Sunday, January 30, 2011

Australian Open 2011: Novak Djokovic and the Power of Elastic

Men's Singles
He stretched, he bent, he leaned. He lunged and lobbed. He flexed and flicked. He matched a scintillating defense with powerful and crisp groundstrokes. He served to his spots almost flawlessly. His timing and rhythm was as sharp as ever. He was cool and confident - and became even more so as the night wore on. Throughout the tournament, he rode the positive energy from his team Serbia's recent Davis Cup victory. Tonight was no exception.

Novak "Mr. Elastic" Djokovic (Serbia) defeated Andy Murray (Britain) in three convincing sets, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3, before a capacity crowd in the cool evening at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. It was Djokovic's 2nd Australian Open Championship title and his 2nd Grand Slam. Tonight, Serbia not only sported the Davis Cup but also showcased their top player's tennis prowess and his silver Aussie Open championship trophy.

Congrats, Novak!

Men's Doubles
Meanwhile, USA Bryan Brother Twins (Bob and Mike) had earlier successfully defended their men's doubles title. They defeated Indian stars Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, 6-3, 6-4 for their 5th Australian crown and 10th Grand Slam championship.

America's greatest doubles team triumphed again!

Well done to all the players, coaches, officials, ball-boys and ball-girls, fans and sponsors at this year's fabulous Australian Open.

See you next year!
Gary

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Australian Open 2011: Women's Singles Championship Title

Congratulations to Kim Clijsters (Belgium) who defeated Li Na (China) in three dramatic sets to win the Women's Singles Championship Title at the 2011 Australian Open in Melbourne, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

It was Clijsters' first Australian Open women's singles championship. Meanwhile, Na was the first Chinese and Asian player to reach the women's singles final of any major Grand Slam tournament.

Well done to Kim Clijsters (Champion), Li Na (Runner-Up) and all the women players at this year's fantastic Australian Open tournament!
Gary

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"The New String Generation"

Magazine Article Review

The Atlantic
magazine this month has a very interesting article titled: "The New Physics of Tennis: Unlocking the Mysteries of Rafael Nadal's Killer Topspin" by Joshua M. Speckman. In it, Speckman dissects one of the principal reasons why pros today generate massive amounts of topspin on many of their shots.

With the benefit of new ultra high-speed digital video shooting at 10,000 frames-per-second, Speckman shows how the new co-polyester ("co-poly") strings and lubricated strings deliver up to 20% more spin than standard nylon strings. Super slow-motion replay appears to show that these new strings add extra spin to the ball "by sideways sliding and snapback."

This helps to explain why today powerhouse players such as Nadal produce twice as much spin as tennis greats of even the recent past such as Andre Agassi. And it's probably why Roger Federer, widely regarded as perhaps the best tennis player ever, has dubbed today's players "the new string generation."

Best,
Gary

Read more:
"The New Physics of Tennis", The Atlantic, January-February 2011

Video: Joshua Speckman demonstrates new string technology

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wonder Woman Tennis: The Longest Match

----------------------------------Photo: AP-----------------------------------

Melbourne - It was "Ms. Pocket Hercules" vs. "Comet Kuz". It was the irrepressible Italian force vs. the supremely dangerous Russian shotmaker. And it was the longest women's match in Grand Slam tennis history and in the 43-year Open Era. . .

In a nearly 5 hour marathon, Francesca Schiavone (Italy) defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova (Russia) in three grueling sets, 6-4, 1-6, 16-14, in the Round of 16 at the Australian Open 2011.

Total match time: 4 hours and 44 minutes. Total effort expended: all there was. Match summary: An ultimate test of character. Final result: An epic match for the ages. . .

"To live the moment was the most important for me," said 30 year-old Schiavone, the 2010 Roland Garros-French Open Champion.

"We both fought so hard the whole match," said Kutznetsova, the two-time Grand Slam Champion (2004 US Open, and 2009 Roland Garros-French Open).

The third set alone lasted 30 games and 3 hours, with each player responding tirelessly and courageously to the other's relentless shot-making.

ESPN's commentator Pam Shriver remarked that the more tired both players appeared to get, the more they seemed to play at a higher level!

Carrado Barazzutti, Captain of Italy's Fed Cup team, who witnessed the entire match and saw both exhausted players hug each other afterwards, commented: "It was one of the best women's matches I've seen in term of emotions."

