Thursday, February 28, 2008

Changing Tennis Style & Grips

Peter Bodo has a post over at TennisWorld entitled House of Laver that you shouldn't miss.

I want to zero-in on a point he makes.

It's always been interesting to me that the more radical stylists and clay-court experts - Bjorn Borg and Rafael Nadal come to mind immediately - are the ones who appear to play tennis in the most natural, technique-and-theory free way. In keeping with recent thoughts I posted on Nadal, this impression that he plays like a kid who just picked up a racket, never bothered to find out how to hold the danged thing, then cut a swath to the top, is part of the larger whole. And let's not forget that while the western may be the most natural, it is neither the most elegant nor, necessarily, the most fruitful forehand grip. There is something intrinsically unschooled about those who use the Western grip, despite all the hard work and discipline such players may invest in their games.

The point isn't that this is the best or only way to excel (in fact, he contrasts this with Roger Federer's refined technical style), but players do get to the top this way.

Speaking of Manolo Santana then, Bodo writes...

They broke the mold after they made Santana, but perhaps one day we'll see a player of his ilk once again. It is, in the end, tennis is a game in which the individual always finds a way to express his talents and impulses, regardless of technique and theory.

And I'll wager that even Roger Federer doesn't consciously try to mold his form half as much as those dissecting and trying to copy it do.

This article also points out something important about grips. The standard advice on grips dates to Rod Laver's time, when equipment and court surfaces were much different. Likewise with the standard advice to hit approach shots with underspin.

And so, though the standard advice lives on, the Eastern Forehand grip and the Continental grip are disappearing from the professional tour. More and more players hit approach shots with topspin and never dare to hit them crosscourt.

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Feeding Frenzy on Amelie Mauresmo

The sharks have smelled the blood in the water and are closing in for the kill.

Will Amelie Mauresmo retire?

That's called a "story question," a "hook." You're the fish.

Now I just speculate no end that she will retire. I keep hounding her with questions about whether "this just finished match" has made her finally decide to quit.

No? How come then?

And so, like a pack of hunting hounds we press on, pursuing her through the season, nipping at her heels.

All this makes you, dear Reader salivate. Ah, the suspense.

Close your eyes. You are getting very sleepy. Very very sleepy. You are feeling a very strong need to know the answer to this story question: Will Mauresmo retire. A very strong need to know the future.

So, tune in tommorrow! when our advertizers will pay us to supply you with - the answer? No, just more of this suspense.

Then we will leave you hanging again, so that you tune in the following day. Get it? Good for circulation.

Mauresmo is easy prey for this sport. Cut it out, will ya Amelie? You have a perfect right to keep your own counsel = a perfect right not to tell the inquisitors what you think about a thing. It's your right to privacy. In every presser, punch the first shark that comes at you in the snout. It works. It really works.

I started to play better in the second set and there were times when I played some good tennis," she said.

"There were still probably a few things here and there which cost me that second set, and I didn't play the tie-break as I expected, but she came up with some good shots when she needed them."

But that kind of wimpy reply is just asking for more.

You know, I just don't get this. When I see that invitation to debate the "issue" of what she should decide, I think, "How presumptuous of me it would be to do that! Moreover, what do I care? That's up to her."

To think that I should even have an opinion on the matter is beyond me. It is none of my business.

One wonders about those who are never busy with their own business and always busy with somebody else's business, which is none of their damned business. Hmmm.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

No-Cut High School Tennis Coaching

In the interest of full disclosure: I have never cut a high school tennis player from my team. This, despite having an assistant only for my first two seasons.

But why is the tennis establishment (the USTA and the Tennis Industry Association) leaning on high school coaches to make them feel like bad people if they cut? Indeed, they claim that a no-cut policy is "the right thing to do."

Wrong. It is neither the right nor wrong thing to do. It isn't a moral issue.

But I'll tell you what is a moral issue. Morally bullying others by making them out to be sinning if they don't do what you want them to. That is very wrong.

