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The Role of the Toss
As Dennis Van der Meer once cogently remarked, “There are many ways to hit that ball.” We were both watching Pete Sampras play Martin Lee in a first round Wimbledon encounter, and to my eye (at least) the service deliveries were as different as day and night. But to capture the essence of Dennis’ remark, which is a common way to look at these things, the Dinara Safina service delivery can be every bit as good as a Serena Williams serve – though they have very different elements.
What follows, as usual, is just my take. Not an attempt to suggest there is only one “best” way to serve – but just an opinion. That said, the underlying premise must be disclosed. And I got this point of view from Tom Stow. He taught that players should study and copy the absolute best examples of a particular stroke. Meaning, students might indeed copy the Agassi two fisted backhand (for sure) but not his volley, for in spite of eight Grand Slam titles, his volley was unremarkable, but the mechanics of his backhand were amazing. Looking for a model on the serve (using Tom’s approach), the choices would have to be Sampras, Federer, or Roddick. And from that line of reasoning we look for commonalities.
So, if I haven’t lost you so far, the commonalities of those three servers include:
- Little or no movement of the feet during the toss
- A toss that descends slightly into the hit
- A motion that appears continuous and fluid without hitch or pause
During the Wimbledon fortnight we have already seen, and will continue to see, a discussion of the toss as relates to many of the players. Already Pam Shriver subjected us to a tedious interview with Anna Ivanovic where she asked leading if not insensitive questions about Anna’s toss and about her state of mind on bad tosses. Leading questions tend to control the range of responses – open questions truly open the field of answers. Perhaps, “Anna, share your insight into your serve as regards your toss” might have put the shy champion into a more expansive mood.
Anyway, the issue here regards the height of the toss, how the toss influences rhythm, and how the mechanics of the serve change with tosses of varying heights.
Venus Williams – pretty good serve, but you don’t find pictures like this of Sampras or Federer.
My hunch is that players with an overly high toss and move their feet during the toss, tend to serve with an interrupted rhythm and are prone to pull their heads down at impact. In effect they are swinging at the toss. Whereas players with a lower (this is relative) toss and less movement during the tossing motion, tend to hit up with a more continuous rhythm and more easily keep their heads up at impact. And, I think we would agree that if all things are equal, simplicity trumps complexity when performing tennis skills.
I hoped Dinara Safina would have served better in the second week of Wimbledon than she did in the final stages of the French. But her motion may serve as a case in point – high toss, feet moving during the motion, and her head pulls down prior to contact (sounds vaguely like Sharapova). As the pressure grew in Paris, the complexity of her service motion became more and more apparent. She committed 20 double faults in her last three matches, and in the final won just 31% of the points played on her own second serve.
Now imagine if Dinara’s very first coach to had said, “Let’s try and copy one of the simplest if not one of the best serves out there. Get your swing started and just toss the ball up and into the way of the racquet. We can see how Goran did it, or Ivan Ljubicic does it. This is as simple a method as there ever was.”
Kids, the rest would be history. But these things are so darn hard to change once established. Can an experienced player or a pro step back from competition to change a stroke. We rarely see that. But, and perhaps now I am speaking to you personally, learners are those who can change, as did Dementieva. Are you one?
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Winning and Losing Tactics at Wimbledon
Paul Fein examines the tactics of four of the major players at this years Wimbledon, Roger Federer, Tommy Haas, Andy Murray, and Andy Roddick, and explains their game styles and how they won or lost. Learn which tactics work better on grass, why Roger Federer's game is so well suited to that surface, and how he uses the crosscourt forehand to dominate opponents..
Underspin Backhand – Contrarian Approach
Jim McLennan talks about the one-handed underspin backhand and how and why, in a two-handed world, it has gained so much popularity on both the men's and women's pro tours. The focus here is on Roger Federer and his biting one-handed slice and how he uses it to befuddle opponents. Jim breaks down this stroke and, point-by-point, takes you though the mechanics necessary to develop a vicious one-hander of your own.
ProStrokes 2.0 - Dominika Cibulkova Forehand
This 20 years old, from Bratislava Slovakia is having a breakout year on the WTA tour, reaching the semi-finals of the French Open this year, her best results in a Grand Slam event. The Slovakian is another Eastern Europe beauty whose game is as flattering as her looks. Setting up points with a two-handed backhand, Dominika crushes her forehand and possesses a solid backhand slice and net game. And, at 5 foot 3 inches, Dominika packs a lot of power in a very small frame!
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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