And it was also one for the tennis history books. . .

Well done to both players!
Gary

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who was the last Aussie and "janitor" to win the Australian Open?

Photo: Central Press/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

Mark "Superman" Edmondson
The media called him "janitor" because he had taken odd jobs cleaning windows to help pay for tennis expenses. The fans called him "Superman" for his heroics and rise from humble origins.

In 1976, Mark "Superman" Edmondson beat compatriot John Newcombe, 6–7, 6–3, 7–6, 6–1, for the Australian Open Men's Championship title. He remains even today the last Aussie man to win his native country's Grand Slam.

He was ranked No. 212 at the time. And 35 years later, he is still the lowest-ranked winner of a Grand Slam since the ATP started ranking players in 1973 - underscoring his Herculean effort against all odds.

Edmondson won 6 career singles titles and 34 doubles titles, including 5 major titles. He was inducted into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame, and has been honored with a bust of him at Melbourne Park, current site of the Australian Open.

Many say Edmondson and his generation represented the "last gasp" of Australian tennis' golden era.

That remains to be seen as a new generation of promising Australian players continue to make their efforts to rise.

Meanwhile, for now, Edmondson's accomplishment continues to stand tall in the annals of tennis history.

Well done, Superman!
Gary

For further reading:
"Mark Edmondson Gave Golden Era of Australian Tennis Its Last Gasp", New York Times, Dave Seminara, January 13, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Australian Open 2011 Preview

Here's a short video preview of the Australian Open 2011 for men's singles.

Enjoy!
Gary

Video: Courtesy GRF Productions

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Talent is Overrated"

"Talent is Overrated" is a best-selling book and concept from Geoff Colvin, Senior Editor of Fortune Magazine.

Colvin asks what makes world-class performers and athletes the way they are. And based on scientific research, he questions the natural assumption of many that natural-born talent and skill is the primary reason, followed by intense hard work.

Colvin argues that world-class performance is based less on natural talent or raw unfocused work, and much more on what he calls "deliberate practice" - a practice, argues Colvin, engaged in purposefully by world-class performers such as golfer Tiger Woods, comedian Chris Rock, football player Jerry Rice and many others.

In "deliberate practice", the performer focuses on his weaknesses specifically. And he repeatedly and deliberately practices overcoming them, especially under pressure situations. Thus, the limits of one's ability are pushed back -until they begin to master that which limited them from greatness.

And Colvin argues that we can all learn from these principles, and apply them to our lives to reach higher performance levels.

An intriguing concept worth considering.

Needless to say, the book is not suggesting that talent is irrelevant or unimportant, or that we can all achieve world-class performance levels, or that other factors such as "desire", "competitiveness", "inspiration", "passion" or "coaching" do not play a role.

Rather, "Talent is Overrated" is suggesting (based on some scientific research), I think, that a particular kind of rigorous, systematic, focused and purposeful practice is greatly underrated or not well-understood in the process of building performance - "deliberate practice" targeting and overcoming weaknesses to push through one's limits.

Best,
Gary

Book: Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin, Portfolio Hardcover (2008), 224 Pages, reprinted in Paperback by Portfolio Trade (2010).

Video: Talent is Overrated

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tennis and the Power of Gravity

How can the power of Earth's gravity be used to help your tennis strokes?

Here is an interesting video taken from the sister game of golf discussing how the power of gravity can be harnessed to achieve rhythm and fluidity in a golf club swing.

Think about how this same principle applies to a tennis racket swing on your ground strokes and serves.

Best,
Gary

Video: Courtesy Shawn Clement Golf

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Parallel Universes of Tennis

Our best theoretical physicists and mathematicians today have deduced with their experiments and equations that our Universe is far richer and more complex than ever imagined.

For example, physics pioneers such as Michio Kaku of City University of New York and Brian Greene of Columbia University, argue that our physical reality may actually consist of much more than our 3 simple dimensions of space, and time - but rather up to 11 dimensions of space and time.

Meanwhile, leading research physicists such as Max Tegmark of MIT and top astronomers such as Alex Filippenko of University of California at Berkley (and an avid tennis player), propose yet another mind-bending possibility.

They say that 21st century physics, together with massive data from space-based satellites such WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe), now suggest that our vast universe is actually but one of many --- a Multiverse of many different parallel universes in different dimensions, spaces and times.

