That: Greatest Tennis Quips, Insights, and Zingers; and Tennis Confidential II: More of Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies. Fein is also a USPTA-certified teaching pro and coach with a Pro-1 rating, former director of the Springfield (Mass.) Satellite Tournament, a former top 10-ranked men’s open New England tournament player, and currently a No. 1-ranked Super Senior player in New England.
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.
Rafael Nadal's New Serve
Since Rafael has become the number one player in the world, there has been a lot of discussion by television commentators regarding his new and greatly improved serve. Much of the talk has revolved around a perceived change in grip. Christophe Delavaut, however, disagrees with this assessment and in this in depth video analysis he compares Rafa's old serve with the new one and explains what really happened here.
Jimmy Conners had it, and so did Ivan Lendl. Certainly Rafa and Roger have it and coaches extol the virtues of it and argue that without it success is impossible; players will do anything to develop it….but what exactly is killer instinct? It seems to be the ability to close out matches when one is in a ‘winning’ position; the ability to finish off a point or an opponent when the opportunity presents itself. But Happy Bhalla asks the question, "Is there such a thing as a winning position?"
Quick Grip Changes
Many players refuse to learn the proper grips for the various shots in tennis because they feel like they do not have enough time to make the necessary grip changes. This can pose serous problem for them down the road as they improve in ability and need to have better and better technique to go even further in the game. Here, Jorge Capestany and Ken DeHart offer three great tips to help people who think they do not have enough time to change grips.
ProStrokes 2.0 – Ernests Gulbis' Serve and Net Game
Ernests Gulbis has had a breakout season, with wins over Baghdatis, Youzhny, and a stunning upset of Roger Federer at this year's Masters in Rome. Gulbis turned pro in 2004 and achieved a very steady, yet fairly unnoticed, rise in the rankings and this year he is showing the makings of a top-ten player. Gulbis has one of the best return games and his backhand is also one of the best. He attacks the ball, sometimes taking the ball flatter on the rise and other times slicing and dicing from the baseline. His forehand and serve weapons, are on par with the best players on tour today also. New this issue, the Gulbis serve and net game.
TennisOne Writers Store
One of your many new benefits as a TennisOne membership is your ability to purchase selected instructional DVDs at 20% off ($7.50 off each) in our new TennisOne Writers Store (login in first to access members links):
- "Building Your Serve from the Ground Up," Jim McLennan Members Public
- "Building Your Ground Game," Jim McLennan Members – Public
- "Building a Kick Serve," Jim McLennan Members – Public
- "Achieving Peak Performance the Wholistic Way: The Mental Game," Happy Bhalla Members – Public
- "Building a World Class Serve," Phil Dent Members – Public
- "Building a World-class Volley," Dave Smith Members – Public
- "Keys to Modern Tennis Technique: One-Handed Topspin," Doug King Members Public
- "Best of Ken DeHart," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Corrective Techniques & Myths," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Defeating the Monsters in Your Mind," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Skills, Drills, and Games for Beginning Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public.
- "Drills for Intermediate Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Drills for Advanced Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public.
- Click here to see all the benefits of a TennisOne Membership.
- Click here to sign up for a risk-free, TennisOne 30 day free trial membership.
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
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. If trouble unsubscribing, simply email us with a request to unsubscribe at: firstname.lastname@example.org