Monday, November 23, 2009

Serve it up!


Some thoughts on the tennis serve
Most observers say that the most important shot in tennis is the serve. One report I read said that the serve (and return) can account for up to 65% of the points won in a match.

The serve historically was meant simply to start the point. As recently as the 70s and early 80s, champions such as Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors seemed to use the serve for that purpose more than any other. The story today is quite different, led by a school of big servers such as Ivo Karlovic, John Isner and of course Andy Roddick.

Now, it is primarily used, I think, to hit aces, service winners, or force weak replies and go on the offense. In fact, if a player does not try and use it for that purpose, it is probably a weakness or liability in their game...

*What causes the biggest problems to most players on the serve?
For me, the biggest problem with the serve, probably common to most recreational and club players most of the time, is that my motion is simply too tight and tense, and not loose and relaxed. More than anything else, the successful serve motion requires a loose and relaxed swing, the proverbial "spaghetti arm". Next issue for me, and probably many others, is simply losing control of the toss - simply too low or not enough out in front. The end result is too often the ball going into the net, or landing out wide, which means that the racket head on contact is too open facing the sky, or too closed facing the ground.

The successful serve is meant to be hit with racket head flat against ball on impact, and the left arm (or non-dominant arm) held up as long as possible, with the shoulders tilted to the sky at 60% or 70% angle or higher. "Serve-and-stretch", and also "serve-to-the-sky", as many instructors say...Too often, I drop my left arm too quickly, thus causing my shoulder and head to drop and the ball to fall into the net...

*How can common service problems be fixed?
A relaxation strategy - physical and mental. Think not about double faulting, missing the box long or throwing the ball into the net but about placement, spin and racket head drop. On the physical side, literally shake loose your shoulder, arm and hand. Stretch the low back. Deliberately hold the handle with a loose grip. Practice a lot of shadow swings to loosen up. Practice a lot of shadow tosses. If possible, try some practice serves from the service line, then from no-man's land, before practicing from the baseline. Focus on pronation "pops" - that pop noise when the ball smacks the middle of the racket. Keep the left arm up as long as possible and serve up to the sky...

The toss. The goal appears to be placing the ball consistently where you want it, and specifically at the point in the sky where your swing sports it's "strike zone". As Bill Tilden said in How to Play Better Tennis (1950), "You toss at your swing, you don't swing at your toss."

How do you keep the toss consistent at the same angle in front of you? Jack Kramer rejected the word "toss" the ball, and instead called it "place" the ball. To master the toss, Kramer once suggested that you place a handkerchief in an area about 2 feet in front of you and slightly to the right (if you are right-handed) - and practice until you can land 100 balls in a row on the handkerchief.

What about toss height? Roscoe Tanner is probably the most often mentioned who had a successful serve with a very short ball toss. He is very likely, though, an exception. Most instructors suggest tossing the ball up higher than the racket swing of your racket to get a little better rhythm and timing.

Should you hit the ball on its way up, at its peak or on its the way down?

It is probably very difficult for most players to hit the ball on its way up. The timing required for this is likely extra-ordinary. Bill Tilden used to do it and opponents said that it made the disguise and speed of his serve uncanny. Not easy for most of the rest of us.

Ellsworth Vines, regarded by experts as one of the best pure servers in history, said that by experimenting he found that he could get more power by hitting the ball on its way down from the toss. He thought that more power can be generated through forward thrust on a tossed ball moving downward than a motionless one at its peak. It certainly worked for Vines who served an average of 2 aces per service game.



Since the time of Vines and up to now, most instructors usually suggest hitting the ball on its way down for most players.

*What about a serving ritual or routine?
I think this is vital for most people to help with relaxation and rhythm. Many players bounce the ball several times before the serve, as I do, or have some other ritual. The ritual is also used to focus the mind and give a pause in the play. When a player misses the first serve, I think the ritual, and slowing things down a bit, is even more important to re-focus for the second serve. Too often, I see nervous and embarrassed servers launch into their second serve motion too quickly and just double-fault...

*What do you think about as you are about to serve?
I try and get a good balanced platform stance (the other popular stance is the pinpoint stance), and show my opponent a good "look" to my serve-to-come. Coaches say locate a target and visualize the ball going there. Think also about the type of serve contact (flat, slice, kick). I also try to focus on the depth of my racket drop - a deeper racket drop creates a longer "runway" to pick up power and spin. Many coaches call the deeper racket drop, the "buttscratch", and the long runway serve, the "sweep-and-serve".

Ideally, you might want to "jump into the serve" with deep knee bend, landing on your non-dominant foot, to increase power and spin, though this is considered an advanced athletic motion.

*Two recent interesting articles
I recently read 2 interesting articles on the serve - one discussed the number of serve targets available to a player and how to think about the service box, and the other about the types of service rhythms.

The author of the first article suggested that the service box should be divided into 3 parts - down the middle T, out wide and into the body. He also said that the type of serve contact - flat, slice and spin might be considered a "target" goal.

Let's take the deuce side. Since you have potentially 3 types of serves going to the 3 parts of the service box, you have 9 different targets (i.e. location of serve and type of serve).You have another 9 targets also on the Ad Side.

Thus, you have 18 targets, according to this writer.

I think that if most players can even hit half those 18 targets consistently with even just a little disguise, they will effectively disable most opponents up to 4.5, maybe even up to a 5.0. My opinion.

The author of the second article discussed the importance of rhythm and timing to the successful serve. He identified three (3) types of service rhythms most servers fall into and reviewed their checkpoints- the classic rhythm, the abbreviated rhythm and the staggered rhythm. Examples of classic (Federer, Lisa Raymond), abbreviated (Roddick, Nadal, Henin), staggered (Safina, Tsonga, V. Williams).

Take another look at the serves of these players on TV or You Tube, and see how they differ based on their descriptive titles and which style your serve most resembles.

[Thanks to "Understanding the Service Box", Paul Lockwood, Coach/Director, and "The Three Service Rhythms", Doug Eng EdD, PhD.]

*Is there a mental aspect to the serve?
From a recent ESPN article:
"As many point out, the mental component is key to the serve since it is the one stroke they have complete control over how they hit. It is also the most complex stroke, involving coordination between the racket arm, the ball-tossing arm and the legs, as well as explosive movement from a standing position. That leaves it more vulnerable to disruption."

See Why Can't the Women Serve?

*Does the serve affect the rest of your game?
From the same ESPN article:
"The impact of struggling on serve is not confined to the shot itself, observed Ana Ivanovic: "It was really frustrating, and it was affecting my whole game. I think it's not only case with me, it's with every player who has a big serve. And then all of a sudden if the serve is not coming, it affects your whole movement or your whole game."

*How would a new player learn the serve?
The short answer, of course, is practice-practice-practice. I would think that a new player might need to familiarize himself with the throwing motion itself, perhaps by literally throwing a football around on the court. I think there might be some value also to getting the new person familiar with the natural pronation motion of the arm during the serve, perhaps by watching the mechanics of the bullwhip in action.

See: You Tube Video
[Thanks to Jim McLennan, TennisOne.]

There may also be a value for this new player to learn about "pronation pops" without worrying about trying the get the ball into the box. If, for example, they hit serves with "pop" against the back fence or hitting wall, it effectively takes the service box out of the equation.

*Final comments
I think that every sport has its "sexy" shot or play - in golf, the hole-in-one; in basketball, the slam-dunk; in football, the long-bomb touchdown. In tennis, I think it's the serve, that untouchable ace that players love to hit and everyone loves to watch...

May all your serves be aces!