High school coaches are not paid by the USTA or the TIA. They are therefore not working for the USTA or the TIA. They are therefore not here to serve the interests of the USTA or the TIA.

In other words, their job isn't to provide the USTA and the TIA with tons and tons of new young tennis players to sell stuff to. Get it?

Their job is to lead their players to victory in tennis meets.

Focus. To coaches I say, don't let them take your eyes off the ball. They aren't thinking of you OR the kids. This campaign of theirs is totally self-serving. They want to slide you into thinking that you are obligated to promote the sport. But that's their job, not yours. Know your job and who pays you.

I would encourage coaches to keep all players who show enough proficiency to prove they are serious about becoming the best tennis players they can be. That's just good coaching foresight, because these players are the pool from which your future teams are drawn. And often late bloomers become surprisingly good players by the time they are juniors.

I have always been fortunate to be able to keep everyone who came out. We always had enough courts. Like 2 - right across the street from 16, so rarely did we even have to wait for one. And there were never more kids out for tennis than I could handle. Or more than I could provide JV matches for against all the bigger schools we played.

Many coaches don't have that luxury. And they shouldn't be made to feel guilty about what they must do. Nor should they loose meets by having varsity players sitting around just so they can keep tennis beginners on the team = give them court time. The TEAM wins or loses, and it is a betrayal of the TEAM to do anything that hurts the TEAM's chances of winning.

We don't let the kids do stuff like that. So why should it be OK for the coach to?

Can you imagine the "important" teams at your school doing that? No, eh? Well, if you want tennis to be treated on a par with other high school sports, you have to treat it that way yourself.

I always tell kids on Day 1 that I rarely cut but that I would if I thought it necessary, within two weeks. I always told them that junior varsity players wouldn't get much one-on-one attention from me. Several times I was about to cut a kid who thought I was there to "teach" kids how to play tennis, but those kids cut themselves when they realized they had been mistaken.

Whew! I was always greatly relieved by that. As hard as it is to cut anyone, it doesn't hurt a kid. But melting just because they turn on the waterworks sure will.

That said, don't just post a list. That cowardly dodge WILL hurt them.

You are the adult: if you can't handle it, how do you expect the kid to? Go to the kids you're cutting and make sure they're the first to know. Listen to them.

See how doing this shows them that they are (still) important?

Help them to put it in perspective. (Sometimes you can make them a manager or give them some other important role to fulfill.) Indeed, if you handle it right, your cutting that kid from his or her high school tennis team could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It could very well teach him or her a very important lesson in life.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

How NOT to Serve in Tennis

Just to show that not all the robotic serves in the world belong to women....


Hat Tip: Tennis Diary.

Part of this guy's problem is that he opens the racket face on the backswing, and that's what enables him to push (rather than throw) the serve.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Serve-and-Volley Tennis - Making It Work

Learn how to win with serve-and-volley play in this month's illustrated Wild Card article by me at The Tennis Server.

This lesson is presented in the context of doubles, but everything except the tips at the end applies to singles as well:

Serve-and-Volley Doubles - Making It Work.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Coaching Tennis

I first became aware of the problem that can arise from men coaching girls back when I was coaching high school tennis, (co-ed) track, and basketball.

I could see that something was wrong with the relationship between the head basketball coach and the girls, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was. Then one day, I nearly gagged when I saw one of our best players throw herself on a loose ball and in one continuous motion swivel her head to see if the coach was impressed.

Apparently he didn't seem impressed enough, so her face screwed up with tears for the pain. That did the trick.

Ah, so that was why there was all this (usually unnecessary) "sacrificing of their bodies." They were doing it "for him."

Yuck, eh? ;-)

In this case it was plain to see that she should have scooped up that ball and tried to score instead of just throwing herself on it like a football lineman throws himself on a fumble.

I could also tell that, at some level, he was aware of what was going on and that his male ego was stroked by it. So he allowed it, instead of yelling, "What are you looking at me for? Get up and PLAY!"

