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Have You Got Game?
One lament I often hear from players as they come off the court after a poor performance is that they played the other guy’s game. I never quite know exactly what that means. I suppose it means the opponent didn’t hit the ball the way the player liked to have it hit to him and therefore, he couldn’t make the shots and win the points the way he hoped to. Of course, isn’t that kinda the point of the game? But it does raise some interesting questions such as, when to change a game, or how to stick to your game, or even what is a game?
First, let’s look at the notion of what it means to possess a “game.” A “game” is a means of winning points. There are two fundamental approaches to winning points: one is to hit winning shots and the other is to have your opponent hit losing shots. In reality, actual play involves a combination of both.
Some players are more oriented towards hitting winning shots; these are called offensive players. Others are more oriented to a defensive style; they keep the ball in play and let the opponent make the error. What style of play you develop depends on the types of shots you possess as well as your other physical and psychological characteristics. Ultimately your game's effectiveness is dependent upon your ability to properly assess your playing style, your willingness to play within that style, and your execution.
Analyzing Your Playing Style
Developing a game is an ongoing, gradual process that changes as you change. Although there are many aspects to developing a game, let’s look a couple of specific issues to consider. One is how to evaluate your game properly. There are different ways and reasons to analyze your game — what we can call different perspectives. One is to look at your game in a long range perspective. The long range perspective is useful in helping you to plan how your game will develop over time. You may need to develop a better backhand volley and so you can structure your practice sessions to work on that aspect. The important thing to remember is that these changes require patience and dedication. If you decide to develop certain technical areas of your game, you must accept a level of ongoing struggle before mastering such changes.
It is no different than losing weight or developing more strength — there is an ongoing sacrifice that is unavoidable and the sooner you accept the process the better off you will be. You don’t get strong by going to the gym for one week and cramming in as much exercise as you possibly can and you don’t lose weight by going on a starvation diet. Looking for unrealistic, immediate results in your tennis game can only create disappointment, discouragement, and failure. Most of the changes that we try to make on our games often require the development of new feels, and the use of different muscle groups that can only happen slowly. Muscular development and behavioral responses take time to change.
The other thing to remember about your long term goals is to be realistic about what type of player you are naturally suited to be. You may recognize your netplay is weak and commit to practicing that part of your game but don’t make the mistake of assuming the result will transform you from baseline player to serve and volleyer. The things you do well at the start are the things you are more naturally suited to. Work on your weaknesses to help you become more versatile but not to become something that is not natural to you.
In order to optimize your performance in the present, it is important to develop a short term perspective also. If you are playing in a tournament or an important match, it is helpful to assess your game in a way that will allow you to utilize the skills you already posses in order to maximize your chances of winning. At this time, you need to be aware of where your game is rather than where you are planning to be in the future and to separate these two perspectives. You may be working on your backhand volley on the ball machine and though it may not be perfected yet, you must make the most of it at that moment to optimize your performance. You are no longer on the practice court trying to develop your shots; you are in play and trying to develop your ability to make decisions on how to best win a point and a match.
When you go into a match you must recognize that not all aspects of your game are at the same level. You have “preferred” shots and areas of play and if you want to maximize your performance, the best strategy is to emphasize your strengths and cover up your weaknesses. Try not to make negative associations to the less comfortable parts of your game. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “My forehand is good but my backhand is lousy.” Often times players base this assessment on the wrong criteria — generally on how hard they can hit the ball. “I can hit my forehand hard with topspin but I can only slice my backhand” is one rational for such a diagnosis. The player may fail to note that he hits half of his topspin forehands out on the when attempting a winning shot while his backhand slice is accurate and consistent.
This is an example of how our value systems can skew our ability to properly diagnose our skills. In this case, the player overvalues topspin as a condition for a “good” stroke and therefore, develops a negative attitude towards what may be a strong component of his game, the slice backhand.
Every player has certain shots that they can hit harder or more confidently than others but try to avoid putting a negative association on the less potent part of your game. Instead, think of it as your set-up stroke, the same way a boxer thinks of the left jab as a set-up for an overhand right.