Gary
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A quick look at the awesome serve - silky-smooth and powerful - of one of history's best players, Pancho Gonzales...

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Rise of the Return...

The service return most recently was the special province and domain of champions such as Andre Agassi and Jimmy Connors, considered two of the greatest returners in history...

No longer...

Now, the return, together with the serve which was always considered the most important shot in tennis by most observers, has risen in importance in the game to equal the serve.

USA Today recently published some statistics to show that top level player rankings are best measured by a combination of BOTH successful service returns AND serves...

Article: Getting to the top in tennis, stats say, is all about the return (Sept. 10, 2009)

From the article:
"Last year, for instance, the most accurate statistical barometer for predicting a top-10 finish in the year-end rankings came in two return categories: points won returning first serve, and break points converted."

"Players used to attack," says 15-time major winner Roger Federer, who launched his record-breaking career in 1998. "Now they defend more. (The analysis) just confirms what the feeling is of everybody."


(Photo Credit USA Today)

Points to consider as players build their return game...

Best, Gary

Today's Tennis: The Constants Amidst the Changes

(Photo Credit Venetian Hotel)

We know about all the changes in today's modern "power and topspin" game, such as changes in rackets, strings, technology, and the rise of the baseline game, the decline of serve-and-volley, prevalence of western-type grips and 2 handed backhands, etc.

What are the "constants" or constant factors that have not changed? What has remained the same since the days of say Tilden and Budge, Gonzales and Laver, Ashe and Connors, McEnroe and Borg, Lendl and Edberg?

Since these constant factors have not changed, aren't they critical for people learning and improving their game to consider, take into account, and analyze?

Some CONSTANT FACTORS that come to mind are:
*Size and dimensions of the court
*Size and dimensions of the net
* The size and dimensions of the ball
*The laws of physics
*Principle of moving forward aggressively and cutting off angles
*The idea of watching and tracking the ball
*Fundamental strategies such as "always change a losing game", "never change a winning game", etc.
*The basics of the mental game (I think), such as building mental toughness, etc.
*Even the scoring system remains essentially unchanged

One argument of some observers, which is relevant here, is that there are also "fundamentals" or fundamental principles of good tennis that have remained the same and unchanged over time, through eras and players...

Among these FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES are:
*consistency and control as your base or platform
*use of non-dominant arm and hand to help create balance and to space one's self from the ball
*footwork, posture and balance (keeping weight half and half between both legs and feet, staying low, etc.)
*small steps vs. large steps in moving towards the ball
*serve posture: serve and stretch, i.e. keeping the non-dominant arm up after the toss
*hitting the ball cleanly into the racket head's "sweet spot"
*tennis as a "game of errors" - last person to hit the ball inside the court wins the point

Players and eras change, equipment and technology improve, and indeed the game itself advances. Yet there may also be some "constant" factors and and "fundamental" principles in tennis which do not change but endure...

Food for thought.
Best, Gary

GOAT: Who's the greatest player of all time

Date: May 26, 2009

On this perennial question at the Sunday tea party, I read an article from Tennis Week from Nov. 2007 I thought was very interesting.

But in case you may not have seen it, here it is.

Tennis Week Article

Statistical analysis of the greatest player of all time.

Criteria:
1. Career won-loss percentage
2. Best won-loss percentage for a five-year period
3. Career tournament titles
4. Tournament titles won in a best five-year period
5. Career percentage of tournaments won
6. Percentage of tournaments won in a best five-year period
7. Career Grand Slam titles
8. Slams won in a best five-year period
9. Career Grand Slam winning percentage
10. Percentage of Grand Slams won in a best five-year period

Final conclusion:
Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg & Bill Tilden (tie), Roger Federer, Pancho Gonzalez, Ken Rosewall, Don Budge, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Jack Kramer, Ellsworth Vines, Fred Perry.

Best, Gary

That mad crazy thrill...

(Photo Credit AFP/Getty)

When asked why he loved tennis, Bill Tilden, the great champion from the 20's and probably the first tennis superstar, said it was that "that mad crazy thrill"...

"There is no sensation in the sporting world so thoroughly enjoyable to me as that when I meet a tennis ball just right in the very middle of my racquet and smack it, just right, where my opponent should be but is not."

*From Match Play and the Spin of the Ball, Originally published 1925



Best, Gary

Winning the big points...

Topic: Is not the nature of tennis that some points are "bigger" or more critical to win in a match or set than others? What are they and why? How can one maximize the chances and opportunities to win those big points?

A few months ago Tennis magazine suggested a slightly older book as still one of the best "overall" tennis books, and I picked it up. Total Tennis, Peter Burwash, Collier-Macmillan, 1989. It is an older book from the late 1980s, and I apologize if someone here mentioned this book (or this topic) before on this forum, since I am fairly new here. I did not see any results when I tried to search this book and topic with the search function.

For me, I got a lot out of this book, as much as the Mental Tennis book by Vic Braden on the mental side.

One of the points made in the book was that not every point in tennis is equal to every other point. The phrase "play one point at a time" assumes that each point is the same in importance. But you would not trade a king for a pawn in chess, or in tennis it seems.

A person can win a set 6-4, and still lose 40% of the points. A person can have just one break of serve, and win the set 6-4. In fact (it appears) that a person on paper can lose most of the points of a match and still win the match!

Since a tennis match is a game of physical and emotional momentum shifting back and forth, and it is impossible for anyone to maintain focused intensity throughout a match from start to finish, it's important to know which points to focus on to win.

For example, match point and set point are critical to win. If you never win a match point or set point, you never win.

Burwash says that the third point and the fifth point of every game are also critical to win. Concerning the third point of a game, say 15-15, there is a large difference between 15-30 and 30-15. If the third point is played at 30-0 or 0-30, there is a big difference between 40-0 and 0-40.

Similarly, the fifth point of a game, if played at 30-30, there is a big difference between 30-40 down, and 40-30 up.

I would add that a break point (up for you), and also game point (up for you) is critical to win.

Next, Burwash argues that the fifth game and the seventh game of a set is critical to win. The fifth game played at 2-2, the difference is 2-3 or 3-2. If fifth game is played at 3-1 or 1-3, the difference is 4-1 or 1-4.

The seventh game played at 3-3, the difference is 3-4 or 4-3. The seventh game played at 4-2 or 2-4 makes a big difference. It is now either 5-2 or 2-5.

The biggest decisive points of all are then: the third and fifth point of the seventh game. Burwash says that the champs almost always win those points, or at least know they need to.

Food for thought...

Best, Gary

Book Review: A Terrible Splendor

As a tennis history buff, I have always believed that a good tennis player and fan should know something about the history of the game. This includes the great champions and matches of the past because they helped to lay the foundation for the modern game that we see today.

I recently read this masterful, well-researched and highly-praised book on a riveting period of tennis and world history - the 1937 Davis Cup semi-final match played at Wimbledon Centre Court between Germany and the United States, as the world prepared for war. Here's my review.

If people find this post useful and interesting, I may post more reviews of tennis history books here in the future.

Thanks for reading!
Gary

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A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, A World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played. Marshall Jon Fisher, Crown Publishers (April 2009). 321 Pages, 6 Chapters, 8 Pages of Black & White Photos.

(*The book's title comes from a quote from Thomas Carlyle about "Fate [which] envelopes and overshadows...[against which] human will appears but like flashes [of] a brief and terrible splendor...")

Before Federer and Nadal, before Sampras and Agassi, before Borg and McEnroe, the greatest tennis match of all, argues the book's author Marshall Jon Fisher was probably the singles match of the 1937 Davis Cup semi-final played at Wimbledon seven decades ago between the great Don Budge for the USA (ranked number one in the world at that time), and Baron Gottfried von Cramm for Germany (ranked number two).

