Friday, April 30, 2010

DVD Review: "The Perfect 'Classic' Tennis Player", by Coach & Player Brent Abel

Available at WebTennis

In this fascinating DVD, Coach & Player Brent Abel reviews in detail individual strokes of six all-time classic players in history, taken from the 1997 Video Kings of the Court co-produced by the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Don Budge - Backhand
Pancho Gonzales - 3 strokes:
Forehand Approach, Forehand Open Stances, Forehand Volley
Jack Kramer - Forehand
Rod Laver - Topspin Backhand
Bobby Riggs - Forehand
Ellsworth Vines - Overhead, Serve

Abel advocates the all-court style of play for most players at all levels. And he uses vintage video clips of "classic" players in history to identify key stroke aspects, which the tennis viewer can try and model in his or her own game.

Naturally, none of us can duplicate the legendary strokes of all-time great players. Yet Abel does a very nice job of spotting critical elements of the effectiveness of each stroke. And no doubt that all of us can learn from these components in improving each of our own games.

"The Perfect 'Classic' Tennis Player" is an insightful breakdown of the shots of some top players in history, which players at all levels will probably find instructive and helpful.

Best, Gary

Example: Coach Brent Abel's Analysis of an All-Time Classic Player's Stroke: Rod Laver's Topspin Backhand

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Review: "The Education of a Tennis Player", by Rod Laver with Bud Collins


The Education of a Tennis Player, by Rod Laver with Bud Collins (Simon & Schuster, 1971)(318 Pages, 25 Chapters, with Introduction, Epilogue, 3 Appendices, Index and Black & White Photos), republished in Paperback by New Chapter Press, April 2010, with updates and 4 new chapters (280 Pages).

On the 40th anniversary of his 1969 Calendar-Year Grand Slam victory, Rod Laver's classic historical memoir The Education of a Tennis Player, was selected last year by New Chapter Press for an updated printing and made available this month, April 2010. And we are indeed fortunate that it's now out. The original publication was widely-praised after it's first release, with a review on Amazon.com calling it "probably the greatest tennis book ever to be written."

Complete with updates and 4 new chapters covering Laver's near-fatal stroke and recovery in 1998, his helping Australia win the Davis Cup in 1973, and his 1975 exhibition against Jimmy Connors, the reprinted book re-introduces Laver's famous memoir to old and new readers alike. It's his electrifying story of the last Calendar-Year Grand Slam in 1969 at age 31, arguably the sports' single greatest achievement, with reflections on his childhood, youthful playing days and other important players and matches.

Laver himself was quoted: "I am delighted that The Education of a Tennis Player is back in circulation and available for a new generation of tennis fans. Winning the Grand Slam for a second time in 1969 seems just like yesterday and this book brings back a lot of memories of the great matches and exciting times."

Laver's career record is widely known, earning him the unofficial name "The Rocket". Laver's climb from the farm boy from Queensland whom Coach Harry Hopman called "scrawny and slow" to tennis immortality was powered by a unrelenting all-court game which simply eviscerated opponents. He won 11 major Grand Slam singles titles, behind only Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Roy Emerson. He is the only player in history to win two Calendar-Year Grand Slams, all four majors of the year, in 1962 and 1969. He won nearly 200 singles titles in all, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1981.

Laver was assisted with the book by International Tennis Hall of Fame journalist, historian and colorful commentator Bud Collins. Collins was quoted about Laver and the book: "Rod Laver is one of the greatest treasures we have in tennis and The Education of a Tennis Player is one of our sports most important literary works. Rod was always so humble and gracious, but he could play tennis like a hurricane. He was as great a champion as we have ever had in tennis and one of the all-time nicest guys...My champion of champions is Rod Laver."

