Sunday, April 29, 2007

How Federer Views the Point of Contact

There's an interesting article on how Roger Federer watches the ball over at Revolutionary Tennis.

I barely had time for a quick read-through, but I think Mark Papas is on to something there. But I wasn't too sure about his interpretation of some of the photos, especially of other players. I'll have to take a closer look when I have enough time to think about them.

Still photos can be very misleading. For example, how many have you seen that make us think pros hit with a closed racket face? Now look at this slow motion video and see why that is.

See? Racket wobble caused by a less-than-dead-center contact is what we're often seeing in those photos, not contact with a closed racket face.

It's the same with all photos. You have to make sure nothing else could be happening to give you that picture at the moment. And, obviously, the further out ahead you make contact, the more behind the racket your eyes are.

But Federer does seem to actually draw his head and eyes backward (i.e., jumping out ahead of the ball to the point of contact) at the last instant. I noted that myself in the How to Hit a Forehand lesson some time ago. And he does often look through the strings at the point of contact.

Interesting. Check out that article, and see what you think.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

How to Hit a Drop Shot

You don't need a drop shot often in tennis, but when you do need one, you really need it. Especially when you yourself have been drop-shotted and should return the favor, following your drop shot to the net for an easy putaway.

Here's a video lesson on how to master the drop shot:

VideoJug: How To Master The Drop Shot

Learn more and see another slow motion video of Lleyton Hewitt's fine touch as he hits a drop shot: The Drop Shot.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Greatest Tennis Tip of All

I've heard some interesting discussions lately, and they made me realize that many players don't understand what we mean when we say that you shouldn't try make yourself swing certain way or move your feet a certain way while playing. That you shouldn't be thinking about your form. That it's about where the ball goes, not about how you swing.

Apparently, many think think we mean to pay no attention to form while you play. Nothing could be further from the truth!

What we want is for you to pay very close attention to your form. Very close attention to how you are moving your arms and legs. Very close attention to the ball.

By all means, PAY CLOSE ATTENTION to the ball and to what your body is doing!

But how can you do so while a little voice in your head is constantly barking instructions at you: "Watch the ball. Move your feet. Step over with the left foot. Get your racket back early. Keep your wrist firm."

Ask yourself, could you play well if someone stood at the net post saying these things to you?

Of course not. It would be a distraction. It would suck your attention to their voice and off what it should be on.

Well, my friends, the same thing happens when that little voice in your head starts barking instructions. It sucks your attention off what it should be on. Your brain automatically goes into Reflection Mode, the mode it operates in when we are thinking. In that mode, the mind focuses its attention inward, and we become to some degree absorbed in our thoughts. In this mode, much incoming sensory information (sights, sounds, smells, feelings) gets diverted to the subconscious level so that it doesn't distract our THINKING.

But playing tennis isn't an intellectual activity. You need heightened, not diminished, awareness of everything your eyes see, your ears hear, and your body feels. You want MAXIMIZED awareness of these things: that's what makes for peak performance.

So, try this the next time you play: Pay attention to how you swing and move your feet. Don't misinterpret that now. I didn't say to think about how you should move your arms and legs. I didn't say to try to consciously direct your swing and footwork. I didn't say to issue yourself mental instructions on how to swing and move your feet: I said to pay attention to how you ARE swinging and moving your feet.

That's all. That is, BE AWARE of what you and the ball are doing. Very aware. Very, very aware. Quiet the mind so that you aren't paying attention to your thoughts instead. Really FEEL what your body is doing. And when you make an error, note exactly how far out the ball was.

That's all. Try it. It works like magic. You'll see.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

I'm a baseliner "for now."

This is for the billions of tennis players out there who are playing at the baseline "for now," planning to develop a net game.

You won't. That day, when you have have developed a net game, will never come.

Why do you stay away from net? Answer: because your net game isn't good enough yet.

Oh, so you must have a good net game before you should play the net? That's what you think, isn't it?

What if you had thought that about a forehand groundstroke on Day 1? That you shouldn't play any forehand groundstrokes till you had perfected the shot?

You'd still have a pretty lousy forehand groundstroke, wouldn't you? In fact, you wouldn't be playing tennis at all today.

You learned the forehand not so much from practicing it as from USING IT, even in match play. There is no substitute for using a stroke or strategy in match play, where the emphasis is on where the ball goes, not how you swing.

The longer you delay learning/using new strokes and strategies, the farther ahead your old baseline game gets. Result: Part of your game is good and part of it sucks because you're still a beginner in that department.

So, of course, you're going to cling to the baseline like a security blanket. Trying anything new takes you out of that comfort zone.

Never lose the mentality of the beginner. His whole game sucks, equally, so he is game for learning anything new.