Photo of Budge and von Cramm (Credit wsj.net):


The greatness of the match was based on more than pure tennis (though the tennis was indeed extraordinary), but also the backdrop of impending world war and the high stakes for all, especially von Cramm.

This match was a five set thriller before a raucous crowd on the edge of their seats. It ended only after five match points in the fifth set, culminating with a spectacular running forehand winner around the netpost, and after both men were exhausted and tested to their ultimate limits. One man was playing for the honor of his country - Budge. The other, Von Cramm, was literally playing for his life (as he was targeted by the Nazi regime in his home country for alleged offenses, and only his victory on the tennis court assured him safety.) In that sense, the match became a metaphor for the poignancy of the human battle and, in the words of the publisher, ultimately the "triumph of the human spirit".

Against it all, Fisher also writes beautifully about the rising drums of war across Europe and the world, interweaving the Budge-von Cramm match with the story of a world on the brink of global conflict.

The three extraordinary men of the book's title are: Budge and von Cramm, of course, and the third man - Bill Tilden, the great US tennis superstar and champion of the 20s. Fisher makes many insights into their lives and inter-relationships, traces their seminal tennis contributions and even touches on their personal demons.

Budge and von Cramm were good friends on and off the court, who genuinely liked each other. Budge and Tilden naturally had the greatest respect for each other and their respective abilities. Tilden said of Budge in a comment published later: "I consider him the finest player, 365 days a year, who ever lived." Tilden was a visitor many times to Germany and, in an interesting twist, unofficially coached the German Davis Cup team, including von Cramm and was rooting for him at the Davis Cup match, to the obvious dismay of American fans.

Bill Tilden
The first great tennis superstar, who transformed the sport from a gentile country club pastime to an arena for world-class athletes where winning was the ultimate goal and aim. Tilden in his prime simply was tennis. As sports writer Frank Deford wrote: "It was Tilden and tennis, in that order." From 1920 to 1926, Tilden never lost a match of any consequence, a record unequaled even to now. He won 10 lifetime major championships. He was also a talented writer and a brilliant student of the game. His 1925 classic book Match Play and the Spin of the Ball was studied by generations of tennis students. Consider what he wrote in his book about the "all-court player", almost a premonition about the game's future:

"What is the future of the tennis game? ... As one of the champions of today, I see vistas of progress ahead, of which I glimpse only a bit, but which the champions of tomorrow will have explored and developed. Where are these lanes of progress? Not from the backcourt. Not from the net. It is rather in the use of the forecourt for sharp angled shots, in the use of the mid-court volley, the half volley and rising bounce shots, that future progress lies. Every player who desires to succeed in the future must equip himself with every shot in tennis and then strive to explore the mysteries of the forecourt."

And Tilden was a consummate showman and entertainer. And he lived a flamboyant and extravagant lifestyle. He was famous for a reputedly 150MPH cannonball serve - with the wood rackets of old. Witnesses at matches, including Gene Mako, recalled that he could take 4 tennis balls in one hand - one between each finger and thumb and serve up 4 aces on command!

Tilden boasted a long career, playing on the pro tour well into his 40s and even 50s. In his late 40s, when he once beat Budge on the pro tour, Budge remarked that Tilden taught him a lesson, playing "the greatest tennis I have ever seen." At 53, Tilden could beat much younger stars Fred Perry and Bobby Riggs. It was said he could still be the best in the world for one set. "All they can do is beat him", wrote columnist Al Laney, "they cannot ever be his equal."

In 1950, a AP Sports Writers poll, without any real dissent, voted Bill Tilden the greatest player of the half-century.

(Oddly enough, Tilden shares a birthday with me - February 10, and comes from the same hometown - Philadelphia. I have even played at the Germantown Cricket Club in Philadelphia where he learned to play.)

Tilden sadly carried a dark secret from the public until the end of his days. He was a homosexual, and was charged late in his life of corrupting teenage boys. He was ostracized in public but always his tennis accomplishments were honored. He died of a heart attack in his hotel room at the age of 60.

Don Budge
Budge was the skinny, red-haired kid from Oakland, California, son of a truck driver, who learned the game at Bushrod public court. Later, he justifiably became "Mr. Tennis", literally inventing the "Grand Slam" by intentionally planning and winning all four majors in 1938. (In Budge's day, a sea journey to Australia to compete in their Open was 22 days.)

Pancho Segura once joked that Budge was so confident in his ability on the court that if you were his opponent, he was saying to you: "You can be my ballboy". And for good reason. His powerful backhand often hit on the rise with devastating consistency is even today considered one of the greatest in the game. Indeed, Budge's "unassailable package of power and consistency" is still viewed by many as "the finest ever", even seven decades later. In 1937-1938, he won 92 matches, 14 straight tournaments, including all the majors and 10 Davis Cup matches. He was voted by the press in 1937 and 1938 as the best American athlete.

Budge became a Hall of Famer in 1964 and retired in Eastern Pennsylvania. He died in a car accident in 1999.

Gottfried von Cramm
von Cramm was the tall, blond, green-eyed, impeccably groomed, German aristocrat with the title Baron, son of a lawyer and military officer. He was very popular and well-liked in tennis for his gentlemanly conduct and fair play. Unfortunately, he rose to prominence when the Nazi party came to power in Germany. They wanted to promote him as an example of Aryan superiority, but he refused to be used as a propaganda tool.

von Cramm was being watched by Nazi officials for this reason and others. He had married his childhood sweetheart, who was part Jewish. And there were also rumors that von Cramm was also a homosexual, a grave offense in Nazi Germany typically calling for imprisonment and punishment in a concentration camp. von Cramm was reportedly assured that as long as he kept winning at tennis, no harm would come to him.

Before the Davis Cup match with Budge, von Cramm had won the French Open titles twice, made the finals of Wimbledon two weeks earlier, and rose to number 2 in the world. Tilden had agreed to unofficially coach the German team and von Cramm, and greatly sharpened his backhand for the match.

In the years after the match, von Cramm was eventually arrested and imprisoned for the morals charge of homosexuality, and banned from tennis. He was also later drafted and served in the German Army on the Eastern front. After the war and many letters of protest from tennis fans around the world, he returned to play tennis and Wimbledon in the 1950s. He died in a car accident in Cairo, Egypt in 1976.

The Davis Cup Singles Match: Budge v. von Cramm
The Davis Cup matches were a major sporting event in tennis in 1937, closely followed around the world.

There were unconfirmed reports that just minutes before the match, von Cramm got a call from Hitler, and that he looked pale and deadly serious, answering with "Yes, mine Fuhrer."

The match itself was a five set spectator's marvel, with shot after shot thrilling the raucous crowd who rewarded a particularly brilliant point with an entire minute of applause.

von Cramm, serious and methodical and under Tilden's tutelage, took the first two sets, 8-6, 7-5 with an onslaught of net volleys and groundstrokes deep and hard to Budge's baseline, which were "like a barrage of leaden bombs." Budge who, according to Alister Cooke, played "crazy and inspired tennis", fought back by doggedly moving into net himself - intercepting von Cramm's deep shots at mid-court, hitting volleys from "no-man's land" on the way in, and took the next two sets, 6-4, 6-2.

One writer described the tennis as "winners hit off of balls which themselves appeared to be certain winners". James Thurber wrote that the level of play was an "inspired brilliance, amounting to almost physical genius..." Walter Pate declared years later "No man living or dead, could have beaten either man that day."

