Saturday, June 30, 2007

It ain't yer lousy backhand!

To finish with the theme I began earlier this week ...

If you are a keen observer of human group dynamics, you have noticed that people deal with problems by cheating = laying the blame on some scapegoat, the usual suspect. Individually, we tend to do the same thing. So, when a tennis player comes off the court unhappy, he blames it on his backhand.

These are unpleasant emotions, so many try to distance themselves from them, pretending they don't have them. Because it's a sin to want to win, you know.

So, just laugh and say that you just play for fun and go get another lesson to fix your lousy backhand.

Or buy a gadget to fix it. Or view films. Or buy a book. Whatever, but three decades later, you're still blaming everything on your lousy backhand.

Now of course the backhand is just the usual suspect. It could be a player's forehand instead, or serve, or overhead, or volley. But always it's some stroke or aspect of form.

"Poor form" is viewed almost as some sort of sin we are punished for in tennis. That's why it makes the perfect scapegoat.

Yet often that weak stroke we scapegoat for everything isn't half as bad as we think it is.

Often, the main problem is just that we don't practice it enough. For example, many players don't hit overheads and volleys every time they play. Hey, if they hit as few forehands as they do overheads, they'd have lousy forehands too.

Worse, when you scapegoat a stroke for everything, you warp your judgment: you think it's terrible when it isn't. Hence, when the ball comes to your backhand you choke. In other words, your warped judgment becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

So, let's take a step back to where this downward spiral started – where you walk off the court unhappy.

Instead of denying and distancing yourself from your feelings, examine them. Find out exactly how you feel and what is making you feel that way. Doing so will point you in the right direction to find a solution to your problem.

Finding a scapegoat to blame for a problem is never finding a solution to it.

You may discover that the main problem has nothing to do with your strokes or footwork. It may be a little gamesmanship, psychological warfare going on. If you play doubles, you may realize that there is some inappropriate competition going on = competition between you and your partner. To identify such problems is to take the first step in solving them.

Often, you won't be able to put your finger on why you are playing badly and losing matches you feel you should win. The next logical step is to collect information by keeping track of things, like what percentage of first serves you miss, how many volleys you blow, how frequently you hit down-the-line, and so forth.

Doing this almost always solves some of your problems automatically, because if you are paying closer attention to these things during a match, you are more aware of what's going on. As Tim Gallwey says in his Inner Tennis books, awareness, awareness, awareness is everything.

So, be brave: look at your errors. Don't avert your eyes: see how far out that ball was. Don't try to forget that double-fault happened.


Yes. It won't hurt you. So long as you don't view your errors as sins. They are simple matters of fact. Treat them as such and you won't be afraid to face and correct for them.

When you habitually dump all the blame for everything on your lousy backhand, you blind yourself to your real problems. Your main problem could be stupid approach shots. In doubles, it could be that your opponents are playing the Switch Trick on you. It could be that this particular opponent knows just how to spin every third shot so as to suck an error out of you. But you are oblivious to what's really going on, because you have it all always blamed on your lousy backhand.

The game? What game? You aren't into the game. You are stuck on form. You think tennis is about how you swing the racket. To you a match is nothing but an exercise in executing forehands and backhands. You aren't really PLAYING the GAME.

And so what if your backhand is partly to blame? Okay, it's a weakness in your game. A vulnerability. A chink in your armor. What can you do about it?

Just go get another lesson?

Oh, I see. Pay me $60 an hour to make your lousy backhand my problem.

That won't work.

You must attack this problem from two sides. Do first what brings the quickest results.

First find strategic and tactical solutions. You know, like run around your dang backhand! But that's oversimplifying, because there are many things you can do to cover for a weakness in your game. Often you'll find that it's attacked primarily in a certain play situation, one you can avoid if you are paying attention to when and how your backhand is getting attacked.

These strategic and tactical solutions bring immediate results. They can make you win tomorrow the same match you lost today.

Then you can start attacking the problem with the long-term solution of improving your backhand. But you don't do that by just throwing money at it for a gadget or a lesson. You can't make it a pro's problem. A good pro can help you, but she can't practice for you.

Aye, there's the rub. You have to practice what you learn in lessons.

So, don't obsess over form. Play the whole game. Get the most from the game you have with cunning strategy and tactics. That's the fun part, anyway. And be patient with yourself when you're trying to improve a stroke: it takes weeks of practice.

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Tennis Instruction: The Volley

Here is a tennis lesson on how to volley that includes three instructional videos to help you learn visually. Learn what grip to use, where to position, and what guidelines your stroke's form should fall within. Get tips that will help you avoid common problems with the volley.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Wimbledom Day 5: Laura Granville Upsets Martina Hingis

Surprise! Via On the Baseline:

With all the focus on Venus and Serena, fans in the United States might have missed another American player sneaking through the draw at Wimbledon.

