If you are not moving your feet, you are not playing tennis......
This past weekend in Washington D.C. there was a great finals match between Andy Roddick and Del Potro. Del Po won in a third set tie breaker stunning the heavily favored Andy Roddick. For those of you who did or did not see the breaker, there was a good lesson to be learned.
In all my years of playing junior and college tennis, the true players are made when the match gets tight. This is what separates the men from the boys. All my life I have heard you can not get tight, but play loose in these situations and just hit the ball. If you slow your strokes down or start to push and abandon the game plan that got you to the tie breaker, you are going to loose.
Time and time again on big points I see juniors go into a shell and get tentative and scared. They stop going for their shots and try to out rally their opponent. This does not work. The mindset needed for this to be successful is “If I don’t hit the ball and stay aggressive I am going to lose. Hit the ball and if you do go down, go down swinging.”
Ok so back to the match. Del Potro did not hit a single serve above 135mph the whole match. The very first serve of the breaker was a blistering 137 mph. From here I believe he hit four more aces including an ace on the only second serve attempt of the breaker. He was swinging freely. If and when the serve came back he was hitting out on his groundies and looking to attack and get in.
To make a long story short, when situations get tight attack attack attack. Stay aggressive and hit your shots. If you can do this you are giving yourself the best chance possible to win the match.
Players of all levels can benefit in improving one of the most basic fundamentals in the game, footwork. Countless times on the tennis court I see players of all level who need a ton of improvement in this area. No matter what skill level you are, if you improve your footwork I guarantee your level of tennis will jump up one or two steps.
As a coach I wonder why something so fundamental and basic is lacking in the game of tennis today? The answer is simple, there is no glory in great footwork. Coaches and players alike spend hours upon hours working on technique and repetition. Players should practice footwork and court movement as much if not more than groundstrokes, vollies, and serves.
So many times I see players who do not keep their feet moving. If your feet stop moving, your not playing tennis. I see people who do not split step every shot, or step into a volley. More times than not I see players cemented into the court especially in doubles. If you keep your feet moving you will be amazed as to how much easier the game becomes. Do not be lazy, force yourself to move your feet.
Take a look at this situation from a coaches viewpoint. If a player is in position to hit a ball clean, they are then maximizing the ability to make a great shot. If a player is out of position, then the odds pile up against the shotmaker. It is inevitable that sometime or another you will be out of position, even if you do have the best footwork in the world. Yet with quick feet and correct court positioning you will put a limit on how many times you are caught in a situation that is unkind to the tennis player.
Roger Federer plays the game in a very beautiful way. Everyone says he makes his shots look so easy. The reason it looks easy is because he is in perfect position most of the time to hit a great shot. He moves, anticipates, and plays angels better than anyone on the tour. Another great example is Pete Sampras. Pete moves in a completely different way than Fed, yet his fast feet enable him to be the most dominate serve and vollier tennis has ever seen. It is not a fluke that he rarely got passed. He was always in position to hit the next shot.
This is where the chess match comes into play. A player whos feet do not get tired and can set up a point three shots ahead will obiviously have a much better chance to be in position to make a great play on the ball. If you are not thinking ahead in the point then you will be reacting late, thus becoming out of position. Footwork and court position do not solely rely on speed. It is also about intelligence.
So, the next time you get out on the court move your feet as much as possible. It may hurt and you may get tired to begin with, but once you do get used to it, your game will jump up levels. Check back for some great foot work and reaction drills.
Last night, I was fortunate enough to witness a living legend work his craft. I saw Pete Sampras play Marat Safin in an exhibition singles match in front of a sold out UCLA stadium. As a young junior tennis player, Pete was the one I looked up to the most. I wanted to mirror my game in virtually every aspect of his. Nothing was greater then watching this man serve and volley, while his opponents helplessly tried to find some way to beat him. In his prime there was no one better. He truly is the greatest tennis player to walk this earth.
Last night Sampras held true to form, and every point in which he served he ended it at the net. During the whole match he got broken one time. Safin came up with some pretty big returns and even bigger backhands. What was great about last night, was the fact I was once again a kid watching his hero. I got to see a true serve and vollier from start to finish. This was no Taylor Dent, this was no Andy Roddick. This was a guy who actually knew how to execute this style and prove that it still works in todays game.
