Sunday, May 27, 2012


With the 2012 French Open about to start here are my predictions for the men up until the third Round:
Djokovic v Melzer, Davydenko v Verdasco, Simon v Wawrinka, Fognini v Tsonga, Federer v Mahut, Stephanek v Lopez, Del Potro v Ferrero, Anderson v Berdych, Ferrer v Haase, Granollers v Isner, Haas v Gasquet, Falla v Murray, Tipsarevic v Benneteau, Kolhschreiber v Almegro, Monaco v Raonic, Karlovic v Nadal.


Traveling with players to different countries can be challenging and rewarding

As coaches we sometimes forget that the essence of our job is to help players win in competition.  We spend a lot of time on  the practice court but a large portion of our job should involve being with our players at tournaments and helping them translate work on the practice court into results at tournaments. It would be nice if that happened automatically but unfortunately it doesn’t always translate on the match court.

It’s difficult during practice however to simulate match-play conditions and to teach a player to create and implement a strategy during the heat of battle. 

I have always found that the tournament environment  actually enhances the learning  process because the player is much more receptive to advice.  The player is under pressure and will listen to key instructions on technique and strategy.  

Here is a check-list of suggestions for coaches traveling with players to tournaments.

1.  Management

·       Player management is vital to a successful trip.  Any player who causes problems during the tournament can affect the performances of the other members of the team.  If you’re with an individual he/she will still have to be monitored just as closely.

Treat each player fairly and don’t favour any player over another. The number of potential problems during a tournament are endless, but to avoid a possible disaster you must sit with the player and talk.

·       Always have travel and tournament documentation with you.  Sometimes a situation arises at the tournament where you need to consult the rules.  Every event has different rules and regulations and these can even change from year to year. Also have your accommodation and flight details ready when needed.

·       Collect information on the venue for the future. Take advantage of your trip to collect information for the future.  You may be return to the same venue in the future and knowing the best places to stay, practice, eat and have laundry done saves time and energy. 

·       Equipment to take with you.  This is mostly a personal choice but I always take a stretching mat, massage cylinder, yoga block and IPod.  This allows me to maintain a fitness/stretching routine everywhere I go.

Equipment like this doesn't take up much room and can become helpful while on the road

2. On-Site

·       Create a schedule and habits to keep your player(s) happy.  Try to eat, sleep and wake at the same time each day.  Players thrive when they are left to concentrate on playing.  By setting up a daily schedule the players settle into a routine and feel comfortable. At one time the players and I had a superstition that required us to eat at the same restaurant, sit in the same chair and eat the same item from the menu until we lost, when it became ok to make a change!

·       Tournament venues vary so much but one of the key times will be meal times.  Finding the right places to eat can sometimes be a challenge.  Make sure that when you find a suitable place to eat that the food is suitable for everyone and that it’s food that is suitable for players after a hard day of competition.

3. Coaching

·                Send your player into matches with a plan.  By constantly going into matches with a game plan a player becomes familiar with the many different strategies and styles of play, and also becomes comfortable with the act of implementing a game plan during competition.  Look at this task as a short term way to help your player in the up-coming match and a long-term investment in their future development.

I have often given players a small piece of paper with 1-3 keys points that will help them in their next match.  We will talk together the morning of the match on each point so that the player is clear what must be done.  During the match I encourage the player to pull the note out of their bag and review it when they start to get off-track.

·       Review all matches with your player after competition.  It would be pointless to send your player into matches with a strategy or something to work on technically if there was no review after the match. Prepare this talk carefully so that you stay on topic and don’t include topics in the discussion that were not part of the pre-match plan.

This is where the piece of paper from the pre-match talk becomes helpful, keeping the coach on topic and clarifying to the player the key points that may have been forgotten during the heat of battle.

·       Make notes on things that need work in practice back home. If you want to make practice sessions as relevant as possible there is no better way than to watch your player in competition.  You need to make key decisions on topics that need attention on the practice court.  These will be broad ideas regarding patterns, offensive and defensive abilities, technique and how well they performed mentally.