In the final set, to Budge's dismay, von Cramm pulled out to a 4-1 lead. Budge re-grouped and stormed back to a 6-6 tie. Point after point late into the fifth set became an epic duel, a "heroic and sustained" effort "with such gorgeous shots." It all ended at 8-6 in the fifth, after five match points, on a screaming running forehand winner to the crowd's thunderous cheers.

I won't reveal here who won but you're welcome to look it up. The important point is that both men, tested to the ultimate, hugged each other after the match, genuinely happy for each other's play - as the Centre Court inscription says - "meeting triumph and disaster and treating those two imposters the same."

For those who want to hear a Podcast Interview of Marshall Jon Fisher, the book's author, with Photo Slideshow, click here:

Photo Slide Show

Podcast

End

Watching the Pros Live (In Person)

I am wondering how many of us have actually seen pros competing live in-person, or attended a professional tournament or a Grand Slam or Master's event.

Who among us has done this? Which pros did you see? What did you learn or get out of it? How is it different from seeing it on TV? What are the benefits for your game or tennis knowledge?

For myself, I have seen in person at play: WTT Philadelphia Freedoms matches, including Lisa Raymond and Nicole Vladisova. I have also seen John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras in the past 3 years at Freedoms matches. I also attended the US Open in Sept. 2008 and saw Federer, and Fernando Verdasco each playing matches, and on practice courts hitting: Patty Schnyder, Andy Murray, Venus Williams, Bryan Brothers. (I once saw Borg play live many years ago at the old Philadelphia Pro Indoors - I guess this means I am giving away my old age, haha).

My 2 cents- for me, it was an eye-opener
- speed of play is much faster in person than what it seems on TV, including the pace and speed of shots
- incredible effort by each player to put everything they have into each shot
- unbelievably huge effort by players to get into the right position (footwork so as to properly space themselves to the ball) before uncorking their shot
- incredible "intentionality" with each stroke, by that I mean a sense that they are intending to hit each shot a certain way, placement, spin, pace
- heavy use of topspin by everybody

Best,
Gary

Balance in the martial arts and tennis

It seems to me that there are a lot of similarities between the martial arts and tennis as concerns the concept of "balance".

3 links I found helpful.

1. Martial arts advice on balance
You Tube

2. How to develop balance in martial arts
ehow Article

3. Developing balance in tennis
Video

Best, Gary

Lessons from boxing...

(Photo Credit to ESPN)

Date: July 18, 2009

Last night, I took a break from tennis and decided to watch boxing, the Friday Night Fights at ESPN.

I saw the main event 10 round lightweight fight between challenger Mexican Miguel Vasquez against undefeated and world-ranked native-Colombian Breidis Prescott (20-0, with 18 KOs).

Prescott, 5'11", 137 pounds, was clearly the stronger fighter with the longer reach and height over Vasquez. Prescott was heavily favored.

Well as you may guess, it was an upset- the underdog Vasquez won in a split decision in 10 rounds.

Vasquez was the less pretty fighter technique-wise, but fought the smarter fight. He counter-punched when Prescott took any offense. He moved, bobbed and weaved, using the ring to his advantage. Vasquez was actually knocked down in the first round, but held his mental game together and scored more points in the ensuing rounds. He finally got some solid punches up the middle into Prescott, opening up a mouth bleed and closing the left eye.

The commentators were saying things like:

*It's not always about the bigger, stronger guy with the prettier punches.
*It's sometimes about over-coming brute strength with smarts, cunning and tactics.
*Boxing is about geometry, angles and timing.
*It's about keeping it together over the long haul and finding a way.
*Boxing is about moving and using the ring (space and geometry to your advantage).
*Boxing is about frustrating your opponent, keeping him off-balance and uncomfortable and giving him shots he doesn't want.


And what about that kinetic chain movement in the boxing action? Power coming from the ground up, through the core, shoulder, arms and hands into the opponent.

I walked away from this boxing match thinking about the similarities between boxing and tennis, and the lessons in boxing and how they all apply to tennis as well.

Best, Gary

Quotation from Rod Laver's The Education of a Tennis Player (Simon & Schuster, 1971), Page 19: "Boxing and tennis, however, give you as much swinging and hitting as you want. Strangely, although they may seem worlds apart, boxing and tennis have a kinship. Two individuals head-to-head, probing for weakness and attacking it. Footwork, timing and stamina are essential. Just you and your opponent in there until one of you is beaten."

International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI

(Photo Logo Credit to International Tennis Hall of Fame)

Date: July 13, 2009

The International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF) in Newport, RI is considered one of the best sports hall of fames to visit...

ITHF Website

The US Open was first originally played there, I believe. Also, I heard that they have the only private grass courts in the USA on which the public can play when visiting the Hall of Fame museum.

This weekend Monica Seles, Donald Dell and others were inducted.

In addition, the Campbell's Hall of Fame finals match was played this weekend, and Rajeev Ram beat Sam Querrey in 3 sets.

Best, Gary

The swinging volley demonstration

Anna Kournikova demonstrates the swinging volley...

Video

Best, Gary

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pancho Gonzales: Warrior of the Court

Photo: US Open

Last night, Saturday, September 05, 2009, the USTA honored the legacy of Richard "Pancho" Gonzales at the U.S. Open, on the 60th anniversary of his second U.S. Open championship.

Click here for U.S Open website page report

The self-taught superstar, who learned to play tennis with a 50-cent racket on the courts of Los Angeles, is seen by many as one of the most purely talented players ever to play the sport of tennis. His ferocious serve-and-volley style showcased a remarkable athleticism and unrelenting will to win.

In the 1950s, he held No. 1 rank in the world for an unequaled 8 years. He is the only player to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame while still an active player. Arthur Ashe once called Pancho his "only idol." Gonzales is widely credited with helping to break down barriers in tennis and sports to inner city youth, Latinos and minorities.

Well done, Pancho!

Gary

PS: Pancho Gonzales was the subject of an excellent sixty minute documentary on Spike TV, with interviews of Pancho and many relevant stars and figures of his day. The DVD of this documentary presents one of the best reviews of Pancho's top-ranked career and extraordinary social impact, and is highly recommended. It is available through Higher Ground Entertainment.

Here is the 6 minute trailer on You Tube:

Pancho Gonzales: Warrior of the Court



One last look at that awesome Pancho Gonzales serve:

Billie Jean King wins Presidential Medal of Freedom

(Photo Credit Sony Ericsson WTA Tour & Getty Images)

The Presidential Medal of Freedom was awarded to 16 people on August 12, 2009 at the White House.

It is designed to recognize individuals who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."

In the world of tennis, Billie Jean King, for whom the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, home of the U.S. Open is named, was honored.

Billie Jean spent an adult lifetime in sports and beyond, at home and around the world, championing gender equality issues and making measurable real-life progress in an imperfect world towards that goal.

The citation reads:

"Through her example and advocacy, Billie Jean Moffitt King has advanced the struggle for greater gender equality around the world. In an age of male-dominated sports, her pioneering journey took her from Long Beach, California, to the lawns of All England Club and the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Her athletic acumen is matched only by her unwavering defense of equal rights. With Billie Jean King pushing us, the road ahead will be smoother for women, the future will be brighter for LGBT Americans, and our nation's commitment to equality will be stronger for all."

President Obama said, referring to the all of the winners: "Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way. Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive."

Speaking with reference to Billie Jean, the President added: "We honor... what she did to broaden the reach of the game, to change how women athletes and women everywhere view themselves, and to give everyone - including my two daughters - a chance to compete both on the court and in life."

