Do you love playing tennis at night?
Do you love playing tennis at night? Do you find that the feel and smell of nighttime air on a tennis court causes an unspecific joy to well up inside? Imagine this – an energy-efficient tennis lighting system that offers more light and saves you money. No need to imagine. The Tennis Optics Advantage Series provides higher lighting levels with lower wattage bulbs, meaning you see the ball more clearly and you save.
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Lesson from Serena & Justine: Let the Children Play
Once upon a time an eleven-year-old girl showed up at a tennis facility. Imagine that she was barely five feet tall and so waif-like and shy it was easy to mistake her for a little boy. Her brown eyes, though, displayed laser-like intensity, as she threw herself into her self-taught, whippy one-handed backhand, hung on the local coach’s every word, and played one practice set after another.
Serena relied on the best serve in the women's game to bail her out of troubling situations.
At the same time, thousands of miles away, a girl from a neighborhood hardly associated with tennis was force-fed by an insistent father. She and her sister had been handed racquets at such a young age she would never remember it not being a part of her life. But she’d also been given something else extraordinary: the idea that she was destined to be a champion – and that to reach that pinnacle, junior tennis was scarcely relevant and that she should aim as high as possible.
I’m talking, of course, about Australian Open finalists Justine Henin and Serena Williams. Over the span of two compelling weeks here in Melbourne, these two emphatically showed what makes them stand out from so many of their peers – and in so doing, displayed an approach to player development with profound implications for players, parents, and instructors.
The genius in Serena’s ascent has been attitudinal. I don’t think it’s wise to skip junior tournaments. And I’m constantly underwhelmed by the entire Williams’ family’s non-engagement with much of the craft and nuance of our sport (her mother Oracene admits she’s felt like sleeping during her girls’ matches). But anyone from a beginner to an aspiring pro to current Sony Ericsson WTA Tour players can learn volumes from her extraordinary confidence. Perhaps in some ways Serena’s self-belief is like something out of the “The Wizard of Oz,” wherein the scarecrow, tin man, and cowardly lion all summon up, respectively, intelligence, heart, and courage once they are told they possess them. More crudely, Serena had so much smoke blown up her butt at a young age that self-belief for her is no mere software product – it’s embedded in her operating system.
Victoria Azarenka had Serena on the ropes before she suddenly disappeared.
Contrast this with the downward spiral taken in Melbourne by many players. This was most notable when Victoria Azarenka led Serena by a set and 4-0 in the quarterfinals. Once Serena began making her charge, Azarenka vanished. Ditto for a whole slew of Russians who emotionally disintegrated when the stakes got high – Nadia Petrova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina, Elena Dementieva. Alas, it’s a shame that these hardworking players from a nation of rich literature mostly have mastered only composition. In other words, so often they are mere ball-strikers rather than tennis players.
Which leads me to the case of Henin. Far more than Serena, her genius has come from seeing the game inside the lines. But I strongly doubt a Justine Henin would ever emerge from Russia or the United States. Players in these nations are often sold down the river by coaches who instruct narrowly and parents who value the game more for its extrinsic rewards (money, scholarships) than its intrinsic values (self-reliance, hard work, exercise).
Consider if someone with Henin’s size and approach to the game showed up at a clinic or group workout. Would anyone have truly exposed her to a wide range of spins, or volley, or all-court movement? Doubtful. I wonder, for example, if third-ranked American Melanie Oudin, for example, was ever taught how to serve-and-volley or chip-and-charge as an occasional tactic. I once heard a story about how Dinara Safina’s mother watched Fabrice Santoro play and called his style, “anti-tennis.”
Justine Henin had the freedom to experiment and build a playing style that worked for her.
Alas, a pint-sized Justine would likely be more encouraged to hit a two-handed backhand and become a consistent baseliner -- the playing style the vast majority of American girls (and a goodly number of boys) have more or less been issued since the Chris Evert era. It’s a style that rapidly generates steadiness and soon enough can earn a few wins.
But is it a style that builds the broadest set of tools and keeps a player mentally engaged with the game? This is where Justine’s ascent in Belgium is the best thing that could have happened to her. From talking with her longstanding coach, Carlos Rodriguez, I’ve learned that she had the freedom to experiment and build a playing style that worked for her – and, yes, in time yielded superb results.
But I’m less concerned with Henin’s results than her process: her willingness to explore so many of the game’s riches. I dare our society of narrow-minded instructors and results-driven parents to spend less time on short-term wins and more on long-term, sustainable, positive engagement with the sport. That to me is the big lesson from seeing this distinctive Belgian return to tennis in Australia.
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The Drop Shot As a Weapon
There is a lot of talk these days about how finesse shots are gone from the game of tennis; given way to pure power. Quite frankly, groundstrokes are routinely hit at speeds that would have been unheard of even ten year ago. However, even in this nuclear powered game, there is still a place for finesse – witness the drop shot – the perfect counterbalance to today’s massive power game. Johnathon Buchman shows you the how and the when of it.
Maintaining Pace Sensations: Low "Counter" Volley
In many situations the ball a player receives is challenging. The most basic way of handling a challenge is to defend (send a lower risk response). As players improve, it is “countering” that occurs more often than defending. A professional match will sometimes have more countering than attacking or defending combined. In the fourth installment of his series on Sensational Tennis, Wayne Elderton describes the tactics and sensations necessary to counter a low volley.
Take It on the Rise
It happens over and over gain. Players come off the court and complain about the “moonballer” they just lost to. Moonballers are frustrating players to deal with because they give you no pace and are very content to keep you out there all day long waiting for you to make an error. The players who are most vulnerable to moonball tactics are the ones who have not learned how to hit the ball on the rise. Hitting the ball on the rise is an essential tool that players today can not do without. Jorge Capestany and Luke Jensen show you how.
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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