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 guyís game. I never quite know exactly what that means. I suppose it means the opponent didnít hit the ball the way the player liked to have it hit to him and therefore, he couldnít make the shots and win the points the way he hoped to. Of course, isnít 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, letís look at the notion of what it means to possess a ďgame.Ē A ďgameĒ 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, letís 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 donít get strong by going to the gym for one week and cramming in as much exercise as you possibly can and you donít 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 donít 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.
Donít Underestimate the Intangibles
Click photo: Fabrice Santoro is 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 ďintangibles.Ē We can easily measure the MPH on a serve but measuring oneís 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 donít 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 (who just recently beat Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic) has one of the most unconventional playing styles and to look at him, you would never expect him to compete at the level he does. He could just as easily convince himself that he is unable to compete based purely on ball hitting skills. But he knows that by using his skills he does possess, (footwork, touch, anticipation, patience, and determination) he can 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 canít do and develop the ďintangibleĒ 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.
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.
Seven Habits You May Want to Adopt
Many club players spend their entire tennis playing lives in search of the perfect stroke that unfortunately, often seems to lie just outside their reach. The reality is that most players who have established methodologies will be hard-pressed to make significant changes to their games. Dave Smith, however, points out seven distinct areas which can greatly contribute to on-court success, even though these areas don’t necessarily employ significant stroke, footwork, or grip changes.
Much has been written about tennis elbow, which is an inflammation of the tendon that attaches to the outside bony part of the elbow. The symptom is common to over 1/3 of all tennis players at some point in their lives. Typically, grasping things and especially shaking hands can be extremely painful. Playing tennis with this type of pain is often out of the question. Typical treatment for the symptom is rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory pain-killers. David S Smith believes these traditional treatments address the symptoms but not the cause.
Crosscourt: ATP Tennis Masters Cup
Tennis pundits Matt Cronin and Joel Drucker look at the ATP's season ending Tennis Masters Cup, played indoors in Qi Zhong Stadium in Shanghai. The eight man field is headed by perennial favorite, Roger Federer. So, is this just another blip on the road to confirming roger as the greatest ever, or is there a real challenger here. See what our fearless prognosticators have to say.
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