Congrats Billie Jean! Well done!

Gary

More information, click here:

Article

The best baseball pitches, lessons for tennis serves

Here's a recent thoughtful article about baseball's best pitches (i.e. fastest speeds 100+ MPH) that I ran across in the New York Times and which I found fascinating, in case you did not see it.

The best way to produce the fastest baseball pitches (and also maximize injury prevention), it would seem is the same - a bullwhip-like kinetic chain motion. Maximum rotational speed shoulder. An upside-down tornado. The arm twisting and turning on the same plane as the shoulder in sequence, whipping the ball. The creation of maximum leverage.

Some obvious lessons for tennis serves, it seems to me.

Best, Gary
(Photo Credit New York Times)

Baseball Pitchers

There is more discussion of serve power on Podcast 22 at EssentialTennis.com.

Podcast

A day at the U.S. Open 2009

Date: Friday, September 04, 2009

A group of my tennis club friends took the almost-3 hour ride on a mini-bus to see the US Open matches yesterday, Friday, Sept. 4, Day 5, which featured a full session of matches. We stayed through the day session, and part of the night session.

Wow, what an entertaining (an exhausting) day, packed with thrills.

Here are the final results of Day 5.

Results

We decided to break up into groups of 2 and circulate as we wandered through the matches and courts. We all caught different parts of different matches, a mix of second and third rounds.

I made an effort, with my buddy, to concentrate on the outer courts and the practice courts, to see what came up.

I first took in some of the Tsonga match win over Nieminen at Grandstand, and saw some of Murray's win at Arther Ashe stadium. (Last year, I saw Federer play a second round match at Ashe, but my seat was so high up that it was not conducive to a good view, in my opinion. Ashe is a monster-size stadium for only one court.)

We then hit the outer courts. We saw some of a doubles match with Nadia Petrova/Bethanie Mattek-Sands v. Virginie Razzano/Agnes Szavay. Then, another court to see some of Victor Troicki. We saw pretty Maria Kirilenko practicing on one of the empty outer courts before the start of a match. We then saw some of the Tomas Berdych match with Horacio Zeballos. We also some of Rajeev Ram teamed with up Melanie Oudin in their first round mixed doubles match. We saw some of Fernando Gonzales v. Josselin Ouanna.

The highlight of the day for me was hitting the practice courts to see these guys practice. Man, we were treated to star after star on various courts, some hitting on their off day, others warming up before their match.

*Kim Clijsters, Gael Monfils, The Bryan Broths., James Blake, Maria Sharapova, Taylor Dent (who went out later to Grandstand for his 5 set thriller win over Ivan Navarro).

The big moment came when the buzz at the practice court was that Federer was coming. There was a burst of applause when he entered from the back with his hat and tennis bag, people shouting "we love you Rog.". His father was following behind him. They walked over to Practice Court #1. His hitting partners (he had 2) were late. Fed. and father were sitting in chairs waiting for about 5 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity to me. Fed. began jogging around the court, and came within 5 feet of me and my buddy. His hitting partners showed up for a vigorous hit session. It was the thrill of the day for me, in a day of thrills.

He moves like no other player I have ever seen, gliding on the court like floating on air, moving his core-body into each shot.

As if all this wasn't enough, we then see Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe come out on another practice court, just to hit for old-times sake, it seems. Wow.

Anyway, I could go on, but I'll stop. It was the tennis highlight of the year for me.

My take-aways for tennis playing nuts:
I spent a day with my eyes as big as half-dollars watching these guys play. What I noticed at this level of play, compared with players are lower levels -
*The incredible preparation (intentionality) each of them makes before each shot is uncorked (this seems like most of their effort)
*The fluidity of their movement and footwork on the court
*How cleanly and consistently they keep hitting the ball
*The length of their swings, especially their follow-throughs, on their strokes

Hope this information was helpful.
Best, Gary

Roger Federer and the Ghost of Bill Tilden




Here are interesting articles on Roger Federer's chase of Bill Tilden's record of 6 straight U.S. Open titles...

Roger Federer and the Ghost of Bill Tilden

Federer closes in on Tilden's U.S. Open record

Best, Gary

Big Bill Tilden

(Photo Credit to Sportsmans Daily)

Big Bill Tilden
Most young players today know little about him. He was however the first great tennis superstar, and responsible for bringing tennis out from the days when the sport was just a genteel country club pastime into today's modern age of tennis as a big-time competitive sport.

From 1920 to 1926, a pre-"Jet Age" era, Tilden did not lose a tennis match on the major circuit of any real significance, sweeping through Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

He was a master showman and a brilliant student of the game, whose instructional book Match Play and the Spin of the Ball stands as a timeless tennis classic.

In my opinion, his all-court attacking game was also far ahead of his time - except of course for those long pants!

His open stance, as well as other shots such his deep forehand slice shot and masterful "American Twist" kick serve and his famous "cannonball" flat serve, reputedly clocked at over 150MPH with the old wood rackets, made him stand out in his era.

In 1950, the Sportswriters of America voted Tilden the best player of the half-century, without any real dissent. A exceptional tribute albeit against the backdrop of a tragic personal life.

For anyone who wants to read more about Tilden and his era, I suggest SI Sports Writer Frank Deford's brilliant biography titled Big Bill Tilden: The Triumphs and Tragedy, (Simon and Schuster, 1976, reprinted in paperback, Hall of Fame Edition, 2004) available on Amazon and elsewhere. It's a captivating "read".



I also suggest reading the New York Times Article on Bill Tilden in August 2009.

Bill Tilden: A Tennis Star Defeated Only by Himself

Best, Gary

PS#1: Some quotes from Tilden you might find interesting:

"There is no sensation in the sporting world so thoroughly enjoyable to me as that when I meet a tennis ball just right in the very middle of my racquet and smack it, just right, where my opponent should be but is not."

"Tennis is more than just a sport. It's an art, like the ballet. Or like a performance in the theater."

"In these days of modern tennis a player is as strong as his weakest stroke."

"Never change a winning game; always change a losing one."

"Never let your opponent see the same shot twice."

"What is the future of the tennis game? ... As one of the champions of today, I see vistas of progress ahead, of which I glimpse only a bit, but which the champions of tomorrow will have explored and developed. Where are these lanes of progress? Not from the backcourt. Not from the net. It is rather in the use of the forecourt for sharp angled shots, in the use of the mid-court volley, the half volley and rising bounce shots, that future progress lies. Every player who desires to succeed in the future must equip himself with every shot in tennis and then strive to explore the mysteries of the forecourt."

PS#2: A new book is to be published on Tilden in Sept. 2010 by Roger Kahn

(Kahn, author of baseball classic The Boys of Summer, is considered one the preeminent sports writers in America.)

Before His Time: Bill Tilden (Houghton Mifflin Publishers)

See: Borders

PS#3: What others said about Tilden in his time:



"[T]he greatest tennis player the world has seen...William Tatem Tilden 2nd was his name. He was the autocrat of the courts as no other player has been since, an absolute monarch in a period when American tennis was at it most resplendent and great players were developed in many lands. He was not only the supreme, the most complete player of all time; he was also one of the most colorful and controversial figures the world of sports has known...He was the master of his time and for all time." Allison Danzig, New York Times Sportswriter, quoted from Fireside Book of Tennis, Simon & Schuster, 1972, Pages 172 & 180.

"When Tilden was Tilden, nobody could touch him. In fact, nobody could compare with him. And King William knew it and reveled in it...He bestrode the tennis world like a Colossus between whose legs the lesser figures of the game ran about and found themselves dishonorable graves." John Kieran, The Ruler of the Courts, Macmillan Company, 1941.

