Showing posts with label The Tennis Whisperer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Tennis Whisperer. Show all posts

Sunday, March 17, 2019


The Korean guy in the front row was losing control. 

It was 1991 and Beijing was the venue for the Asian Games.  We were playing for at least a Mixed Doubles bronze medal and Thailand hadn’t won an Asian Games medal in tennis for almost 40 years! Personally, this was the biggest match of my tenure as Thai National Tennis Coach.  

The Thai team of Wittaya Samret and Orawan Thampensri were in a match with a typically tough Korean team.  You can always count on Koreans to make it a battle.  They are always in great shape physically, mentally very strong and always 100% committed.  

I had encountered the Korean attitude in many events prior to this.  Players from Korea could sometimes over-step the boundary of what was considered good sportsmanship sometimes.  This didn’t make them any friends on the tennis circuit and I had even witnessed Korean coaches physically abusing players several times.

I’m not sure whether or not the guy in the front row was a coach attached to the team or not, but he was calling instructions between each point.  The rules of tennis clearly state that you can not communicate with the players in any way during the match, either verbally or with signals. 

Several times he had been warned about communicating with the players’ during the match but he continued to do so.  

I caught his attention and asked him to stop talking to the players.  He replied that he was not “coaching” the players which, even if true, didn’t alter the fact that he was communicating non-stop with them.

News of the match had also now spread to other sporting venues in Beijing and the Thai media covering the Asian Games started arriving at the tennis venue in anticipation of a rare tennis medal for Thailand. Every Thai television channel was represented and all the Thai newspapers were there. 

I already knew all the Thai media people from other events we had played and they had always supported me personally and written favorable articles about my work with the Thai team.  For them and me, an Asian Games medal was the icing on the cake.  

But there was still the matter of this crazy Korean guy in the front row!  As the Thai duo began to dominate, he got more and more irate.  Once again I asked him to stop communicating with his players.  This time however he began climbing the seats in front of me with the clear intention of punching my head off my shoulders!  As he climbed over the first row and made his way up to my seat he continued shouting abuse at me, the blood vessels in his neck bulging and his face turning purple. 

The media guys around me began sensing a much bigger story than the Thai Mixed Doubles team picking up a bronze medal!  Camera lenses were poised for the biggest scope of their fortnight in Beijing. I could visualize the headlines in Thailand the next day announcing “Thai Tennis Coach Involved in Brawl at Asian Games”.  

Thankfully other more sensible Koreans in the group had a firm grip of his jacket and pulled him back to his seat.  Several from the Thai Media were claiming “He was going to pick a fight with you”! Still concerned about newspaper headlines the next morning I deflected their concerns by down-playing the whole incident.  

Thankfully Wittaya and Orawan did win Thailand’s first Asian Games tennis medal for 40 years. 

For years after Beijing I never traveled to Korea.  I guess my early experiences put me off going there, believing that the place would not be that friendly and the people difficult.  When I did actually go there several years ago with players I was shocked to find one of the prettiest countries, and the friendliest people you would wish to meet.  What a contrast!  

During the month of May Korea is stunning

Today it would be my first pick of countries to live.  However if I ever did live there I might have to keep looking over my shoulder for that crazy guy from Beijing!

Saturday, November 18, 2017


A player involved in a match and trying to play smart tennis is constantly assessing a variety of factors when trying to maintain their good momentum or make significant changes in the match because they are behind on the scoreboard.

If a player feels they are losing the battle either technically, tactically, physically or mentally, there needs to be a process each player can go through to make those necessary changes. As a Davis Cup and Federation Cup captain I often had to go through this mental process myself in order to turn a match around by adjusting the way my player was competing.

Those adjustments came about after a process that involved accurately reading the situation and deciding what needed to change (or in some cases to not change at all) and putting those changes to the test during the match.

Here is that process in detail:

1.     EXPLORE (Analyse)
This is the stage where, if there is a change of strategy needed, the player explores the possibilities. At the same time as they compete in the match every player needs to monitor a variety of "aspects". The particular aspects I like to monitor are called "The 8 Opposites". The 8 Opposites can be used to exploit weaknesses in the opponent.

