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.
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Magicians, Musicians, and Tennis Players
David W. Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
This must seem like an odd title for an article on tennis because the three topics in the title seem unrelated. But these three activities, Magic, Music, and Tennis, have distinctive characteristics that are indeed very closely related – really, they are!
When you think about it, any “skilled” activity could fall into this same relative relationship that I’m about to describe. I chose these three to press my analogy because I happen to be personally and intimately experienced with them. So, while others who may play different sports or have hobbies or professions that are also dependent on the acquisition of “skill-full execution” of those activities will probably readily relate to this article as well.
Click photo: Top pros like Caroline Wozniacki make most shots look routine and more difficult shots look effortless.
As a former professional close up magician, I can attest to some very important concepts about magic that all professional magicians must understand. What makes magic so difficult for many to master is the idea that the body must act as if it is doing one thing when, in reality, it may be doing something else. A example of this is in a basic slight of hand vanish or what some call a "pass." The magician must act like the coin, sponge ball, etc., is in one hand while the hand that actually holds the object must convey the impression that there is nothing in it. Not only is this very awkward for the beginning magician, but the magician must also carry on his "patter" as if everything is on the up-and-up.
Many magic effects, especially close up illusions–like those dealing with coins, cards, or other small, hand-held objects–require additional mastery of very subtle, complex movements that are high on the fine-motor-skills list of things to accomplish.
Yet, like professional tennis players, professional magicians make these effects look effortless. In fact, the best magicians make the impossible look as normal as any everyday movement.
Click photo: Playing piano using only two fingers is not the ticket to a Carnegie Hall recital.
I often relate playing the piano or other musical instruments to that of mastering skilled tennis shots. Seldom does playing a musical instrument initially feel natural, nor does it come easy to most students. For the piano, learning to use all the fingers, coordinating foot pedals, and reading treble and bass lines on a music sheet takes not just time, but dedicated practice for the student to become proficient.
Now imagine for a moment that a student was taught for the first year to play using only his or her index fingers. Certainly, that player could bang out a song but still, it's not exactly the path to becoming a skilled pianist. In fact, such a student might tire of playing the piano since playing with the two index fingers limits the quality of the songs as well as the variety. At some point, the student, to improve, would have to abandon the simplicity of using these fingers and learn a new way to play. Fortunately, nobody teaches piano that way. So why then do we teach tennis like that?
Now, combine what I've just talked about with the way many people approach learning tennis. Some try to self-teach themselves. Others learn simple methods that must change at some point to reach more skilled levels of play…and reach what I would call their personal potential.
The piano player who is learning to play with only his two index fingers (obviously only playing rudimentary songs at best) will only reach a certain level of competence. Not the kind of skill set that will take him to Carnegie Hall (unless of course he or she bought a ticket). And nobody who goes through the effort of learning to play piano sets his or her goal at mediocrity – we all have dreams, don't we?
In the same way, tennis players need to recognize this too; for there are dozens of ways to hit a tennis ball over the net. Yet, like playing the piano with two fingers, many of these ways (pushing, dinking, flicking, blocking, slapping, dishing, rolling) will not lead to higher levels of play. And like the beginning pianist, I doubt the young tennis player's goal is to achieve mediocrity.
Magicians must work on very specific and intricate moves over and over, usually using very regimented and specific processes to master a move. Professional magicians often will go over a move hundreds of times, usually in front of a mirror or a video camera, before ever attempting to perform the move in public. The movement must be mastered to the point of "Unconscious Competence." This means, to do the move without conscious thought. The reason for this is that not only does the move need to be "undetectable," but often, the magician must also be doing several other things simultaneously to distract his audience!
Click photo: Magicians must work on very specific and intricate moves over and over, usually using a very regimented and specific process.
I know I've talked about this in countless articles and I hope thee analogies with the magician and the pianist helps, because tennis players must move through specific learning progressions within, what I call an, "Advanced Foundation." Having to make specific changes in grips, stroke patterns and footwork after mastering a more simple or rudimentary method is one of the hardest things for tennis players to accomplish. No emerging pianist or magician would follow this course so why would a tennis player? Those who have recognized the limitations of their current strokes must be diligent and dedicated to the new patterns as much–if not more–than the raw beginner starting out with far less ingrained patterns.
The interesting thing I've seen in my 35 years teaching tennis is that while I've taught thousands of players using the same "Advanced Foundation" patterns, no two players play alike…yet, almost all my students went on to become skilled tennis players. Many even became ranked juniors, college players, or even professionals. We can see this with musicians and magicians as well. Teach one hundred students to play the piano the same way and no two will play exactly alike. While many magicians learn the same skills, their presentations and subtle movements within the same trick will vary from one magician to the next.
Players who learn tennis using unsophisticated, simple, or just down-right bizarre shots will also have their own style. But, the limitations of their stroke patterns will usually prohibit them from reaching their personal potential.
Is it any wonder that top college, high school, or professional tennis players seldom look anything like their recreational and club-level counterparts? Watch a player who has been at 3.0 or 3.5 levels for any number of years and you usually can quickly identify the parts of his game that are limiting. Heck, even my now eleven year old daughter points out issues that players have when she sees an amateur hit!
These kind of limitations will always result in a player not advancing…even though athletically they have the skills to do them correctly! Even players, who have intense desire to become proficient at the sport will fail if they build their game around ineffective stroke patterns and flawed methods in general. A solid technical foundation will not guarantee a win; however, a poor foundation will most likely relegate a player to the lower levels for life. The choice is yours!
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The Timing of the Volley Footwork
TennisOne contributor, Christophe Delavaut, believes too much time is spent on how to hit the volley and not enough time is spent on when to hit the volley. Many players have trouble with the volley footwork because it goes counter to everything they have been taught when hitting groundstrokes. In fact, the volley footwork is the exact opposite of the groundstroke footwork.
Return of Serve – What to do with your feet!
One common denominator on the professional tour is that all the elite players can return serve well! Some have better serves or groundstrokes or net games, but they can all return effectively. After all, it is the second most important shot in tennis! But, at the club level, Dave Kensler has found over the years of teaching that hitting the return of serve creates more uncertainty in the minds of tennis players than just about any other shot! Here he takes a closer look at the role of the feet on the service return.
TennisOne Classic: Andy Roddick – The Bionic Serve
155 mph! That is the all time fastest serve, recorded by Andy Roddick in his Davis Cup performance against Belarus on September 27, 2004. Wow that is fast! So, how does any human possibly hit a serve that fast? Heath Waters uses science, biomechanics, and good old technique to deduce how Roddick achieves such phenomenal power. He then breaks down that serve using the ACE system, compares his technique to other fast servers, and shows you the reference points that you can mimic to achieve a much more powerful serve yourself.
ProStrokes 2.0 – Shahar Peer's Forehand
This 23 year old Israeli woman continues to march up the rankings since her professional debut in 2004. A steady if unspectacular player, Shahar is presently ranked 13th, she holds 5 tour singles titles and has earned more than $3 million dollars in prize money. Shahar is presently playing without a coach, and is in the midst of her best year ever. She favors a grinding baseline style of game, and retrieves exceedingly well off both sides. She can finish the point when the court is open, but she can still add power and placement to her offensive repertoire.
TennisOne Writers Store
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