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Winning Tennis: What to learn from the Spanish players

An Excerpt fromTranscript of Patrick McEnroe and Jose Higueras Player Development Conference, 2010

Q.  But given that, is there something to be learned or that has been learned from the way the Spaniards do it? And specifically if so, what is it?

JOSÉ HIGUERAS:  Well, we look at the Spanish players, there are a couple of things that they do great which are very important when you play tennis.  One, they move great.  They’re moving every direction, laterally, diagonally, forward, back.

Another very important thing, they play great percentages.  The unforced errors normally are going to be less generally than the rest of the players.

The third one is that their shot tolerance is pretty high with a good quality shot.  Those are the three things that I believe makes them so successful.

Q.  Is this something that their system has kind of drummed into them?

JOSÉ HIGUERAS:  Well, they pay attention to that.  I mean, tennis the winners are very important, they look better, but the unforced errors count the same.

So the point, you hit one point out, if you hit a winner, the other guy misses it, or girl.  So they teach once again to be consistent without pushing.  I wouldn’t say that that Nadal is a pusher.  I mean, he has an extremely heavy ball.  They’re great movers, great percentage players, and very aggressive with very good shot tolerance.

That’s something that they practice obviously every day.

Q.  You had great success coaching Jim Courier, I believe, right, to win his French Open title?  So what specifically are you doing on court, both strategically and tactically, to combat this Spanish Armada?

PATRICK McENROE:  If you go out and watch the juniors and watch ‑‑ the Spanish, they don’t have that many juniors really, but they don’t play as many events, junior events.  But you see a difference when you see our kids play about the things that I just mentioned, about the shot tolerance, their percentage plays, and their movement.

So the other thing is that to really have an impact on that, you have to start with younger kids.  It’s very difficult to get somebody that is 15, 16, 17 years old to change those habits.  It becomes tougher and tougher.

So that’s how our philosophy said, you know, with parameters, with parameters on technique, parameters on movement, and parameters on the shot tolerance.  The younger you get the kids, then the easier it is for them to grow up and understand the concept.

Q.  Could you define shot tolerance for me?

JOSÉ HIGUERAS:  It means when you can play more than one shot or two, as many as you need to stay in the point, and not lose advantage on the point.

Basically one second you can hit the ball, you can hit the ball that lands close to the baseline a couple inches from the net; you can you hit it when it goes three feet over the net.  Effectiveness is the same, but you can probably hit a lot more when you go three feet above the net.  That is shot tolerance.

Q.  Not putting yourself on the defensive?

JOSÉ HIGUERAS:  No, that’s a huge misconception, and that’s something that when you’re working with kids that haven’t grown up with that concept.  If you say, You gotta be a little more aggressive, and then everything is a thousand miles an hour.

Then you say, You gotta play a little more consistent, then everything is a push.  So the reason a middle ground, which is normally the shots that are used more in tennis.  So it’s not about playing defensive, it’s about playing good percentages.

Q.  Why do Spanish players know that?

JOSÉ HIGUERAS:  Because they’re taught it.

PATRICK McENROE:  They’re taught it.

JOSÉ HIGUERAS:  They’re taught it at the beginning.  I mean, for them, accountability about missing is very, very important.  And it also comes with the surface that you grow up with.  If you grow up on hard courts, on a fast surface, missing becomes a lot more normal because the courts are faster and you don’t have much chance to get set up.  Which on clay, the misses is normally not as acceptable.

Q.  You look at our greatest champions in our history, and many of them were all‑court players.  When kids are young, trying to teach them an all‑court game, like Sampras, who took a lot of lumps in the juniors, how challenging is that trying to encourage the kids, that, Hey, look at the big picture; you might have to take some losses to develop down the road kind of thing?

JOSÉ HIGUERAS:  Well, my belief is that you reward the kids when they’re young about making the right decisions, and the right decisions are about doing the right things that give you the tools to be able to keep getting better as you go older.

That’s obviously the job of the coach or the teacher to convey that message to the player.  If the message is, You win, you’re great; you lose you suck, more than likely the kid is going to do whatever it takes to win.