Steffi Graf is a perfect example of a champion who used her strokes very effectively. Although she didn’t blast the backhand with the same power as her massive forehand, she used it extremely effectively to set up those forehand blasts. It was often her biting slice backhand that would pull players out of position and cause them to hit weak returns she could then knock off with her blistering forehand.
Don’t Underestimate the Intangibles
Click photo: Fabrice Santoro was a highly competitive player despite the unorthodoxy of his stroke.
Another pitfall that players fall into in analyzing their games is simply failing to take into account the “intangibles.” We can easily measure the MPH on a serve but measuring one’s nerve is much trickier. Patience, focus, conditioning, judgment, determination, adaptability, intuition, composure, and even humor all have critical impacts on our games and play a significant role in performance. When analyzing your game don’t restrict your assessment to the strokes alone but take into account these other elements.
Even on the Pro tour, the player with the prettiest strokes doesn't always win. We must include these less tangible traits as part of our analysis. Fabrice Santoro had one of the most unconventional playing styles and to look at him, you would never expect him to compete at the level he did. He could just as easily have convinced himself that he was unable to compete based purely on ball hitting skills. But he knew that by using the skills he did possess, (footwork, touch, anticipation, patience, and determination) he could counter his opponents' power and effectively use it against them.
Remember, when analyzing your game try to think in both a long range perspective that can help shape your practice sessions and a short term perspective that will help you optimize your skills for effective performance. It is important to maintain a proper balance and separation between the two. Forcing yourself to play a style you are not comfortable with will only cause frustration and poor performance. On the other hand, keep working on the practice court to help strengthen weaker areas of your game. The goal is not to turn you into a different style player but to simply bolster areas of your game that will help to make you a more well rounded player.
No player can hit every shot and play every style. Even Federer is incapable of doing things that Nadal can. Trying to beat Nadal by playing more like him may be the worst possible strategy. Accept the fact that the other player does some things better than you and that you do some things better than the other guy.
In the final analysis, developing a game is simply learning to win points. Whether you do that by doggedly retrieving twenty baseline shots in row or whether you systematically serve and volley is almost beside the point. What is relevant is that you are willing to accept what you can and can’t do and develop the “intangible” skills of dedication, perseverance, resourcefulness, and good judgment that will allow you to perform at your very best.
See Doug King's Acceleration Tennis Program at the Meadowood Resort, Napa, CA.
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Secrets to a Killer Kick Serve
For many tennis players, seeking and executing a kick serve is often like finding the Holy Grail of tennis. Recreational and club players not only have a difficult time returning a good kick serve, they often can be made to look and feel a little foolish as they try to negotiate the different bounce of this serve — a clear psychological advantage for the server! Perhaps this explains why it is one of the most requested shots to be learned at lessons. Dave Smith
Improving Your Two-Handed Backhand
At the pro level, balls are rarely hit into the net, perhaps one in four errors. However, at the club level, this ratio is reversed, where three out of four errors are netted balls and ironically, those that are not hit into the net are usually driven long. Tom Avery focuses here on the 2-handed backhand, and offers some simple solutions to these two problems. It may just help your game.
Open Stance or Not (Recovery Step)
When you look at the game today, there are no limits as far as style of play. Footwork is like that too. The game has evolved and so should your style and footwork. Yet there are still many players and coaches that are caught up on whether an open, square, or closed stance is still the right way. In reality, there is no right or wrong as they are all correct in certain situations. Jorge Capestany and Luke Jensen
ProStrokes 2.0 – Svetlana Kuznetsova, Backhand
With two major championships under her belt, Svetlana Kuznetsova has been ranked as high as #2 in the WTA field (2007), yet for the past two years, she has struggled to remain in the top twenty. Athletic (at around 5’9” and 161 lbs), Svetlana is a strong singles player with power on both wings and a solid service motion. Kuznetsova plays an all-around game, she can volley with the best players, attack off her serve and groundstrokes, and cover the court as well as any player on tour. 2012 could be a “come-back” year for this talented Russian. New this issue, Kuznetsova's backhand.
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):
- "All-Court Game and the Volley: Keys to Modern Tennis Technique," by Doug King Public – Members
- "TennisOne's Stroke Secrets: Keys to Better Groundstrokes," Public; Members
- "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
- "Underspin Backhand - Weapon," 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.
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