The same thing goes for learning strokes. Learn the volley, the serve, and the overhead immediately, so that all your strokes suck equally. Then you'll never develop an unnatural fear of a stroke or strategy that you simply haven't used and practiced nearly as much as you've used and practiced others.

It's a vicious cycle. Cut it out.

You're welcome ;-)

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Poaching: The Perfect Way to Intimidate in Doubles

The current issue of TennisLife Magazine features an article by me entitled "Poaching: The Perfect Way to Intimidate in Doubles."

It also features articles by Nick Bollettieri, Tom Veneziano, Ron Cioffi, Joe Dinoffer, and others. Not to mention articles on Serena Williams, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal.

If you can't find a copy at your local newsstand, you can order one online or subscribe.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Operation Doubles Connection - April issue

The April issue of The Operation Doubles Connection (the free Operation Doubles monthly newsletter) is now online. For information about this newsletter and how to subscribe, see here.


  • What's New at Operation Doubles
  • Featured Tennis Website of the Month
  • This Month's Tennis Quiz
  • This Month's Q & A
  • This Month's Shot-Making Tip

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Tennis Week Interview with Oscar Wegner

Tennis Week has an interesting interview with the Oscar Wegner, who is somewhat of a lightning rod.

In the main, Wegner is plainly right in criticising the obsession with the minute details of tennis technique and expecting students to be able to think about, and consciously control, them without stumbling and completely missing the ball.

But I am unable to nail down just what all the controversy about the Wegner tennis teaching method is about.

"Hitting the ball early is a concept that needs to be debunked, even at the highest level of the game," Wegner writes in his book "Play Better Tennis In Two Hours". "I have seen too many players experience off days and not know exactly why. It is one thing to advance on the court to cut your opponent's time or to hit on the rise, putting pressure on your opponent, but it is another thing to start the stroke earlier than needed."

Look how the third sentence contradicts the first. Which one are we to go by? Is he debunking the concept of "hitting the ball early" or of "starting the stroke earlier than needed"?

If it's the latter, does he mean the whole stroke? Or just the the forward swing?

You can't prove a person right or wrong when you can't nail down what he's talking about. Now, this is quoting from a published book, so presumably this isn't mere misspeaking on Oscar's part. So, is he deliberately being ambiguous to make his idea sound controversial, or what? What is he talking about? "Hitting the ball early" or "beginning the swing early"?

One minute it's one thing, the next minute it's the other = constantly shifting ground.

What I taught Guga was to change his timing and to track the ball to give himself more timing.

More literal nonsense to confuse the issue. Talk like that can't be proven right or wrong because it can't be proven to mean anything. "More timing"? What does Wegner mean? Better timing? Or more time?

If you prepare too early you can end up rushing the stroke and you become more mechanical as a player. But if you track the ball from baseline to baseline you have much more time and you can wait on the ball.

"Track the ball"? What does he mean by "track the ball"? Watch the ball? Everybody watches the ball from baseline to baseline. So, what's new here, besides the word "track" instead of "watch"?

At clinics, I do a drill where I have a coach stand on one service line and I stand on the other and I have him serve right at me and I volley the ball back because I am tracking it and have the time to do it. I taught Kuerten to do that when he was 12. I used to tell him "wait longer".

Hold the phone. When did "tracking the ball" transubstantiate into "waiting longer"? The last thing needed at this point is more confusion of one idea with another. Unless you want your argument to be so hard to follow that people just give up and assume it must somehow make sense.


He would say "How long do I have to wait?" I used to say: "Wait until you feel a panic." Another example is Bjorn Borg. I worked with him on his second comeback. After a few days I said "Bjorn, you are rushing. You are too early. The more you wait for the ball the more time you will have." He looked at me and said: "that's not logical."

Thank you, Bjorn.

It's logic by eggbeater - so scrambled that most people just gape and blink, not quite sure what just hit them.

Then Wegner finally says what he means - I think. He says that preparing too early can actually make you late and have to rush your stroke.

Ah, now that is true. But if that's all Wegner's saying, where is the controversy?

Most thinking tennis coaches agree. I myself have pointed this out with regard to raising your arms too early for an overhead smash and in eliminating most of the backswing as though it is unnecessary in the serve. In both cases, you then start the forward swing from a dead stop so that you don't build up enough racket head speed. Result: though you start it early your swing is late!

It is wrong to teach tennis beginners to instantly swing their racket arm back and hold it horizontally as they chase the ball = before it bounces. And many instructors did, and still do, that. But it's also wrong to teach them not to take the racket back before the ball bounces.

And, when you listen carefully, it isn't clear whether that is really what Wegner advocates.