The book takes the reader on a tennis journey through Laver's eyes of perhaps the single greatest season any player has had - 1969. Laver's descriptions, with Collins' help, of the matches, conditions, weather, player strengths and weaknesses, and court atmosphere brings them to life. Laver's first baby was due on the same day as what became his 1969 U.S. Open final win against fellow Australian Tony Roche, adding to the excitement. Meanwhile, Laver's French Open and Wimbledon final wins that year, also against two fellow Aussies, Ken Rosewall and John Newcombe respectively, are described almost stroke for stroke, thus invoking the reader's tennis imagination to be on court with them almost literally.

For me, one of the most impressive aspects of the book was the insightful comments about other top players and personalities.

Laver on Arthur Ashe:
"The impact of Arthur Ashe on tennis is incredible. Probably the best thing that happened to the game in 1968 is that I didn't win the U.S. Open in Forest Hills and he did...He had the right combination to make the world, especially America, notice: he was black, he was an American, he was exciting - a big hitter - he was articulate and he knew his way around. He was new and different, and tennis needed that...Arthur was at once an athletic-political figure, a champion considered a spokesman for blacks...It was, and is, an awesome role. Sometimes, Arthur seems to act as though the world is on his shoulders. But the fact is that pressures on him from all sides must be terrific. I can't imagine how I would be able to walk in his shoes."

Laver on Pancho Gonzales:
"It's always been Pancho grabbing the headlines as long as I've been a pro, and I suppose it always will be Pancho. He shows no signs of giving out, even though he periodically "retires"...It absolutely killed him to lose. He fought you for everything, intimidated everybody in the place...Pancho has the air that says he's champion...If anything, he's more regal today. When we're playing each other, the contrast is almost comical. Me with my bowlegs and 49,000 freckles, a little guy chasing about. Him with his dark, forbidding face, crowned by the black hair tinged with gray, tall, graceful, gliding...Gonzales is the master gamesman, a badgerer and moaner."

If all this is not enough, Laver and Collins address players at all levels at the end of each Chapter by offering 25 instructional "lessons" on strokes, technique, mental preparation and so on (with photo examples in the original version). Want to learn about the forehand, serve and "crisp volley" from one of the game's Masters? Or about confidence, handling injuries, the "killer instinct", or just hitting through the ball? It's all here, and in simple and focused language.

And throughout the book, Laver's simple grace and good-nature comes shining through.

In summary, The Education of a Tennis Player is a timeless classic offering powerful insights for a whole new generation of tennis fans and players. It's a vivid historical look at players, matches and the game in an earlier era. It's the compelling story of the last epic Calendar-Year Grand Slam. And it even adds lessons about strokes, technique, and the mental game still relevant today- all from one of the game's greatest players ever. One could not ask for more!

Best, Gary


Tennis Historian Bud Collins & Tennis Immortal "Rocket" Rod Laver Photo: Getty Images

Sunday, April 18, 2010

DVD Review: Winning Tennis for the Overweight

Winning Tennis for the Overweight and Hopelessly Out of Shape (DVD, 2010)(15 Chapters, 2 Discs, Apx. 3+ Hours, produced by Antion & Associates) available at FatsoTennis.com

Fatigue makes cowards of us all. Vince Lombardi (Green Bay Packers Coach, First 2 Super Bowl Wins)

A man's got to know his limitations. Clint Eastwood playing Lt. Harry Callahan in Magnum Force (1973)

Tom Antion, former college player for West Virginia University, successful Internet marketer, and avid tennis player and fan takes a light-hearted yet interesting approach in this new DVD to winning tennis for the not-so-fit recreational and club player. In short, Antion is speaking to people who are just plain large and heavy, and know their limitations. In fact, Antion jokes that he himself, at 322 pounds, is probably "the largest person ever to produce and star in a tennis how-to video."

It runs over 3 hours, broken down into 15 chapters on 2 discs. Antion thoroughly covers equipment issues, what to take in your tennis bag, hydration and heat control concerns, warm up and practice drills, on-court tactics, and what he calls "killer patterns" - all specially geared for players who are not so fast or light on their feet. Each DVD chapter ends with a short checklist summary of the information reviewed which, of course, is helpful.

