Monday, April 23, 2012

TEACHING THE EVOLUTION OF TOPSPIN


Many years ago I was watching a match in Japan between Andres Gomez and Aaron Krickstein. I was sitting close to the court and realized that I was watching something very different from anything I had ever seen before.  I was watching a table tennis rally!  Both Gomez and Krickstein were trying to produce a rally that was dominated by the flight of the ball rather than where the ball was bouncing. They were controlling the ball inside a tight “funnel” of arc through the use of topspin.

Today that might seem normal but back then it was the beginning of a new era in tennis.

Long before this, Bjorn Borg had changed our perception of topspin in tennis.  Borg hit the ball with much more arc than any other player at that time and years later while watching  that match in Japan I was witnessing the beginning of a post Borg era. The younger players coming through such as Krickstein and Jimmy Arias were hitting tremendous topspin on the ball and in the process were increasing the speed of the rally.

These evolutionary steps from Borg to Krickstein are important and they are exactly the steps I use today to teach players the value of topspin and how they can use topspin to increase the speed of their groundstrokes, and yet still retain control of the arc. 

These steps are:

1.     Learning the importance of Arc
Borg introduced us to the importance of the arc.  He was able to stand deep in the court and rally all day without error because the ball was crossing the net higher than anyone else and dipping well inside the lines.

The Drill:
Have your players rally across 3 courts at diagonally opposite sides.  Rally from court 1 all the way over to court 3, using court 2 as the “net”. Encourage the players to hit heavy topspin looping shots.  Before long the big muscles will begin to hit the ball and the player will begin to lift off the ground to hit the high bouncing ball. 

If there is an umpire-stand in the middle of this drill even better!

I have also used flat tennis balls that don’t bounce much and sometimes have used balls out of a bucket of water. This takes the life out of the ball and creates a very physical workout for the players involved.

2.     Creating a physical presence with big Forehands
The next generation after Borg realized that if they were able to comfortably control the arc of the ball through heavy topspin, they could also increase the speed of the ball without the fear of it flying out.  This generation began to develop huge forehands and physically muscle the ball, and their opponents, around the court.  Andre Agassi and Jim Courier were another two successful players to come out of this era.

The Drill
After the 3 court topspin drill I have just described, bring your players back to one court.  Place a “short” target in the middle of the service boxes and stand the players back to the fence.  Now have them rally from deep at the back fence, attempting to hit the cone target placed at the service boxes.

Make sure the players maintain the arc from the previous drill and again allow the whole body to lift off during contact.

3.     Taking the ball early to increase the pressure
The next stage of this topspin evolution came when players began to move closer to the baseline.  Agassi was famous for his ability to stand on the baseline and take time away from his opponents.  Another player who changed his position on the baseline was Thomas Muster.  Muster was known as a player who could chase balls all day but wasn’t able to attack the point because he stood too far back from the baseline.  When Muster began to stand closer to the baseline during the rally exchange his opponents immediately felt more pressure and Musters ranking soared. Players like Muster, Agassi and Courier all had Borg’s arc, forehands from the Krickstein and Arias era, but began to stand closer to the baseline. Muster, Agassi and Courier all became #1 ranked in the world.

The Drill
Instruct the players to stand with their heels inside the baseline to rally.  Encourage them to increase the speed of the ball while still maintaining the topspin arc. Have them resist the temptation to step back on deep balls.


These were the 3 evolutionary steps that changed our game and how it was played.  By copying these 3 steps in drills you will give players a better understanding of topspin.

Friday, April 6, 2012

DNO THEORY: THE SHOT SELECTION TEMPLATE

 
Knowing when to attack or defend is crucial

Playing tennis is a little like a car. The engine will drive you forward but without a means to change gears or steer the car, there’s no real way to use the car in a purposeful manner. 

Many players, particularly in the women’s game rely solely on how hard they can hit the ball.  The faster the better.  It’s all about the engine!

When I watch a tournament, the players that catch my eye are those who can change from offense to defense and understand which shot is the most appropriate for the situation.  This ability to change gears and understand the shot required is a difficult lesson to teach as it has nothing to do with stroke mechanics but instead requires a player to learn instinctiveness under a variety of situations.

The best theory I know to teach this instinctiveness and one I have used for many years is The DNO Theory. The DNO Theory helps a player understand the correct shot to hit under varying situations within a match. It’s a match play theory made famous by Master professional Peter Burwash.

There are 3 potential situations during a point. (a) A Defensive situation (b) a Neutral situation, and (c) an Offensive situation. Once a player understands which of the 3 situations they are in, they can respond correctly.  The criteria to help a player understand which situation they are in depends on two important rules:

  1. The height of the ball when you make contact with the ball
    1. If the ball is contacted above the white band of the net you are in an offensive mode
    2. 
      Any ball contacted above the white-band of the net puts a player in an offensive mode
      
    3. If the ball is contacted below the white band of the net you are in a defensive mode

  1. The position of your feet when you make contact with the ball
    1. If your feet are inside the baseline, you are in an offensive mode
    2. Creating "Inside feet" and balls above the white band is the ultimate goal
    3. If your feet are outside the baseline, you are in a defensive mode

These 2 rules account for the defensive and offensive situations. The third situation is Neutral and this is when a combination of offense and defense occurs.

Imagine a player goes forward to the net.  If the next shot they play is above the white band, that’s offensive feet position and offensive ball height.  However if the opponent hits the ball to the feet of the net rusher (below the white band of the net) the situation is (1) offensive feet position, and (2) defensive ball position.  When a combination of offense & defense occurs there is a Neutral situation.

When teaching or learning the DNO Theory the first step is to develop the ability to know which situation you are in, and to always hit the appropriate shot. 

I insist on 3 key important DNO fundamentals from my players:
  1. The purpose of the serve is to create feet inside the baseline for the 2nd shot
  2. Never make mistakes in Neutral
  3. Attempt to neutralize defense. Never try to hit a winner from defense.
Use the DNO Theory to master your options on-court and also to recognize weaknesses within your opponent’s options