Want to Win More Points? Become a Time Bandit
The US Open is always an enlightening experience, especially this year because I had three players in the main draw. In my opinion there is no better way to learn than through the observation of the best players in the world. And it is a great opportunity to validate (or not) whatever your philosophy, perceptions, or notions are about the game.
Roger Federer is always looking for a weak
ball to attack
I took this opportunity to focus on what the players that were winning were doing different, better, or more often than the players that were not. Of course there were many factors that stood but one major factor that seemed to rise above the rest was the "time factor." Quite simply, the players that robbed their opponents of time, more often were the ones that came out on top.
In my ACE System of Coaching we teach six applications of pressure and one is to take time away from your opponent by attempting to take the ball earlier off the ground than they do. But sometimes it is very easy as a coach to become distracted by other tactics or technical issues and lose sight of this very basic principle. Well, I learned a lesson at this year's Open and maybe you can obtain some value from it as well.
Perhaps the best example to illustrate this concept is Roger Federer and it was especially evident in his match against David Nalbandian. Next time you are at one of his matches or watching him on television, try to concentrate on Federer only. Pretend you are him and actually playing the match. Try to feel and think exactly what you see him doing. Notice where he hits his shots, when he hits his shots, and what is he trying to accomplish. What stands out (at least to me) is that Federer never seems to give his opponent the same look by mixing up his spins, targets, and paces. All this is in an effort to keep his opponent off balance and out of rhythm and force that one weak ball so he can strike with sudden precision taking time away from his opponent.
He uses this pattern with his forehand over and over again, more than any other player in the world. The great thing about this pattern is that you don't have to be Roger Federer to use it (although it helps), anyone can do it. He simply understands what it takes to hurt his opponent and and uses it instinctually every match he plays. Many players move forward during their matches but not as often as Federer (Roger uses this tactic much less often on the backhand side).
Click photo to hear Heath Waters talk about the Bogomolov/Nalbandian match and
being a time bandit.
My student, Alex Bogomolov, also played Nalbandian but in the first round. Alex is new to this philosophy as he has been primarily a grinder, counter puncher throughout his career. Now, however, after qualifying for the US Open and giving Nalbandian a good run using this more aggressive mentality, he is sold on it.
Against Nalbandian Alex won almost every point he attempted to do this and was up 5-2 in the second set and up a break 4-2 in the third. Unfortunately, Alex backed off this mentality when it got close and Nalbandian began to apply the pressure as all top 10 players will if given the opportunity.
The difference in the Nalbandian/Federer match is that although Nalbandian can play this type of game, he did it with much less frequency than Federer. Federer rarely waits for two or three short balls to come his way before pouncing. Instead, he is always looking to come forward and rob his opponent of time. Nalbandian, on the other hand was less confident and was content to let 2, 3, or even 4 short balls come his way before he would move forward and rip one into the open court. Too often, he wasted opportunities and allowed Federer to strike first.
As I continued to watch matches throughout the tournament, I couldn't help but notice that the player who took the first opportunity won the point on almost every occasion. There are of course exceptions to the rule and sometimes an opponent guesses your target before and counters your move, but from my observation, the ones that win are the ones who execute this simple concept more regularly than their opponents.
Andre Agassi has built his career upon this concept. James Blake was the biggest time thief in the tournament until he met Agassi who just barely executed this tactic a few more times than he could. Those who understand that a match is two out of three sets and one point is one point whether you win or lose it but still remain committed to the game plan are the ones that come out on top more often.
Andre Agassi has built his career upon robbing his opponents of time.
Alex saw the light against Nalbandian but he had to go through it and learn a tough lesson through experience. He knows he quit applying the pressure when it got close but he also saw that when he took the first opportunity that presented itself, he usually won the point.
It is no easy task to maintain the mental discipline it takes to remain focused on this goal. Throughout the course of a match your mind meanders. This happens to all of us, even Federer will lapse from time to time. He just lapses less often than the rest of us.
The goal should be to stay the course each and every point. Your thoughts should be to hit deep, deep, and deeper, then look for the weak ball. When it come, move forward, and take time away from your opponent. You will be amazed at how this tactic will change your whole game. You will find yourself hitting more winners with less effort just because of the physics of the thing.
It is great fun being the dictator out there so give it a shot and see how this can open a new world to your game. And remember, as the old saying goes, Chickens don't win they just get eaten.
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