Living in a World of Clay
We live in a world dominated by clay court players. Just look at the top 10 of the year-end 2008 ATP rankings. At least 7 of them grew up on clay. This is down from 8 at the end of 2007. In fact, as you look back at the ATP Top 10 year-end rankings since their inception in 1973, an astounding 83% grew up playing on the dirt. The message is unambiguous. Want champions? Make sure they train and play matches on clay.
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The Murray Model
Finally we have something other than the big (mindless?) bangers for the kids to emulate. Andy Murray plays with intelligence and guile and consistently varied speeds, spins, and angles. In his recent three-set victory over Roger Federer at the BNP Paribas Open, he bedeviled Fed with a mixture of length and angle, generally letting Fed punch first, but always ready with the perfect counter. McEnroe plays a similar style but without the fire-power. Miroslav Mecir played a similar style but without a 130 mph serve. Murray may be the next prototype – with an answer to the big hitters. And nearly everything he does is worth copying, or at least trying.
But before considering technique and decision-making, tennis is a game of movement, and on that score Murray may be at the top of the class. Not really powerful or fast, rather this Scot is agile. Agile, as our friend Webster reminds us, describes movement that is quick and effortless, and somehow Andy has mastered the quick and effortless thing in spades. First and foremost, he times the split-step, where he is in the air as the opponent makes contact, and reads this shot at the "top of his hop" so that as he descends and lands, he can start immediately in either direction. Actually, a little like Mac in that regard.
Consider the following photo, the ball rests on Nadal's racquet, and on the other side of the net Federer is in the air. Look closer and his feet are slightly turned in, indicating (I believe) that he is on the way up not down. The facts indicate that players should time their split during the opponents' hit, and time their landing to a moment after the hit when they have read the direction of the shot.
As the speed of the game continues apace, I am personally intrigued about how many of the players (Murray included) appear to amble about the court as the ball is stroked furiously from baseline to baseline. And more than anything else, the quickness of the start is where the "rubber meets the road." But further (and this recalls Mecir or McEnroe), Murray plays with a level of anticipation and smarts that solves nearly all problems (excepting obviously his recent thrashing in the finals in the Desert).
As regards to shot making and cunning, the following post-match comments from Federer tell the story, "Murray is a great counter-puncher and reads the game really well. He knows he doesn’t have to play close to the lines because he can cover the court really well. I think that calms him down mentally. I think that is why he’s playing so well.
"Murray countered, "I try to explain that there’s more than one way of dictating points. It’s not just going for big, booming serves and huge forehands. If you change the pace with the ball a lot and mix it, I’m playing the match the way I want it to go. Very rarely do I lose matches having let the other guy play his natural game."
Experiment with the following to get a feel for Murray’s counter-punching style. Place much more attention on the other side of the net. Too often the game is only about us, about our shots, our winners and our errors. And this mindset all but obscures the patterns, tendencies, and weaknesses that occur on the other side of the net. Resolve to become better at analyzing what your opponent likes and does not like.
Using a ball machine or practice partner, vary the spin and pace on your forehand (or backhand) from more or less the same initial preparation. Meaning, turn to the side, weight on the back foot, preparation essentially neutral – dip the ball with topspin, roll an angle, flatten out a heavy drive, feather a drop shot, and then lift a gentle lob.
Play down the middle of the court and see what your opponent can actually do with the ball. Tactics depend on court positioning. If you are centered, and your opponent is also centered (meaning neither of you are out of position), play the ball down the middle. This classic counter-punching play now encourages the opponent to "move first" and as often as not that initial move will give you a more effective counter than had you been the first to move.
Recall the story of the two Samurai’s (as told by Steve Stefanki at the 1985 Tennis Teachers conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York). Two warriors agree to fight to the death. They meet the following dawn, bow to one another, and ready their swords. They wait, warily, the sun rises, and ultimately sets. They bow yet again, and walk away. Neither would move first, for that first move would have exposed them to a lethal counter. Moving second makes sense, whether with a sword or racquet.
See Jim McLennan's "Essential Tennis Instruction" website.
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Building a Stroke from the "Contact Out"
Traditionally we have always approached teaching tennis stroking technique with a method that emphasizes specific positions of start and finish. The emphasis is on a beginning position and an ending position with the assumption that the middle will take care of itself. It is also assumed that since the contact with the ball occurs in mid-stream of the stroke, then it is impossible to isolate this point and instead it is best to simply "let it happen." This may sound reasonable enough but Doug King argues for a better way
Five Levels of Power
Poor shot selection is the most common reason for unforced errors. Many players try the wrong power level on their shots and this gets them in big trouble. The ability to recognize what level you should be delivering is essential to making fewer errors and winning more matches. Here, Jorge Capestany and Luke Jensen take you through the five basic levels of power you will need in tennis.
ProStrokes 2.0 - Tommy Haas' Serve
This stylish German player is gradually winding down a career that began in 1996. Currently ranked 64th, he was ranked 2nd in Mary of 2002, and has amassed in excess of $9 million in prize money, A product in the long and prestigious Bollettieri assembly line, he plays as flowing a one handed backhand as we have seen on the tour in a long time. At 31 years old, Haas is still a dangerous floater in any draw. Check out his stokes in Prostrokes 2.0. New this Issue, the Haas Serve.
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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