Sunday, December 26, 2010

Geometry and the Art of Tennis

The great Greek mathematician Euclid (circa 300BC in Alexandria) is considered the "Father of Geometry". He may have found it interesting that the modern game of tennis is, arguably, mostly a problem of geometry.

The art of tennis is essentially the problem of hitting a tennis ball with as much spin and power necessary to carry it over the net and within the lines of the court to a place where your opponent cannot return the ball.

Thus, geometry is involved with the path of the ball, the configuration of the court, and the positioning of the player.

Most coaches will agree that winning tennis is about moving forward, controlling the middle of the court, cutting off angles and defending as much of the court as possible.

So what do the laws of geometry then instruct us to do on a tennis court?

(Of course, let's not get too technical with concepts like a triangle's hypotenuse or angle of reflection or angle of incidence.)

Here's a simple and short list compiled from writers and coaches who have studied this topic:

1. Creating more angles with your positioning
Move closer into the court. Take the ball on the rise, when possible.
The closer any player moves in, the greater number of angles that they create, not to mention the steeper the angles that they create. The view of the court looks different and more favorable to the incoming player - more court to hit to and easier to see. And the earlier the player hits the ball, the less time for the opponent to react to more angles and to more difficult angles.

2. Hitting cross-court on rallies
When you hit cross court to your opponent in a rally, you gain safety and probability to your game. The tennis net is about 15% lower at the center strap than at the ends (3 feet vs. 3 feet 6 inches). The tennis court (which is 78 feet in length) is also about 10% "longer" if you hit cross court than down-the-line (about 4 feet for singles, 8 feet for doubles), since you "gain" space in hitting diagonally.

That's a 10% to 15% return on your investment, if you hit cross-court.

3. Hitting down-the-line on volleys
The reverse is true for volleys. Hit down-the-line. Why? The key is how much space you have to cover when and if the opponent returns your volley. Geometrically, volleying down-the-line forces your opponent into fewer "angled" options on his return. It's more difficult for him to hit the ball back at steep angles. Meaning, you will have to cover less territory on his return.

4. Recovering back to the middle on defense
In playing defense in tennis, the challenge is to get back quickly to the position where you can safely cover as much of the court as possible against your opponent's potential shots. That position, geometry tells us, is the point at the middle of where you opponent could return the ball.

In other words, to maximize court coverage, a player quickly moves to that area which is the "mid-point" of the opponent's range of return. Notice that top players use this quick recovery to "mid-point" as more than just defense. They use it to actually gain "space" and "time" over their opponent, enabling them to go on offense on their next shot, if at all possible.

Tennis then is a game of gaining the advantage of "space" and "time" over your opponent. And geometry helps us to see how.

It is said that "strategic" tennis players incorporate geometric concepts into their game. Meanwhile, "practice" tennis players incorporate the same geometric ideas into their play, but by "learned repetition" in their practice.

Either way, effective use of the rules of geometry intelligently elevates the level of your game. And it will probably help generate more winners and reduce unforced errors.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

High Five for Kids: The Match for Africa

------------------------------Rafa v. Roger-----------------------------
Over this holiday season, the world's two best tennis players (and friendly rivals) offered their time, talent and celebrity for a great cause - helping kids. The event was dubbed: "Joining Forces to Benefit Children."

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played 2 exhibition matches (six sets) to overflow crowds in Switzerland and Spain to raise money
for their respective charitable foundations.

The foundations help with education and sports for needy children in Africa, Spain, India and other countries. It was live cast on ESPN, with Chris Fowler and Patrick McEnroe.

On Tuesday, December 21, 2010, Federer beat Nadal in Zurich 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. On Wednesday, December 22, 2010, Nadal beat Federer
in Madrid 7-6, 4-6, 6-1.

No Grand Slam titles were at stake, no official wins or losses took place, and no world ranking was in play.

It was just about some entertaining tennis from two of the game's all-time best players who gave of their skills and efforts to help those less fortunate. An estimated $5 million dollars was raised.

And sold-out crowds from both countries, and fans around the world watching, sent them off to rousing ovations.

Of course, the real winners were the kids - and the sport of tennis itself.

Well done!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A free video lesson from tennis star Novak Djokovic

Here's a free video lesson from tennis star Novak Djokovic, courtesy of


Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Dance of Tennis

--------------------------------------Photo: Getty Images----------------------------------

"Tennis is a dance, and the ball is your partner."
David Bailey, Australian coach, footwork specialist and creator of the Bailey Method. Bailey has been cited in the New York Times, "Federer Exerts His Power from the Ground Up", August 30, 2009.

Tennis indeed is a dance. . . the "split-step and go", the "heel-to-toe" weight transfer stepping into the ball, recovery steps, and more.

Coach Bailey has developed a universe of 15 dance or "contact moves" in tennis - essentially an athletic movement in striking the ball.

Here's a brief and entertaining video clip where kids demonstrate many of these moves. . .

Enjoy! Gary

The Dance of Tennis (choreographed)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tennis Players' Performance May Affect Perception

------------------------------------------Photo: Reuters--------------------------------------
Newspaper Article Review

The Los Angeles Times on December 02, 2010 reported that the journal Perception released a recent study of tennis players and their perception of ball speed and net height.

In this very interesting study, Purdue University researchers Jessica Witt and Mila Sugovic concluded that tennis players may actually be seeing the ball move slower and the net height lower if they are playing well.

In other words, a players' performance level might be affecting - indeed even altering - their visual judgment on the court.

In the study, 36 male and female tennis players at various play levels were tested on perception of ball speed and net height. They hit tennis balls fed by an automatic ball machine at various speeds and spins, and were asked about their perceptual judgments.

When a player hit a ball in-bounds, he or she judged the ball to be moving slower and the net height to be lower. Conversely, when the player hit the ball out-of-bounds, he or she estimated the same ball to be moving faster and the net height to be higher.

These study results may offer some support for the old adage that a player "in the zone" appears to see the ball moving slower and also appears to see the ball as bigger.

Thus, visual perception may be not a fixed or static characteristic. Rather, it may be a moving concept, or a sliding scale - altered by how well we are playing.

The better our performance, the better our perception skills - and therefore the better yet we perform and so on.

Best, Gary

For more:
Tennis players' performance may affect how they perceive ball speed and net height, by Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times, December 02, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Who's "The Greatest"? History's best rivalries elevate the sport. . .

On November 28, 2010, Roger Federer defeated Rafael Nadal at the prestigious season-ending 2010 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at The O2 in London, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. It was Federer's fifth World Tour Finals title.

The match pitted the 16-time Grand Slam champion Federer against the World Number One and winner of 3 of the 4 Grand Slam titles this year Nadal. It proved to be an epic battle showcasing once again the Swiss Maestro's tennis brilliance against the Spanish Swashbuckler's relentless drive.

Federer and Nadal are widely regarded as two of the game's greatest players ever. And their rivalry has become probably the premiere individual sports rivalry of our time. Indeed, their matches have arguably become tennis's version of the timeless battles of Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier in the 70s.

Boxing fans may remember that Ali and Frazier dueled in 3 epic boxing matches in the 70s, splitting the first two fights. Ali, then Heavyweight Champion, won the third and final fight in the trilogy: the "Thrilla in Manila".

Federer and Nadal meanwhile have met in 6 Grand Slam finals, with Nadal leading 4-2, and 22 head-to-head matches, with Nadal leading 14-8. Their duels have generated world-wide interest, even from non-tennis sports fans. And they have never disappointed.