That is until she took out Martina Hingis today in straight sets.

Hingis, who won the title at the Championships in 1997, went down in two sets 6-4, 6-2 to Laura Granville in the third round.

Off all the Americans residing toward the bottom of the top 100, Laura Granville was one of the last ones anyone expected to make waves at Wimbledon.

Read the rest.

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Federer - Safin Preview

While you're waiting for the outcome of the Federer Safin match, you can read this preview, Like a Kid in a Candy Store, at Craig Hickman's Tennis Blog.

I'm a Safin fan, ever since the moment I first saw him play. Besides, who else could do this to ya?

You know the story of the hippo? The hippo comes to the monkey and said, "Listen, I'm not a hippo." So, he paint himself like a zebra. He said but he's still a hippo. He said, "But look at you. You're painted like a zebra, but you are a hippo." So then he goes, you know, like "I want be a little parrot." So, he put the colours on him and he comes to the monkey and said, "But, sorry, you are a hippo." So, in the end, you know, he comes and said, "I'm happy to be a hippo. This is who I am. So, I have to be who I am," and he's happy being a hippo.

Only the one and only Marat Safin. (Sigh.)

Check out the great photos from Day 4, too.

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Wimbledon Day 5 Live

Janko Tipsarevic, Tommy Haas, and Paul-Marie Mathieu all won their third round matches at Wimbledon today.

James Blake just lost to Juan Ferrero 6-3, 3-6, 3-6, 6-7. And Roger Federer has just taken Centre Court with Marat Safin.

Serena Williams just won her third round match roundly 6-1, 6-0. Justine Henin, Jelena Jankovic, Michaella Krajicek, Patty Schnyder, and Marion Bartoli also won their third round matches.

Martina Hingis is still out there against Laura Granville, losing 4-6, 2-3, deuce.

The women's doubles got underway yesterday, and the first round of the men's doubles and the mixed doubles got underway today.

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Golf has the Same Disease as Tennis

Chuck Evans writes in

Currently there is a lot of publicity about a "new" golf swing of the future. This swing is being touted as the "fix-all" for every golfer.

Golfers will buy into anything that they think may improve their game no matter how ludicris it may be. We are all looking to play better golf, hit more consistent shots, make more putts, and the search for this elusive "Holy Grail" will never end.

As a survivor of a terminal case of technique obsession, I can say that there is more to this trivial pursuit of perfect form than those infected with this disease will admit.

It isn't born of a desire to make more shots. It's born of a desire to make more impressive shots. It's about looking good out there.

Admit it: you want people to say, "Oooh, look what a pretty forehand she has!"

Because, in this world where appearances/perceptions are all that count, form has become an end in itself, rather than but a means to an end.

Which is why players obsessed with form hate pushers. Pushers are a dose of Reality Therapy. They don't play the Vanity Game. They play THE game, the game of tennis, and they play it straight - to the score. Players obsessed with form think that's unfair.

Well, it is, but that ain't the pusher's fault. The player obsessed with form is the one putting himself at a disadvantage.

This is why shot selection is often lousy. Hey, if a dink is what's called for, just dink. But those obsessed with form compulsively choose a better looking shot instead and often pay the price for folly.

I was amused to read that Evans approached IBM and MIT with an idea to create a human robot-making machine. It would send electrical stimuli through electrodes targeting each muscle so that a software program could take over your body and MAKE it swing the right way.

Can you imagine that? Just going along for the ride while a machine moves your body through the motions of a perfect Roger Federer forehand? Rather like a controlled epileptic seizure moving the parts of your body around. Cool, eh?

What fun, right?

The experts at IBM and MIT assured him that computer science is nowhere near the technology it would take to execute the human body in a golf swing.

Why? Because there are more than 600 muscles in the body, which would each have to get their own special set of timed and coordinated signals at a rate of hundreds or thousands per second. This means that there are many thousands of commands sent to each muscle (e.g., the triceps) and its opposer (in this case the biceps) adjusting its degree of contraction or relaxation constantly throughout the swing. And these commands must all be in sync with all the other myriad commands going to the other muscles.

I'm sorry, but it will be a long time before we have computers that even come close the unconscious coordinating center of the human brain (the cerebellum) at issuing the myriad timed and coordinated muscle commands that move us.

Yes, we have robots, but that's why robots move like robots.

Hey, but wouldn't it be cool to teach toddlers how to walk this way? Why stop there? Why not have our human robot-making machine control their mouth muscles to teach them how to talk this way?

I hope that was a bridge too far for you.

The very idea that we could someday learn any physical action this way, let alone one as complex as a tennis or golf stroke, exposes a fundamental flaw in the underlying principles of tennis and golf instruction. We DON'T learn how to do physical things that way.

