Sunday, March 25, 2012


Deep balls that land on or near the baseline demand special skills

For some, perhaps one of the most difficult groundstrokes is the deep ball that lands on or near the baseline.

Martina Hingis was very good at taking the ball off the bounce, often choosing to stand her ground on deep balls and return the ball with excellent timing.  I asked her once how she learnt to hit this type of ball so well.  She told me that as a youngster her mother would sprinkle objects just behind the baseline, making it almost impossible to step back for deep balls.  This had developed her ability to coordinate this very difficult ball. 

If you are having trouble with balls that land deep and that give you little time to move back, try a similar drill to the one that helped Martina Hingis.

I’m sure you spend a lot of time hitting from the baseline during practice.  Next time you practice, spend some of your baseline practice by keeping your feet inside the baseline.  If the ball lands deep, resist the temptation to move back, instead keep your heels inside the baseline and take the ball where you stand.

You will find that you begin to automatically shorten your backswing on both the forehand and backhand sides, and your knowledge of the racquet-face angles needed for each shot becomes instinctive in no time.

This simple drill will give you many more opportunities to practice the half volley on the baseline and will increase your confidence when you have to play this shot in a match.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Why is Nadal so successful and how can he be beaten?

Until last year Nadal was the king of clay, winning the 2010 Monte Carlo Open with the loss of only 13 games during the entire tournament.  Clearly Nadal is doing something very right when he plays on clay.

Let’s look and see what Nadal is doing so well on clay and how he can be beaten.  firstly, we must consider the way players have been trying to beat Nadal over the last few years

The most comon tactic is for players to try and pressure Nadal.  During the 2008 French Open final Roger Federer tried to shorten the points and attack Nadal by changing out of the crosscourt exchange and hitting down the line as quickly as possible.  He also came to net to volley whenever the opportunity presented itself.  The theory was that Nadal is too strong from the baseline and trying to out rally him is pointless.  Unfortunately for Federer the result was one of the most one sided finals in years, and he eventually lost 1-6 3-6 0-6. 

Federer has the versatility but lacks the correct strategy

I have witnessed this many times whereby an opponent tries to attack Nadal and shorten the points, only to lose badly.

Although Nadal doesn’t lose often, when he does lose we need to learn what was different about those matches and what the opponent did to achieve success.  During the 2008 ATP Masters Series in Rome Juan Carlos Ferrero beat Nadal in straight sets.  By analyzing the difference between the way Federer played Nadal at the French Open in 2008 and the tactics adopted by Ferrero in Rome that same year we can begin to formulate a strategy to use against Nadal.

Federer adopted the following strategy…

·        Shorten the points.  Don’t get involved in long   baseline rallies – Nadal can stay out there all day!

·        Get out of the Cross court exchange and change down the line as quickly as possible – you can’t win a crosscourt battle with Nadal!

·        Nadal’s record on clay against the best in the world clearly shows that few can dominate him mentally or in an arm wrestle – again, shorten the points.

Juan Carlos Ferrero adopted the following strategy…

·        Don’t rush the point, be more patient. Nadal is essentially a counter puncher.  Trying to shorten the point feeds into his strengths.  Players who rush Nadal can only watch as he hits passing shots from impossible angles… over and over again.  Nadal feeds off opponents who want to increase the tempo of the points. Ferrero sent signals throughout the match in 2008 that he was prepared to stay on court all day and NOT attack the point early.  Send a message to Nadal that you will stay on court for as long as it takes and not take chances

·        Don’t be the first to change direction down the line.  Nadal waits for his opponents to change from the cross court exchange and hit down the line.  When an opponent hits down the line to him from the corners it leaves the other side of the court vacant.  Nadal now has the opportunity to start pulling you wide on that vacant side.  This is the beginning of the end. 

The correct tactic against Nadal is to keep hitting cross court and force Nadal to be the one to change direct first. This was a major part of Ferrero’s strategy in Rome and is the key to Djokovic’s ability to dominate Nadal today.