Like Ali v. Frazier, or Larry Bird v. Magic Johnson, or Ted Williams v. Joe DiMaggio, or Jack Nicklaus v. Arnold Palmer, Federer and Nadal carry on a grand tradition in sports - great and riveting rivalries.

This tradition is especially rich in tennis history: Ken Rosewall v. Rod Laver, John McEnroe v. Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras v. Andre Agassi, Martina Navratilova v. Chris Evert, Steffi Graf v. Monica Seles.

Great rivalries such as these elevate our sport - they inspire each player to a higher level of performance and purpose. They often generate new levels of world-wide interest, even from non-tennis and non-sports fans. And the performance and style of players in such rivalries typically serve as models in their sport for the next generation of athletes.

Meanwhile, there's more to come for fans of Federer and Nadal. These two ambassadors for tennis have agreed to play two exhibition matches on December 21 and 22, 2010, in Zurich and Madrid, all for charity - proving that great rivalries can also help great causes.

Best, Gary

Federer v. Nadal: The Greatest Rivalry in Sport

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Devvarman wins historic Gold for India at 16th Asian Games

Somdev Devvarman, of India, beat top-seeded Denis Istomin, of Uzbekistan, for tennis singles gold at 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China today, 6-1, 6-3.

He also won the doubles gold with countryman Sanam Singh beating Maoxin Gong and Li Zhe of China 6-3, 6-7 (4) and 10-8 (Super tie-break).

It was India's first ever gold medal in singles tennis at the Asian Games.

Devvarman, who also won the Commonwealth Games gold medal last month, said: “It’s an unbelievable feeling, especially playing with my good friend and for my country.”

Well done!

Best, Gary

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A look back at the past champions of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals

This video offers a quick review of the past champions of the prestigious year-end Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. . .


Best, Gary

Thursday, November 18, 2010

First Year Anniversary of Timeless Tennis

One year ago last November, when I started this Blog Timeless Tennis, I wanted to express my thoughts and information about our favorite topic - tennis!

Thanks to all of you -- my readers, friends and supporters -- we've hit our One Year Anniversary! It's been a fun journey, and I hope to keep it going. . .

Shakespeare wrote the immortal lines: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."

The same can be said about tennis.

Tennis is a stage - a platform - on which players showcase the human drama: its victories and defeats, its accomplishments and failings, its tragedies and life lessons.

Indeed, my view is that tennis may be even more than a stage. It's actually a metaphor for life itself. . . and the human condition.

And as long as we are all around, tennis - like life itself - is truly timeless. . .


Enjoy watching the first Timeless Tennis video!

PS: As you watch this video, questions for thought. 1. How many players were you able to identify? 2. Did this video bring back memories? 3. Or did it make you curious, or even inspire you, to learn more about our historical tennis greats?

Friday, November 12, 2010

"Choose to be a Great Tennis Player" Video

"Your inner beliefs and notions about tennis, create, govern and become everything you do on the court." Dale LePrevost, "Choose to be a Great Tennis Player" is a tennis lesson video by Dale LePrevost. It's about self-confidence and our own beliefs about ourselves. The tennis player that we become may well be the one we think we can and will be. Naturally, there are many aspects of top-level tennis such as technique, strategy, practice, fitness and even raw talent and more. Yet the notion that the architecture and content of our own thoughts help determine our highest tennis performance is intriguing indeed. It may behoove us to watch and consider the challenging ideas in this interesting and "outside-the-box" video. Best, Gary

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wanna Play Better Tennis? Then, visit Gotta Play Tennis!

Ron Miller (PTR Certified) is a Tennis Instructor for 20+ Years in the South New Jersey area, with a passion for all things tennis: playing, teaching, advocating and passing on its history.

And he suggests quick and fun improvements to your game in his comprehensive website: (GPT)

GPT offers it readers and listeners Podcasts, Blog Articles, Slide Shows and much more, to help club and recreational players with their game.

And it's all done concisely, and often with a light touch, and with a keen appreciation of the history of the game and its players.

I was recently invited as a guest on a GPT Podcast to discuss topics on tennis, including my recent Blog Article on Quantum Tennis.

Listen to GPT's Podcast Interview of me here: Podcast Episode 58 of Gotta Play Tennis(November 04, 2010)

See you on the court!
Best, Gary

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A couple of tennis lessons from the great Bill Tilden

Bill Tilden was the first great tennis superstar.

In 1950, he was voted by the AP sportswriters as the greatest player of the half-century.

His record 6 straight U.S. Open championships (1920-25) may never be beaten.

He led the U.S. to 7 consecutive Davis Cup victories (1920-26), a record still unmatched.

His instructional book Match Play and the Spin of the Ball (1925) is still regarded as an all-time classic and a tennis masterpiece.

Here are a couple of lessons from the player whom tennis history might call: The Master himself.

Best, Gary

Videos courtesy of tom47usa

(Watch them on You Tube.)

Beginner lesson

Advanced lesson

Monday, October 25, 2010

Timeless Strategy: Doubles is All About Your Double

Doubles is all about your Double . . . meaning setting up your partner for victory.

A timeless strategy in successful doubles play is playing for your partner - and setting him or her up for the "hero's winner."

Part of this strategy includes playing shots fearlessly from "no-man's land".

And it means hitting most of your transition shots to your opponent's feet.

This forces them geometrically to hit the ball up on their reply, thus often feeding your partner an easy put-away volley.

And a natural bonus to this strategy - you're both communicating and working together as a team.

Coach Brent Abel of explains in this recent video:

Best, Gary

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

For God & Country: The Davis Cup - USA v. Colombia 2010

Photo: Fernando Vergara, AP

In tennis, playing for God and Country means The Davis Cup, which carries a very special history of pride and passion.

I had the unique opportunity to watch live the Davis Cup tie (match series) between USA and Colombia while traveling through Colombia in September 2010. The tie was a Play-off for entry into the World Group next year.

Team USA was represented by Mardy Fish, Sam Querrey, John Isner, Ryan Harrison and Captain Patrick McEnroe. Several top American players chose not to play this year's Davis Cup, among them Andy Roddick, James Blake and the Bryan Brother Twins.

Team Colombia offered their best player Santiago Giraldo, ranked No. 61 in the world, and other stars such as Alejandro Falla, who took Roger Federer to 5 sets at Wimbledon in July, and doubles players Robert Farah and Carlos Salamanca.

Team Colombia had the home court advantage, and proved to be a determined opponent electrified by a wildly-supportive crowd. Team USA had the advantage of experience and history, having won the Davis Cup a record 32 times, the most ever for any team.

The event was staged on the red clay at the Plaza de Toros La Santamaria in Bogota, Colombia. The city of Bogota sits at an altitude of 2650 meters or 8700 feet above sea level. Thus, the locale posed a special challenge for both sides, especially the Americans. The tie was scheduled for best of 5 matches called "rubbers", and it proved to be a thrilling and closely-contested battle.

The Davis Cup format is 2 singles matches, a doubles match, then 2 so-called "reverse" singles matches. Each match was best of 5 sets. The winner of 3 of 5 matches would move on to the World Group.

The USA won over Colombia 3-1. (September 17 - 19, 2010)

First Singles rubber: Mardy Fish (USA) defeated Alejandro Falla (Colombia) 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
Second Singles rubber: Santiago Girlado (Colombia) defeated Sam Querrey (USA) 6-2, 6-4, 7-5.
Doubles rubber: Mardy Fish/John Isner (USA) defeated Robert Farah/Carlos Salamanca (Colombia) 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3.
First Reverse Singles rubber: Mardy Fish (USA) defeated Santiago Giraldo (Colombia) 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 4-6, 8-6.
Last Reverse Singles rubber canceled due to rain.