The result was a very good team of head cases. He couldn't talk to them gently enough. They usually won, but when their opponents were good and didn't immediately fall behind, they panicked and just blurred, playing terribly.

In the conference tournament at the end of the season, the mass choking was so bad it made me mad, largely because I could see the head coach and his other assistant had just thrown their hands up in the air, completely at a loss about what to do.

So, I went out on the floor at half-time and stood under the basket while they were warming up their free throws. I stood there as if calm (so that the crowd and opposing team would have no idea what kinds of things I was saying) and I read them the riot act. I told them that they were stinking it up out there so badly that I could hardly stand to watch. I told them that they were embarrassing their coaches, fans, and the school with their long faces, their chins dragging on the floor, and their helpless, deer-caught-in-headlights looks. I told them to just quit choking, to grow up, and to show some guts, some pride. I wasn't nice at all.

They just all mouth-breathed at me in total shock. This was their Biology teacher? No, this was a woman coach = one who doesn't put up with that from girls.

They were so far behind already that I didn't think they could win, so I told them that I didn't care if they won but that I demanded that they quit stinking it up out there and play ball – to play the game the way it's supposed to be played, to win.

When I could see that I had them all mad at me, I went back to the bench.

Even I was surprised at the results. They put on a tremendous comeback, coming to within one point of tying the score when they ran out of time.

This doesn't mean that men can't coach girls when a qualified woman isn't available. But it does mean that men coaching girls, and the parents of girl athletes, must be aware of this potential problem.

The cure is focus – focus on the goal = to win, not to please your coach.

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Making Women's Pro Tennis More Popular

In case you missed it, here is an article at On the Baseline about what the WTA Tour can do to to improve the popularity of tennis (as a spectator sport).

For the most part, I agree, especially with the suggestion to make sure the top players compete in the Tier I events (instead of allowing them to be bought off by big purses in upstart tournaments). The ATP doesn't allow its top players to just sell themselves to the highest bidder, and neither should the WTA. It's greedy and bad for the game.

I would add another consideration though.

The overall quality of play is part of the problem, I think. Choking, robotic serves, double-faulting streaks ... to the point that it is PAINFUL to watch. Yes, it can happen on the men's tour, but it is much more common on the women's tour, where it affects the quality of matches even at the very top.

People come to expect it and lose interest. We want to see free and uninhibeted swings and serves. We want to see players who are not afraid of the net. We want to see players who are not head cases, who bring their A game with them almost every time, players who relish the thrill of competition and thrive on it.

The depth of the field in women's tennis will never be as great as in men's tennis, simply because we'll never have as many young women wanting to play pro tennis. But the depth can be better than it is, and it has been better in the past.

Also, part of what we see is the fruit of girls and women being coached exclusively by men, which often sidetracks them into an obsession with form that comes from playing to win your coach's approval of your swing instead of to control where the ball goes.

That gives rise to a host of problems, both technical and psychological.

But this is not an insurmountable problem. Both the coaches and players simply need to be aware of this dynamic between female players and male coaches to watch out for it.

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The Operation Doubles Tennis Newsletter

Yahoo Mail is bouncing the copies of "The Operation Doubles Connection" newsletter to many of its accounts with a "too many recipients" error.

That's a new one. What? Are all newsletters evil now?

I am still investigating to see if anything can be done about it, but it appears that the amount of spam breaking the Internet's back has become such a problem that some email services are using draconian measures to cut down on it and just recklessly dumping all newsletters.

I therefore recommend that you NOT subscribe to receive the newsletter at a Yahoo email address. (If you subscribed long ago and are receiving your monthly copy, you are OK because you are near the top of the list.)

Also, if you decide you no longer wish to receive this newsletter, please follow the link at the bottom to unsubscribe: don't just mark it as spam, because others at your email domain do still wish to receive it. I can fix it when someone has done this, but not till after other subscribers have missed an issue.

If you ever do miss your monthly copy of the Operation Doubles Connection, a copy of the current issue is always available online via the link to it from here and via the "newsletter" link in the sidebar at right..