The first time you pick up a tennis racket and go to hit a forehand, you form the intent to hit your forehand by imagining yourself hitting one. (You have watched others hit forehands, and you want to imitate what they do.) The IMAGE in that split-second of imagining throws the unconscious coordinating centers of your brain into action. You have never hit a forehand before, so it throws together all it has learned so far about how to turn, how to step, and how to swing at something...and throws together the rough draft of a PROGRAM for executing a forehand.

Then it notes the results and goes into debug mode. The more forehands you see and hit, the more information it gathers about hitting a forehand and the more your forehand program gets debugged and polished.

This process explains why children start out so uncoordinated that they can hardly hit their mouth with a glass but a few years later are running and jumping on a playground with excellent coordination.

These unconscious centers of the brain that learn physical things don't understand verbal instructions. So, you can't teach children to walk by telling them to remember to pronate when they take a step.

In fact, when you consciously try to force your movement into a certain pattern by thinking of verbal instructions while you hit, you just interfere and bollix up the natural process. You are also concentrating on what you're thinking instead of on what you're seeing, hearing, and feeling. So you actually slow down the learning process.

Everyone has had this happen. For example, let's say you consciously try to move your point of contact out farther in front of you. The harder you try to do that, the more impossible it becomes. The next thing you know, your whole swing has gone south on you and your point of contact is farther back than it was before!

So, quit it already. Shut your mind up. It's a distraction that destroys your feel. By trying to force your form to fit a preconceived mold, you are fouling up the brain's program of commands. For every good habit you may be forming, you are forming three bad habits at the same time. It will take you weeks or months to learn what you could have learned in a day or two by experimenting and discovering by FEEL.

Our ability to learn by thinking on verbal instructions is very limited and usually works best when the instruction is just a tip. For example, to teach a beginner to follow-through on a forehand groundstroke, you ask him to catch the racket in his left hand over his left shoulder. You give him just that one thing to think about for a few minutes, so his brain discovers that following-through is a good idea. Then you get him back to not thinking about form.

Unfortunately, most tennis players have a habit of thinking about form constantly. No wonder there's no room in their thoughts for smart strategy and tactics.

And the unconscious coordinating centers of the brain won't learn from any human robot-making machine either.

Why? Because that motherboard in your skull is programmed by software that learns. The learning is in the memory. And no, memory isn't in your muscles: it's in your brain. The memory is in the synapses between brain cells. The connections must actually change and ramify. You know, gray matter. The chemical transmitters stored at these connections must change and increase to the proper level for transmission to occur at the low threshold that allows spontaneity.

The human robot-making machine would not cause any such changes in the brain. In other words, it doesn't program the brain. It just comes between the brain and the body to execute the muscles for the brain.

That doesn't teach you a thing. Unhook all the electrodes and that "perfect swing" is gone.

At best, you might gain the perception of how a proper stroke should feel, but even that isn't guaranteed. I don't think anyone knows for sure how your kinesthetic perceptions would be affected by remote control of your body.

Consider how similarly we all walk. No one gave us any verbal instructions. No one gives a whit about his or her walking form. We all just discovered the best way to do it on our own. No two of us have the same walk, but everyone's walk falls within the parameters for guidelines of efficient and balanced walking.

I guarantee that if people were taught how to walk the way they're taught how to play tennis and golf, we'd have people stumbling clumsily all over creation.

Besides, the quest for the Holy Grail of "perfect form" is a wild goose chase. It makes form an end in itself, instead of a means to an end. It's an obsession with the pure mechanics of tennis, oblivious to the art of playing GAME of tennis. Which is where the fun is.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Tennis Game

Where do tennis players get the idea that the key to tennis happiness is perfecting their strokes? What makes them obsessed with form to the point that they miss out on the game itself?

A large part of the reason is the tennis industry. It makes the lion's share of its profits on your strokes. They all have something to sell you to "fix" them.

Even private lessons are geared more toward improving your strokes than teaching you how to win the game. Bits and pieces of advice on the latter are usually just footnotes to instruction.

There is nothing wrong with this, but the consumer must consider the source of advertising and goods and services and see beyond them.

Tennis isn't about swinging a racket: it's about playing the game. In fact, that's where the fun is.

You can win with pretty strokes or ugly ones. Because the final score is what counts.

Read more....

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Why do tennis players let their opponent into a match?

In her second round match today against Vera Dushevina, Justine Henin rolled to 6-0, 3-1 ... and then let Dushevina into the match!

That isn't like Henin.

So, what does this mean? What can we learn from it?

The first thing to learn is that anyone can have a letdown. It's a HUMAN thing, not some moral failing in "weak" and "loser-type" people.

This is why letdowns happen.

First, notice WHEN they happen. They happen when pressure has been relieved. Most commonly letdowns happen at the beginning of a new set. The pressure of the final game of the previous set has been relieved.