"William T. Tilden 2nd, is a master of all styles of play and a bewildering variety of strokes. He habitually varies his topspin drive with heavy undercut slice, uses one of a dozen different services, and varies the length and pace of his strokes so that his opponent is never quite sure what to expect. Tilden possesses an uncommon fleetness of foot and an extraordinary reach and suppleness. Combined with this unparalleled equipment is a tennis brain of the first order, which makes him quick to discern, and profit by, the mistakes of an opponent." Samuel Hardy, Captain, U.S. Davis Cup Team 1920, quoted in Tennis for the Expert, William T. Tilden 2nd, American Sports Publishing Co., 1930.

"The Thin Man: An Homage to Bill Tilden" (Courtesy You Tube)



"Big Bill Tilden: 1931" (Courtesy British Pathe)

BIG BILL TILDEN



"Tilden in Trim!" - Doubles Play (Courtesy British Pathe)

TILDEN IN TRIM!

Pancho Segura

(Photo Credit ESPN)

Pancho Segura - now 88 with a lifetime of learning and coaching to his tennis career.

Click here for Joel Dricker's very nice article at ESPN: Pancho Segura

Segura was close friends with the great Pancho Gonzales, and coached Jimmy Connors to No. 1.

The late Jack Kramer would once call Segura's devastating two-handed forehand: "the single greatest shot in the history of tennis."

It was said that no one better understood the geography of the court and the flow of a match than Segura. "You are trying to draw a short ball so you can attack," Segura said.

A few other Segura tidbits of strategy:

"30-love is when you can afford to take the chance; 15-30 is when you can't. At 30-30 you better get your first serve in and play close to the vest. On a big point against a net-rusher, it's good to return down the middle -- he can't afford to go for much, so you can pass him on the next shot. Punish second-serve returns so that you make the other guy go for too much on his serve -- and then he'll start missing. Lob a lot early in the match so that you make the opponent aware that you might lob -- and leave a few inches open for passing shots. On and on and on."

Segura believed that tennis was the ultimate test of democracy in action: "It doesn't take more than a racket and a heart to play this game. That's the great thing about a sport like tennis. It's a great test of democracy in action. Me and you, man, in the arena. Just me and you, baby. Doesn't matter how much you have, or who your dad is, or if you went to Harvard, or Yale, or whatever. Just me and you."

Best, Gary

The first point of the first game of the first set...

This is probably an important point. If competitive tennis is about imposing your will physically, psychologically, and strategically on the opponent, the first point makes for a lasting impression, I think.

How many times did we see Sampras start with an ace, McEnroe with a winning volley, Davenport with a hard deep groundie?

Of course, you can still win a game, set or match after losing the very first point.

But the first point effort and result certainly sends a message to the opponent about your game, I think.

I remember this point was made in the book, Education of a Tennis Player, by Rod Laver with Bud Collins.

It also came up again in a another informative book, Maximum Tennis, by Nick Saviano.

Best, Gary

More sleep = better tennis

Wanna play better tennis?

Try sleep extension - meaning get some more sleep.

This summer, Stanford University Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory researcher Cheri Mah studied the sleep patters of women's tennis athletes on their peak performance and mood. Those extending their sleep patterns to 10 hours a night improved their optimal performance.

Sleep Extension Article #1

Sleep Extension Article #2

Best, Gary

Tennis Injuries, anyone?


An informative article on tennis injuries on CNN's website...

Tennis Injuries

Best, Gary

The slap shot forehand

Click here for:

Video Demonstration of Slap Shot Forehand

Thank you to Mr. Lee Couillard of Punahou School in Hawaii.

Best, Gary

Jack Kramer dead at 88

(Photo Credit New York Times)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Jack Kramer died today in Los Angeles, CA with his family. He was known for his "big game": the serve-and-volley style.

Here is an excellent NY Times tennis blog article.

Jack Kramer blog article

In the days of amateur tennis, Jack Kramer was key to helping to promote the pro game and helped to pave the way for the Open era in 1968, a concept he long pursued. The landscape of today's modern game would not be what it is without him.

As for his tennis game, it was world class, winning the US Nationals (now US Open) twice, and Wimbledon and two winning Davis Cup teams.

“He put more continuing pressure on an opponent than any other player I ever saw or played against,” Ted Schroeder, Kramer’s partner for two United States doubles championships, told The Associated Press in 2002. “That goes all the way back to Bill Tilden.”

His serve was exceptional for its consistency. It was said he could toss the ball to the same spot a 100 times. His follow-up penetrating forehand approach shot to the net made his transition game one of the best ever in tennis.

"Kramer competed on his pro tour into the late 1950’s, when injuries forced his retirement, but he continued to run it until 1962. He was named to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1968, and a panel of tennis experts voted him as the fifth-best player of all time in 1969."

Well done Mr. Kramer! Thank you.

Gary

PS Please check out:

Bud Collins remembers Jack Kramer:
You Tube Video

Joel Drucker's ESPN piece on Jack Kramer:
Tennis' Most Important Person

One last look at the famous Jack Kramer serve, one of the best in history:
Farewell, Mr. Kramer!

Tennis is about...


Tennis is about:

1. hitting the ball freely, and out in front of you.
2. focusing on hitting the next shot
3. mental exercises between points such as doing deep breathing, etc.
4. answering emergencies
5. solving problems
6. believing in yourself
7. projecting confidence
8. playing the script, acting the part
9. a forward-movement game
10. cutting off angles consistently
11. stepping into each shot
12. hitting shots aggressively
13. going for your shots
14. dictating the point
15. intensity and intentionality in each shot
16. power coming from the ground up like the martial arts
17. a lower-body game
18. a game played with your feet and legs
19. a game where the quality of your expectations of yourself dictate the quality of your results
20. a game of crisp footwork preparation and recovery
21. geometry = moving forward constantly and cutting off angles
22. full commitment to hit all-out on your shots
23. a game of a quiet head and soft hands
24. is a game which is always played loose and relaxed
25. light, quick and explosive feet
26. taking the racquet back early, hitting through the shot and a full finish
27. keeping your eye on the ball 100%
28. Hitting with intelligent intention but playing mentally calm and also alert
29. Going for targets on the court
30. Pinpoint focus on the present
31. Embracing the moment with gratitude
32. a split step before every shot
33. every shot balanced and controlled until full finish
34. shot-depth: hitting all your shots deep into the opponent’s court
35. Core-rotation into all your shots

From Gary, All the best!

Wanna play tennis better fast? Drink a cup of java

Coffee (and caffine) may improve performance (lawfully, of course).

Article #1

Article #2

Best, Gary

Ken "Muscles" Rosewall makes Australia Legend

(Photo Credit WaToday)

October 08, 2009

Ken "Muscles" Rosewall makes Australia Legend status

Very nice article today about the legendary Ken Rosewall and his place in tennis history...

Ken Rosewall Article

Best, Gary

Book Review: Strokes of Genius

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal and the Greatest Match Ever Played
, by L. Jon Wertheim, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (June 2009), 208 Pages.

Today's traditional Wimbledon break-in-the-action provides the chance to reflect on last year's 2008 Men's Final between five-time champion Roger Federer, the craftsman whose game is as precise as that famous Swiss Watch, and challenger Rafael Nadal, the swashbuckling leftie muscle-man Spaniard with that brash power game. Many experts think that, for pure tennis, this match may have been the best ever played in the game.