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Operation Doubles Tennis Connection - February issue

A copy of the February 2008 issue of the Operation Doubles Connection is now online. Sign up here for your free email copy of this newsletter every month.


Featured Tennis Website of the Month
This Month's Tennis Quiz
This Month's Tennis Q & A
This Month's Shot-Making Tip

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It's the game, stupid.

The usual line about tennis' declining popularity just blows me away with its obliviousness to the obvious. Sometimes I wonder if the air is too thin way up high thar in them thar skyscrapers.

People flocked to tennis courts in the 70's and early 80's because of the publicity John McEnroe's antics attracted? Because Chris Evert or Rod Laver were so hot and good at the Hollywood-style publicity stunt for attention getting? Come on.

Newsflash: sorry, the stars just aren't that important. It's the GAME, stupid. It's too hard to learn.

That's why there are about only 5 million people left in the United States who play tennis regularly (i.e., at least once per week for 26 weeks out of the year.)

But let's blame EVERYTHING else instead.

For example, it's pure plain-truth-defying myth that Americans are interested only in American players. Americans are the last people in the world you could say that of. Look at Germany, for example. Tennis boomed there while Boris Becker and Steffi Graf played, and it went bust the moment they retired.

And that isn't a moral issue that a people should be reproached for. It's simply a natural consequence of national circumstances. Other nations are (or at least until recently were) an entity of breed, nationality, an ethnic identity, more often than not with its own distinct language. What's more, when 50 miles away, you have international borders with other countries, each with its own language, your ethnicity figures much more prominently in your identity than it does to an American.

And so what if Germans or Americans are MORE interested in tennis players from their own country? That's only natural, because we can identify more nearly with them. People should not be criticized for their preferences. Liking ketchup, liking NFL football, or pronouncing words a certain way is not a sin, but the hubris in being so judgmental as to make a moral issue of such things is.

Tennis boomed shortly after the Open Era began. But it's a mistake to jump to the conclusion that open tennis was the cause. That was also the time that television broadcast technology boomed. Now they could broadcast baseball and footballs games. Guess what? They got millions of viewers = millions of commercial advertising dollars. Why not try tennis too? Initially the problem was with unreliable satellite transmission of overseas events like Wimbledon. But as those problems were solved, millions of commercial advertising dollars were injected into tennis as well.

TV introduced the American people to tennis, which had previously been a country-club sport. Tennis boomed.

But in its boom were the seeds of its bust. Fads come and go, and that's what the tennis boom was, nothing but a fad.

Why aren't baseball and basketball nothing but fads too? Because those sports are fun and easy to learn, so young people in every generation are attracted to them. You need no formal lessons to learn them. You just grab your bat and ball and head out the door to play with the other kids in your neighborhood. You learn by watching better players, by watching pro players on TV, and by imitating what you see.

In other words, you learn these sports the natural way, the same way you learned to walk and talk. Nobody gave you verbal instructions to think on and follow as a toddler. While you were taking your first unsteady steps into Mother's arms, she wasn't barking, "Pronate, pronate," at you. You weren't telling yourself to "Pronate" your ankle with every step you took.

I dare say that you couldn't walk today if you tried to do it that way.

Because these other sports, like baseball and basketball, are learned the natural way, very soon, you get good enough to enjoy playing the game. And the game's the thing in your mind, because you never do get infected with an obsession about form.

If you stick with it long enough, you eventually have contact with a coach who gives you some pointers. But you haven't been plagued since Day 1 with a hundred Yoga-like instructions on the "right" way to throw, shoot, or swing. No baseball, football, or basketball coach would dream of doing that to a kid.