Make sure that your training systems implement this information directly into practice. Be relentless in the creation of “The Thread”, linking match-play information to topics to work on in practice.

Traveling with players or an individual can be challenging but by creating structure on and off-court you can avoid many of the problems that crop up, allowing the player(s) to focus on reaching their potential in their matches.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


With the French Open just around the corner this year the men’s singles looks tough to pick.  Here is a summary of 10 players likely to feature at the business end of the tournament.

Djokovic goes into the French Open 2012 as favourite
Novak Djokovic: prospects 8 ½ /10
Winning is a habit and Djokovic has had a really messy lead-up to Roland Garros this year. He still has the strongest game amongst the men and the grit to win multiple victories against the top prospect listed here.

Djokovic is the hot favourite this year and has a mental advantage over the other top players.  No one goes into a match with Djokovic confident of victory, however any loss effects a players confidence no matter what the reasons for the loss. 

Federer is in form but can he get past Nadal
Roger Federer: prospects 7 ½ /10
Federer has done really well to keep up the pressure on Djokovic and Nadal.  The fire still burns inside and he knows how to win at Roland Garros. 

He’s had a great tournament in Madrid that would have done his confidence a lot of good leading up to the French Open 2012.

Federer will probably only struggle against Nadal, Djokovic or Isner but they will be significant challenges. With all his experience and talent I’m not sure why he has not devised an effective strategy for Nadal or Djokovic by now but the fact is he’s tactically really poor and seldom turns a match around if he’s losing. 

You can expect Federer to be around and challenging for the title but I don’t think he can win the title unless someone else has eliminated at least one of the big three, Nadal, Djokovic or Isner first.

Nadal has the pedigree
Rafael Nadal: prospects 8 ½ /10
“Mr.  Clay Court”, with perhaps the best record ever on clay.  How can he be over-looked after his 6th singles title at Roland Garros last year.

While he dominates Federer on clay, he also has had problems against Djokovic so therefore the draw will be important. He may need someone to eliminate Djokovic and avoid a confrontation with his most difficult foe.

Nadal is also a master at presenting himself as the underdog.  He will talk up an opponent and often take “injury”              breaks from his tournament schedule. I think Nadal enjoys the underdog tag and likes Djokovic to go into Roland Garros as the favorite.  What Nadal does struggle with however is a clear strategy that can beat Djokovic. 

Nadal will be extremely difficult to beat on the clay courts of Roland Garros.

A lack of maturity will hurt Murray at the business end
Andy Murray: prospects 6/10
I have been saying for quite some time that Andy Murray does not have the maturity to win a Grand Slam.  If he could discipline his response to pressure he would be my first pick because he has the ability. 

What gets in his way is his arrogance, blaming his equipment and support team for imagined problems during the crucial periods during a match. The more at stake the more it happens.

Lendl was a good choice as coach for Murray because Lendl had the strength of character to demand more discipline from Murray.  Unfortunately the signs are that he has not been able to help Murray mature.

Expect a good performance from Murray at the 2012 French Open but a disappointing loss at the business end of the tournament.

The biggest threat this year...
John Isner: prospects 7 ½ /10
John Isner is on the verge of big things.  His exploits in Davis Cup competition on clay against France were monumental.  He’s playing very smart and if he can execute his game plan he’s extremely difficult to beat.

Isner is following a strategy based on…
·       Getting a high number of 1st serves in play, making it near impossible for opponents to break serve
·       Attacking the return on every opportunity in the knowledge that if he can convert on some return chances he will break serve
·       Shortening the groundstroke rally by attacking anything high or short. Opponents don’t get a chance to establish any patterns from the baseline and Isner is able to compete on his terms.

The Davis Cup tie on clay against France who were playing at home showed that Isner can do some serious damage at Roland Garros. 

