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Tennis Mastery & Coaching Mastery: "The two most COMPLETE tennis manuals: recommended to all players, from beginners to aspiring Pros."
– Desmond Oon, former Singapore Davis Cup Coach, USPTA Master Professional
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What You Can Learn From the French Open
Whether you’re a tournament competitor, a recreational player, or an ardent fan, you can improve your game and your viewing experience by learning from elite players. Why do they win – or lose – close games, sets, and matches? How do they pull major upsets? What tactics can change the course of a match?
The 2009 French Open provides many valuable answers to these interesting questions. Let’s analyze two matches involving superstars at Roland Garros and find out why one survived a ferocious challenge and the other did not.
After losing to Rafa 6-1, 6-0, Robin Soderling's win in Paris was all the more astounding.
Nadal looked less energetic and tenacious than usual at Roland Garros, perhaps he was over-played.
Anatomy of an Upset
Robin Soderling defeats Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6.
1. No. 1-ranked Nadal had beaten No. 25 Soderling in their three career matches, most recently 6-1, 6-0 in Rome on clay. After Soderling upset Nadal at Roland Garros, he noted that in Rome he had a game point in every game in the first set and five break points overall. Therefore, Soderling considered the Rome defeat really like a much-closer 7-5, 6-4 match.
Lesson: Accentuate the positive. Believe in yourself. Embrace your underdog role as a wonderful challenge and opportunity. Soderling did exactly that and produced what all-time great Martina Navratilova called “the biggest upset of this century.”
2. Nadal looked less energetic and tenacious than usual at Roland Garros. To please his countrymen, he reluctantly played in the Madrid Open, a new tournament, and lost in the final to Federer a week before. He complained about the poor condition of the courts and was cranky during the week. Madrid was his fourth tune-up tournament for the French Open and tenth event of the year. That unnecessarily heavy schedule seemingly wore down Nadal physically and emotionally.
Lesson: Plan your tournament schedule carefully to avoid burnout and to help you peak at the biggest events.
3. The serve is the most important shot in men’s tennis − even on clay, if the clay is playing fast, and, as doubles star Mike Bryan noted, “These Roland Garros balls really pop when it’s hot.” Soderling’s first serve was a major weapon. He belted nine aces and averaged 199 kmh (124 mph), while his second serve averaged 166 kmh (103 mph). Nadal erred by serving too cautiously. He got 77 percent of his first serves in,
but averaged only 177 kmh (110 mph) on first serves and an attackable 136 kmh (85
mph) on second serves.
Lesson: When the clay courts and the balls are fast, go for more aggressive shots, as if you’re playing on hard courts.
4. Nadal is renowned for his forehand, but Soderling’s forehand proved more effective. With an extreme open stance and a long windmill swing, Soderling disguised his shots well and kept Nadal off balance and on the defensive with powerful forehands. In contrast, Nadal hit with too much topspin for the existing fast conditions, and his more predictable shots often landed short.
Lesson: Use less topspin than usual when increased power pays dividends, no matter what the surface is.
5. While Soderling is not known for his backhand, this stroke held its own partly because the 6’3” Swede held his ground. That enabled Soderling to cut off Nadal’s viciously spinning and high-bouncing forehand near the baseline and reduce his own running. Meanwhile, his own power pushed Nadal 8 to 10 feet behind the baseline and gave Soderling more opportunity to dictate points and produce 61 winners, 28 more than Nadal.
Lesson: Be territorial. Try your utmost to position yourself on or within two feet of the baseline and force your opponent to retreat.
6. “It’s unbelievable how hard Soderling hits it,” raved 1980s champion John McEnroe, now a top TV analyst. “I’ve rarely seen a guy hit the ball with such velocity.” Soderling’s bold game plan, however, included even more than belting huge serves and explosive groundstrokes. He came to net 35 times, far more than Nadal’s 11 approaches. Just as important, Soderling won the point 27 times, for an outstanding 77 percent. Thus, there was no escape for Nadal, one of the greatest defensive players in tennis history.
In the end, Federer's breathtaking athleticism, splendid technique, and clever tactics saw him through.
At 20, Juan Martin del Potro was too inexperienced and inflexible to counter the nuanced and shrewd ploys of Federer.
Lesson: Volleys and overheads are great point-winning shots in tennis that can finish off even the most skillful counter-punchers and defenders. These shots also can break their confidence and boost yours.
Anatomy of a Near-Upset
Roger Federer defeats Juan Martin del Potro 3-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Besides breathtaking athleticism and splendid technique, clever tactics give No. 2-ranked Federer yet another way to win. Even though Del Potro had lost all five previous matches (and all 12 sets) against The Mighty Fed, he had dramatically improved from No. 68 to No. 5 during the past 12 months. The lanky 6’6” Argentine’s straightforward power game had steamrolled his five previous Roland Garros foes, including No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No. 16 Tommy Robredo.
So Del Potro had good reason to be confident and optimistic about his semifinal. But, at 20, he was too inexperienced and inflexible to counter the nuanced and shrewd ploys of Federer who was playing his record 20th straight Grand Slam semifinal. Moreover, Del Potro made costly tactical mistakes.