Ever since Tim Gallwey's book The Inner Game of Tennis came out in 1972, we have known what's wrong with the standard method of tennis instruction. But the tennis establishment let it all in one ear and out the other. There was money to be made, you see. The old way requires formal private or semi-private lessons and a constant litany of verbal instructions from the instructor that show off how much he or she knows. Indeed, students are impressed by that … until they add up all the money they've spent over a year of such lessons and how little progress they've made. How many rackets have they thrown? How much frustration and chagrin have they suffered? Do they ever really enjoy a point? Or are they always playing in fear of missing the next shot?

That ain't fun. People give up a sport like that.

But it doesn't have to be that way. We know how to make tennis much easier to learn. We have only to give in and start teaching it that way.

And golf had better pay heed. It is a fad headed down the same path, for largely the same reason.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Seles Retires

Monica Seles officially retired.

Born in what is now Serbia, Monica was in the process of becoming a naturalized American citizen when she won the No. 1 world ranking from Steffi Graf of Germany and dominated the women's game.

In her first four years on the circuit (1989-1992), Monica had a win-loss record of 231-25 (90%), winning 30 titles. In the open era, only Chris Evert had a better first four years, with a winning percentage of 91% and 34 titles.

Monica won her first Grand Slam title at the age of 16 in 1990 at the French Open.

Between January 1991 and February 1993, Seles won 22 titles and reached the finals on 33 of the 34 tournaments she played. She compiled a 159-12 win-loss record (93%) and a 55-1 win-loss record in Grand Slam tournaments.

By the end of January 1993, Monica had won three consecutive French Open titles, two consectutive US Open titles, and two consecutive Australian Open titles, having defeated Steffi Graf three out of four times in Grand Slam finals. (Graf had the edge only on grass.)

In Hamburg Germany, the cliche has it that "a crazed Steffi Graf fan" (euphemism for "anti-American nationalist" - you know, like these "cycling fans") ran all the way from the middle of the crowd brandishing a kitchen knife and stabbed Monica in the back. She was 19 years old.

The deep psychological twist of the knife was that he didn't even get punished for it. He was judged psychologically "abnormal," and that was judged an excuse to suspend his sentence to two years probation. Which makes no sense: he was either insane and thus deserving of NO sentence, or sane and deserving of punishment. Honesty can't have it both ways! He spent not one day in jail. Not one.

He just couldn't help it, you see.

That would get to me too. It's just nothing for someone to do that to you = there is no penalty for it, eh? What a dehumanizing value judgment.

Tennis wouldn't seem so important anymore to me either, not when people are getting that whipped up by nationalistic sentiment and propaganda - to the point that they all just make nothing of someone trying to kill you. She refused to play in Germany thereafter.

Though Seles was fortunate and quickly recoverd from the physical wound, she didn't return to tennis for two years. She was deeply wounded by being hated so just because of her excellence and where she came from, and because an attempt to kill her was made nothing of, and because the WTA didn't come through for her the way any other player union would have come through for one of its members. You know - money.

Seles never was the same. Thus her would-be assassin, 38-year-old Gunter Parche, had succeeded in eliminating Graf's competition.

I think this is largely because the psychological wound targeted the heart of Seles' game - her tremendous competetiveness and tremendous fortitude as perhaps the best big-point player ever. She hits two-fisted off both sides and was the first power player in the women's game.

So, we'll never know how many more Grand Slam titles Seles would have won and how many fewer ones Graf would have won.

Nonetheless, when Seles did return to the game, the epiphany she had experienced may have actually improved her perspective. She never recovered the same all-consuming drive to win but seems to have enjoyed life more.

A foot injury sidelined her in 2003, and though she spoke of coming back at least twice, in 2005 and again in 2007, she has played exhibition matches only since then. On February 14, she announced her official retirement from professional tennis.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dynamic Balance in Tennis

In yesterday's post Coaching High School Tennis, I explained how the Inner-Game-of-Tennis teaching method works as a fast and effective way to coach strokes in-season.

But many people just don't get why this method works so well. Consequently, many doubt it without even trying it. Their loss.

To understand takes a little thinking, an effort to zero-in how you use your mind when you consciously try to make yourself swing a certain way. Otherwise you'll never understand why that is a distraction that hurts your performance and makes learning much harder than it need be.