I saw approach volleys and drop shots that have been absent from the tour ever since the retirement of Pistol. I saw pin point accuracy in serves followed but majestical footwork to create the perfect volley position. I saw Safin struggle to barely pull the match out in a ten point tie breaker for the third.
Last night was great, and was something I have wanted to see my whole life. Gone are the days where players know how to set up a closing volley with an approach volley. Gone are the days where there is variety in the game. Gone are the days where my idol, Pete Sampras dominated tennis. Last night was just a glimmer of the past. Thank you Pete-
Vintage Mac. This is what we need more of. Well maybe not. But it does have personality and ratings….
During the 1970’s through the early 80’s tennis was at the peak of its popularity. People worldwide played the game, followed the game, and knew the players. If you were on the tour and you had tallent, you were a rock star. Players were treated in the likes of a LeBron James, Tiger Woods, or Derek Jeter back then. The sport was booming and life was good. Then the mid eighties came. Over the next fifteen years the tennis world saw declines that questioned if the sport would be around twenty years from now. Tennis fell off of the radar and federation’s worldwide watched their participants and numbers shrink.
Luckily around the turn of the century tennis got its second wind. Over the past ten years, the USTA along with the ITF, have reported substantial growth in the number of players worldwide, racket sales, as well as the number of people following the sport. Currently tennis is starting to thrive again and give fans worldwide hope that it will some day capture the essence this sport once carried back in the glory days. Roger and Rafa can only take us so far. What do we need as a tennis nation need to once again get back to the top?
After a long morning of coaching, I was fortunate enough to sit down with and good friend and fellow coach, Mike-T. When it comes to sports, especially tennis, Mike is a walking Almanac. His knowledge of the game leads to some excellent conversations and debates. The guy is full of facts. Mike was lucky enough to have been in the middle of the tennis scene during the 70’s and 80’s and experience the rise and fall first hand. This past week we have been comparing tennis’s most recent boom to the height of the game back in the 70’s and early 80’s.
We both agree that the rivalry between Rafa and Roger is the fuel buring the flame for the current rise. Yet to get over the hump tennis needs something more. Something it had in the 70’s and is lacking now. Tennis needs more personality and swagger. From 1970-1985 there were a whole slew of great players that defined the game and captured the attention of so many.
In the early 70’s Stan Smith, Arthur Ashe, and the Aussie trio of Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver, and John Newcomb dominated tennis. Over the next fifteen years tennis would change dramatically and the players to take over could not be any more unique. Gone were the days of the gentlemen’s game that tennis reputation had lived up to for so many years.
We saw guys like Illie Nastase, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, and John McEnroe, just to name a few, take center stage. You had every style of play and an even bigger variety of personalities. Bjorn Borg was nick named the “Ice Man” for his ability to stay calm cool and collected even in the tightest of situations. There was Nastase, McEnroe, and Connors, who thrived off of the crowd and would go ballistic if they disapproved of a call or did not like an opponent. Lots of foul language, broken rackets, and belittled umpires.
McEnroe was the serve and vollier. Bjorn Borg was the baseliner who played with topspin. Nastase was the scrapper, with lighting quick speed, and the ability to do anything he wanted with the ball. Then there was Jimbo who had the best return in the game with a brilliant backhand and never say die mentality. The combination of these big names and personalitites combined with guys like Roscoe Tanner, Vitas Gerulaitis, and Ivan Lendal made for some brilliant entertainment.
Their games mirrored the times at hand. They questioned authority, played outside the box, and appealed to mass audiences. This was no longer that upper class sport, but one that appealed to the masses. More people played tennis at this time than any other time in history to this day.
Right along side of the men’s game were the women. During this time there could have possibly been one of sports all time greatest rivalries featuring Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. These women played eighty times in their career. Evert won thirty-seven of the eighty matches. Is there a better rivalry in sports history? Along with the WTA and the domination of Evert and Navratilova was Billy Jean. Not Micheal’s Billy Jean, but Billy Jean King. As a profound feminist and lesbian Billy is most famously known for the most watched tennis event in history. Bobby Riggs an addicted gambler and male chauvinist challenged Billy to a tennis match known as the battle of the sexes. This was the most built up and publicized event that tennis history has. 50 million people tuned in to watch this epic match where King prevailed 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. This event alone broke down many walls for women’s rights across the nation. Launching Billy Jean King into more than just a tennis player.