·        Another key is to dominate Nadal mentally.  When you continue to rally crosscourt with Nadal you effectively screw with his hard drive.  Without his opponent making frequent down the line changes you remove the first step to his overall strategy.  He no longer has his familiar platform to work from.  This is the way to dominate Nadal mentally and affect his decision making.

It was Djokovic’s crosscourt dominance last year that caused a major crisis of confidence in the Nadal camp. Unfortunately at present, only Djokovic can dominate Nadal in a crosscourt battle. 

Djokovic dominates the crosscourt exchanges, eliminating Nadals couter-punching

Federer is very poor tactically and seldom goes into a match with anything other than the hope that his talent will be enough.  At certain times he has unknowingly managed to get the patterns correct, but it’s obvious that Paul Annacone, Federers coach, doesn’t study the match tapes!

Andy Murray can dominate in a crosscourt battle but lacks the mental maturity to win against the top three on a consistent basis.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Back in the 80’s, players like Ivan Lendl and Martina Navratilova embarked on nutritional regimes that were considered extreme but would later become the norm. A little later, players began adopting more scientific fitness programs that would take us to where we are today, with players now able to sustain a high work rate in matches for long periods of time.

In my opinion “the next frontier” for coaches and players to conquer in tennis is strategy.  I’m not talking about the current levels of strategy seen at the top of our game.  I’m talking about a systematic approach to strategy that includes an analysis of an opponents’ strengths and weaknesses and designing a systematic strategy to exploit this knowledge in the match.

The Analysis:
Over the years I have used a system of spotting strengths and weaknesses that has worked well for me.  I look at an opponent in terms of 8 opposites…

1.     Fast v Slow (Speed of the ball)
2.     High v Low (Height of ball)
3.     Tight v Wide (Ball into the body or ball wide)
4.     Up v Back (Playing up at net or on the baseline)

No player prefers both the options, but one of the options will definitely be the weakness to target.  Here are some examples I have experienced.

·        Fast v Slow:  Serving hard and fast to an opponent, only to have the ball come back consistently and at the same speed.  Changing to a slower serve speed and forcing the opponent to generate his own pace, resulting in timing errors or short balls off the return which can be attacked.

·        High v Low:  An opponent who soaks up your fast ball during the baseline exchanges and sends it back at the same speed, but struggles to get any pace on the ball when they have to contact the ball around the shoulders. 

·        Tight v Wide:  A player approaches net wide but is passed numerous times and loses the match.  The following week against the same player he approaches through the middle and wins easily, without being passed in the entire match.

·        Up v Back:  Losing the majority of the baseline exchanges, but making a change by working into net and finishing points with a volley or overhead.

Creating a Strategy:
From the previous examples you can see that once the correct analysis has been made it’s a matter of creating a game plan based on exploiting your opponents’ weaknesses or neutralizing their strengths.  By the use of spins, speeds and target areas you can execute a match strategy specifically for your opponent.

Don’t fall into the trap of trying to win matches based solely on talent alone.  There is always someone out there who can beat you on any given day.  By designing game plans for each opponent you can win matches even when you are not playing at your best.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


The most important line in tennis is the imaginary line from your head to your contact foot.  This line creates the smooth effortless power, timing and consistency that the pros possess and we all envy.

Let’s look at the Head & the Contact Foot separately…

Your Head is a centre point for balance.  If the head is inside your two feet, you are balanced. If your head is outside either the left or right foot you are off balance.  Therefore controlling the head position is important, especially in a dynamic sport like tennis where we are faced with a series of complex movements in quick succession. 
At the moment of contact the head is positioned between two feet
Disciplining the head leads to consistency of timing

 The Contact Foot is the foot you use to interact with the ground and create inertia.  Nature doesn’t care which foot you use, it can be the “back” foot or the “front” foot, nature just wants that link to be established so that the bio-mechanics can take place through the body and into the racquet.
The back foot being used effectively on this deep ball


Head = Balance
Contact Foot = Timing and Power

If the Head is trained to be positioned directly above the Contact Foot at the moment of contact, you will experience perfect timing and easy power. 
The Serve also benefits from better bio-mechanics

Most players today are far too dependent on creating power from the arms and this leads to control issues.  While the arms are important, don’t ask them to time the ball, nor to provide the power for the shot.  Those jobs should be performed by the “Line”, which is the relationship between the Head and the Contact Foot.