In fact, it's safe to say that most players learn tennis in spite of the way they learn, not because of it.

For a simple, illustrated explanation, see the new lesson entitled Dynamic Balance in Tennis on the main website.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Henin wants no "politics" at Games

Abuse of the English Language Watch:

No, America isn't the guilty party - it's the bloomin' BBC!

Headline: World number one Justine Henin believes politics and sport should not mix at this year's Beijing Olympics.

So, when it's a certain Evil Entity Across the Sea, "politics" becomes "human rights." But when it's a country that executes people by the thousands for petty theft, cuts off hands and feet, commits genocide, arms and funds genocide, or commits abortions on women against their will, "human rights" becomes mere "politics."

Over the weekend it was reported that British Olympians would be prevented from making political comment at the Games in August. Belgium's Henin said: "Politics and sport must remain separate."

...China has been criticised for its human rights record and it is feared that some athletes, and possibly political activists, will use the event to make demonstrate against the Chinese government.

Note the failure to mention WHAT those "criticisms" are. Note the transubstantiation of "human rights activists" to "political activists."

And note the strange absence of all that humanitarian empathy there is supposed to be over there. Not to mention the abrogation of the right of British citizens to free speech.

Justine, if you decide to play in the China Olympics, and to keep your mouth shut, that's up to you. I won't second-guess you. Indeed, your right to remain silent is part of your right to free speech. But please then keep your mouth completely shut, sparing us the mockery of stinking it up by falsifying what is going on like that.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Coaching High School Tennis

In coaching high school tennis, you must leave the players' strokes pretty much as you find them. For example, you can't change a player's serve or backhand, expecting her to win tomorrow's match with that serve or backhand that you've messed with. Renovating strokes takes time, time you don't have in season.

Which is why I love the Inner-Game-of-Tennis method for dealing with stroke problems in season. I therefore highly recommend the book The Inner Game of Tennis by Tim Gallwey.

Here is an example of how I use it, to give you an idea how this method works.

First, a fact. Thinking about your form while you swing, or about where you're putting your feet as you run to the ball, IS A DISTRACTION. One that should NOT be encouraged.

That isn't what you should be paying attention to while you play a shot. You should be paying attention to the ball and to the feeling of what your body is doing.

Note the difference between thinking about what your body should be doing and feeling what your body is doing. The former is an attempt to consciously direct movement through thought, and the latter is body awareness through attention to sensation. In other words, one is thinking, and the other is feeling.

In the IGOT method, you focus the player's attention where it belongs – off thoughts and on what he's seeing and feeling. In other words, you raise awareness in him of the right things. That's all. Works like magic. Really. Try it, you'll see.

Here's a simple example. John comes over to me and complains that "I'm having trouble with my forehand. Will you come and help me with it?"

Of course I will, but I won't drop everything and go immediately. That would make a big deal out of his problem. So, I casually tell him, sure, I'll be over in a little bit.

When I get there, I just watch.

"I can't hit a forehand!" he says.

I'm not even going to respond to that. I just ask him to hit a few more while I watch. Then I ask him a question about his stroke. Usually, I ask him to show me about where his racket is contacting the ball.

Invariably, he doesn't know. Why? Because he wasn't paying attention to that. His mind was busy yakking at him.

He expects me to tell him where his contact point usually is, but I don't. So, he asks me to tell him where his racket usually is at contact. If necessary, I lie to say that I don't know or am not sure.

Why? Because my job to get him to focus his attention where it belongs. I tell him to go back and hit some more, paying attention to where his racket head is at contact, so that he can come back and show me about where it usually is.

Then I stand there and watch his forehand miraculously fix itself. As it does so, that contact point moves out farther and farther in front to where it belongs.

Before I know it, John is having a ball with his suddenly fixed forehand. He forgets I'm there. I have to interrupt him to ask him if he can show me where his racket head usually is at contact.

"About here," he says and shows me, as if afraid that I might tell him he's wrong.