Mardy Fish played some of his best tennis to win 3 "rubbers" or matches, the first American "triple" since Pete Sampras accomplished that feat in 1995 playing in Moscow. "To win three points in one Davis Cup match under these circumstances in such an important tie is one of the biggest - if not the biggest - accomplishment of my career," remarked Fish.

Patrick McEnroe, who retired from his 10-year Captaincy of the USA Davis Cup team immediately after the tie series, said of Fish: "What a Herculean effort . . . Mardy's was one of the greatest efforts in Davis Cup history - forget my 10 years as captain. To win three points under these conditions - with the altitude, the crowd and everything. He is in illustrious company."

My takeaways:
*Tennis is big in Latin America and Colombia. The enthusiasm and support of the wildly-cheering and banner-waving crowds was impressive.

*The Americans arrived in Bogota a week early to practice and acclimate to the high altitude, the highest ever for any Davis Cup tie - and they responded admirably. And they were said to enjoy their off-court time in Colombia as well!

*The Davis Cup is a premier forum for showcasing national patriotism and pride of tennis fans in countries around the world.

Well done to all the players and coaches on both teams!

For more on the Davis Cup, visit:
The Davis Cup

Best, Gary

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

2010 U.S. Open: The Rafael Nadal Story and the Lessons of Rod Laver

Congratulations to all the winners and players at the 2010 U.S. Open!

The story of this U.S. Open is the career Grand Slam win by Spain's best player of this or perhaps any generation - the indominitable Rafael Nadal.

. . . and behind that win is may lie an interesting parallel with the game of the great Rod Laver - the all-time tennis champion.

Nadal is only the seventh player in history to win the "career Grand Slam": the men's singles title in each of the four Grand Slam tournaments - the Australian Open, the French Open (Roland Garros), Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

At age 24, Nadal won his 9th career Grand Slam men's singles title. This pace is ahead of that set by Roger Federer who had won 6 Grand Slams singles titles at the same age.

Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic of Serbia in four sets, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 in a rain-delayed match completed on Monday, September 13, 2010 at Arthur Ashe Stadium. It was Nadal's first ever U.S. Open title, and further cements his World No. 1 rank this year.

Nadal's U.S. Open victory this year completes that rarest of consecutive Grand Slam men's singles title wins - the French Open (Roland Garros), Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, all in order in the same calendar year.

And who was the last player to accomplish this feat? Answer: Rod Laver. . .

What lessons can be learned from Rod Laver's game that might be relevant at this point? What parts of Nadal's game bear focusing on here? And what might players at all levels take away from this U.S. Open championship win by Nadal?

1. A ferocious intensity of play - Laver was widely-known as a supremely humble and gentlemanly player. Less well-known to most except his opponents was Laver's ruthless desire to eviscerate the opponent, in his case with the sheer magnificence of his seering all-court game.

Similarly, Nadal is known for his all-out intensity on each point as if it was his last, in his case with the sheer power of his topspin drives. Nadal, say his opponents and most observers, "gives you nothing." Yet, like Laver, it is all bound up in Nadal's humble and gentlemanly exterior.

Lesson: Develop an intensity as part of your point play while maintaining humility.

2. The use of topspin at a higher level - Laver was credited in his time for taking topspin drives on his forehand and especially on his backhand to a whole new level, the first to take professional tennis to the modern "Big Game". Nadal likewise has taken the power and intimidation of the topspin drive to an entirely new dimension. Nadal's heavy deep topspin groundstrokes not only push his opponents back and often force a weak reply, but also intimidate many lesser opponents to "going for more" on their shots, thus missing altogether.

Lesson: Develop more and stronger topspin on all your groundstrokes.

3. Enjoying the battle and the thrill of competition - Laver in his time, and Nadal now, simply conduct themselves as glorious competitors, taking pleasure in the game itself - win, lose or draw. By doing so, they seem to play even better tennis - almost behaving and conducting themselves as if the outcome is foregone - and it often is.

Lesson: Savor the thrill of the moment and the pride of competition, regardless of outcome.

Lessons from history - past and present.

Best, Gary

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Day at the 2010 U.S. Open

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the 2010 U.S. Open in Flushing, NY on Day 5, Friday, September 3, 2010!

It was a day of thrills and excitement.

In a word: "amazing".

I toured the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center grounds, including the 3 stadium courts - Arthur Ashe, Louis Armstrong and the Grandstand - as well the other match courts and practice courts.

Highlights: Spaniard Feliciano Lopez won in 5 sets, and 18-year-old American Ryan Harrison lost in 5. John Isner and Sam Querrey both won. I also saw the women's doubles win by Alexandra Dulgheru & Magdalena Rybarikov.

I even watched some of the Junior Boys Qualifiers, rising star Gonzales Austin and Japanese upstart Daiki Kondo. (I witnessed some awesome serves from even the juniors!)

And I saw Maria Sharapova and her coach Michael Joyce, as well as Venus Williams and her father-coach Richard, all working on serves on the practice courts.

Bottom line, these world-class players can truly "hit" a tennis ball - powerfully hard and fast and with magnificent spin.

Off court, I ran into French player Paul-Henri Mathieu who was working his Blackberry and preparing for his match with Roger Federer in the next round. And I said hi to American fan favorite Melanie Oudin at the USTA Smash Zone exhibit for kids. I even briefly chatted tennis with the famous coach Nick Bollettieri who was outside of Louis Armstrong stadium watching matches on the Big Screen. . .

All in all: An exhausting but fun and educational time.

What were my observations for tennis playing fanatics?
What I noticed about players at this top-level of play, compared with players at less advanced levels -

*The commitment and intentionality of each stroke: the incredible preparation each of them makes before each shot (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 swing and the completeness of their follow-through on each stroke
*How low they can get to the ground on their shots
*How loose and relaxed the players play, and just how comfortable they look on court
*How smoothly they unleash their kinetic chain of power at the ball

For more information on the USA's Grand Slam tournament, visit:
U.S. Open: "It Must Be Love"

Best, Gary

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The 2010 U.S. Open: Four Inspiring Stories

Photo: Rob Loud/

Last night, the U.S. Open's Opening Night Ceremony "Reach & Dream" celebrated and honored the inspiring stories of four people who used tennis, and its benefits and rewards, to overcome adversity and achieve greatly . . .

Martina Navratilova - the tennis champion who won 167 professional titles after defecting from the former Communist Czechoslovakia in 1975. Martina came out as a "gay woman" in 1981, and recently overcame breast cancer.

James Blake - the fan-favorite player who reached No. 4 in the world, won 10 singles titles and became a key U.S. Davis Cup competitor. James battled scoliosis as a child (a condition that forced the wearing of a neck brace), accidentally fractured his neck in practice in 2004, and suffered zoster (a virus which paralyzed his face and threatened to end his playing career).

Esther Vergeer of the Netherlands - the unrivaled wheelchair tennis champion who has been a paraplegic since age 8. Esther has won 11 U.S. Open singles titles in the Wheelchair division, has been ranked No. 1 since 1999, and has not lost a single match since 2003.

Samadzai-Bonner - the immigrant player who was not allowed to play tennis as a young girl in her native Afghanistan. But she found her way to the United States after the Soviet invasion, and discovered tennis as a high school student. She now plays as a USTA member in Alabama and called tennis her "escape from the years of misery I lived through simply because I was born a girl."

Martina spoke to all tennis fans and supporters at the ceremony, and said that playing tennis and carrying a positive attitude helped her overcome her challenges. "Attitude is a choice", she said. So always keep a positive attitude, she urged, and "if you can hit a few tennis balls along the way, that's great too!"

