The “Magician” Conjures Up Win over Roddick
David W. Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
While top American hopeful Andy Roddick has already qualified for the season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai later this month, his net worth took a hit in the first round of the Lyon Grande Prix in France last week when 34-year-old Fabrice "slight-of-hand" Santoro upset him 6-4 in the third set.
Such an upset conjures up irony in several forms. Santoro, a crafty, two-handed player on both sides, has only won one ATP title in the last six years and, at 34, he is the senior competitor on the men’s tour, certainly well past his prime. Roddick, a former Grand Slam Champion, is in good shape and has plenty of experience.
On paper, it looked like an easy win for the Hard serving Roddick, however, it was the Magician who shined
at the end.
On paper, the match should have been as one-sided as they come. Roddick possesses the fastest serve in the world, an excellent forehand, and improved backhand thanks to his work with Coach Jimmy Connors. So, you might think that holding serve would be a given and breaking serve would be only a matter of time.
Well, think again!
So what does this mean for the club player? Just this, the player with the prettiest game doesn't necessarily win all the time. A savvy unorthodox player, (think Santoro) can take their current stroke patterns and not just improve against more structured and refined players, but also become a more advanced player themselves within their unique stroke patterns.
Repetitive Stroke Patterns
While Fabrice Santoro has some of the swing patterns of a more conventional ATP tour pro, (his two-handed backhand is very conventional, and his two-handed forehand—while an anomaly in and of itself—can be hit with topspin similar to two-handed forehand players on the WTA tour like Bartoli, Peng Shuai, Akiko Nakamura and others), he slices the ball far more often than any player since Steffi Graff.
Click photo: Santoro uses a wide array of spins and speeds to bedazzle his opponents.
His service motion is reminiscent of the late 1960’s where players would hit the so-called “American Twist” with their racquet finishing on the same side of the body as the hitting arm, an effective, yet unorthodox service motion that few top players use in today’s game. Fabrice stands much shorter than Roddick and hits with more spin and less pace than. Yet, in the last game of the final set, Santoro pulled off three aces to close out the three-set victory over Andy.
Santoro's stroke patterns, a far cry from "‘modern" high-performance tennis strokes, still maintain a consistent, effective flair that has everything to do with what I call “Repetitive Stroke Patterns.” By this I mean swing patterns that are effective and repetitive on command.
Among many so-called hackers on public courts everywhere, we can find players who use diverse stroke mechanics that are not common among high-profile players. Yet, some of these players seem to compete very well, even against bigger, more refined hitters. It isn’t rare, in fact, to see a couple of seasoned doubles veterans take apart some young, big-hitting studs who seem to have all the shots. Santoro’s game is a testament to this scenario and his ability to compete against the world’s elite is the reason for the they call him the magician. While he has only a few wins against top-ten players, he is seldom blown out. Remember his five-set epic match with James Blake at the U.S. Open? Or his loss against Roger Federer this year, where he took a set off the world’s number one?
The secret to why some players can use unconventional form and still be competitive is in there repetitive stroke pattern or what I sometimes refer to as a “congruent swing path,” one that the player can call upon in almost any given situation. Whether it is a slice, flat, or topspin stroke, or whether it is a baseline groundstroke or volley, a player who can employ a stroke that does not waver or fluctuate from one hit to the next is able to develop significant control compared to players who stroke shots with subtle to significant changes on each hit.
Keeping the Plane the Same
Click photo: Here, in T1 Super Slow-Mo™ Video, Santoro hits topspin off the backhand side and underspin off the forehand, however, he can drive the forehand also.
Keep the plane the same is a phrase I have referred to in many past articles. The concept, of course, is to keep the hitting surface of the racquet the same throughout the stroke. Too many players roll the racquet over the ball, flick the racquet with the wrist, or dish the racquet under the ball, usually during the critical phase of contact. These extraneous movements corrupt the stroke, making the racquet face hit the ball at slightly (to sometimes significant) different angles. This renders any kind of aim control very difficult to say the least. You can easily identify the players who do this: they are the ones who hit one ball into the bottom of the net, and the very next shot into the back fence!
Santoro uses a wide variety of shots, mixing it up, as they say, to keep opponents guessing and off balance. Yet, if you watch his slices, topspins, drop shots, and drives, his racquet face remains consistent within the hitting zone on all of them. We can take a page from Santoro’s "legerdemain" book of tennis and make the most of the strokes we have.
While many players are set in their grips, strokes, and footwork patterns, a conscious effort to use those engrained patterns with a congruent swing path will make all players more consistent, create more confidence, and, as a result, hit more effective shots.
As a teaching pro, the most difficult students are the adults who have been playing for many years using highly idiosyncratic forms. Their comfort within their grips, strokes, or footwork patterns makes it very difficult for them to learn new form. However, the one area these players can improve upon is in their ability to use their form in a way that keeps the racquet face steady through the shot.
While unorthodox form, even used in this proper context, has limitations (usually when hitting faster shots or defending more effective shots), I do believe that if players applied this concept of "keeping the plane the same," they would indeed become better players.
(Click link to purchase Dave Smith's Book Tennis Mastery, at tenniswarehouse.com.)
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