So it’s extremely important, and that’s one of core things about what we’re doing, is to give the kids the tools to give them a chance to keep getting better as they get older.

Published Sep 09, 2010 - comment - Comments? None yet

Tennis Match performance diagram

When you play a tennis match, one outcome is win or lose, which is reflected in the match scores, such as 6:4, 6:3. However, from match scores you have no ideas how competitive the match is. You can only tell that the match maybe was an easy win for you if the scores were 6:2, 6:1 not 6:4, 6:3. Your match performance is registered in a series of point-by-point scores from which you can tell ups and downs of match and how competitive the match is.

With these in mind, I have created a web-based tool called “Tennis Match Performance Diagram”. This Match Performance Diagram is a plot of performance index generated from weighted scores against point scores of match. It gives an overall picture of your tennis match performance.

This online utility allows you to record and store your match scores, analyze your match with performance diagram, score chart and stats, and improve your tennis game play.

Try it out today, to see how it can help you to analyze and improve your tennis game play.


Published Mar 18, 2010 - comment - Comments? None yet

Essential Tips For Better Volley

You have less time to hit volley at net than to hit groundstroke at baseline. To hit consistent volleys, you need to turn your upper body sideways. Do you always feel that you are short on time to prepare your racquet to line up with incoming balls? One reason is because you are not turning your upper body quickly enough. The key to turn your upper body sideways quickly is to initiate the turn by hip turn (unit turn) other than by leg stepping sideways. Start your hip turn without moving your leg and line up your racquet with coming balls, then if you have time step your leg and move your weight forward (this is so called “Stomp the bug”, see the video clip below). It’s demonstrated here by former world #1, Stan Smith .

Published Mar 16, 2010 - comment - Comments? None yet

Serve, Technically Speaking

Paul Roetert of the Managing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Player Development Program describes serve’s ground up technique checklist in the video clip below.

a) stance: pinpoint or platform
b) grip: continental
c ) knee flexion and extension
d) hip rotation, trunk rotation, separation of hip rotation and trunk rotation
e) internal rotation of shoulder: three different planes of motion: twisting, cart wheeling (shoulder over shoulder), somersaulting
f) forearm pronation
g) follow through

contributions to racket speed at impact
• Leg drive 10%
• Trunk flexion 20%
• Internal rotation 30-40%
• Hand flexion 30%

Source: Couillard’s Tennis Pod Pro Videos

Published Feb 07, 2010 - comment - Comments? None yet

Important Roles of Non-Dominant Hand in One-Handed Backhand Groundstrokes

As demonstrated in this video shown below, Justine Henin reveals the secrets of use of non-dominant hand in one-handed backhand groundstrokes in her own words “if you do not use it, it’s really tough; if you use it, you feel perfect”. Understanding this perfect feeling will help you master one-handed backhand groundstroke technique. The important roles of non-dominant hand in one-handed backhand groundstrokes are:

1) Keep body in good balance.
2) Facilitate to use shoulder muscles other than forearm (it’s natural for our symmetric two hands/arms to do the same motion).
3) Prevent torso from overturning to lose control and consistency.
4) Act as a brake to stop body further turning so that arm and racquet continue to accelerate to reach max speed (whipping motion).

    One common mistake for one-handed backhand groundstrokes is to swing with forearm only, which is a major cause of tennis elbow. Use of non-dominant hand as shown in this video will easily correct this mistake.

    Published Jan 20, 2010 - comment - Comments? None yet

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    The Essential Elements For Effortless Serves

    Pat Dougherty, the “Serve Doctor” of the world renowned Bollettieri Tennis Academy demonstrates in these excellent video clips the essential elements to achieve your effortless serves.
    1) Learn how to discipline and control your body to components of whip in “Cylinder” Drill or “Balance” Serve. “Two entirely separated intensity levels”: very firm and sturdy controlled posture of your body and stripe quality of your arm to racquet.
    2) Upward pitch motion in “Up the Mountain”,
    3) Build toss and hit rhythm.

