Many players reach a very high ranking with huge deficiencies in their games. It seems that it comes down to whether you opt for doing "A few things really well" or "Many things OK". But it doesn't have to be that way.
Women's tennis is full of players who have solid, dependable groundstrokes, no serve, no net game, but have still reached the top 100 on the WTA ranking list.
In the men's game its less obvious but there are still players with a limited range of strokes and who depend on a very conservative game plan to win matches.
This limited range of strokes and conservative approach to points often comes from a players time in the juniors, especially if the player was successful. often players, coaches and parents are not willing to expand the game and take on new initiatives. Pete Sampras is famous for deciding to change from a two-handed backhand to a one-handed backhand as a junior, only to lose early in tournaments for the next twelve months.
Therefore it has been possible to create a successful career based on the "limited" approach to player development in contrast to an "expansive" approach. What I believe however is that today its getting more and more difficult to reach the top with a smaller skill-set than in the past.
As tennis develops the day of the the multi-skilled, multi-faceted player has arrived. players must be able to not only attack the point at a high level but also defend the point at a high level through a range of strokes and shot selection options.
If we decide our goal is to develop a player with a broad range of skills so that their long term prospects are enhanced, how exactly do we go about doing this day to day?
The best description I have ever heard to explain this task is this...
"THE GOAL IS TO DEVELOP A PLAYER WHO IS OFFENSIVELY EXCELLENT ON CLAY, AND DEFENSIVELY EXCELLENT ON WOOD"
Think about that for a moment. Being offensively excellent on clay (perhaps the slowest surface we play on) means giving that player the instinct and weapons to excel on the slowest, and therefore the most difficult surface in which to do so. Creating a player who can excel defensively on wood (once quite a common surface for the early travelling professional players, and an extremely fast surface) means giving that player the tools to do so.
It now becomes the responsibility of the coach early in a players career to introduce elements of the Clay V's Wood philosophy in practice on a daily basis. This philosophy opens up a whole range of topics re the Serve, Return, the Groundstroke Rally, Net Play etc which I would be happy to help the reader with if you would like to contact me in the comments below.
The days of the conservative approach to player development are numbered. As more players reach the top based on expansive, well rounded games, coaches will be required to develop these players from the very start.