This recently-published and well-written book by Sports Illustrated writer L. Jon Wertheim is likely to become an instant classic on the topic. It's an easy read and offers a riveting blow-by-blow account of the epic five set, five hour, twice-rain delayed marathon culminating in the darkness with Nadal's first Wimbledon victory - 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7.

Wertheim does a really nice job of capturing the essence of the Federer and Nadal personalities, their playing styles, histories and families. It offers interesting information about the behind-the-scenes happenings in the locker room. And it gives a revealing look at many aspects of the modern world of pro tennis - the globalization of tennis into a world sport, the heavy gambling behind tennis, the evolution of the racket from gut to polyester, people making up a top player's "entourage" such as among others the player's masseuse, and even details about the Hawkeye technology which is the basis for today's player challenge system. Wertheim doesn't spare anyone from his gaze - even writing at length about the umpire Pascal Maria and his role.

Since Nadal pulled out of this year's Wimbledon due to injury, we won't be treated to a re-match in 2009, but reading this engrossing book is a nice consolation. There's a lot to learn from this match.

May all your serves be Aces!

Gary

PS Author Wertheim discusses his book with NPR (National Public Radio)


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A few book excerpts which you may find interesting and helpful.

1. On Federer:
"Federer became the top-ranked -player in the ATP in 2004, ushering in the Federer Era, the most dominant regime in tennis history. ...from 2004 to 2007, his match record was 315-24."

"Federer won not with might-makes-right power, but with flourish and flair. His game relies on precision and nuance and opulent talent. ... The descriptions of Federer's game are often pulled from art and light: it's poetry, ballet, a renaissance painting, a symphony. He's an artist, a calligrapher, a maestro, a virtuoso on a stringed instrument."

"The grass underfoot [at Wimbledon] accentuated his fluid movements and ...multiple abilities...that graceful volleying, those brilliantly angles flicks, those imaginative pieces of shot-making."

2. On Nadal:
Tennis's Hercules. "Somewhere there is a Planet Nadal, where babies don't play with dolls but rackets, muscle grows before bone, courage is learned before speech and the heart beats faster. He is an adolescent who has transformed himself into a superman." Uncle Toni has an explanation to it all: Nadal's extreme Western grip - the massive spin you get from this grip. "Nadal's elaborate follow-through that enables him to finish his strokes with the racket nearly brushing his skull."

3. On the Contrast in Styles and Temperament:
"Feline light versus bovine heavy. Middle European restraint and quiet meticulousness versus Iberian bravado and passion. Dignified power versus an unapologetic, whoomphing brutality. Zeus versus Hercules. Relentless genius vs. unbending will."

"Federer is a delicate, brush-stroking impressionist, and Nadal is a dogged, free-wheeling abstract expressionist."

"While Federer is whisked to tournaments on private planes, as recently as last year, Nadal flew back from the Australian Open in coach class. While Federer is a gastronome prone to raving about Gordon Ramsey or the previous night's sushi blowout, Nadal is happy ordering a room service hamburger and sparking up his Playstation."

"While Federer is a citizen of the world, the king with the sprawling empire...Nadal [at every opportunity] would return to [hometown] Mayorca, where to this day he lives in the apartment building the family shares. He has the same girlfriend, fishing buddies and golf partners."

4. On the volley, in the words of Federer:
"Probably the most satisfying moment in tennis is when you can close a point at the net. You feel like the other guys was pressured because you were such a good athlete."

5. On the Federer forehand and finish:
"Federer's mix of stylish classicism and flash can be traced to his mechanics. He hits his trademark shot, his forehand, with an open stance and a fairly standard "semi-Eastern grip", essentially shaking hands with the racket, positioning his right hand parallel to the strings."

"In most cases, Federer assumes an open stance, rotates his hips, and extends his arm in front of his body, all the while betraying the peculiar habit of staring at the racket even after the ball's been struck, appearing to admire his handiwork."

"Where does Federer get this ability to leaven his power with spin? When he strikes the ball, he rotates his hand and finishes his stroke over his left breast, rather then his left shoulder. This classic "wiper finish", as teaching pros call it, helps generate the kick ... the Federer forehand is really the perfect tennis stroke. And it's instructive to recreational players... who use a conservative handshake grip that approximates Federer's. And the twisting of the hand to hit over the ball isn't a particularly difficult maneuver. As John Yandell puts it: "Federer's forehand is both a stroke of genius and a stroke for the masses."

6. On playing the script of a winner in a tennis match:
"Both Federer and Nadal display what sports shrinks call "excellent body language" on the court. Unlike most players, they seldom let their movements or their posture or their facial expressions indicate whether they are winning or behind. Tamping down their emotions, they neither sulk much when they are losing nor exult much when they're ahead."

7. On the "Zone" of tennis:
"Federer had entered the Zone, the blissful and fleeting interval during which an athlete feels infallible. The laws of space and physics are suspended. Time is elastic. The extraordinary becomes ordinary. Almost ruthless in their accuracy, Zoning tennis players feel that they can guide the ball wherever they please. Anything the brain devises the body can execute. Serves pop off the racket. The opponent's shots travel slowly and when the ball finally arrives, it appears to be the size of a melon."

END

Collecting tennis memorabilia

(Graphic Credit Tennis Collectors of America)

For those interested in collecting tennis memorabilia, please check the website of Tennis Collectors of America for a wealth of information...

Tennis Collectors of America (TCA)

From the TCA website
"Collecting tennis memorabilia can be challenging, fun, and rewarding. Discovering a tennis treasure, whether it is a postcard one doesn’t have, or a Victorian garden umpire chair, thrills the true collector. Tennis memorabilia, compared to that of golf and baseball, is relatively undervalued, allowing collectors with modest budgets to build very satisfactory collections. One of the greatest side benefits of collecting is meeting wonderful people in all walks of life, whose paths would not cross were it not for this mutual interest."

Best, Gary

Tennis: A Matter of Relaxation

The importance of getting and staying relaxed during all your tennis strokes probably cannot be over-emphasized. Relax, relax, relax...for more power, more control, more fluidity, better timing, etc.

There is probably a physical component to this and also a mental component. In fact, it would seem that relaxation and confidence go hand-in-hand, and may have a synergistic relationship.

You Tube Video: How to use a tennis ball to help you relax

A Blog: How to Relax Under Pressure


Best, Gary

Inspirational sayings...


Inspiration sayings posted on signs at the Rick Macci tennis camp.


Rick Macci Tennis Academy

Best, Gary

1. One athlete with courage makes a majority.
2. If you run for every ball, you're sending a message.
3. If you don't love to run, please take up golf.
4. Don't get mad, get more determined.
5. Hit out, hit out, hit out (meaning Go for your shots!)
6. Players with great attitudes don't lose, they learn.
7. Failure is just the opportunity to plug in better.
8. Well done is a lot better than well said.
9. Players who say I can't, won't.
10. If you never make excuses, your mind grows stronger.
11. Persistence is the real X factor.
12. If you did a good job, that is good, but a big difference from a great job.
13. Pressure: Make it your best friend ever.
14. The best test in the world is the Mirror Test: It tells you whose fault it is.
15. The difference between ordinary and extra-ordinary is just a little extra.
16. The mind is never neutral, it's either for you or against you.
17. If you stay in the box, you will never think outside the box.
18. A smart player or coach is smart because he knows that he is not that smart.

For many more, click here:

More Maccisms

The fastest serve - bringing the heat


Here's what Wiki.Answers.com says is the fastest tennis serve:

Q: What is the fastest tennis serve on record?