Gloria Estafan, the Cuban-American Grammy-winning singer who recovered from her own personal adversity of a broken back in a bus accident in 1990, closed the ceremony with a performance of her hit song Reach, challenging its listeners to reach for the sky.

Best, Gary

Monday, August 23, 2010

Quick Tip: A fast way to play better tennis

Do you like cinnamon?

Cinnamon has a long history as a spice with medicinal benefit.

In fact, it is one of the oldest spices known to man.

It was sometimes regarded as more precious than gold. It was mentioned in the Bible and used in ancient Egypt.

Records show that it was also used in China as far back as 2,700 B.C.

It basically consists of the brown bark of the cinnamon tree, and comes in tubular form or in powder.

Cinnamon has been known to offer many health benefits, among them: reducing blood clots and protecting against unwanted microbes.

A recent study showed that cinnamon can actually help you stay focused. It tends to stabilize your blood sugar level and literally speeds the rate at which the brain processes visual cues. Thus, it improves one's responses to fast-paced activities such as tennis, which requires quick stops-and-starts.

Try chewing cinnamon gum before playing tennis. Or sprinkle some cinnamon on your cereal or oatmeal for breakfast. Or add a dash to your coffee.

Tennis and cinnamon - perfect together!

Source: Dr. David G. Amen, MD, writing in AARP The Magazine (May/June 2010).

A Well Seasoned Mind

Best, Gary

Monday, August 16, 2010

The 11th Dimension of Tennis - the Super Relaxed State

Photo: InfiniteTranquillity

In current theoretical physics, the 11th dimension is a characteristic of space-time proposed by physicists who study "quantum mechanics". It is used to help explain a larger scientific theory called the "Grand Unified Theory" or "Theory of Everything" (TOE).

The 11th Dimension of Tennis is about a super state of tennis play - playing tennis in the ultimate free, loose and relaxed state. Some call it "The Zone".

Watch, listen and enjoy this video . . . and continuously find new ways to play tennis more free, more loose, more relaxed . . .

Best, Gary

The 11th Dimension of Reality

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Bryan Brother Twins - Greatest Doubles Team of All-Time

Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The greatest doubles team of all-time?

The Bryan Brother Twins have made their case, and continue to do so.

**A history-making 62 professional men's doubles titles . . .
**A 618-214 men's doubles record since turning professional . . .
**Eight (8) Grand Slam men's doubles titles and counting . . .

Born just two minutes apart in their native California, Mike and Bob Bryan, ages 32, have set a new standard of excellence and dedication to the game of doubles in tennis. And if they remain healthy, the Bryans will probably enjoy many more years of competition and victories with their trademark chest-thumps and serve-blasts.

The Bryans have probably done more than anyone to keep tennis doubles alive and well and thriving in the age of singles. This has prompted many commentators to call them not only extraordinary players but transformational figures in the sport of doubles.

In the words of noted sports writer Peter Bodo: "The Bryans brought an entirely new level of dedication and passion to doubles, serving as competitors as well as advocates and impresarios. Their extreme work ethic and unapologetic zest for the game opened eyes and demanded respect as well as attention."

Mike Bryan has commented: "We think that today doubles is a strong game. When we see a couple of juniors doing a chest bump, or some kid comes up to tell us that he and his partner just won a junior doubles event, we take pride in that. Right now, there are no low-skill doubles players around, and with the singles players playing more doubles, the game keeps getting better—and we need to keep improving as well."

A few tributes from other players:
Daniel Nestor: "They are the face of doubles. They’ve pretty much been the No. 1 team for 10 years. When people think of doubles they think of the Bryans. They are fun to watch."

Nenad Zimonjic: "It’s an incredible record and today it’s more and more difficult to keep winning that many tournaments."

Mark Knowles: "Congratulations to them. It’s quite a feat . . . It reflects how successful they’ve been. More important than the record is how much they have done for the game of doubles. They are both great ambassadors on and off the court and it’s fitting that they have broken the record."

James Blake: "Those guys are sure-fire Hall Of Famers. They have an excitement level on the court and the fans appreciate it. It's such a unique opportunity to see twins play that well with complementing styles of plays and abilities . . . I love watching them when they're on my Davis Cup team. They just punish people. It's a lot of fun to watch from the sidelines."

Andy Murray: "What they've achieved in doubles has been incredible. It's amazing . . . They're really, really good for tennis."

What makes them so good? And what can we mere mortals learn from their play? (Well, many observers and commentators say this:)

**A continuous positive energy for the entire match - they "out-energize" their opponents from start to finish
**Moving together on the court as a team at all times
**Constant communication between each other, in order to work together and complement each other
**Letting go of the last point immediately, and moving on the next

Lessons for life, as well as tennis.

Congratulations and well done, Bryans!

Best, Gary

Tribute to the Bryan Brother Twins

Friday, August 6, 2010

President Obama visits with USTA's QuickStart clinic at White House

Photo: Jamey Sunshine, AP

On Tuesday, August 03, 2010, President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to the White House South Lawn which hosted the USTA QuickStart Tennis Clinic for kids. The event was held in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" fitness initiative to fight childhood obesity.

QuickStart offers tennis in a scaled back format, with smaller courts and rackets, to help kids better learn and enjoy the great game of tennis.

The President spoke to over 100 kids attending the clinic. And he met with stars Sam Querrey and the Bryan Brother twins who were helping the clinic's kids while in town to compete at the ATP Legg Mason tournament...

Young tennis player, Alex Miller, age 10, said: "The players said ‘Good job’ and the President told us tennis was a great sport and to keep playing."

Obama told the Bryans: "I read a great article about you in Sports Illustrated."

"I didn't expect to meet the President today," said Mike Bryan. "We stayed a little longer and he showed up out of the blue."

Querrey had just won his second title in Los Angeles, CA at the Farmer Insurance's Classic. The Bryan Brothers twins had also just won the doubles title at the same tournament, their 62nd overall doubles title - a history-setting record.

The event was filled with fun, learning and growth...and in the words of the USTA, "it was a winning afternoon for the game of tennis", and for the fitness and future of our kids!

Meet the President

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"The most beautiful sport there is . . ."

This past month was the 14th anniversary of what many people consider the best single essay on tennis ever written . . .

The String Theory, by David Wallace Foster (July 1996), was first published in the New York Times, and later Esquire Magazine . . . and even today is remarked upon by serious tennis fans and followers as one of the best commentaries on the sport . . .

It was written about world-class player, Michael Joyce, ranked 79th in the world at the time and who currently helps coach tennis superstar Maria Sharapova. Yet it commented insightfully on a range of topics from the unique world of professional tennis, to what separates the top players in the game from all the rest, to the special demands and challenges of the sport . . .

An excerpt:
"I submit that tennis is the most beautiful sport there is and also the most demanding. It requires body control, hand-eye coordination, quickness, flat-out speed, endurance, and that weird mix of caution and abandon we call courage. It also requires smarts. Just one single shot in one exchange in one point of a high-level match is a nightmare of mechanical variables.

Given a net that’s three feet high (at the center) and two players in (unrealistically) fixed positions, the efficacy of one single shot is determined by its angle, depth, pace, and spin. And each of these determinants is itself determined by still other variables -- i.e., a shot’s depth is determined by the height at which the ball passes over the net combined with some integrated function of pace and spin, with the ball’s height over the net itself determined by the player’s body position, grip on the racket, height of backswing and angle of racket face, as well as the 3-D coordinates through which the racket face moves during that interval in which the ball is actually on the strings.