One more thing I like about Isner’s chances, he’s in a very good place mentally.  Isner will not self implode at the up-coming French Open, he is a humble guy who can keep each round in perspective  and go all the way this year.

David Ferrer has done great throughout the first half of this year. I don’t see Ferrer winning a Grand Slam because it’s tough to sustain that level of physicality for two weeks. However none of the top players will want to meet Ferrer early in the tournament when he is at his toughest. An out of form Jo Wilford Tsonga may be energized playing in Paris in front of his countrymen. He has the respect of his peers but is under-performing lately and it’s tough to suddenly find inspiration. Final verdict, he may have one big win in him but not two weeks of great results.  Tomas Berdych has the game to win but seems to slip up mentally.  I’m sure the other players wait for the “brain freeze” moment when he will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory!  Juan Martin Del Potro and Milos Raonic are the sharks in the draw, able to beat anyone with their big games and confident demeanors.  They are the type of players who create chaos in the draw by eliminating the big names and thus open up the draw for others to shine.

Friday, May 11, 2012


I attended a high performance sport seminar once and one of the speakers asked all the participants how important the mind was in their sport.  He asked what percentage the mind played in their sport compared to technique, fitness, nutrition etc.

The representatives from all the various sports estimated the importance of the mind and the answers varied, but not by much.  Everyone estimated the percentage to be between 75-90%. They all thought the mind was the most important aspect.

The speakers’ next question was even more reveling.  He asked “what percentage of practice time do you devote to training the mental aspects in your sport”? The answers fell between 10-15%!

Why is it that as coaches we devote so little of our time to something that we know to be so important to the outcome in our various competitions?  I think the reason is that we understand very little about the way the mind works and therefore it’s difficult to train.  It’s the “hard” subject we try to avoid.

I have always prided myself in being able to improve the results of the players I work with.  To achieve better results I have needed to understand the elements that contribute to a stronger mentality in match-play. I have needed to understand the way the mind works, what the dangers are and how to address them.

Here are 3 ways to tackle the difficult subject of training the mind to perform in competition. These are outlines and will need to be developed and refined by the reader but they are strong building blocks that can be introduced into your practice culture and competition

1.     It’s Not About The (Bike) Strokes
Remember Lance Armstrong’s book “It’s Not about the Bike”?  Armstrong was a cyclist who performed at the highest level and who understood that what he achieved in races around the world had nothing to do with the bike, it was all about himself.  It was about his mind, the way he trained and the attitude he brought to his chosen sport of cycling.

Most tennis players starting in competition think tennis is all about the strokes.  While warming up before the match they are trying to obtain perfect technique in the belief that this is the prerequisite to winning.  However when the match starts it’s the mental aspects that eat away at their game first, ultimately causing the strokes to fail.

Stress is a part of practise... it helps us grow as players

Your Homework: Monitor your mind-set in the lead-up to competition.  Are you ready to believe in yourself, fight adversity and combat stress? This is where your focus and energy must be directed. The time to work on your strokes has past, it all becomes mental now.

2.     Avoid Stress at Your Peril!
They say there are two certainties in life, death and taxes. In competitive tennis there is another certainty, stress.  It does you no good to ignore or try to avoid it, learn to play with it and to manipulate it to help you.

Parents often try to eliminate stressful situations from their child’s competitive experience.  This doesn’t make sense at all.  Over time humans have evolved because we have adapted to threatening situations.  Although we are programmed to avoid stress, the best way to avoid stress is to adapt to it, become faster, stronger, smarter. It’s the same in tennis. If you are too slow getting to the ball you need to train specifically on your speed or your anticipation.

With this attitude your improvement is a continual process. Remember “what doesn’t kill you makes you better”

Your Homework: Stress is trying to teach you something, listen and learn.  Add stress into your practice sessions any chance you get.  Learn to use it as a teacher, motivator and a stimulant to better performance.  Face it front on and deal with it. Ignoring competitive stress will only make it worse.