Many of the ideas and concepts presented by Antion in this amusing DVD may not be "new" to the experienced player. But they are offered in a comprehensive and often-humorous way, all with a common theme which is: Make the other guy run and "suck air", while you conserve as much energy as possible.

One example of this tactic is the "Drop Shot/Lob Combination", times three. You drop shot an opponent (assuming a relatively good dropper), then follow with a lob #1, then another drop shot, then another lob #2, then another drop shot, and another lob #3. After lob #3, if he even makes it there, your opponent is so exhausted that you will likely win the next few points or even games with minimal effort.

Other examples are: 1. simply improving your slice serve to both the deuce and ad courts so as to pull the opponent out wide to an out-of-court position; 2. hitting approach shots always "down-the-line" to minimize your recovery steps back into the court for the next shot; and 3. developing an open-stance forehand on shots hit wide to you, again so as to minimize your recovery steps to the next shot.

As to conserving energy, Antion encourages a player who is losing or who needs to catch his breath to slow down the pace of play, within the rules of course. A few examples are extra ball bounces, extra ball serve tosses, and generally pick ups of any stray balls, if they truly pose a falling hazard.

All in all, the DVD was an interesting and entertaining exercise, and offered some advantageous information and tips which can certainly be put to use to by all players to pick up an edge.

Best, Gary

Antion's example of a powerful lob tactic - the Sun Lob

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World

From what we get, we make a living; what we give, however, makes a life. Arthur Ashe

Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World (HBO Sports DVD, 2005)(7 Chapters, Apx. 60 Minutes). Written by Frank Deford, Narrated by Ossie Davis, Directed by Julie Anderson.

Year 2010 represents the 35th anniversary of Arthur Ashe's victory in 1975 at the Wimbledon Championship. In a stunning and cerebral victory, Arthur Ashe, age 31, defeated No. 1 ranked Jimmy Connors in an upset at the finals, 6–1, 6–1, 5–7, 6–4. It was the first championship win by an African-American male, and black man of any origin, at tennis' most prestigious event.

And it provides a timely backdrop to review the 2005 HBO Documentary called "Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World" - a moving tribute to his life and legacy.

In clips, photos and interviews of friends and admirers including Nelson Mandela and John McEnroe, the Ashe biography is presented as a reminder to us, and as a portrait to young viewers, of a story of accomplishment and inspiration. Ashe comes across as a thoughtful and soft-spoken advocate who always sought to give back for what tennis gave to him. The script is written by top sports writer Frank Deford, narrated by Ossie Davis, and set to haunting music.

Ashe's tennis accomplishments and victories are legendary and make him one of the top male U.S. players in history - 3 Grand Slam singles titles, first black man to win the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, Number One ranked U.S. Player in 1968, and leader of the U.S. team that won its first Davis Cup in 5 years.

Beyond his status as a tennis champion, Ashe contributed even more - as a noted writer and author, as an ambassador for a sport which was mostly a "whites-and-wealthy" country club game when he started playing, and as an advocate for human rights and social causes at home and around the world.

Today, we take it for granted that people of all backgrounds and races can enjoy equal access to sports at all levels. That was not always the case.

The skinny poor boy from segregated Richmond, Virginia in the 1950s, whose mother died when he was 6 years of age, developed in a largely "whites-and-wealthy" tennis establishment. He was coached by physician Dr. Robert Johnson, and moved on to UCLA college tennis and then the amateur circuit. Through it all, he kept his anger and frustration in check, as he built a world-class game with cool demeanor and good sportsmanship.

Over time, he made a name for himself in the sport, and became a drawing card in tournaments and clubs. And he later moved into the professional ranks, and forged an historic tennis career.

Ashe's career included that of a tennis teacher and coach, of both kids and top U.S. players on the Davis Cup team. And he became a vocal and proud activist for social causes at home and around the world - the struggle against racism in the U.S. and apartheid in South Africa, the fight for victims of AIDS, and advocacy for youth and kids.

Tragically after heart surgery in 1983 in which he contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion, Ashe died in 1993 at the age of 49.