But he's never wrong.

"Yup," I say, "It looks to me like that's about where it usually is, too."

Long pause. John looks confused. I guess I'm supposed to tell him whether that's the "right" place for his racket head to be at contact.

But what if I did that? Then he'd be right back where he started – thinking about where his racket should be and mentally instructing himself to contact the ball in the "right" place - instead of simply paying attention to where that contact point is.

So, I don't take the bait, even if he comes right out and asks me if that's the right place for his racket head to be at contact.

Instead I just say, "Well, it looks like a pretty good forehand to me. Don't you think?"


And so back to the court he goes, scratching his head and wondering how I fixed his forehand. I didn't fix his forehand: I just focused his attention where it belongs for natural learning to occur.

And that forehand really is fixed. He has confidence in it now.

The contact point isn't the only point in the stroke that you can have the player focus on. But it usually works, because adjusting it tends to correct any flaws earlier in the stroke.

Sometimes you need to ask where the ball usually lands on troublesome shot. In the net? Long? If long, about how far long? Six inches? Six feet? John never knows! Really. He's too busy with an inner dialog berating himself to notice where most of these shots are landing.

So, your question reaps the same result. When he goes back to hit some more so that he can answer your question, you get to stand there and watch his shots magically correct themselves and start landing in.

This is a fast and effective way to coach strokes in season.

You don't get to show off how much you know by issuing a long list of instructions, but that isn't the objective here. The TEAM objective is to win tennis meets, and the coach must have team spirit, too.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

How to Hit an Overhead Smash in Tennis

You've probably often heard that, to hit an overhead smash, you should immediately point up at the ball and cock your racket back in a throwing position while you move backward under the lobbed ball.

But have you ever seen anyone do that? Have you ever seen the pros who tell you to do this do it themselves?

I know the answer to that question, so be honest now.

Here's Andy Roddick hitting powerful overhead smashes at Roger Federer during Wimbledon. Is he following conventional wisdom?

Now here's Pete Sampras hitting a couple of overheads. Is he doing it?

No and no. They both keep both arms down while maneuvering into position under the ball. They don't raise their arms untill it's time to swing.

Premature preparation doesn't make you swing sooner. You can be posed pointing up in the air with your racket cocked back from the evening of the day before and still probably swing late.

More important, it's clumsy to move (especially backward) with both arms up in the air. When you try to do so, you are way out of dynamic balance and fighting a whole array of backward-balancing reflexes.

Try this tip. I promise you'll like it ;-)

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Federation Cup

Despite Lindsay Davenport's surprising loss in the first rubber of the Federation Cup tie with Germany last weekend, the United States came back to defeat Germany 4-1.

It was Davenport's first loss in Federation Cup play since 1994. But she came back to win her rain-delayed Monday match, and Ashley Hackleroad surprised everyone by winning her first two Federation Cup matches in straight sets.

Here are the results:

Rubber 1
Sabine Lisicki (Germany) defeated Lindsay Davenport (United States) 6-1, 7-5

Rubber 2
Ashley Harkleroad (United States) defeated Tatjana Malek (Germany) 6-1, 6-3

Rubber 3
Lindsay Davenport (United States) defeated Julia Goerges (Germany) 6-1, 6-2

Rubber 4
Ashley Harkleroad (United States) defeated Sabine Lisicki (Germany) 6-4, 7-5

Rubber 5
Lisa Raymond / Lindsay Davenport (United States) defeated Anna-Lena Groenefeld / Tatjana Malek (Germany) 6-2, 6-0

Final Score: United States 4, Germany 1

In April the US Federation Cup team goes to Moscow to play Russia, a much tougher task. That Russian team could field great players like Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Nadia Petrova, and Anna Chakvetadze, to name a few. The tie will be played on a slow clay court, which European players are much more used to than Americans are.

Zina Garrison, the captain of the American team is asking Venus and Serena Williams to play this tie for the United States, in hopes of fielding the best possible team for the event.

