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Dinara Safina's Forehand - ProStrokes 2.0 Feature This Week
See sample of Dinara Safina's forehand in ProStrokes 2.0 Slow-Motion in this week's edition.
My, How Swings Have Changed
Most of us learned tennis by using the classic mechanics. We turned sideways, brought our racquet back, stepped into the ball, and followed through by bringing the hitting arm fully forward toward the target. Those mechanics seemed to make sense. Tennis that way looked graceful, but a different kind of tennis is played by today’s young players. Instead of smooth, full, graceful swings, the new tennis swing does much more violence to the ball. The ball is hit with a wide open stance and a follow through that ends up above and sometimes behind the players head. Yet in today’s matches points are longer, with rallies lasting for 20 or 30 terrifically hard and deadly accurate shots. How and why did this counterintuitive, dramatic but effective change come about?
One reason is popularity based. Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, and Michael Change were popular with the young. These three tennis heroes hit the ball in a different way. They seemed to swing with abandon, using those wide open stances to pound the ball. Pete Sampras, the fourth member of that extremely successful group of Americans, retained the more classical techniques. But while Pete was popular with slightly older groups, he never had the charisma demanded by the young. They were enamored with the other three Slam champions, especially Agassi, the most rebellious of the three. Young tennis fans began swinging with the wide open forehands and the seemingly flailing two handed backhands used by Agassi, Courier, and Chang. And we needed the young if we were to initiate a new tennis, the rest of us were too set in the traditional way we hit.
The punishing, wide open forehand had, in fact, been used before. Slam winner Guillermo Vilas had one and became number one in the world. But Vilas was serious, almost dour. He never gained the popularity needed to be widely imitated. Thomas Muster used a massive forehand to win many clay court tournaments and also become, but he too failed to obtain the rock star status given the three Americans.
Change dynamics were in the air. Anyone trying to hit like Agassi, for example, had to abandon the established mechanics and shift to something else. But there was nothing else to fall back on. So they simply tried to do what Agassi seemed to do: Swing hard.
With no mechanics to try, the new kids were forced to rely on their own body dynamics. They swung hard, but while swinging they had to keep their balance so they could make hard contact and then react to the next ball. They also found that they needed good timing because without it nothing worked. Balance and timing, however, could not be taught … they had to be sensed, not explained. They need to be felt from within, not described by instructors or tennis magazines. The kids were forced to rely on exploring tennis for themselves and the things that implicitly needed to be explored were timing and balance. Hitting hard, that is deliberate power hitting, subconsciously made balance and timing the central drivers of good tennis.
Compare Courier's forehand (above) with Connors' more sweeping, classical forehand.
That is exactly what was needed, a shift from being driven by mechanics to being driven by timing and balance. And that led to the quantum change in the way players hit the ball.
How did Agassi, Courier, and Chang come upon self exploration in the first place? Well, it is well known that Agassi was advised to emphasize hitting hard when he was four or so. That’s an age that won’t listen to advice. He no doubt ignored the mechanics. Courier and Chang hit similarly. The three played each other and their techniques grew together. They hit with wide open stances because that worked. Then as they won more and more tournaments the enamored younger kids watched and began hitting that way too.
But there is another dynamic to be considered. How did Agassi, Courier and Chang wind up with those wide open shots? To see an answer we need to talk about momentum.
The more momentum a ball has the faster it goes. To make the ball go faster you need to transfer more momentum to it when you hit it. By definition, momentum equals mass times velocity. That means that mass and velocity are equally important in making the ball go faster. You can either swing faster or apply more mass to the ball to give it more momentum. The ball gets its velocity from the racquet. Get more momentum to the racquet and you hit harder. But it’s not just the racquet that is involved. Your “hitting system” is that compound of racquet, arm, shoulder, torso, and legs that you swing when you hit. The ball has a fixed mass, so its momentum is a function of only velocity. But the momentum available for transfer by the hitting system to the ball depends on what you swing as well as on how fast you swing it. You can increase the momentum transferred to the ball by using more racquet speed or by using more mass in your hitting system Instead of by swinging faster. This is a little known fact, but is based on solid physics.
How do you get more mass into the hitting system? Not by swinging with just your arm. The combination of mass and velocity that maximizes momentum requires swinging so that the torso, arm, racquet and racquet all come through at the same time. That provides more mass to the hitting system. The arm should swing with the body. It should not swing like a gate around the torso as was traditional. To get the most mass into the swing the torso and the arm racquet swing together. That means opening up your body the way Agassi and Chang do.
Click photo: Perhaps no player was more instrumental in ushering in the modern game than Andre Agassi.
This is similar to what a baseball pitcher does. He does not swing his arm forward or his body. He opens his body just as he whips the throwing hand forward. So everything he has comes through with the greatest mass available for transfer to the ball. This throwing action is what today’s tennis player use to get extra power.
To get more power and momentum into the shots, then, a tennis player should not just bring the racquet head through with the body swing, but virtually throw the raquet head at and through the ball. No one had thought about doing this in the old game. The new kind of tennis evolved. Tournament players hit much harder and more consistently because they hit naturally, not mechanically. They swing their complete hitting system, throwing the racquet head with timing and balance.
And that, logically, is why Agassi, Courier, and Chang hit the way they did when tennis was transformed into a harder hitting, more consistent game. Natural timing and balance, instead of mechanics, rule the modern game.
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Extreme Makeover: The Volley
Perhaps more than any other shot, the volley tends to either be relished or feared and avoided. The ability of players to really enjoy their volleys is directly related to two main issues: the ability to execute effective volleys and the ability to defend more difficult shots while at the net. Here, Dave Smith teaches the volley from the ground up, starting with the continental grip and adding some drills to help you build a confident volley of your own.
The Cylinder Whip
At the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fl, he's known as the serve doctor and players come from all over to seek out his help. Most of the time they expect complicated, scientific explanations for their service problems but, for the most part, they couldn't be more wrong. Pat Dougherty, uses the cylinder and the whip to teach students that sometimes less is more.
ProStrokes 2.0 - Dinara Safina's Forehand
Dinara Safina, younger sister of Marat Safin, is gradually stepping outside of her big brothers shadow and with four WTA titles in 2008 and presently ranked third on the Sony Ericsson WTA tour rankings, she appears poised for yet more success. Safina has the tools to climb to the top of the rankings. She plays a very aggressive, close to the baseline, taking the ball on the rise game. She flattens out the spin very well, and this may be the key to her success. Check out Dinara Safina's game in the all new TennisOne ProStrokes Gallery 2.0.
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.
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