1. Although Federer hit only five aces, he still managed to win 73 percent of his first- serve points, the same as Del Potro, whose first serve averaged 204 kmh (127 mph), compared to Federer’s 189 kmh (117 mph). Why? With Del Potro returning serve from 10 feet or more behind the baseline, Federer served frequently to the outside corner of the service box on both the deuce and ad sides. That pulled Del Potro way off the court to start the point, and from there Federer usually dictated the point or even hit a winner into the open court. Del Porto “moves well for a big man” – that backhanded compliment we often hear in sports − but that was far from good enough.
Lessons: Exploit your opponent’s vulnerable position and lack of speed as much and as often as possible. And, if you lack speed and agility, playing too far behind the baseline is a losing formula.
2. Federer once admitted that he wished he possessed a better drop shot. But against Del Potro, this subtle weapon was near-perfect. When he saw Del Potro was positioned deep behind one end of the baseline, he occasionally conjured up a feathery, backspinning drop shot with a touch of nasty sidespin. It plopped just over the net and near the opposite sideline, so Del Potro had to sprint the maximum distance. Federer earns an “A” in geometry for this stratagem, because even if Del Potro reached it, he had to bend low and deal with the tricky spin. Besides winning the point, Federer tired out, confused and frustrated his less-nimble opponent, just as Svetlana Kuznetsova did against Dinara Safina in the women’s final.
Lesson: Versatility is a big asset in tennis on every surface and against every
opponent. Finesse – drop shots, drop volleys, and sharp angles – complements power beautifully and is just as enjoyable to use as to watch.
3. Del Potro won 23 of 38 points at net for a respectable 61 percent, though the more savvy and skillful Federer performed better, taking 24 of 33 points for 73 percent. The Argentine's childhood hero was Pete Sampras, and he should study videos of Sampras's forecourt game. Not only did Sampras sting his volleys more than Del Potro does, but he played the percentages better. Del Potro sometimes erred by approaching net behind crosscourt groundstrokes that left much of the court open for easy Federer passing shots. The second geometrical error Del Potro committed was failing to position himself at net at "the center of possible returns." When he pinned Federer in the corner behind the baseline, Del Potro should have moved laterally somewhat toward the same side, instead of staying in the middle of the court. That tactical error left Del Potro stranded out of position against down-the-line passing shots.
Click photo: Safina has one of the best backhands in the women's game, but Kuznetsova's tactics prevented her from imposing it on the match.
Lesson: Rushing net can pay big dividends. However, besides sound volley technique
and athleticism, it requires penetrating and high-percentage approach shots and proper
positioning. Putting all that together is also lots of fun. In fact, Federer calls winning
the point at net "probably the most satisfying moment in tennis."
The Women’s Final
After Kuznetsova convincingly defeated Safina 6-4, 6-2 in the women’s final for her second Grand Slam title, she pointed out, “I didn’t let her play her game.” Kuznetsova’s overall strategy was to prevent her longtime rival and fellow Russian from imposing her percussive groundstrokes, especially her backhand, on her. Kuznetsova’s tactics blended power with heavy topspin, angles, drop shots and occasional rushes to the net (where she was a perfect 6 for 6) to achieve that strategy.
Bill Tilden, the 1920s superstar and our sport’s seminal strategist, would have loved watching Federer, Soderling and Kuznetsova. In Tilden’s 1925 classic, Match Play and the Spin of the Ball, he gave this authoritative and timeless advice: “Never allow a player to play the game he prefers if you can possibly force him to play any other. Never give a player a shot he likes to play.”
Paul Fein has received more than 25 writing awards and authored three books, Tennis Confidential: Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies, You Can Quote Me on That: Greatest Tennis Quips, Insights, and Zingers, and Tennis Confidential II: More of Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies. Fein is also a Top 10-ranked New England tournament player and a USPTA-certified teaching pro and coach with a Pro-1 rating.
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.
Exploring Technique – part 2
In part 2 of his series, Happy Bhalla focuses on developing a deeper understanding of what technique is and the role it plays in winning tennis. Technique, as mentioned in the first article is increasingly becoming viewed, by players and coaches alike, as a magical panacea for all “problems.” But Happy feels that this obsession with technique and its promise of instant and simple solutions is in itself a major obstacle to a developing a mentally balanced competitive perspective.
The Whip Serve
Jim McLennan draws an analogy between a baseball pitcher, a bullwhip, and a tennis player to illustrate how the kinetic chain operates and how it can help you to get the most out of your serve. In short, although you may not see it with the naked eye, it is all about the lag, so that the last thing to come through is the ball. The pitcher uses it, a bullwhip cracks because of it, and if you want to increase racquet head speed on your serve, you'll learn to use it also.
ProStrokes 2.0 - Stanislas Wawrinka Serve
Stanislas Wawrinka, he of the elegant one-handed backhand, and stalwart of the Swiss Davis Cup team. Stanislas has been consistently ranked in the top twenty the past few years and in 2009 he has a win over Roger Federer in Monte Carlo, he played Nadal neck and neck, losing 6-7, 6-7 in Miami, and went down by the same score to Djokovic in Palm Springs. But revel in his beautiful backhand. He makes a turn to the eastern backhand grip and takes big swings at the ball. This is not the one-handed backhand chip but more like topspin backhands of old (think Edberg and Becker). New this issue, Stanislas Wawrinka's 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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