The tree of variables and determinants branches out and out, on and on, and then on much further when the opponent’s own position and predilections and the ballistic features of the ball he’s sent you to hit are factored in. No silicon-based RAM yet existent could compute the expansion of variables for even a single exchange; smoke would come out of the mainframe.

The sort of thinking involved is the sort that can be done only by a living and highly conscious entity, and then it can really be done only unconsciously, i.e., by fusing talent with repetition to such an extent that the variables are combined and controlled without conscious thought. In other words, serious tennis is a kind of art."

Enjoy reading the entire essay here:
The String Theory


Monday, July 26, 2010

DVD Review: "Building the Serve from the Ground Up", by Jim McLennan

Building the Serve from the Ground Up, by Jim McLennan, (DVD, One Disc, 70 minutes, 15 Chapters)(Essential Tennis Instruction, 2010)

Jim McLennan is the Tennis Director of Fremont Hills Country Club in Los Altos Hills, CA USA, and Editor of, with almost 40 years of tennis experience.

In this very interesting DVD, he presents his multi-year project on the tennis serve. It shows, step-by-step, how a player can build a winning serve from "the ground up".

McLennan's multi-year project focused on breaking down the serve into its essential components. The project did this by studying photos and videos of the legendary serves of all-time greats, including Pancho Gonzales, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, and Lew Hoad. McLennan himself was once coached by Tom Stowe, who was the coach of the legendary Don Budge.

McLennan describes what he calls the five (5) master keys to the serve: balance, rhythm, effortless effort, spin (to bring the ball into the court), and snapping or whipping the racket (not wrist) through the serve.

In 15 DVD Chapters, he outlines exercises to help the player build these 5 components into their serve. McLennan explains that the last serve component, the snapping or whipping of the racket, is the most difficult part for the causal observer to see. He describes the motion of this crucial component as: "throwing a dart into the sky, and then unscrewing the light bulb".

In the final DVD Chapter, Jon Wong, a former nationally-ranked Stanford University player, demonstrates the execution of the McLennan serve.

Along the way, McLennan touches on other fascinating topics such as the "third serve" (a reliable serve in-between the first and second serves) and the "serving window" (the zone above the net within which a server must serve for the ball to drop into the service box).

In summary, Building the Serve from the Ground Up (DVD) offers a fascinating and practical guide to help master the most important and probably most difficult stroke in the game - the serve - based on a careful study of the top servers in tennis.

Best, Gary

Thursday, July 22, 2010

An evening with the Philadelphia Freedoms

I attended a fun evening with the Philadelphia Freedoms of World Team Tennis (WTT) on Tuesday, July 20, 2010 at the Villanova Pavilion in the Philly suburbs.

The St. Louis Aces, and star Anna Kournikova, were in town to take on the Freedoms, led by Prakash Armitraj, the son of the 1970's Indian tennis legend Vijay Armitraj.

World Team Tennis (WTT) is the brainchild of tennis great Billie Jean King, who played for the Freedoms herself in the 1970s. (Many people probably recall Elton John's famous hit song "Philadelphia Freedoms", which he wrote for Billie Jean.)

WTT has been around for 35 years. It's a fan-friendly atmosphere, with music on loudspeakers between points, t-shirt and tennis ball give-aways, autographs for kids, and lots of fan-cheering for players and teams. It's a co-ed team format with 10 teams representing various U.S. cities, playing a match season over the month of July.

The matches are fast-paced - "no-ad" scoring, games to 4 points, 5 games to a set, with cumulative team scoring. WTT uses a 13-point super-tiebreaker, if teams are tied at end of 5 sets.

Many top current and retired stars (and stars returning from injury or lay-offs) have used the WTT platform to showcase their game. Among them are: Andy Roddick, Venus and Serena Williams, Martina Hingis, Kim Clijsters, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and John McEnroe.

It was great to see some 7.0 level tennis, and some awesome hitting with power and topspin. These players showcase how top players make massive efforts to prepare for the ball before unleashing their strokes. And their use of "rotational power" and full finish "follow-throughs" on their strokes was impressive, to say the least.

Final score: Freedoms won over Aces, 22-17.

Best, Gary

For more information, click here: The Philadelphia Freedoms

A few tennis quotes to make you smile...

If you can’t learn to play tennis well, learn to enjoy doing it badly.

If you are going to lose, at least look good doing it.

It may be that your sole purpose in playing tennis is simply to serve as a warning to others.

If you’re not having fun playing tennis, then you’re not doing it right.

Best, Gary

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Newton's First Law of Motion (Tennis Edition)

Painting: S. Uchii, 2003

Lex I: Corpus omne perseverare in statu suo quiescendi vel movendi uniformiter in directum, nisi quatenus a viribus impressis cogitur statum illum mutare.

Law I: Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.

Often called the Law of Inertia, Sir Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion was presented in 1686 in his thesis: "Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis".

The First Law of Motion simply means this:

1. An object at rest tends to stay at rest.
2. An object in motion tends to stay in motion.

How does this apply to tennis players?

A few ways:
*Your feet must always be in motion. Tennis is a game played with your feet much more than a game played with a racket. It's really about getting your feet into proper position to execute your stroke.

*If your feet are still and you are standing on your heels, you are an "object at rest", tending to stay at rest.

*Dr. Jack Groppel, a leader in biomechanics and sport science, once wrote that when a tennis player's heels are flat on the court, "The force between your shoes and the court is equal to your body weight."

*Example: Let's say that you weigh 175 pounds. Then, it is as if there is a weight of 175 pounds on top of your head that must be moved off before you can approach the ball to hit it.

*The solution in tennis to this problem is what teaching pros call: the split-step. Or more correctly, the "split-step and react." Some people call it "hop-and-go."

*The split-step is a simple hop up off the court, with bent knees, just before the ball makes contact with the opponent's racket. Thus, at the precise moment when the opponent makes ball contact, your body is in the air - an "object in motion", tending to stay in motion. And, as it comes down, your body is already reacting and moving to the ball.

*The timing of the split-step is vital - split-stepping too soon or too late renders the player's game ineffective.

*Ideally, the split-step is done before every type of shot hit by the opponent: groundstroke, volley, serve, return, anything.

*The most important part of the split-step is not the split-step itself, but the "react" part just after the split-step. This reaction is a explosive first step towards the ball, with the shoulder turned or snapped in the appropriate direction to respond with forehand or backhand.

*The continuous "split-step" for every oncoming shot is a hallmark of the advanced player.

*Tennis is a game of "movement" much more than a game of "hitting".

Best, Gary

Tennis: Split-Step Importance

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Magazine Article Review: Sports Illustrated - Superwoman Serena

"Serena Williams: Love Her, Hate Her, She's the Best Ever", by L. Jon Wertheim, Photographs by Bob Martin,Sports Illustrated (July 12, 2010) Cover Article, 5 Pages, 5 Color Photographs

Based on Serena Williams' 4 Wimbledon singles championships and 13 major singles titles and an overpowering game, Wertheim makes a brief but simple case that Serena is not only the best female player of her generation, but also the best of all-time.

Athleticism, mental toughness, an overwhelming power baseline game and that supreme serve make Serena, argues Wertheim, the favorite to convincingly beat all her top rivals in Grand Slam singles championship history in a hypothetical match: Margaret Court, Helen Wills-Moody, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratiolva and Chris Evert...

An interesting article worth reviewing...

