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