For more on the "Line" go to the following link on youtube

Sunday, March 11, 2012


In talking about a scientist who was born in 1643 I run the risk of losing my audience very early in this article. However Sir Isaac Newton’s theories are important and help clarify for us the essential laws governing tennis.  The most important of Newton’s theories related to tennis is his 3 Laws of Motion.

Here are Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion, explained in a way that both coaches and players can immediately incorporate into practice sessions…

1. The Law of Inertia
An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

This highlights the fact that in tennis, the ball (object) doesn’t have to be stroked in order to achieve your goals.  Strokes such as the return of serve and the volley can be directed to the target with minimal swing and by merely using the already existing inherent energy present in the ball. The ability to use the energy supplied by your opponent is crucial to a player relating to the ball and adapting to speeds and depth issues.
On the return of serve we use the existing energy present in the ball

2. Acceleration is Produced when a Force Acts on a Mass
Acceleration is produced when a force acts on a mass. The greater the mass (of the object being accelerated) the greater the amount of force needed (to accelerate the object)

If the goal is to create more speed to the ball, the racquet must gather more speed.  In tennis terms we can create more racquet speed by creating a bigger backswing and allow momentum from the backswing to increase velocity before contact. This can occur when a player has time to take a full backswing but if time is limited, Newton’s first law comes into effect.
The size of the backswing has a direct relationship with the amount of velocity we can generate

3. For Every Action there is an Equal and Opposite Reaction
For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action

This is perhaps the most important and most misunderstood law when applied to tennis.  Simply put, every stroke you play in tennis must be generated by an equal reaction somewhere else.  That “other reaction” is created in the ground through a players’ interaction between their feet and the court.  Once started, this reaction transfers through the body through a kinetic chain, until it transfers into the racquet swing and finally the ball.  Get that ground reaction correct and the timing and power all players seek will be achieved.
Everything starts with the interaction between ground and our feet

Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion supply you with numerous practice topics and takes you back to the essential elements that contribute to optimum ball control, timing, generating power.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Many coaches are involved in the daily task of developing junior tennis players with the goal of them reaching the top of our game.  A very important question for those involved in junior development is “When we develop junior players for the future, what in essence are we trying to develop”? What is the goal? A simple question with profound implications to the way we approach each on-court session.

For years my goal or mission statement when training junior players was to create a player with “Perfect Defense on Wood, and Perfect Offense on Clay”.  Think about that, defense on the fastest surface and offense on the slowest surface.

Probably the fastest surface you can play on is a wooden floor indoors. Think of the problems you are faced with on fast wood. 

· Returning serve: requires exceptionally fast reflexes and compact strokes

· Teaches a player the skills of staying relaxed enough in the hands to adapt quickly, but firm enough on contact to stabilize the racquet

·  Fast & low bouncing ball: requires fast footwork and a good feel for your contact point

·  Shorter points: Must strike early in the rally.  Requires a different and more urgent mindset

· Playing a net-rusher: Requires a good understanding of the position of your feet.  Standing deep off the baseline gives the net-rusher too much time to read the passing shot.  Requires you to stand up close to the baseline and take the ball earlier, giving the net-rusher less time and to force them to volley from a deeper court position

·   Develop the defensive aspects of your game

All these elements need to be part of a players training as they develop. But this is only half of the equation…

The slowest surface we play on is red clay.  All the problems faced in the example above are neutralized by the slower and higher bouncing red clay. The biggest issue now is how to create some meaningful offense!

·  Hitting winners: the point needs to be set-up with the goal of pulling your opponent out of position.  With the court opened you can expect to hit more winners

·  Points are longer: Must be patient.  Requires a different mentality and an understanding of structuring the point

·   Predominantly a baseline battle

These are just a few of the aspects that distinguish wood from clay.  By developing junior players in a way that allows them to adapt their games to the different surfaces, we ultimately produce a well rounded player who can deal with all situations.