Best, Gary

PS My take on the skills sets of Serena v. her top three modern rivals - Graf, Navratilova and Evert:

Comparing skill sets and who wins:
Serve - Serena
Volley - Martina
Return - Evert
Forehand overall - Steffi
Forehand (Power) - Serena
Backhand - Evert
Backhand (Power) - Serena
Strength/Athleticism - Serena
Mental toughness/Intangibles - Serena
Footspeed on court - Steffi
Consistency of shot-making - Evert
Best overall defense - Evert
Best swinging volley - Serena
Power baseline game - Serena
Best on-court histrionics - Serena
Best intimidation of linesman, umpires - Serena

Final Winner? You decide. I think the odds favor Serena.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Book Review: "Hardcourt Confidential", by Patrick McEnroe with Peter Bodo

Hardcourt Confidential: Tales from Twenty Years in the Pro Tennis Trenches, by Patrick McEnroe with Peter Bodo (Hyperion, NY, 2010), 305 Pages, 12 Chapters with Introduction & Acknowledgments, and 16 Black & White Photographs (Signed by Patrick McEnroe, June 16, 2010, Bookend's, Ridgewood, NJ USA)(Available on

With this newly-released book, the U.S. Davis Cup Captain and ESPN Commentator Patrick McEnroe, brother of the great John McEnroe, offers up a fascinating read into the world of pro tennis and some of its top stars. For me, PMac has always been a thoughtful and articulate commentator on the game.

And his book did not disappoint. Indeed, I found the tales told by PMac in the book to be quite fascinating. Even more useful for me were his insightful comments about the growth and development of modern tennis - all from PMac's unique perspective as commentator, coach, player and insider for 20+ years.

The book is organized by mirroring the tennis year calendar, with tales spanning from: January's Australian Open to the Fall's U.S. Open and the year-end Master's tournaments.

PMac's stories of the big stars are set against the backdrop of the world of pro tennis. It's a small and insular world. And it's not surprising that it includes many driven egos, fragile personalities, and some real-world Prima Donas. And PMac does not pull his punches...

Among those covered in the book: Brother John McEnroe (who is a recurring subject), Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, James Blake, Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Coach Robert Lansdorp, even TV commentators such as Cliff Drysdale and the list goes on.

What I found most illuminating however was PMac's comments about the game of tennis:

Some excerpts:

*"Tennis is a game steeped in aesthetics and etiquette. Nothing, including frantic attempts to expand the basic audience or the sometimes shocking behavior of the players, has done a lot to change that...gorgeous tennis, sportsmanship and personal appeal has never gone out of style...One reason tennis attracts so many female fans is because you can watch the game and focus on individual performance, rather than the combat or score. Tennis can be balletic or bullish..." (pp. 142-143)

*"Tennis has largely been a middle-class aspirational sport...the game is full of niceties that no one really wants to give up - raising your hand in apology when you inadvertently hit a let-cord winner...[or when you] hold up new balls before serving..." (p. 143)

*"Tennis strives to be a popular sport while retaining many elements that make it elitist in the same way that the Marine Corps or a good elitist. The game is focused on being inclusive, but it's exclusive in that it asks you to embrace tennis traditions." (p. 143)

*"Tennis is really about who is willing to pay, and how much, to watch anyone hit a ball." (p. 52)

*"Power has always been the Holy Grail in tennis, and maybe it always will be, even though power alone no longer suffices to get the work of greatness done." (p. 146)

*"[A] combination of court speed and the advent of polyester strings (sometimes in combination with traditional gut) now allows men to take savage cuts at the ball and still have it fall in. And it has led to an absolute mastery of spin." (p. 53)

*"Racket speed (how quickly you accelerate through the stroke) today [is] the grail...The search for increased racket-head speed has led many pros to play with ever lighter frames. The advent of polyester strings also had a huge impact in recent years. The old truism dictating that the harder you swing, the less control you have, has been turned upside down. With the new less elastic strings, swinging from the heels gives you more control." (pp. 98-99)

*"A player's first job under duress is to avoid the silly and stupid error. His second task is to make something happen, preferably forcing an error." (p. 55)

*"[T]he one shared attribute of all great players is exceptional timing." (p. 99)

*"[G]etting good [in tennis now] is less about stroking technique...than how well you hit on the move, how fit you are, how well you play defense, or transition to - and from -'d better be ready to rip the ball, open up the court, and seize your chances. And do all of that on the fly." (p. 98)

All in all, with Peter Bodo's wonderful assistance, the book is well-written and engaging. And it makes for some interesting summer reading into the game of pro tennis today.

Best, Gary

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Congratulations to the Singles Winners at 2010 Wimbledon!

Photo: AP
Strength, athleticism, competitiveness and big-match mental toughness...These supreme qualities were evident in the singles winners at Wimbledon 2010 - Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal.

No. 1 ranked Serena Williams (USA) defeated No. 23 seed Vera Zvonareva (Russia) in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2 in the women's singles finals on Saturday. It was Serena's 4th Wimbledon singles title, and 13th overall Grand Slam singles title.

Her big serve was dominant. Serena won 31 of 33 points on her first serves. She hit her fastest serve - 122 mph - for an ace in the final game. She finished the tournament with a record 89 aces.

Serena is clearly the defining woman player of this 21st century...

At 13 Grand Slam singles titles, Serena is 5th on the all-time GS singles title list, and only behind Margaret Court (24), Steffi Graf (22), Helen Wills Moody (19), Chris Evert & Martina Navratilova (18), all from an earlier era.

Together with her sister, Serena and Venus have defined the power baseline and big-serve game on the women's side...

Here's what Patrick McEnroe said about Serena in his recent book Hardcourt Confidential:

"[S]he must have the best woman's serve, ever. She has the same service motion as a man, and she can hit the kicker as her second serve ... The game will belong to the woman who figures out how to serve big - and backs it up with a combination of power and spin from the baseline. Serena has shown us what the future might be like, while dominating the present." (Pages 55-56)

No. 1 ranked Rafael Nadal (Spain) defeated No. 12 seed Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) in straight sets, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in the men's singles final on Sunday. Rafa won his 2nd Wimbledon title and 8th overall Grand Slam singles title. This was also his second back-to-back French Open (Roland Garros) title and Wimbledon title. Only Roger Federer and Bjorn Borg have managed the feat of these back-to-back titles in the past.

Overcoming tendonitis in both knees hobbling him last year, Rafa finished the match in 2 hours and 13 minutes, breaking serve 4 times and holding all his service games. With this win, Rafa extended his record to 5-0 in his last 5 major finals, and solidified his hold on World No. 1 rank.

At 8 Grand Slam singles titles, Rafa's game - after Roger Federer's - has set the standard for spin and power for players in the 21st century on the men's side...

Has Rafa finally established that he is much more than a clay-court specialist?

“If you really want to play well on one surface and you are a good player, I think in the end you are going to find a way,” Nadal said.

Patrick McEnroe in his recent book, Hardcourt Confidential, agrees: "Nadal used to be lousy on grass...But Nadal is a genius - an exceptional athlete who was able to transcend his developmental history...Great players find a way to win on all surfaces...It's the talent!" (Page 86)

Well done to Serena and Rafa, and to all the players, personnel and officials at the All-England Club at Wimbledon 2010!

Greatest Champions of Wimbledon

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Iron Man Tennis: The Isner v. Mahut Match

Photo: Marvel Comics Wimbledon Court 18, June 24, 2010

It went on and on and on, and then on some more...some thought it might never end...

In the longest professional tennis match in history, No. 23 seed John Isner (USA) defeated Nicolas Mahut (France) in the first round at Wimbledon in an unbelievable five (5) set marathon.

