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See sample of Novak Djokovic backhand in ProStrokes 2.0 Slow-Motion in this week's edition.
First Step Comparison - Djokovic, Federer, Roddick
David W. Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
There are countless variables that can determine the outcome of any given match. Physical variables, psychological variables, strength and weakness variables, strategic variables, athletic variables, and even the “what-or-what-you-don’t-say-before-the-match” variable can all contribute to the complexion, rhythm, and outcome of any competitive event.
For those who watched the Roddick/Djokovic quarterfinal match at the U.S. Open, and subsequent semifinal between Djokovic and Federer, there was a list of variables that certainly had their effect on each player. However, from my perspective, there was one difference that not only stood out in each match, but also was, in my opinion, the most influential variable that contributed to the outcome of each match. Reviewing the general statistics below from the U.S. Open web site on the Roddick/Djokovic match, I believe if you look at two specific stats, you will understand my dissection with more clarity.
Roddick vs Djokovic
Roddick's serve is the biggest in the game but he had the same amount of aces as did Djokovic.
While Roddick averaged ten miles per hour faster on first serves and seventeen mph faster on second serves, the total number of aces, was identical for both players at 15. Assuming both players could move the serve around, placing it with equal ability, the conclusion one can make is that one of the two players reacted better, establishing a more effective “first step” in response to the serve.
In addition to serves, Djokovic was able to track down and return potent groundstrokes and volleys hit by Roddick. However, time and time again, Roddick failed to get his racquet on the ball in many similar situations. While Roddick’s volley skills are adequate, his movement in anticipation of many of the volleys did not allow him to even attempt many let alone hit them for favorable outcomes.
Federer vs Djokovic
In the first semifinal match, Federer seemed to establish the same advantage over Djokovic that Novak did over Andy. It could be concluded, as the commentators mentioned several times, that the amount of tennis Novak had been playing over the past few months had had taken a physical and mental toll on him.
First Step: Initiate Intention
Click photo: Federer seems to anticipate movement better than most. This was apparent in his semifinal win over Djokovic.
One element of the game that has clearly changed over time is the speed of the serve. There are human limitations as to speed of recognition and thus, reaction, to such speeds. While reactions can be improved through training, the electrical-chemical mechanism of the neuromuscular system has parameters that limit these dynamics.
I believe that if a player simply waited to move based on the observation and evaluation of such serves, (not making a move until it is registered to be a backhand or forehand), the player would almost never touch a serve unless it was hit right to at him.
I have found that when players establish a preliminary move, an anticipatory move towards one particular shot, (forehand or backhand return, for example), they can react quicker, even to the side which was not in the preliminary movement. While this seems almost contradictory, (to make an initial move in one direction will speed up a reactionary move in a different direction), after the following explanation, I hope you will see how this actually can occur and recognize how this aspect in high-level tennis is a deciding factor.
Establishing the Movement
By initiating some movement just prior to the actual move to the ball, the body has created a response that puts the muscles in an active stage rather than a passive stage. Now, obviously, some shots are simply too good to even have this improved reaction time provide necessary movement to get to the ball. Hence, the fifteen aces by both Novak and Andy in the quarters and the some twenty aces by Federer in his semi with Djokovic. But, the fact that Djokovic was only aced fifteen times by Roddick, relative to the significant higher serve speeds Roddick was throwing in, clearly identifies that he had an edge on the first step movement.
The last game on his serve where Andy tried what was termed a "stupid" shot (a drop shot after a dozen or so ripped shots that Djokovic kept getting back, over and over) demonstrated the fluid reaction movements of Djokovic compared to Roddick. Similar shots thumped by Roddick were time and time again retrieved, usually very effectively by Djokovic. The drop shot was a sign of desperation by Roddick and it basically said, "no matter what I hit, Djokovic is going to get it back." And hence, Roddick tried the one shot that he hadn’t thrown at Novak in virtually any previous rally: a drop shot.
It's unlikely Isaac Newton was much of a tennis player but he may have been on to something just the same.
What Can We Learn?
Roddick certainly is, in my opinion, not the athlete that Novak Djokovic is. But, the question is, could Roddick train himself to be a better athlete? I believe he can, by training this aspect of preliminary movement. But, can this same strategy help the average recreational, club, or tournament player? I say yes. I’ve trained many players in this technique of making the movement just before any movement must occur. And I’ve seen how it helps players react far better and with greater effectiveness on hard hit balls.
Next time your on the court, make a conscious decision to guess what serve is going to be hit at you. Just like the pros, initiate movement, hopping or bouncing on your feet, then the split-step just before your opponent makes contact with the ball. Obviously, you have a 50-50 chance of simply guessing incorrectly on any given shot! However, because you've initiated your movement you actually created the opportunity to move quicker and more effectively to the ball. It's as simple as Isaac Newton's first law of motion. Try it and see!
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.
Extreme Tennis Makeover: The Backhand
A large percentage of long-time players refuse to make significant changes in their game perhaps because they don’t recognize they are using flawed techniques or they simply believe they are incapable of using more advanced methods, or they are unwilling to sacrifice a few victories today for much greater future success. The irony is these players want to improve; they attend clinics, lessons, camps and workshops, read books and watch tennis videos. Dave Smith shows them what it will take.
Leverage and Leverage Alignment to the Ball
Using a leverage band to represent the angle between the forearm and the racquet throughout the stroke, Pat Dougherty introduces the concept of leverage and leverage alignment to the ball in the modern forehand hit with an open or neutral stance. Pat also explains how maintaining proper leverage extends the contact zone to as much as 18 inches and how this extended zone can give you the feel of great control and accuracy.
ProStrokes 2.0 - Novak Djokovic's Backhand
Novak Djokovic is the world’s solid number # 3. This year he has won the Australian Open, the silver medal at the Bejiing Olympics, and the Masters Series at Indian Wells. Djokovic is the prototypical “modern” professional. Tremendous fitness, excellent court coverage, semi western forehand, two fisted backhand and an adequate serve. Djokovic has two wins vs four losses against Nadal this year and has two losses and one win against Federer. But he is head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the pack. Check out his strokes in the all new super slow-mo ProStrokes 2.0. Only on TennisOne. New this issue, Novak Djokovic's Backhand.
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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