So yes tennis today is on the up rise and we do have a great rivalry on the men’s side of the tour. Yet it lacks the ability to mirror the times at hand, the ability to show your true self and character on the court, the variety of styles of play. It is missing the emotion and intensity of McEnroe and Connors, the fieriness of Nastase. The lack of consistency on the Women’s tour. Back then there were on average five to seven guys who could go out and win a slam. Today, well two. In the end if you look at the record books and the names that came out of that generation, I think it is fair to say no other tennis era will even come close. It was just that good.
So what does tennis need? Swagger, attitude, appeal, and a handful of great players who dare to be unique and different. It needs the 70’s.
The volley is probably the most under taught stroke in today’s tennis game. Players all across the world learn how to put together unbelievable points from the baseline. Yet when that rare chance comes to put a ball away at the net, these players look like they should be in a boys 10’s tournament.
The biggest mistake I see when teaching the volley in players of all levels is the inability to volley the ball out in front of the body. Many times players will stick their arms to the side with open shoulders. Other times players will take a back swing thus hitting the frame come contact point.
A quick easy fix to keep your hands in front of the body when volleying is to imagine a ball was just tossed to you. If you can find a partner have them toss a tennis ball to you under hand. When you go to catch the ball make sure your fingers are pointing up to the sky. You will naturally extend your hand forward and catch the ball. When the ball was thrown to you did you take your arm back and swipe at the ball? No, you did not, you executed perfect volley form when catching the ball. Now go onto the tennis court and the next volley hit to you extend your hand forward as though your are going to catch the ball. Instead of using your hand use your racket and hit a clean volley. This will keep your eye on the ball, eliminate a back swing and keep your shoulders closed.
Step two to fix the volley is one of my favorite things to teach. Many times players of lower levels have a misconception that the wrist should be lose and snap at the volley. When watching the great volliers of the past, one of the biggest things these players did with every volley low or high was to have a straight wrist. Imagine you just walked into a very nice dinner party. Someone hands you a cocktail. Look at how you are holding the glass. Your wrist is firm making sure this glass does not spill. Now imagine your wrist goes limp. There goes that cocktail all over the carpet. No bueno.
How does holding a drink compare to hitting a volley?
When we are volleying we need to keep our wrist cocked and loaded. Never ever when you are volleying the racket should drop below your wrist. If you hold your tennis racket like you are holding a drink you will accomplish a variety of tasks. Your racket will be up and ready. You will have a firm base to the volley causing you to not spray the ball but find the middle of the strings. Finally is you have the correct grip and make contact on the back edge of the ball this will give you a nice slice and even better control on the volley.
Tip number three to make your volley that much better is possibly the easiest way to get rid of a huge back swing. To many players want to crush that ball at the net. The reason we do not swing at the net is because it is nearly impossible to time the ball perfectly every time we need to hit a volley. If you can not see your racket then you are swinging at your volley. Everytime you hit a volley you want to be able to see your racket without turning your head. By living to this standard, it will eliminate any back swing thus giving you a volley Sampras would be jealous of.
Hope these tips made sense and have helped out in some way. Any questions email away.
Today I was looking on the Los Angeles Opens web site and the very first Monday of competition Pete Sampras will be playing Marat Safin. I am very excited to see this match up. Not only is Pete my all time favorite player, but I have never seen him play live. On top of this he will be playing Safin who is still in shape and not over the hill in comparison to the rest of the legends circuit.
Many people have asked me why Safin is playing this match if he is not retired yet. There are several reason I believe he is doing this. First and foremost he is on his farewell tour. He is probably having more fun now than he has had his whole career. The pressure is off. Second he does not care about his year end rankings. All he cares about now is making it as far as he can in the Grand Slams to leave a good memory behind. Third, why grind all the summer tournaments, if you are calling it quits?
We have seen how much fun the legends have out there. This is the type of tennis I would love to show my kid when he or she is learning how to play. You don’t see these guys acting like a pre Madonna (Mr. Roddick). You don’t see guys calling out the crowd after a match (Mr. Djokavich). You do see guys having fun, smiling, and playing the game the way it should be played. Imagine how fun the tour would be to watch (not that it isn’t fun) if everyone had a good time and it was not about life and death.
Players need to ease up, similar to the way Safin is ending his carrear. I bet in the long run it will serve a much better purpose to their over all goal, then stressing over every single missed forehand. On that note, anyone looking to sell some good seats to that match?