Back to Earth.

In the world of tennis, consider how many levels or "worlds" are at play in a match. Beyond strokes, footwork, technique, mental nerves, match conditions and the score, what other "universes" might there exist to affect the ultimate outcome?

1. The Universe of Managing Unforced Errors
Most coaches agree that tennis at all levels, especially recreational tennis, is a battle of unforced errors. Whoever makes more unforced errors usually loses. Bill Tilden wrote: "Remember that in first-class tournament tennis, 70% of all points end in error, a net or out . . ." And of course, he warns that it's even higher at lower tennis levels. Vic Braden adds his observation: Most rallies at all levels on average last no more than 2 to 3 strokes before someone makes an error. Thus, controlling errors is beyond critical.

Managing unforced errors first requires attention to what is happening and why. Most unforced errors happen because a player is simply not watching the ball intently and exclusively. Another reason for many unforced errors is, of course, poor stroke technique (hitting long or into the net) or bad footwork (swinging too close to or too far from the ball).

To manage unforced errors (which are simply unavoidable for everyone), coaches suggest that a player employ the mind set which the pros reportedly use: A mentality of rapid and fluid recovery from unforced errors, rather than trying to avoid unforced errors which is of course plainly impossible.

Go back to some basics to recover from an unforced error. Watch the ball, watch your spacing to the ball, watch your form. Return to hitting "the directionals" (meaning hitting the ball back in the direction from which it came to you.) Hit the ball cross-court more often, where there is "more" court and a "lower" net. Hit with more safety, meaning hit higher over the net, thus hitting the ball deeper. And above all, as Vic Braden implores all players, hit with topspin and less flat --- with your racket head starting below the level of the ball, and moving low to high.

2. The Universe of "Getting on a Roll"
Tennis is a sport about rhythm and timing in swinging the racket at the ball. How many times have we seen a player "catch fire" in their stroke production or service motion and get into an almost unbreakable "groove" at a tournament? "Tennis is a psychological game", wrote Vic Braden. And it is probably about which player can "get into a roll" faster and better than the other. Which player on this day can more quickly and consistently play his or her best tennis game?

Tennis players, more than nearly all athletes, it is said, are creatures of habit and routine --- before, after and between points. Ever notice how meticulously Rafael Nadal always places his water bottles at chair side in the same exact way and engages in the very same routines on court? Getting into a "groove" mentally and physically probably helps enormously in re-creating a top player's proven court domination in a new match. It is remarkable to see how any player's confidence is suddenly boosted when he or she manages to hit a few winners in sequence. More often than not, many more winners will flow from that player in the course of that match.

3. The Universe of Imposing Your Will on Your Opponent
Tennis is very close to a boxing match. Each player's shot to the opponent is like a boxer's punch. Each exchange is really about who is pushing around whom. Each player is matching his strengths and weaknesses against the opponent's strengths and weaknesses. Each player is looking to be continuously on-balance, hitting his best shots, and taking charge --- and making his opponent look off-balance and be reaching and lunging for the ball.

Of course, each of us has a limited reserve of will-power, and a limited ability to withstand stress and pressure. No one can stay concentrated and focused indefinitely. Thus, each player is striving to outlast the opponent. And a tennis match's outcome is about who outlasts the other in this way.

Bill Tilden put it this way: "When two players start a match, it is always a battle to see who will dominate the match, and who will be pushed around. One player or the other will ultimately impress his tennis personality on the other. The one who does will win, because by doing so he forces the recognition of impending defeat upon his opponent. [Set] your tempo and hold it. An attitude of calm confidence goes a long way toward maintaining a mental edge. The more you can make your opponent feel that you expect to win, intend to win, and there's nothing he can do to shake your confidence and determination, the harder it is for him to hold his own concentration. [The old saying is]: A man who won't be beaten, can't be beaten."

Best,
Gary

Sources:
1. Parallel Worlds, Michio Kaku, Ph.D., (Anchor Books: New York, 2005)
2. The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene, Ph.D., (Norton: New York, 1999)
3. How to Play Better Tennis, Bill Tilden (Cornerstone Library Publications Reprint of 1950 Edition: New York, 1973)
4. Mental Tennis, Vic Braden, (Little, Brown: New York, 1993)