The illusion of controversy is a figment of confusing the unit turn with the backswing. By turning your shoulders you take the racket back. Even if your arm is immobilized in a cast, turn your shoulders and your arm moves back. Pause.

Then, when it's time to swing, the tennis racket drops down through a loop (which you may lengthen by taking the arm further back for added power) accelerating into the ball.

Where exactly does the backswing end and the forward swing begin in that loop? That's where the confusion in the issue lies. The whole loop, from the moment the racket head starts to drop (usually as or after the ball bounces) is FORWARD swing, not backswing.

Joe Dinoffer has a good article in TennisLife magazine that clears up the issue.

So, there's little real substance to this "controversy," it's just hyped to sound like one. Therefore, whether the general's command is "Racket back" or "Wait on the ball," you had better be exactly sure you know what he or she means by that.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Racket Racket: Counterfeit Tennis Rackets

Don't miss this interesting in-depth examination of a knock-off of an American product in Asia. On C-CSPAN I have seen several Congressional hearings on the damage Asian countries, especially China, are doing by turning a blind eye to the counterfeiting of American products by their people. Here is a real life example - a fake Babolat Pure Drive tennis racket made in China.

See how it compares to the real thing.

Recently, there have been several reports and articles documenting fake tennis racquets flooding the market especially on the web.

Read the rest.

Now we know why the real thing is so expensive.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tennis, Anyone?

While editing a piece for an author to whom English is a second language, I stumbled on a statistic that shocked but didn't surprise me.

Ready? Forty-seven percent of adults who take up tennis in the United States quit within a year because they are frustrated. Tennis is too hard to learn.

Now, these are adults, so we can assume that they have made a substantial investment. But they cut their losses and quit.

I can see it now – tennis players polishing their nails over this fact. But it is nothing to be pleased about.

Maybe the only reason some stay with tennis is because we are anal-retentive and will waste time and effort just to get a pat on the head from our local pro.

Like I said, this statistic shocked but didn't surprise me. I've always known that tennis is too hard to learn. Needlessly hard to learn.

Yet, when voices in the industry tried to make it easier by introducing the larger ball, they were met with an eruption of hollering from the tennis crowd that wants tennis to be hard to learn so they can wear this feather in their cap.

Go figure. Then they whine that the decline in tennis is due to Pete Sampras not acting up enough. We need another American bad boy, they say.

Baloney. Tennis fans are tennis players. And if there's a lack of tennis fans, it's because there's a lack of tennis players.

And the lack of tennis players is largely due to the way tennis has traditionally been taught.

Timothy Gallwey proved this beyond all shadow of a doubt during the Tennis Boom of the 1970's with the blockbuster The Inner Game of Tennis.

What was the tennis establishment's response to the whole world crying, "Yes! That's it! That's it! That's exactly what happens to me!"

A thundering silence.

I get a kick out of folks who think you didn't say something if they act like they didn't hear it.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Is there tennis after 50?

Of course there is! As the old saying goes, "Tennis is a sport for a lifetime."

You don't see many senior citizens playing basketball or football, or most other sports for that matter. And it's no mystery why golf is popular among older people. Because they can't drive the ball as far, they can't compete with the young in tournament or match play, but they can play the game at highly skilled level that makes it satisfying.

However, many are surprised to see a 60- or 70-year-old tennis player actually RUNNING around a tennis court. Surprise, healthy 60- or 70-year-olds who have played tennis all their lives can do that.

Like all sports that people over 50 engage in, tennis changes with you as you age – provided, of course, that you play with people of about your age and ability. The shots slow down a bit, though the angles get more cunning. The overall result is that tennis remains as challenging as when you were young, but it never becomes overwhelming.

What's more, there is that "other game of tennis," doubles, which requires more savvy and less running. Most older tennis players play more doubles than singles for that reason.

And so tennis is about the only really active sport that seniors regularly engage in. In fact, seniors compete in tennis at every level.

What's more, tennis isn't just an activity, it's a GAME. That's what makes us fall in love with it. And there's nothing like playing a game to keep you young at heart.

What do Baby Boomers and senior citizens want to get out of tennis? The same things everyone else does. A little exercise, some fun, and excitement.

The excitement comes from two things.

First, the obvious one: excitement comes from contesting the match. Seniors wanna win just like everyone else.

Second, the subtle one: excitement comes from new things. New discoveries. New experiences. New insights. And new ideas. Any source that serves as a fountain of fresh things captures our imagination. For, as the saying goes, "Life is trying things to see if they work."

Senior tennis players are constantly looking for new ways to win and trying new things on their opponents. Consequently, they often become extremely cunning tennis players.

About the only difference between seniors and the young is that seniors aren't much interested in improving their strokes. Practice? What for? And they soon become bored with drills.