This happens because pressure cranks up our nervous system into a state of hyperactivity and hypervigilance. A myriad of changes throughout the body occur. They include changes in our emotional state as well as our physical state. For example, digestion stops, and muscles get extra blood supply diverted from the gut. Adrenaline flows. Remarkable changes like this occur throughout the body.

In effect, the body and mind are operating in Emergency Mode now. Altogether the phenomenon is often called the "fight or flight" response. It is Nature's way of making an animal fit to deal with a life-threatening emergency.

Great. But if Emergency Mode persists as a permanent state, it does great damage to the body. Then you get stress related illnesses.

To prevent this, the nervous system has built in reflexes to dampen the fight or flight response the moment psychological pressure is relieved.

We can't help this. It's a reflex. It's automatic. It's for our own good. But it is a problem in a tennis match. You need to keep that intensity, that state of arousal, going till the match is over. That is very hard to do.

Especially when you are winning so easily as Justine. She has been sailing through her matches like a breeze and was doing so again today, against an opponent choking on top of it all. Who wouldn't have a letdown at 6-0, 3-1 under those conditions?

This doesn't mean you need to suffer the ill effects of letdowns on your play. There are things you can do to minimize them.

First, know when they are going to happen. At the beginning of every new game and every new set. Especially if you're ahead or have won the last one. They will happen when your opponent is beating herself for you, when everything you try works.

Learn to know when you are going to experience a letdown, and do things to combat it.

Often, your opponent will be having one at the same time, such as at the beginning of a new game or set. Capitalize on that. Points are cheap during letdowns. That's the time to get ahead.

If you have a letdown at the beginning of a game, before you know it, you have squandered two cheap points and are down 0-30. Now you have very little chance of winning that game. So start every new game firing yourself up, telling yourself not to go down 0-30, but to get up 30-0, while the points are cheap, before your opponent is really serious about the game.

You can't get too fired up about a set that's just beginning, so set a short term goal of getting up 2 games to none in the new set. Really fight to accomplish that goal.

Don't change your strategy for a second, but do tweak your tactics. Use percentage tactics to reduce your likelihood of error during a letdown. Because you WILL make more unforced errors during a letdown.

What happened today is that the crowd felt sorry for Vera and tried to encourage her by applauding her winners.

Well, eventually she strung together a few in a row, won a couple games, and started to become confident, playing much better.

Justine Henin wasn't right there to bar the door and close out the match. She let Vera into it.

Like I said, that isn't typical of Justine Henin. So, it goes to show that anyone can have a letdown and let an opponent into the match.

Henin still handled the situation better than many players, however. She didn't panic when she saw her opponent breathing down her neck.

The last few games were closely contested, but Justine still won the match and in straight sets. Didn't even need a tiebreaker. 6-4.

That's another lesson: no need to panic if your opponent comes roaring back. Don't get mad at yourself. Give THEM credit for rising to the occasion and making you have to beat them to win. Then, just do.

Not that Henin shows the same common sense and wisdom in every department. She just can't keep her mouth shut about some things she thinks she should show off.

I’m not a great fan of England but everyone’s really nice here. In Paris, the public tens to warm to me a lot more and it’s like being at home.The US is the toughest. People seem to turn up to do anything except watch the actual tennis…

Woahhh! Poor England. Justine is not a great fan of England. My dear English friends, you have my deepest sympathy for failing to please Justine.

What's wrong with England? (Besides the lousy weather!) Oh, so Parisians are good just because they like French speaking Belgians? No matter how rude and even downright mean they are to players of other nationalities, right?

Clue: Cut the snooty Continental "we're-better-than-you" airs with their anti-Anglo/American geopolitics, and you might be liked more by the tennis fans in the countries you look down on.

You are not the fans' judge. They do not have to conform to your specifications. (New Yorkers get on our nerves too, you know.) What you think about England is irrelevant. Nobody cares to hear it.

You are the fans' servant. A perfomer they're paying to perform for them. Remember that.

And guess what, if you just stick to tennis, people won't be morally obliged to answer you in defense against your slur on their kind. Things are so much more pleasant that way.

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Wimbledon Day 4: Ah! Summer in Merry Old England!

At lunchtime, rain delayed play for 40 minutes. Then at 4:45 PM, the rains began lightly falling and stopping, but never for long enough to let play resume, though the covers did come off the courts a couple of times. In addition to the dampness, the evening also brought a chill. Then, at 7:45 came a deluge.

Less than half the day's matches were completed.

Kate Battersby writes:

For domestic fans, the rain could not have arrived at a crueller moment. Just six minutes before the late afternoon showers began, home hero Tim Henman began his second round encounter against the Spaniard Feliciano Lopez on the Centre Court. Excitement was feverish after the Briton’s epic win over Carlos Moya in the preceding round, and today’s encounter had offered extra promise as Lopez is that rarest of things – a Spaniard who loves to play on grass. They got to one game all, 15-all, before the heavens opened. Exasperating for all concerned. The match will resume on Thursday.