And what did Arthur Ashe accomplish that affects us today?
In 1973, Ashe traveled to then-apartheid South Africa, where he had been denied a visa in the past, to play at the South African Open. He wanted to bring to light the system's injustice and offer hope to the country's blacks. Today, a lasting tribute to Ashe's efforts might be a top player such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, an African-Frenchman, who played and won the South African Open last year, without any political rancor and with great fanfare.

And so what is Arthur Ashe's legacy for us today and future generations?
It's about breaking barriers and overcoming prejudices. It's about helping to improve social conditions. And it's about fulfilling one's best potential in sports and in life.

Well done Arthur!

Best, Gary

For more on Arthur Ashe and his legacy:
1. Official Website for Arthur Ashe
2. International Tennis Hall of Fame Profile
3. Arthur Ashe Youth & Education Center in Philadelphia

A few honors and awards made to Ashe:
Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 1993
ESPN's annual Arthur Ashe Courage Award for the person in sports
best showing courage in the face of adversity

A few facilities named after Ashe and working to improve lives in his memory:
The Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open, home of the annual Arthur Ashe Kids Day.
The Arthur Ashe Youth & Education Center in Philadelphia
The Arthur Ashe Athletic Center in Richmond
The Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health

A few books by Arthur Ashe:
Off the Court (1981)(Ashe's life story, especially outside of tennis, including his struggle against apartheid)
A Hard Road to Glory (1988)(Ashe's history of the African-American athlete in sports, considered a comprehensive reference book)
Days of Grace: A Memoir (1994)(Ashe's poignant best-selling autobiography written in the final days of his life, which includes his activist causes for victims of racism, apartheid and AIDS)

A tribute to Arthur Ashe (You Tube, Apx. 10 minutes)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tai Chi Tennis

Tai Chi Tennis is a new sport and wellness tool which unifies the modern game of Tennis with the ancient Chinese tradition of Tai Chi.

It combines the tennis skill of "feel for the ball" on the racket with the flowing and fluid motions of Tai Chi...and it is not limited to the arms and hands but requires using the body's waist, legs and core.

The grace and movement of Tai Chi matched to the skill and subtlety of "feel for the ball" can take both art forms - Tennis and Tai Chi - to a new level of fluidity, balance and beauty...

For more information, contact the Wellness-Shop.com

Best, Gary

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Caesars Tennis Classic is a hit for tennis, fans and Atlantic City!

Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Andy Roddick, Marat Safin, Pete Sampras all playing in one night...and all introduced and interviewed by Venus Williams (and Justin Gimelstob)...

Atlantic City, NJ USA hosted it's first major tennis event in 14 years drawing 7300+ fans, spectators and tennis-lovers from the greater New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia area. And former 8-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl played his first competitive public match in 16 years at the Caesars Tennis Classic last night, Saturday, April 10, 2010...and I had the good opportunity to attend in person!

Despite the fact that one of the stars James Blake had to withdraw before the event due to a knee injury, the evening was a fun and memorable one for all with some exciting tennis from 3 generations of champions for 3 generations of fans...

Four one set exhibition matches with no-ad scoring...final results:
1. Wilander wins v. Lendl (6-3)
2. Safin wins v. Sampras (6-4)
3. Roddick wins v. Sampras (6-4)
4. Roddick wins v. Safin (6-4)

My takes on the night: Lendl played better than his score, he moved well, looked slimmer and his chronic bad back did not seem to hinder him. His serve and power baseline game (and even some volleying) could be seen, yet he needed to improve his consistency and timing. Wilander simply showed more consistency and less errors.

Safin looked strong with some solid serves and passing shots. Sampras continues to serve at a very high level, but perhaps is just a little slower in court movement. Roddick, just coming off his win at Sony Ericsson-Miami, seemed to really enjoy himself, having fun on the court and knocking off some real power serves and showing his "new" game play of variety, including slice backhands and drop shots.

All in all, the exhibition matches gave the players a chance to enjoy some competition in a relaxed setting and gave 3 generations of fans some fun and interesting tennis.