The insane final score was:6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68.

Yes, 70-68 in the fifth and final set!

The match lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes, stretching out over 3 days. Each player hit over 100+ aces. It was an amazing display of physical fitness and mental strength by two tennis warriors, each pushing their own boundries of endurance and will.

At the conclusion of the match, both exhausted players hugged each other at the net in front of a wildly cheering crowd. With the world's media and tennis fans around the globe watching, the All-England Club honored each player and the Umpire Mohammed Lahyani with special awards for their history-making efforts and accomplishment. Some, including Andy Roddick on Twitter, said that such a match might never happen again.

As John McEnroe commented on BBC during the halt to play last night because of darkness, "This match was the greatest advertisement we've ever had for the sport... It showed how physically capable tennis players are. I think the respect level for the sport will go way up."

No substitutes, no team-mates, no coaching, no tie-break, and no real time outs...

No prisoners, no retreat and no surrender...

Simply a fight to the finish...

Lessons learned...
*Never Give Up
*Fitness is King
*The world's finest athletes in the loneliest of sports might indeed be Tennis Players

This tennis match was one for the ages - it showcased the resiliency and indefatigable nature of man's spirit...and the sportsmanship and honor of that grandest of games - tennis!


Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum: An amazing piece of tennis history


Britain is the modern home and origin of the sport we know and love, now called Tennis. Each year it hosts what many consider to be the sport's most prestigious tournament...the Championships at "The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club", popularly called "Wimbledon."

But did you know that Wimbledon proudly offers visitors and fans one of the best tennis museums around - a museum which beautifully honors the rich traditions and history of the game?

In fact, it's a 21st century state of the art facility, showcasing never-before-seen exhibits and showpieces, with audio guides in 8 different languages. The Duke of Kent inaugurated the new museum on April 12, 2006. Some of the highlights include:

*A dynamic panoramic cinema on a 200 degree screen which envelopes the viewer into a Championship match. The film shows the science of tennis, and offers views on how players' bodies and equipment are affected during the course of a match.
*A John McEnroe hologram projection, where the multiple Grand Slam winner takes the viewer on an additional tour of parts of the museum and reflects on past matches and opponents.
*A fashion section where the "fashion whites" of Wimbledon over the years are on display, including Roger Federer's match clothing worn in the Championship Finals against Andy Roddick in Wimbledon 2009.
*Interactive "touchscreen" exhibits offering visitors, among other things, videos of past championship matches, and information on the evolution of tennis rackets and technology.

Be sure to check it out, if you ever one day attend the Wimbledon tournament...

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Church Road, Wimbledon, London SW19 5AE, Telephone: (020) 8946 6131, Hours: Daily from 10AM to 5PM, Admission, Adult £10.00 (with Tour £18.00), Child £5.50 (with Tour £13.00)

Watch: Wimbledon Museum Official Video (Apx. 2 & 1/2 mins.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Congratulations to the Singles Winners at the 2010 French Open (Roland Garros)

The King of Clay and the Princess of Paris
(Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal decisively defeated Robin Soderling in 3 sets, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in the men's singles championship this past Sunday in Paris. And Francesca Schiavone convincingly defeated Samatha Stouser, in 2 sets, 6-4, 7-6 (2) in the women's singles championship on Saturday this weekend.

Nadal rebounded from last year's injuries and setbacks by winning in straight sets over the player who, last year, handed him his sole loss ever at the Roland Garros. Nadal thus ended the 2010 clay court season with a perfect record, and won his 5th French Open title (joining the great Bjorn Borg who won 6 total).

Meanwhile, in a Cinderella tournament, Francesca Schiavone, seeded number 12, finished a dream run to become the first Italian woman ever to win a Grand Slam singles championship. At 29, she also became the second oldest woman to win a Grand Slam singles event in a first appearance. And she ended the weekend at her highest ever ranking, No. 6 in the world.

Well done to all the champions and players of Roland Garros 2010!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Tennis and the Martial Arts: "Fear Not the Racket, But the Player Who Wields It."

"Fear not the racket, but the player who wields it." -A martial arts weapons philosophy showcased in the movie Ninja Assassin, and modified for the game of tennis

"Most of what I teach comes right out of the martial arts - the physics, the fundamentals, the self-discipline - and your mind is your greatest weapon." -Coach John Nelson, Univ. of Hawaii Men's Tennis Program, College Coach 26 years, Master's Degree in Education, 3rd degree Black Belt in Ju Jitsu
I. Introduction: The Brother Disciplines
Since the Bruce Lee movies of the 1970s, the self-discipline of the Martial Arts has captured the public's imagination. Watching empty hands and feet used as lethal weapons at lightening speed, powered only by the mind's will, hypnotized modern fans and observers.

The term "martial arts" actually means the "art of war." And the term can be traced back to the Roman God of War, Mars. Chinese martial arts date back 4000 years ago to the Xia Dynasty. Martial arts is widely considered however both an art and a science. Many forms of martial arts are linked to religious beliefs such as Confucianism or Daoism or follow a code of honor. The purpose of martial arts is self-defense or defense of others. More broadly however, the goal of martial arts is to offer its students self-knowledge and a better understanding of man and nature.

The forms of the martial arts are varied and far-reaching. They are primarily found in the Far East (Japan, Korea, China). But they also touch the Middle East, South Asia and even the Americas and Europe: Ju Jitsu, Karate, Aikido, Judo, Kung Fu & Tai Chi, Tae Kwon Do, Ninjutsu (Ninja fighting), Jeet Kune Do (hybrid form), Pentjak Silat (Thai martial arts), Kalari (Indian martial arts), Hikuta (Egyptian martial arts), Capoeira (Brazilian martial arts dance), Open-handed wrestling (Native American martial arts), Savate (French Kickboxing), and others.

All the martial arts share some common characteristics, among them: balance, posture, control, flexibility, timing, hand-eye-foot coordination, aggression, grace, power, agility, speed, strategy, tactics, and more. Indeed, many of these elements are shared with many other sports and activities such as soccer, basketball, football, even archery.

This article will focus however on aspects of the martial arts which make it unique, and relate them to the game of tennis. These key elements help remind tennis players of the vital parts of our own developing game. And they show how accomplished martial artists and high-level tennis players are learning and refining their craft on a shared platform with common goals - they are truly "brothers-in-arms."

II. The "Chi" is Universal and The Core is "King":
In martial arts, it is believed that there is a universal energy or "chi" in all things. "Chi" is thought to be the source of all power and fluidity in martial arts strikes. In the human anatomy, the universal energy is believed to be centered in the navel. In tennis, the human core or trunk is the ultimate source of power and energy into the ball from strokes.

In tennis, power emanates from the ground up. It is created through well-timed use of the kinetic chain from feet, legs, hips, trunk, arms, hands, racket, all applied into the ball. Many call this "core rotation" in high-performance tennis. Compare this with the roundhouse kick in for example Tae Kwon Do. The roundhouse kick rises from the ground in a springing action, the legs and hips pushing through in an acrobatic move, resulting in a well-timed application of force towards the opponent.

The kinetic chain in tennis and the Chi energy release of martial arts are really two forms of the same process - gathering or coiling energy, and then releasing or uncoiling it, either at the tennis ball or at the martial arts opponent. The human anatomy's coil-and-uncoil mechanism seems to have three axes points: at the shoulders, the hips and the knees. These same human axes points are used in many martial arts strikes.

To maximize the flow of energy and thus power, the marital arts also emphasizes "punching through the strike". This means visualizing your arm or leg literally pushing through the opponent. In comparison, tennis emphasizes "hitting into and through the line of the shot", and extending your stroke follow through or finish towards your target.