Nonetheless, a few matches were completed. Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, Justin Henin, Jelena Jankovic, Richard Gasquet, Martina Hingis and Ana Ivanovic all managed to record victories before the rain stopped play.

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Is Tennis Instruction Killing Your Game?

Tennis players think that their errors are the fault of their form. Every time they make an error, they think it was because of their swing or footwork or whatever. In other words, they think they did something wrong.

Wrong. Errors are caused by slight miscalculations by the brain in judging the ball's flight and timing and coordinating your stroke. Errors happen because, in playing tennis, we challenge the limits of what the human brain and body are capable of.

So, errors happen. Errors are part of the game. If there was such a thing as perfect form, and if you hit every shot with perfect form every time, you'd still make errors.

Because errors are not caused by your form.

They happen because the brain has to do a little estimating and guessing in its calculations, and sometimes it is going to be off far enough to result in an error.

So, if you are a perfectionist, try a different sport.

You can hit a great shot with atrocious form, and you can hit a lousy shot with beautiful form.

The sensible attitude is to aim only to minimize your frequency of error.

Now there some aspects of form can help. They can make the timing and coordination easier, thereby reducing the risk of miscalculation. They can reduce the effect of miscalculation, so that slight miscalculations don't adversely affect your shot enough to make it go out. They can eliminate things (like extraneous motion) that could go wrong.

But strategy and tactics can do at least as much in reducing your frequency of error.

Yet, what most tennis players know about strategy and tactics could be written on the back of a post card. Why? Because they are obsessed with FORM.

They think tennis is about how they swing the racket and move their feet. Wrong. Tennis is about the score.

But they are so stuck on form that even in the middle of a point they're thinking about their form.

Tennis ceases to be a game at that point. It becomes an exercise in hitting forehands and backhands the "right" way. Dull.

I know. When I was young, I used to be a perfectionist about form. After reading The Inner Game of Tennis I quit it. Guess what? I suddenly started to learn things I hadn't been able to learn before.

Like how to hit spin serves. It didn't take long at all - just a few weeks and I had all the spin serves. With no pro standing over me. I have an excellent forehand down-the-line approach shot, and I learned it in a single day. Same with the inside-out forehand.

How? By just learning these things the natural way. That is, instead of consciously trying to move my body a certain way, I just put the service toss where it should be and experimented, paying close attention to how each serve felt and how the ball reacted. I knew when I had it right. I could tell. Thus, me and my body DISCOVERED how to do it.

That's how we learn how to walk and talk, too.

Do you know anyone who is dissatisfied with the way he or she walks and wants to improve this skill? I hope not!

But how far would you have to go to find a tennis player satisfied with his or play? Tennis becomes a lifelong exercise in self improvement. An exercise in futility, trying to reach some nonexistent level of perfection. Anything less - well...just requires more self improvement.

The flip-side of that coin is that it's a lifelong state of dissatisfaction with yourself, a feeling that you SHOULD be doing better. Failure.

The glass is half empty, you see.

But it's half full. If today you get the idea that you can do something better, great. But the desire to improve should not be imposed on you by a sense of failure.

Tennis is a difficult sport. Every tennis shot that goes in is somewhat of a bloody miracle. Whoever you are, it's safe to say that you do very well for the time you've put in.

What's more, you should not be thinking about your form while you are trying to hit the ball. That kind of thinking is a distraction. It keeps you from being fully aware of what you're seeing, hearing, and feeling.

In practice, when you are trying to correct one specific thing about your form, you have to think about it while hitting. But don't make a habit of thinking about your form while hitting.

This means that you can think about one aspect of your form for a few minutes now and then but that the lion's share of your practice time and all of your match play time should be spent with your mind as quiet as possible while the ball's in play.

The only thinking you should be doing then is in the realm of strategy and tactics. And even that thinking won't be the conscious kind of thinking we do in words. It will be the instinctive, intuitive kind of thinking we use for the things we do "without thinking."

For example, let's say you come up to a child gate and want something sitting on a chair beyond it. In the blink of an eye, you formulate a picture in your mind of yourself bending and reaching over the gate to pick it up without losing your balance. Then you just do it.

Simple: picture yourself doing it and then just do it.

You don't consciously think of how much to bend your knees or which arm to reach with and what to do with other arm. If you did, you probably would lose your balance and fall over that gate.

We do many things this intuitive way. For example, most of what you do after you get into an automobile and turn the key is done intuitively. If another driver runs a stop sign on you, you don't think what to do. You just see what to do - whether to stomp on the gas or the brakes as you swerve - and then just do it, even before you're consciously aware of what's happening.

This kind of thinking happens in a different part of the brain than conscious thinking in words does. Thinking in words requires the processing of language, and that is very complex. And slow. And requires much brainpower that could better be used in judging the approaching tennis ball and coordinating your swing at it.