What senior tennis players are mainly interested in is the GAME itself. What they mainly want is to beat some rival who usually beats them.

In that, seniors' maturity shows. In that, they are far ahead of the young.

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Monday, April 02, 2007


There are some facts reflecting on the way tennis is taught that are ... well ... embarrassing to me as a tennis teacher.

For example, despite all the formal tennis instruction going on, the vast majority of players have played all their lives without ever hearing that, at net in doubles, they shouldn't look back to watch their baseline partner hit the ball.

How can it be that billions and billions of tennis players the world over don't know better than to just park in a certain spot and keep turning their heads like spectators as the ball goes back and forth? You see it everywhere you go. And it's a safety issue on top of it all! So where is the instruction informing players why they shouldn't do that?

Presumably, those who teach the game and write the books and magazine articles see this and don't know that it's wrong. Embarrassing, because that's the first thing to know about playing doubles.

Presumably they don't notice that advanced doubles players and the pros look back but rarely. Yet guess what? If you ask them, you will discover that even those advanced players and pros don't realize that they are doing anything differently. They have learned not to look back by Natural Learning, unconsciously, and are unaware of NOT doing it.

Fine, but those who teach the game should be more observant.

And why do they also never teach players to get out of harm's way by moving to the alley instead of running backwards? That's another thing that advanced players always subconsciously learn, but no one is aware enough to think to teach it to beginners.

Instead we obsess about grips and stances and the niceties of form. With total tunnel vision.

Another example is in the teaching of how to hit an overhead. You're taught that, as soon as you see the lob going up, you should raise both arms - cocking your racket into the back-scratching position behind you and pointing up with your free arm - as you move back to hit an overhead.

How can it be that this bad instruction has such legs? How come it keeps getting parroted round and round the world? Has no one noticed how awkward it is to be looking up and leaning backward as you move back with your racket cocked high behind you and your arm way up in the air? How much more off balance could you get?

But the kicker is that no one with a good overhead actually does it this way. I first noticed this in a film of Billy Jean King, one of very few women with an excellent overhead. She kept her racket down alongside her right calf as she moved back under the ball. She kept her other arm down too.

Watch any pro with a good overhead: they don't raise either arm till they need to. And hopefully that's not till after they've finished moving backward.

In this lesson on the overhead I show an example of a world-class player teaching you the wrong way, apparently unaware that in the same film he hits all the non-posed-for overheads the right way - by disregarding his own advice.


How does stuff like this happen? It makes those of us who teach the game look stupid.

If it isn't on some official list of what to teach, it remains a big secret because nobody thinks for himself enough see that he should teach it. If some authority figure says to do it, it must be right, so don't bother to question it and make sure it makes sense or that good players actually do it before you go around teaching it yourself.

Even if you've subconsciously learned NOT to do it that way yourself.

Yet another example is Australian Doubles. Where did people get the idea that it's for drawing an errant service return on a big point? If that's what you use it for, you usually get disappointed. What's so hard about returning serve down the line? More often than not, the receiver will successfully do so. Right?

Then what? More often than not you will lose the point ... BECAUSE you're in the AD formation without knowing how to play it properly.

Admit it, you wonder why anyone would waste their time with this stupid line-up that doesn't magically make the receiver miss like it's supposed to.

But AD isn't a stupid line-up: you just never were told what it's really FOR. It isn't for making the receiver miss the service return: it's for poaching and can also be used to help your server to net safely in serve-and-volley doubles. So, when you play it, you must poach. If you play AD frequently enough for the opposition to expect the poach, then you have to mix in half-poaches to keep the receiver guessing. But you aren't playing AD right if you aren't AFTER that service return.

When you play it right it does win you points.

So, how come billions and billions of players the world over know about Australian Doubles but don't know what it's for? Don't those who teach the game know that?

During the Tennis Boom, when Timothy Gallwey wrote The Inner Game of Tennis, it took the tennis world by storm, because Gallwey put into words and explained what everyone already knows about the way tennis is taught. Yet we heard nothing but a thundering silence from the tennis establishment.

They acted like it never happened and continued teaching the way they always had.

I submit that the tennis culture itself has become ossified into an obsession with form and a resistance to any challenge of conventional wisdom. If some big name said it, don't even THINK of disagreeing with it. The illogic behind that is that you are wrong just because of who he is.

Fortunately, there are signs that some of the gatekeepers are starting to remove the plugs from their ears, and that can't happen soon enough.

True, the big wind they let in the door will contain a lot of noise. People repackaging old ideas in technobabble to make them sound new and people creating illusions of controversy where there is none. But the good stuff comes in too, from the innovative who work harder because they are newcomers. They will challenge these cliches and knock them down, one by one.

Then those of who teach tennis won't have to be embarrassed by them anymore.

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