III. The Universe is Balanced, Rhythmic and Harmonious
For the martial arts, there is a balance, rhythm and harmony to all things in nature. And nature is a source of inspiration. Indeed, many martial arts strikes are in fact taken from the moves of the animals. Kung Fu for example is divided into animal styles (real and mythic): the snake, panther, tiger, crane, and dragon. Fighting styles in Kung Fu include, among others: the praying mantis and the drunken monkey.

One of the keys to the martial arts is the concept of balance and centering of the human body. The Ninja fighters of the discipline of Ninjitsu for example are legendary for their balance skills. They are known to practice their strikes on a balance beam. Similarly, the art of Aikido focuses on the body's center, and teaches that all power and control protrudes from that center in a relaxed state.

Martial arts is essentially a rhythmic dance of timed strikes from perfect postures. For example in Karate, the kata is a precise, highly-defined and pre-determined sequence of strikes. In Tai Chi, the student learns a continuous pattern of postures that actually form a dance. Countless repetitions of the martial artist's moves develops timing, rhythm and cadence. Bruce Lee once remarked: "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."

Consider that, in tennis, some of the keys to high-level performance are the same: balance in stroke production, consistency in shot-making, and the rhythm that is offered by for example learning the Wardlaw directionals. Other concepts such as precise timing and good posture in stroke technique, and the value of sound repetitions of strokes, can be taken directly from the martial arts. And if martial arts exercises collectively teach a cadence or dance, then tennis teaches the cadence of the split-step in moving to the ball, which is essentially the "dance of tennis."

For martial arts, the world is full of harmonious cycles - the changing of the seasons, the cycles of the sun and stars, and the release of human energy and exercise followed by rest and recovery. Both martial arts and tennis instruct students not only about stroke power and energy, but also about the importance of body recovery and healing. Rest, rejuvenation, ice, heat, nutrition, hydration, stretching, and massage are critical to consistent top performance in both disciplines.

IV. The Ready Position
The "get-ready-to-fight" position in martial arts and the "ready" position in tennis are amazingly the same. The feet are spread comfortably shoulder-width apart. The knees are bent. The body's weight is on the balls of the feet. The arms and elbows are also bent and relaxed. The hands are loosely out in front. Waist, back, neck and head are straight. The student is comfortable, relaxed and ready to move.

V. Watch, Listen and Breathe
In martial arts combat, the student must utilize every form of sensory perception - sight, sound, touch. He must observe, listen and breathe. He must gauge his opponent, anticipating his next move. He must exercise self-control. He focuses on his breathing to help still his mind's thoughts. He keeps his back straight, his body balanced, and his head stabilized. He moves like the panther and strikes like the cobra.

Compare this with the high-level tennis player in a contested match. He must continuously track the ball, keeping the head stabilized. He must continuously split-step just before the opponent's racket contacts the ball, so as to move to it with maximum speed and efficiency, appearing to glide on the court. He should seek to hear the sound or "pop" of the ball off of his racket. He may focus on breathing to quiet his anxiety and fears. His body is balanced, back straight and head completely still. His moves are cat-like, and he seeks at first opportunity to go on the offense with his shot.

Both martial arts and tennis encompass the two polar opposite styles of execution or "schools of thought": in martial arts, the aggressive power style vs. the steady methodical style, and in tennis, the hard court attacking game vs. clay court point construction style. In martial arts, the power style is represented, for example, by aggressive chops of Karate or the flying kicks of Tae Kwon Do. Whereas the steady methodical style is represented, for example, by the graceful flips of Judo or the circular strikes in Aikido. In tennis, professional players divide, among other ways, into groups which excel at the hard court attacking game (Andy Roddick or Taylor Dent) vs. the clay court point construction style (Rafael Nadal or David Ferrer).

VI. The Power of Smooth
The "power of smooth" refers to a relaxed confidence and an unbroken fluidity, resulting in top performance results. It's about maximum efficiency with minimal effort. It's about operating with a deliberate unhurried purpose, without appearing pressed or pressured by time, the opponent or conditions.

In martial arts, one noteworthy example of smooth is the discipline of Aikido - known as the "throwing art". In Aikido, the student learns a fluid, circular and harmonious defense to an attack. The Aikido student blends in with the attacker's moves, and returns the attack with relaxed, loose circular throws and flips. Even multiple attackers can be repelled by a confident graceful practitioner who can re-direct one opponent's attack on a fellow attacker.

In tennis, the top professionals exhibit relaxed, loose, graceful strokes with confident purpose. They never look hurried, pressured or off-balance. Indeed, they "play the ball" and do not allow the ball or the opponent to "play them". They play with soft hands and loose face muscles, especially at the time of split-step and just when the opponent makes contact with the ball. When faced with attacking power, they return the opponent's power at him. When faced with opportunity such as a short ball, they are deliberate and decisive. They move forward fluidly and cut off angles gracefully.

VII. You are Always the Student Forever
In martial arts as in tennis, you are always the student forever. Coach John Nelson, 26 years college coaching, Master's Degree in Education, and martial arts black belt, put it this way: "The more you get into the martial arts or tennis, [the more] you realize that you don't know it all. Anyone who thinks that they know it all is finished. They're not going to continue to develop. So you always become a student."

VIII. Victory is Vital, But in the End, More Vital is Your Growth and Passion
Winning is naturally vital in a martial arts contest or a tennis match. But victory will depend in no small part on winning the psychological test of wills against the opponent -who will impose their will on the other? Bill Tilden, in How to Play Better Tennis, wrote pointedly that in a tennis match: "One player...will ultimately impose his tennis personality on the other." The very same is true in the martial arts.

Both martial arts and tennis are asking the student to test their own outer limits and fulfill their own highest standards. What are the limits of the student's fatigue, fitness, endurance, flexibility, and strength? What are the student's highest expectations of his play, his shots, his execution, his strategy, his self-discipline, and his confidence and relaxation?

The final goal, of course, is advancing to a higher level in skill and ability in either the martial arts or tennis. On that score, your worthy opponent makes you better and stronger, as does each of your valuable matches and practice sessions. And your growth and passion for the discipline of the martial arts or tennis is all that can ultimately drive you to a higher level.

IX. The Mental Contest
Andre Agassi, in his autobiography Open, wrote poignantly about the mental battle of tennis. And amazingly the very same applies to the martial arts: "Tennis is the loneliest of sports...In tennis, you're on an island, with no clock. You can't sit on a lead. You have to win the last point to win the match. You're out there, you can't talk to anybody, you can't pass the ball, there are no time-outs. There's no coaching, you don't have to be good, you have to better than one person and that person is on the other side of the net."

X. Conclusion
Martial arts and tennis share the loneliness of battle, the fight to the finish, and the solitude of victory or defeat.

Both disciplines are about hard work, self-discipline, and problem-solving.

And both are ultimately about self-knowledge, and your own highest standards for yourself.

...and they are about the lessons of life and the nature of man.

Best, Gary
(Student, Chinese Tai Chi - Zang style)

1. Tennis Kung Fu, by Master Bruce Wang, Ph.D. (, 2008)
2. The Complete Martial Arts, by Paul Crompton (McGraw-Hill, 1989)
3. Coach John Nelson, Univ. of Hawaii Men's Tennis Program, College Coach 26 years, Master's Degree in Education, and 3rd degree Black Belt in Ju Jitsu
4. Ron Miller,, Tennis Instructor 20+ years, and former Martial Arts student of Goju Karate & Aikido

Theme Music: Art of War II