Caesars announced that the event will return in 2011 and Sampras said he would like to play again...

For more information and photos, check out:
Press of Atlantic City: Caesars Tennis Classic a smash

Best, Gary

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Book & CD Review: "The Art of Doubles" and "Top Ten Doubles Questions & Answers", By Pat Blaskower

The Art of Doubles - Winning Tennis Strategies & Drills (2nd Ed.), By Pat Blaskower (Betterway Books, 2007). 218 Pages, with 14 Chapters, Introduction, Index, Black & White Illustrations & Court Diagrams, with CD Interview, "Top Ten Doubles Questions and Answers", By Pat Blaskower with Brent Abel of WebTennis.net (Apx. 1 Hr.)

Pat Blaskower is a former national Number One player in Women's 35 Doubles, who went on to coach intermediate and advanced players for over 30 years in California and Connecticut. Her league doubles teams consistently reached the Districts, Sectionals and Nationals.

In this book geared primarily for intermediate and advanced players, Blaskower tries to distill 30+ years of coaching and teaching into core concepts and strategies. She explains that, in her experience, all great doubles teams uniformly display certain key elements including: proper court position, intelligent shot selection, superior poaching skills, control of net, mental toughness, and good communication.

The book's Chapters discuss each of these topics with detail and insight, and many others as well such as: creating a balanced doubles team, flexibility, keys to winning and common reasons teams lose, and a variety of doubles drills to improve court skills. Each Chapter concludes with a brief checklist covering the highlights of the Chapter, which is very helpful.

She makes a point to argue against, according to her, the most common "misconceptions" in doubles play including, among others: The player with the forehand always takes the center ball, the server takes the lob over the partner's head while this partner crosses over but stays at net, I never poach at net because I will get in the way, I never come to net on second serve, there is no point to serve-and-volley because they will just lob you, and others.

Blaskower is a strong proponent of the 80%-20% rule, namely that a good doubles team can properly position themselves to cover 80% of the court and win the point most all the time. She also argues that teams should take the ball out of the air as often as possible to maintain net position as much as possible.

In her one hour CD Interview with Brent Abel of WebTennis.net, "Top Ten Doubles Questions and Answers", Blaskower reviews what she believes are the most commonly asked questions by players at all levels about the doubles game. Her answers are crisp and pointed.

For example, regarding where to serve, Blaskower points out that serving to the opponent's backhand side is not always appropriate given that the true purpose of the doubles team to set up the net partner for the winning volley. To accomplish this may, for righties on the deuce side, sometimes call for serving wide to the opponent's forehand side, not backhand.

Similarly, regarding the "transition game" which involves moving forward to net after service or a service return, Blaskower points out that learning to play that "no-man's land" on the way in is a critical part of controlling the net. She suggests a drill she calls "shadow doubles" to help learn "no-man's land" skills, which involves doubles partners hitting to each other from each's "no-man's land".

Both the book and CD are packed with numerous insights and concepts informed by Blaskower's many years of successful coaching. Intermediate and advanced players will certainly find many points instructive and useful as they build and refine their doubles play.

Best, Gary

Monday, April 5, 2010

Congrats to the Winners at Sony-Ericsson in Miami 2010!












Men's Singles Championship

Andy Roddick wins over Thomas Berdych in two sets in the finals, 7-5, 6-4. It was a workman-like yet well-rounded performance by Roddick in a much-deserved victory after his recent loss in the finals at Indian Wells, CA. (Roddick will next play an exhibition against recently-retired Marat Safin at Caesar's Palace in Atlantic City, NJ next Saturday, April 10, 2010.) Well done!

Women's Singles Championship
Kim Cljisters wins over Venus Williams in two sets in the finals, 6-2, 6-1. In a quick dismantling of her opponent in less than an hour, Cljisters re-affirmed her position as one of the top power hitters in the women's game, and is enjoying her time as tennis mom as well. Well done, also!

Best, Gary