    Published Dec 26, 2009 - comment - Comments? None yet

    Fundamentals of Tennis Serves

    A solid body foundation is a key to perform good tennis groundstrokes, serves and volleys. This foundation is often called set-up for groundstrokes, and balance for serves. Our body anatomy determines optimal swings of groundstrokes and serves which include swing path and swing speed etc for each of us. When you fast swing your racquet either for groundstrokes or for serves without the ball, you can produce swish sound. This “swish point” is corresponding to your largest racquet acceleration. If you locate your swish point and feed a ball to that point, you will get the best swing!

    So a paramount task to have your best swings is that do not distort your swing path and distrupt your swing rhythm.

    When you serve, do you swing at the toss or toss at the swing? Understanding it will improve your serve tremendously.

    The answer is toss into the swing. This tennisone.com newsletter by Jim McLennan explains the reasons, “If you know where your service contact is, and how the rhythm of a swing feels without a toss, then go and duplicate that swing with a ball, but without looking.” If in fact you have “tossed the ball in the way of the swing” you will be surprised at the result. If, on the other hand, your toss is way above the contact zone, or way off to the left or right, it is impossible to serve without looking, and in this instance one is certainly “swinging at the toss.”

    Practice your serves with this excellent simple drill as described in the newsletter: locate your serve swish spot, start the service motion without the toss, keep your eyes up looking at the spot, swish your racquet though the spot; then repeat the serve with a ball toss into the swing.

    There are various ways to prevent from distorting your swing path and distrupting your swing rhythm, which include feet unweighting, weight shift, toss release height, tossing arm speed at release, head and hand posture etc. For example, one common mistake is that tossing arm drops too early, which leads collapse or distortion of you swing path.

    So have a good balance, find your optimal swing path and contact point, toss into the swing, then work reversely to get your full service motion.

    Published Jul 28, 2009 - comment - 6 Comments and counting

    Hitting Forehand High Bouncing Balls

    We all know that we want to move to proper court positions so that we can always hit the ball at waist level, the optimum hitting zone. However, it’s not realistic in game situation. Tactically, sometimes you want to hit high balls because either you don’t want to be pushed back or you want to rob opponents of reaction time. So how we handle high balls with forehand? This first video clip, Handling High Balls on your Tennis Forehand, demonstrates that you need to raise your normal forehand swing path. In order to do this, one key point is to keep your racket high but still lower than the contact point when you bring your racket back, another point is that you want to raise your upper body higher without bending your knees too low. The second video clip, Tennis Tip – Handle the High Bouncing Ball, USPTA Master Professional Coach Pat demonstrates that a natural way to hit high ball will be to hit balls a) further away from you b) further back from your hitting zone.

    Published May 05, 2009 - comment - 11 Comments and counting

    High-Percentage Tennis Tactics Guidelines: Directionals

    In this High-Percentage Tennis video, high-percentage groundstrokes are identified based on ball crossing or not crossing your body and relationship of ball and player.
    if an incoming ball is outside shot as defined by shots that cross body, the high percentage groundstroke is no change of direction (C.O.D) of ball.
    if an incoming ball is inside shot as defined by shots that do not cross body, the high percentage groundstroke is change of direction of ball.
    high percentage groundstroke change direction guideline:
    outside = no C.O.D
    inside = C.O.D
    For a down-the-line groundstroke, the high percentage shot is to hit the ball perpendicular (90 degree) to baseline. The shot aiming to the sideline is low percentage shot.
    For players with inside-out forehand as a weapon, the high percentage shot is no C.O.D on deep inside-out forehand, and C.O.D on short inside-out forehand.

    Published Apr 20, 2009 - comment - Comments? None yet

    Point Situations

    Here is an outline of the unfolding of a typical point as described on acecoach.com for situation training of Game-based Approach (GBA).
    Initiation: starting a point with serve or return of serve,
    Build: trading shots from the baseline,
    Advantage: taking charge of the point and pressuring the opponent,
    Finish: closing out the point,
    Stay-in: surviving the attack of an opponent or turning the point around when the opponent is challenging.
    How well you play in each situation will contribute to your final winning percentage.

    Published Apr 20, 2009 - comment - Comments? None yet

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