This is why you can't be thinking of verbal instructions while you're trying to play. If you do, you will make a lot of errors. A lot.

It doesn't matter if those instructions are no-brainers stated in easy-to-recall catch phrases. While the ball's coming, you have neither the time nor the spare brainpower to recall and process the language of verbal instructions. Trying to just hurts your judgement, coordination, and timing.

So, during match play. Don't think about your form. Get into the GAME. That's where the fun is. Thinking strategy and tactics between points is true positive thinking. As for while the ball's in play, so long as you don't think about your form and don't try to play by rote (by recalling verbal instructions), you'll do just fine.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Wimbledon Day 2: The Women

First round winners in the women's singles at Wimbledon today were: Amelie Mauresmo, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, Venus Williams, Katarina Srebotnik, Yvonne Meusburger, Bethanie Mattek, Eleni Daniilidou, Samantha Stosur, Sania Mirza, Agnes Szavay, Olga Govortsova, Tatiana Poutchek, Daniela Hantuchova, Alize Cornet, Michaella Krajicek, Anna Chakvetadze, Jarmila Gajdosova, Nadia Petrova, Elena Vesnina, Elena Likhovtseva, Milagros Sequera, Hana Sromova, Emilie Loit, Nika Ozegovic, Katie O'Brien, Ai Sugiyama, and Alona Bondarenko.

The defending Champion, Amelie Muresmo of France, said afterwards that she feels better playing here - as the defending champion on grass at Wimbledon - than she did in France.

I think it's more than the surface and the confidence that comes of winning the championship before. I think there's much less pressure on her when she's not carrying the dreams of the French fans for a French woman to win the French Open.

By the way, there are other French players, like Nicolas Mahut, who actually prefer the grass and like the serve-and-volley game.

Go figure: the red clay of Roland Garros is legendary, but it doesn't help the French players. It's made to order for the Spaniards though ;-)

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Wimbledon Day 2: The Men

Mostly matches in the bottom half of the draw, and the matches delayed by yesterday's rain, are being held today at Wimbledon. Poor Mardy Fish drew Rafael Nadal in the first round.

The other victors: Chris Guccione, Kristof Vliegen, David Nalbandian, Frank Dancevic, Lleyton Hewitt, Simone Bolelli, Max Mirnyi, Guillermo Canas, Nicolas Kiefer, Fabrice Santoro, Amer Delic, Nova Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, Michael Llodra, Hyung-Taik Lee, Augustin Calleri, Jonas Bjorkman, Yeu-Tzoo Wang, Wayne Arthurs, Tommy Robredo, Michail Youzhny, Jarkko Nieminen, Robin Soderling, Sebastien Grosjean, and Werner Escauer.

A few matches are still out there: Top seed Nikolay Davydenko has his hands full with Evgeny Korolev, and Gael Monfils looks to be closing out his match with Thomas Johansson.

Oh, yes! And Tim Henman won! He did! He really did defeat Carlos Moya. Rain delay and all. Okay, so it was on grass, but get a load of the score: 6-3 1-6 5-7 6-2 13-11. After blowing match points.

Maybe there's some fight in the guy after all.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Wimbledon Day 1

They got more matches in today at Wimbledon. Since the last report Tomas Zib, Michael Berrer, Janko Tipsarevicz, Danai Udomchoke, David Ferrer, Paul-Henri Mathieu, Serena Williams, Alicia Molik, Patty Schnyder, Marion Bartoli, and Vera Dushevina have also advanced to the second round of the singles.

Richard Williams got attention by announcing that Serena has a pulled hamstring. Asked about it in the presser after her match, Serena said it was just a little tight but getting better.

Throw the dogs a bone!

But the press hounds weren't satisfied with it. So she had to reiterate that another 16 times in answer to the 17 times they questioned her about it.

Boy, when they reject an answer, they reject an answer. You'd better give them the kind they want, or they'll never stop.

How many things that we really would like to have learned, did they pay no attention to and NOT ask about in order to squabble over that bone instead? Trying 16 times to extort a different answer from her. One more exciting than the plain old truth?

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Tennis for Baby Boomers

Are you a Baby Boomer who played tennis back in the Tennis Boom? Flirting with the idea of coming back to the sport?

Check out Learning Tennis for Baby Boomers at

Share experience of a 52 year old guy (Mark Gallagher) as he learns the game, attempts to become a competitive 4.0 club player, have fun, and get some good exercise. I started playing tennis in 2003 at the age of 49.

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Wimbledon Day 1: Live - Sort Of

Roger Federer, Tommy Haas, Andy Roddick, Florent Serra, Fernando Gonzalez, Allejandro Falla, Martina Hingis, Kaia Kanepi, Roberta Vinci, Aiko Nakamura, Laura Granville, Sybille Bammer, Shahar Peer, Lucie Safarova all won their first round singles matches today before play was suspended due to rain.