3.     The Coach Takes Responsibility…
At this point you have (1) recognized that it’s really about the mind and not the stroke mechanics (2) realized that stress is a natural ingredient of competition and can be used as a tool to stimulate a higher level of play. 

It’s now important to for the Coach and the Player to divide responsibility for the result.

Leave a player to perform exactly what has been practised

Your Homework: The player’s responsibility is to perform exactly how they have been taught in practice… to the best of their ability.  Win or lose, the player must take whatever has been taught in practice and apply it in the match.

The Coach’s responsibility is to take responsibility for the result, win or lose.  If the player loses because of a technical, tactical or physical reason, the coach must takes steps to remedy the problem before the next match if possible.

This understanding between coach and player goes a long way towards easing the pressure on the player.  Also, if the player see’s progress from one tournament to the next, they are more likely to relax in the match and perform better.

Friday, May 4, 2012


The art of playing at the net has almost disappeared.  This is due to a variety of reasons.  Players are hitting much better ground-strokes today, with more power, spin and greater accuracy. This has put a lot more pressure on any player who comes into net. Courts today have also become more similar, the faster courts are being slowed down, while the traditional slower courts such as clay are playing faster because of the type of tennis balls being used.

This is illustrated best when we look at Wimbledon and the French Open. The grass surface at Wimbledon has been changed to make it slower and to encourage longer rallies. The authorities have done the opposite at the French Open.  To eliminate long boring rallies they have introduced tennis balls that reward players who like to attack the point.

Modern doubles exponents have also departed from traditional volley technique. When you get a chance to poach the ball at the net in doubles you have the luxury of taking a full swing because you are so close to the net.  It’s a very offensive position.

It’s different in singles however because you have to make your way forward to the net from deeper in the court and that presents several key differences that require a different approach to the way you volley in doubles. Often the first volley in singles is executed from deep in the court, mostly around the service-line.  Contact can also be quite low, below the level of the net-band.  When you volley from the service-line with the ball low, the tendency is to “chip” the ball and give the opponent a high bounce at the other side of the net, meaning your opponent can attempt a passing shot.

Coming to net in singles is much more difficult and requires much better technique.

Here are 3 important points I emphasize when I teach the volley…

Creating a Solid Surface
It’s crucial that the ball comes off a solid surface when you volley.  That rebound effect off a solid surface allows you to hit your volley with a minimum of swing and movement. Remember, we are creating volley technique that works at the highest level and under all situations.

To create a solid surface you need to lock your wrist by putting it in the position shown in this picture. This locks the wrist and the arm together as one.
Locking the wrist and creating a 90 degree angle with your arm and the shaft of the racquet

Now any ball striking the racquet-head will rebound strongly off the strings with minimal effort.

Under-spin for Control
We have now created strong rebound off the face of the racquet.  The next step is to create under-spin for control of the ball.  Spin is a tool to help control a balls’ flight.  When we volley we create control spin with the use of under-spin.

We can’t produce under-spin by using the wrist because the wrist has been “locked”, instead we can produce under-spin by presenting the racquet-face “open” to the ball. To achieve an open racquet-face on both forehand and backhand simply roll the wrist in preparation for contact. Rolling the wrist will not destroy the lock and will create the open racquet-face needed for under-spin.

Knuckles facing upwards for
the Backhand Volley

Palm facing up for the
Forehand Volley

Use the Elbow to Create Penetration at the Other End
When you volley there will be times when you simply allow the ball to rebound off the racquet-face, no need to add anything. But there will be times when you do need to add more to the volley and create penetration at the other side. 

To achieve this we work the racquet-head through the ball by extending the elbow.  This short extension of the elbow, once it is timed correctly, gives the volley tremendous speed without destroying the locked wrist.

These 3 tips will produce volleys that will work for you at all speeds and under all situations.

Watch "Volley Like The Pros" on youtube @