Russia has captured the Federation Cup three of the last four years, but the United States is the overall winningest nation (winning the cup 17 times) and holds an overall record of 4-2 against Russia.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Tennis Tips & Instruction

Though you should learn strategy and tactics one thing at a time, don't learn your strokes one at a time. The longer you delay learning a stroke, the further ahead your other strokes get. If you wait till you're adept at the forehand before tackling the backhand, you'll be much better at forehands than backhands. Then hitting a backhand takes you out of your comfort zone. So you'll avoid it and never get as good at it.

That goes for all your strokes — the volley, the serve, the overhead. Learn them all as soon as possible, so that you are a beginner with them all, not an advanced player at the baseline and a relative beginner at the net.

Here's an overview of the free video tennis lessons you can use on the Main Website.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

TM: Q and A - Reality Check

Do you always believe yourself? That little voice in your head - do you always believe it? Is it always telling you the truth?

Is believing yourself believing in yourself?

All right, I'll cut it out now ;-)

This Q & A with Tomaz Mencinger may be one of the most important things you'll ever learn


By Tomaz Mencinger

I am a 15 year old girl, and always before a tournament I either practice my serve or play a set against someone at my club. Almost always I play at my top performance. But at the tournament, if I start off poorly, my mental game goes downhill from the start. I understand that I'm supposed to move on and go to the next point, but I try and more times than not I'm not able to move on, and I continue to hit the ball in the net or out. For example at today's match I kept trying to encourage myself and focus on the next point, but every time I missed another shot I would get more frustrated and rush points and loose games more quickly. Also if I am playing against someone that I know I'm better than and can beat I get even more frustrated with myself when I make stupid errors. I understand mentally what I'm supposed to do, but I have not been able to actually do it.

I understand what you are saying.

What happens is that when things go wrong at the start you BELIEVE them and then they define your future performance.

You look for proof of how good you are and then you play accordingly.

I suggest you go through your past experiences and think whether your performance in a match has ever gone up and down? Or did it ALWAYS stay the same through a whole match?

If your answer is that your performance has gone up and down during a match, then you KNOW that even when your performance at the start is low, it can go up.

In fact, if you don't become negative about it and just keep playing it will almost ALWAYS go up. That's because you'll get used to the conditions, you'll warm up your body and mind to the competitive level, you'll start reading your opponent better and so on.

Try to remember a match (or several matches) when this happened. This will give you proof to counter your own doubts the next time you start a match not playing well.

And about playing weaker opponents and frustration: one thing to keep in mind is that at your age you still cannot blast someone off the court, even if they play poorly.

You'll have to construct points, and it will take some time to win a point. And it will take some time to win a match. You have to stay in the NOW and play each point. DON'T go into the future where you have already won, since this will make you lose focus on the current situation and play poorly.

Copyright 2008, Tomaz Mencinger -- all rights reserved worldwide

Tomaz Mencinger is the author of The Mental Manual for Tennis Winners and The Tennis Strategy Encyclopedia and How to Play Tennis: A Step-by-Step Video Instruction Guide for Tennis Beginners.

Archive of Past Articles

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Federation Cup Round I

The first round of the Federation Cup (which you might think of as the women's version of the Davis Cup) is underway.

In World Group I ties, China defeated France, Spain defeated Italy, and Israel and Russia split matches. The United States is now playing Germany under the leadership of Lindsay Davenport.

All World Group II ties split matches: Ukraine v Belgium, Japan v Croatia, the Czech Republick v the Slovak Republic (that oughta be good) and Argentina v Austria.

Davenport is currently down to Sabine Lisicki in the first rubber, 1-6, 5-5. Lisiki has 10 double faults! How does a professional hit 10 double faults? And then maybe even win on top of it all?

Waiting...waiting...unforced error on the forehand by Davenport at 5-6 in the second. Make that two. But Lisicki comes back with another double-fault. Hey, a good shot! (What was that for?) But now an unforced backhand error give Lisicki match point. Over.

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