The suspended matches may get back on court yet this evening, but the delay will spill over into tomorrow's schedule.

OK, OK, Tim Henman is up 5-3 against Carlos Moya. But don't blame me then.

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Wimbledon Day 1: Watering the Lawn

First round play begins at Wimbledon at noon today GMT (the crack o' dawn here). Many big names have matches scheduled.

Roger Federer will be going for his fifth consecutive title. Justine Henin will be going for a career Grand Slam (winning all four major titles at least once over the course of the career).

The Brit-o-meter is in the doldrums, because Andy Murray has had to withdraw from the tournament due to a a wrist injury that hasn't cleared up in time.

The Draws (in PDF format) - Right-click and choose "Save target as..." in the popup menu. The mixed doubles draw will be done later.

And here now is the weather forecast for southern England. As if I need to tell you ;-)

"Often cloudy, rain or showers, some heavy."

But here's my favorite part:

Heavy rain at times in the north and west. Any bright or sunny intervals elsewhere will lead to scattered heavy showers developing, some with thunder and torrential downpours. Showers merging to longer spells of rain later, some heavy.

Do you think that got the point across?

Passing over the tone (which makes Tim Henman sound like an optimist), did you notice the second sentence? According to it bright skies and sunshine "lead to" rain.

One can see how one could come to think like that from living in a climate like that. But don't worry, I assure you that sunny skies do not cause rain. (Psst, it's all them clouds.)

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

You should be able to turn your back on your partner, no?

Here's a Japanese television ad that makes the point.

Now that we've had a good laugh, whose fault were these accidents?

Both times the net player is in the way. The first time it isn't so bad, but watch the video again. He is blocking off part of the service court to his partner's serve. If the net player stationed one step to his left and then moved right at the sound of the serve being hit, no serve that would land in could hit him.

The second error is far worse. First the net player tries to poach a shot he can't reach (as I descibe myself doing here), and then, instead of just ducking down to let his partner hit over him, he turns around and looks at his partner!

Never do that! That's why he got it in the face.

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Snapshot of Richard Williams

It's been long since I did a player profile. Frankly, no idea for one has grabbed me ... till I got the idea to do one on Richard Williams.

But, as I went back through all that stuff, I quickly lost interest. That isn't what I see as the most significant thing about him. In fact, all the noise about him is a distraction from the most significant thing about him.

Here is a man from a slum area who learned all he could from library books and other publications about tennis and coached his two kids to the top of the game!

Oooooh! So much for needing experts at $40 to $65 an hour.

I bet no one ever overheard Venus and Serena's parents going around saying that "That is a $50,0000 backhand."

Another cherished myth bites the dust.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

How Tennis Myths Get Formed

Get someone who has never played tennis. Put him or her on the center mark. Hand them a racket. Then go to the other side of the net and hit them the ball.

What will they do?

They will instinctively move to a point directly inline with the approaching ball, as if to catch it.

Woops. They aren't supposed to catch it; they're supposed to hit it. But they are in the way of their swing. In fact, they can't really swing at a ball coming straight at them. They can't hit it forehand. About all they can do is block it back with a one-handed backhand.

Now, at this point, what does the instructor do?

He corrects them. In fact, the instructor overcorrects to make sure the student understands that they must swing off to the side of the body, not directly in front of it. "Turn sideways." The next thing you know, he is demonstrating, "See?" and he takes a completely closed stance. "Look, my toes are pointing toward the sidelines."

Ah, now the student sees what he means.

A million tennis instructors do this to a billion students so that the "Turn-sideways" mantra echos round and round the world a trillion times. No one dares blow against that wind. Therefore, soon it's conventional wisdom that the "right" way to hit the ball is from a closed stance. Nobody tested this theory. Nobody even analyzed it.

It became "true" the way most things do (including many false ones) - just by being repeated ten zillion times.

The original instructor hears this and thinks, "Jeez, ain't I smart. That's exactly what I've been telling my students to do." So, what he originally intended as only a bit of overcorrection to fix a problem now become Gospel in his eyes.

But note that all that was needed is for the student to swing off to the side of the body, which means positioning at a point alongside the ball's flight path (as opposed to right on it). This can be done from an open stance too, especially on the forehand side.

But it's so much easier to just tell the student to turn to the side.

That's how it happens. That's how bad conventional wisdom gets going. And this is what creates the myth that there is some precisely "right" way to swing.

But there isn't, not any more than there is some precisely "right" way to walk. Left to our own devices we all learn to do it in a very similar way, but no two people have exactly the same walk. And nobody obsesses about how to do it "right."

Part of the problem is being too quick with instructions. I've taught both in the classroom and on the court. I've taught swimming as well as tennis. Believe it or not, it was in biology labs that I learned to hold back and let students discover as much as possible on their own. The benefits of that are too numerous to mention, but I will mention the big one: SELF CONFIDENCE.

