The Art of Winning (revisited)
Continuing the spring training theme, both baseball and the USTA leagues
have now begun, but there is still a period where you can continue
"sharpening your pencil" as it were. For certainly if you were going to
"peak" it would be preferable to do so in the playoffs rather than the
opening matches of the season. A great deal of the material we deliver
concerns the nuts and bolts of tennis - that is the mechanics of the hit.
And to quote Tom Stow, "Meet the ball squarely," play a forcing game and the
winning will take care of itself.
Mary Laver coined the term "happy feet." She could always tell when the Rocket would win by
observing his footwork.
On the other hand, you can explore how the points are ending. The two
cardinal rules in tennis are:
- Keep the ball in play; that is, do not beat
- Always assume your opponent will return the ball, or said
another way do not fail to recover or continue moving after your hit because
you imagine your opponent will err.
In a closely contested match, where each player
has an equal chance of winning, it generally comes down to either rule 1 or
rule 2 on the big points - the winner keeps the ball in play and keeps their
feet moving, the loser inexplicably errs or loses their "happy feet" (a term
Mary Laver used when watching the Rocket - she could tell when he would win by
observing his footwork). So within this frame of reference what do you
notice about how the points are ending? Are you winning because of the
opponent's unforced errors, or are you winning because you hit more winners
than opponent does? If the score is 4-6, 2-3, love - 30 do you have an idea why you
are trailing, and if so what will you do differently to change the outcome?
Tactically speaking, winners impose their winning game. When leading,
there is no reason to change the tactics or game plan. On the other hand,
losers must change their losing game or in most instances what got them
behind in the score will continue until the match is lost. But for me, and
perhaps you, the trick is to be certain of why you are winning or absolutely
sure why you are losing. If I am leading because of cautious and consistent
play, then I needn't go for winners to close out the match. On the reverse,
if I am losing by being too cautious or not taking enough risks, then as the
match gets tighter, I must be willing to gamble on the big points.
Tennis tactician Brad Gilbert plannned strategies first for Agassi and now Roddick
First it was Pancho Segura diagramming tactics and patterns on napkins for
Jimmy Connors in the 1970's, now it is the redoubtable Brad Gilbert planning
tactics and strategy for Andy Roddick. These tactical gurus could and would
analyze the opponents' tendencies, their strengths and weaknesses and then
craft a game plan. If the opponent cannot pass up the backhand line on big
points, then Jimmy or Andy would attempt to create that pattern - not all day
but rather when the chips are down.
Years ago I had the opportunity to play
Whitney Reed (former US # 1 1963) in two consecutive men's open tournaments
(lost twice but got to 4 and 4 the second time). Whitney was always
playful, seemingly amusing himself by his array of spins and placements, but
there were many points where I played a shot I thought was going to the open
court, only to look up to see Whitney deftly deflecting a touch winner.
Somehow he either knew what I was going to do, or perhaps he caused me to
hit the ball to him, in either case he absolutely knew what I would do in
certain (if not all) situations and moved accordingly. I had seen a similar
feat on Johnny Carson one late night long ago. Orson Welles performed a card
trick and then entertained whether he knew the future (prescience) or caused
the future (presenitence) - in the tennis scenario it is generally the
So how can you get a handle on the art of winning? First, use a ball
machine, set up a pattern and observe your accuracy and consistency. If you
set up a crosscourt shot to your backhand, and cannot accurately play the
ball up the line - then avoid that shot in close situations and resort to
the lob. If you excel at the forehand crosscourt off an up the line
backhand from the opponent, then learn to generate wide serves in the ad
court that invite that play. Another opportunity arises by three players
engaged in a rotating singles match, where the third man (out) keeps tracks
of winners and errors, or more accurately keeps track of winners, forced
errors and unforced errors. Generally the score keeper gains a keener
awareness of the disposition of the points and games, and when rotating all
players are invited to explore this charting project.
If you are now determined to go on to the next level in the art of winning,
check out acetennischarting.com. They make software for a PDA that measures
winners and errors with reference to where they occur on court, and when
they occur in relationship to the score. Forehand crosscourt errors on game
point, servers who spin the serve out wide in the ad court on all second
serves, whatever occurs the PDA Ace Charting Softwhere captures. This superb charting
tool easily fits within your tennis bag, and will lead you to a greater
understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately give you
a leg up on the art of winning.
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The Hands Have It
There is no question that players today hit the ball much harder and more accurately than they did 25 years ago. During that time frame almost everything has changed, players today are bigger, stronger, and faster than they were. But perhaps the biggest advancement has to do with stroke techniques used today. Doug King examines the role of the hand in the modern topspin forehand.
Locker Room Power - The Next Step
Would it surprise you to learn that many matches, at all levels of the game from the youngest juniors to highest touring pros, are won or lost even before the first ball is served. David Sammel calls this locker room power and It is part of his formula for success. in this article he expands on this concept and shows how a player can sustain LRP once respect has been gained.
QuickTips - The Locked Doorknob Volley
Many players have a difficult time sticking the forehand volley and finishing a point off at the net. They have mastered the continental grip and the proper footwork but still the ball seems to float off the racquet without real control of depth or placement. The solution is to apply a bit of backspin to the ball as you make contact and the locked doorknob volley may open the door to that technique.
Mind Over Muscle: Revisiting The Inner Game of Tennis
In the follow up to his article, "Revisiting The Inner Game of Tennis," Sean Brawley takes a closer look at the basic principles and raises some thought provoking questions that may help you put away doubt and confusion and allow you to see new possibilities for your game.
Exclusively on TennisONE
ProStrokes Gallery: James Blakes Serves, Net Sequences
James Blake is included among the rising group of young Americans and with his matinee idol looks and engaging personality, he seemed like just what was needed to give American tennis a shot in the arm. But lately some of this group is passing him with Taylor Dent, Mardy Fish and Robbie Ginepri placed ahead of him on the ATP standings. Study his strokes and see what you think. Net Sequences. Next up Argentinean shot maker extraordinaire, Guillermo Coria .
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