Friday, March 19, 2010

Book Excerpts: Arthur Ashe on Tennis

Arthur Ashe on Tennis: Strokes, Strategy, Traditions, Players, Psychology and Wisdom, with Alexander McNab (Knopf, Inc., 1995) (143 Pages, with Foreword, 4 Introductory Articles, 6 Chapters)
"Arthur Ashe motivated. He taught. We listened when he spoke. He used tennis for a greater good. Many players don't. He made a difference." The Player, by Billie Jean King.
In this short yet pointed book, sports writer Alexander McNab compiles many articles and thoughts of the great Arthur Ashe. Ashe was the first man of color and African-American to win the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. Ashe was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton in 1993. His insights on the the topics of tennis, strokes, strategy and psychology, and much more, remain relevant today.

One of his insights was about "who" you really "play" in tennis. In a famous quote, Ashe remarked: "You are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself, your own highest standards. And when you reach your limits, that is real joy."

The book is easy-to-read and nicely organized on a wide range of tennis topics, and packed with gems from a gifted and accomplished player. And it is well worth reading in full...

Here are a few brief excerpts...

Five Shots-a-Point Rule
For club players, I have a comfortable rule of thumb. If, on every point you play, you hit the ball in five times, you are not going to lose any matches...steadiness is a habit; it is not something you turn on or off like a light bulb...start with steadiness; and then add aggression and power.

Make Up Your Mind
Indecision is a common problem for many players...You can take too long to make up your mind and end up trying a foolish play...In most situations, there is a bread-and-butter play that works ninety percent of the time...

When You Get in Trouble
Aim for the center strap of the net. If the ball passes over it at a reasonable speed, it should stay in, regardless of where you are on the court.

The Important Points and The Important Games
The first point of the game is key. After that, the points on the Ad side of the court are more important than the points on the Deuce side because you are either building a two-point lead...pulling even...or winning or fending off a game point...The first four games are important because that is the feeling out period of the match, and no one wants to lose his serve. I think Bill Tilden was right about the seventh game, which he identified as crucial. [That] is the place where you can forge or consolidate a winning lead...or...break your opponent's momentum.

Make Your Opponent Hit the Shot He Hates
Every player has a shot that he or she would rather not hit...If your opponent is shaky on overheads, lob a lot. If he doesn't like to come to net, feed him a lot of short balls. Chip away at your opponent's confidence by making him hit the shot he hates.

Covering the Court
Too many club players play as if they can cover the whole court, which cannot be done. Whoever configured the court back in the 1880s did a pretty good job because even the fastest players...cannot cover the whole court very well. You have to try to get your opponent to hit the ball where you can cover it, and within that area you can be more aggressive.

Anticipation the ability to size up a situation and intuitively guess where the ball is going to be before it gets there...It gives you a huge advantage...There is no question that experience helps you anticipate better. But [also] pay attention. If somebody hits a ball crosscourt to you, more than half the time you are going to hit it back crosscourt. The way a person holds the racquet has a lot to do with where he can hit a ball.

Keys to Better Play
1. Play with a decisive attitude
2. Mix up your shots
3. Have a plan on break point.
4. Lob when you're in trouble.
5. Hit approach shots down the line.
6. Cover the open angles at net
7. Get moving after you hit the ball
8. Practice with a purpose

What It Takes To Win
It is not just the more talented player who wins. Some players may try a little harder. Some players may be a little smarter with strategy and tactics. Some players may be in better shape. Some players may have a better temperament for the game...To be a winner, you must be a fierce competitor as well as a shotmaker.

Relish the Combat
The sheer intensity of your competitive fire may be enough to overcome an opponent with more firepower in his can get a psychological advantage by the body language you display on court...Always try to look like you are a winner, even if you are behind...a sustained look of control and confidence can give you a mental edge...

See Yourself Succeeding
Pancho Gonzales once told me that whenever he thought that a stroke of his was a little off, he would close his eyes and picture himself hitting the shot perfectly...Close your eyes before the point begins, and see yourself executing the shot, and then open your eyes and do it, without worrying too much about the result.

Vic Braden, when asked, "What's the first thing I should do to improve my tennis?" always answered "Lose five pounds." There is some truth to that...Most people play at a level or pace commensurate with their conditioning. If you improved your conditioning, you could play a lot more and a lot better.

Best, Gary

1 comment:

  1. Gary
    I too own this book an enjoyed reading it. But better than the read is the way it is organized. I have found it to be a great reference to consult on a number of occasions, and I do quote it in the writing of my podcast from time to time. A good choice indeed.