So, here's how that lesson should have gone.

When the student makes that mistake on the first ball you feed, what should the instructor do?

Answer: shut up. Just hit them another ball.

Bingo, you just taught them to do it right.

Through Natural Learning. Because that student isn't brain dead. He or she is well aware of the problem, and the brain is programmed to fix problems like that all by itself. That's how we learned to walk and talk - through trial and error, not by following verbal instructions. Natural Learning is mostly half-conscious and subconscious learning, but it's learning and it works.

By setting up students to learn things naturally, you greatly reduce the number of verbal instructions you have to give; you greatly accelerate learning; and you greatly reduce the chances of giving any questionable advice.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Search for Nadia Petrova's Missing Motivation and Drive

Is it just me? Because I don't get stuff like this.

Nadia Petrova lacks enthusiasm and is pondering a career change. Okay, but what's this?

Even a week of unorthodox training on a grass court maintained by a Swedish farmer may not be enough to inspire depressed Russian Nadia Petrova to start enjoying her tennis.

I'm sorry, but enjoying a thing is something that happens to you. You don't MAKE yourself enjoy anything. You can't be "inspired" to enjoy anything. No amount of effort in the world will make you enjoy something you don't enjoy.

I think this foggy thinking comes from too much acting in life - pretending you feel a certain way or enjoy a certain thing when you don't. You lose touch with your real feelings and get stuck behind the Looking Glass in the Land of Pretend. And when some pretense becomes too hard to maintain, then you say nonsense like this.

Why should a week on the only grass court in Sweden inspire anyone to anything? Yes, variety is the spice of life, but if you have no hunger, spice won't make you eat. If you enjoy eating, spice can make you enjoy it more, but that's all.

Petrova, daughter of a pair of former world-class Russian athletes who grew up in Egypt, said she is desperate to re-discover her drive.

"I'm searching for motivation," said the woman who claimed her last trophy in February indoors in Paris.

(Translation: Presumably the author meant that Nadia grew up in Egypt, not her parents.)

She "can't find" her drive, motivation"? If she can't find it, she doesn't have it.

Hint: motivation is in the reward. If playing tennis is less than rewarding overall, she won't be motivated to play.

The Russian said that she might need to find other interests, which could spark a renewal of her game — or she could consider just handing in her career.

How could other interests spark a renewal of her game?

I'm not certain how much I like tennis right now.

How can she not know that?

I still haven't achieved all of my goals and dreams.

Newsflash: maybe you never will. Most people don't. It ain't all up to you, you know.

Maybe there's some oppressive entity in her life responsible for this depression and all she needs to do is chuck it. But if not, why not just quit? Most people wouldn't like playing tennis for a living.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Test Your Mental Tennis Prowess

Are you a wizard of tennis doubles? How much do you know about it? Here is quick little quiz to gauge your mental prowess.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Tips for Hitting a Two-Handed Backhand

Are you thinking of switching to a two-handed backhand? Or could you use some tips on how to hit one? Check out the tennis lesson entitled How to Hit a Two-Handed Backhand at the main site.

First you learn the two most important things to know about the two-handed backhand, and then you get an instructional video.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Up-and-Back Doubles: 1-up 1-back doubles

Ironically, the most basic tennis doubles formation is also the hardest to play. There is much more to playing 1-up/1-back than there is to playing both-up or both-back. By that I mean that you need to know more to play up-and-back.

This is because the weakness of the Up-and-Back Formation is an angular gap in it that makes it targetable only by an opponent in a certain position. It's also because two up-and-back teams can face each other in different ways.

This introductory lesson on doubles strategy will help familiarize you with the differences so that when they arise during play, you see the risks and opportunities in them.

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Stella Artois Championships at the Queen's Club

Yesterday, at the Artois Championships at the Queen's Club in London, second-seed Andy Roddick defeated seventh-seed Dmitry Tursunov in straight sets 6-4 7-5 to reach today's final. In the other semifinal Nicolas Mahut beat fellow Frenchman Arnaud Clement 6-3, 7-6.

The finals are just finished, and Roddick has beaten Mahut 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 to win the championship for the third straight year.

Look at the fight Mahut put up though. I have a feeling that Nicolas is no flash in the pan.

The doubles title went to Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor, who defeated Bob and Mike Bryan 7-6(4), 7-5 in the final. Both teams now have 39 titles to their credit.

If you wonder what players mean when they talk about the "scheduling nightmares" involving doubles, this could help you understand:

Because of rain delays, Knowles and Nestor had to play their second and third round matches after 7 PM on Saturday night. Then this morning they played the semifinal before playing the final.

Nicolas Mahut (a singles finalist) was in the doubles till his team lost to Knowles and Nestor last night, so he played how many tennis matches since Friday?

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