Answer:
Andy Roddick holds the fastest serve record at 155 mph (249.4 km/h) during a Davis Cup semi-final match against Vladimir Voltchkov in 2004. This beat his previous record of 152 mph (244 km/h) achieved earlier the same year.

In case you did not see it, here's Roddick record serve: Roddick Serve

Bill Tilden had a serve timed at 163.3 mph (262.8 km/h) in 1931. He holds the record for the fastest unofficial tennis serve, but it is questioned because of the limited technology, mathematical calculations and use of smaller wood racquets, at the time.

See animation of Tilden's serve above.

The mechanics of serving fast including video can be viewed in the following link by former record holder Scott Warner...

Warner has a former speed record of 147 MPH on the serve...

Here's Warner's YouTube video: Serving Faster

Best, Gary

Suggested books on tennis rackets

For those interested in the history of the tennis racket, here are our reading suggestions. Happy reading!

Best, Gary

1. Tennis Antiques & Collectibles

2. Book of Tennis Rackets

3. Wood Tennis Rackets, A Collector's Guide

Cherry Juice may be the new sports drink...

Tart cherry juice has been found in a study to alleviate muscle pain and inflammation in runners and athletes...

Helps with arthritis and other ailments too, it is claimed...

The Med Guru

Cheers, Gary

Roger Federer is Superman

I know that there many unabashed Roger Federer fans here and elsewhere, and I consider myself one of them.

Although I am a fan of tennis history, in my opinion, we are living in the age of the greatest tennis player ever...if you have not seen Fed. play in person, you might want to make an effort at it before time and age eventually call for him to retire...

I have spent time reading about and watching videos of the most of the greats and champions of the past, but, to paraphrase Tracy Austin, I have never seen a player quite like him...the graceful, effortless court movement like floating on air, the unsurpassed balance and footwork, the supreme command of the racket head sweet spot,the brutal variety of weaponry, and the mental game of steel...in the words of Agassi, again paraphrased, Federer only has strengths and unbelievable strengths and when you play him, all you can do is avoid his unbelievable strengths and try and make him beat you with his regular strengths...

And he's an honorable guy too, and a great ambassador for our sport...

You Tube: Federer is Superman (Apx. 4 minutes)

You Tube: Superman (It's not easy) (Axp. 3 and 1/2 minutes)

Best,
Gary

The ultimate fitness is to reverse the aging process...


Fitness for tennis and fitness for life are probably about maintaining the highest quality of life and energy, and indeed finding informed ways to even reverse the aging process...

Magic fountain of youth? Probably does not exist..but here's the next best thing...

Check out these three (3) fantastic Podcasts by Peter Ranger worth approximately 60 minutes of time to listen to...

Podcasts: 7 Secrets to the Fountain of Youth

*Thanks to Health & Longevity Newsletter, November 2009.

PS I will give you a quick Cheat Sheet to review as you listen to the Podcasts:

The 7 Secrets:
1. Wear a contagious smile!
2. Meditate daily!
3. Improve your memory!
4. Hydrate! Drink a lot of water daily!
5. Have no time pressure!
6. Use it or lose it (exercise the body)! Try the Crane's nest exercise!
7. Improve your self-esteem! Take responsibility for your life and pursue your personal excellence!


Best, Gary

Sports Injuries? Check out this Premier Website...


The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has a fanastic website with lots of free information on sports injuries and prevention issues, joint pain, feet, ankle and knee problems, elbow and shoulder issues, and much more...

Check it out...

http://www.orthoinfo.org/

Best, Gary

Federer's Serve: A Model of Perfection


Thank you to Active.com for this video article, republished with permission from TennisPlayer.net, which speaks for itself...Well done!

Federer's Serve: A Model of Perfection

Best, Gary

Net Asset

*Net game is ultimate attack in tennis
In today's game, you don't see the dominance of the net game, or serve-and-volley game, that we saw not too too long ago with Pete Sampras for example and others such as Tim Henman. Part of that is probably because tennis is being played on faster, harder courts than the days when three of the four Grand Slams were played on grass which naturally made for the serve-and-volley game.

I think that the advance of today's "power tennis" also makes it more difficult for players generally to come to net easily and quickly, at least at the pro level compared with the rec. and club level. The power game probably requires that players "take the ball on the rise" much more often and more skillfully in order to come to net and present a credible volley game.

Further, the rules of tennis itself -which I think call for at least one baseline shot before any volley- makes the baseline game forever relevant and probably secondary, in that sense, to a net game. And I certainly don't mean to depreciate or de-value the baseline game and "power baseline game" specifically, in any way. Nevertheless, I have always thought that the net game represents the ultimate attack in tennis.

The well-positioned net player, hopefully with the first or second volley, is essentially dominating the rally, forcing the action and making the baseliner "come up with the goods". The net game is surely a gambler's game to some extent. Yet well executed, it is a good gamble with the odds in your favor, most of the time.

I heard one player-coach comment that if he were going to lose a point, he would prefer to lose it "at the net going for my shot or volley" because at least you are in command of the point and your destiny.

I think that one thing that seems to limit a lot of players in the net game is their own self-definition. If someone describes themselves as a "baseliner", by default they limit development of their net game. Some people are simply afraid to come to net. Others would only venture to net if you offered them a nice, cold lemonade there! :) Chris Evet once joked that she would only come to net at the end of a match to shake hands with her opponent.

Yet even recent history shows that an exceptional net game trumps an exceptional baseline game almost every time, in my opinion. Witness: Sampras over Agassi more often than not. Witness: Navratilova (Queen of Volley) over Evert (Ice Queen of the Baseline) again more often the not.

(Exceptions of course are Borg and Lendl who dominated their times without much of a net game, though Lendl doggedly learned how to volley better later in his career.)

*Net game is about moving forward and cutting off angles
The geometry of the court and the mechanics of hitting a winner in tennis makes all of winning tennis, in my opinion, about moving forward and cutting off angles. The net game fits exactly into this process: i.e. moving forward and executing with intentionality.

*The net game implicates other shots
Playing the net game means working on and executing other shots by implication - for example, half-volley, dealing with lobs, overhead smash and most of all the transition game, meaning deep, penetrating approach shots to advance to net. Your net game is probably only as good as your transition game. In the modern era, Sampras probably had as good an approach as anyone, in particular impossible-to-deal-with first and second serves. In an earlier era, Jack Kramer executed a near-perfect transition game, hitting unreturnable, deep, penetrating approach shots.

*The net game requires concentrated practice and patience at net
I think that the net game adds variety to a player's game and helps keep the opponent off-balance and guessing. Is he or she coming to net this time or not? The net game intimidates some players. Many times at the rec. and club level, I have seen a player come to net and the mere act of coming to net forces an error out of the opponent. (In other words, there is never any volley to hit!).

Of course, if you are being destroyed at the baseline by a superior opponent, why not try come to net and try some volleys?

Yet I don't think one can get good at net without a lot of practice (as with most of tennis). The simplicity of the stroke is probably not a good substitute for regularity of habit. I think it was Aristotle who once wrote: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, thus, is not an act but a habit."

*Playing doubles probably cannot help but assist your net game in singles
Example John McEnroe. He is widely considered one of the best doubles players ever with all his titles. It is probably no coincidence that he is also rated one of the best volleyers ever, with exceptional hands at net.

Best, Gary
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"There is no sensation in the sporting world so thoroughly enjoyable to me as that when I meet a tennis ball just right in the very middle of my racquet and smack it, just right, where my opponent should be but is not...that mad crazy thrill."

Match Play and the Spin of the Ball (1924)
Bill Tilden, Voted by AP Sportswriters of America in 1950 as "Greatest Player of Half-Century"

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