I have dealt with this subject previously within the “The 8 Opposites” blog article.  The “8 Opposites” involve the variables of High v Low, Wide v Tight, Fast v Slow and Up (net) v Back (baseline). The opponent’s preferences need to be assessed as the match progresses and a specific strategy designed to exploit the weakness you have identified.

2.   EXPLOIT (Plan)
The player now needs to exploit the perceived weakness by devising a plan. Within each of the 8 opposites every player will have a preference. Opponents will prefer one of the two options, High or Low, Wide or Tight, Fast or Slow and Up and Back.

This step should involve designing a plan based on The 8 Opposites. Whatever the perceived weakness of the opponent, it needs to be exploited.

3.   EXECUTE (Just do it)
Now the new tactics need to be executed on-court. The player needs to put the new changes to the test within the match. Experienced players will execute new strategy swiftly, accurately and with conviction.

4.   ADAPT (continue to monitor the situation)
Matches are constantly in a state of flux. What was working early in a match may not be working now, after-all the opponent could be going through a similar process of analysis and creating fresh tactics when facing defeat. 

Players must constantly stay aware of the developments within the match.

This whole process must continue throughout the match if momentum is to be maintained or if you have to change a losing situation into a winning one.  

Monday, May 22, 2017


Everyone talks about fundamentals and how important they are.  Anyone playing well is said to have “great fundamentals”, while anyone playing poorly is accused of having “poor fundamentals”. But have you ever tried to find a list of these fundamentals? If such a list existed surely this would be of immense help to players and coaches alike.

The truth is that you will never find a definitive list of the “Tennis Fundamentals”. Although players are continually admired or criticized about their fundamentals and although training programs around the world attempt to install “fundamentals” in their players, there is no definitive list available.

So let’s start defining what exactly a fundamental is, or should be. I believe a fundamental is something that cannot be taken out, in other words you cannot play without it. Think about that for a moment. What elements cannot be taken out of our game? Is the backswing a fundamental? No, because some volleys, service returns and half volleys don’t require a backswing.

Is footwork a fundamental? No, because sometimes a ball hit into your body doesn’t give you time to move your feet and wheelchair players manage just fine without the use of their feet. Is the follow-through a fundamental? No, because half volleys, some volleys and the return of serve don’t always require a follow-through.

I could come up with many more mythical “fundamentals” that are actually cosmetics and not always necessary to execute the shot correctly. If these cosmetics were eliminated you would be able to play the game just fine.

Here are the 3 Fundamentals I teach every day. They cannot be taken out of tennis, without them you cannot play the game.

You can have the most perfect backswing and follow-through in the world but that never guarantees that the ball goes to its intended target.   The ball goes where the racquet strings “point”, regardless of backswing and the follow-through. Contact is a Fundamental.

Your relationship with the ground when you play incorporates multiple elements such as movement, balance and timing. Without any one of these elements you provide energy or control to the ball. Energy and timing come from your interaction with the ground. The correct use of Ground is a Fundamental.

Anytime you hit the ball you create ball rotation (spin). Beginners create ball rotation almost by accident when they hit the ball. Advanced players use spin as a tool to help achieve speed and angles while still controlling the ball in the court. Spin is present in every shot and is a Fundamental of tennis.

In all three instances you cannot eliminate Contact, Ground or Spin from the game. They are fundamental. Your level of manipulation of these fundamentals and your ability to master the use of them defines your ability as a player.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017



At any given time during a point you are in one of three conditions, Defense, Neutral or Offense. You need to clearly define which condition you are in to compete successfully.

If you attack the point at the wrong time, or have an opportunity to attack but fail to take that opportunity, it doesn’t matter how well you stroke the ball your overall game will lack cohesion and meaning.

So how do we define when we are in a Defensive situation, a Neutral situation or an Offensive situation?  What exactly are the factors which put you in a defensive mode? When are you able to attack the point with a high degree of confidence that you will be successful? How do you know that you are in a Neutral situation during the point?

Whether you are in Defense, Neutral or Offense depends on two criteria and you must constantly be aware of these criteria as you play.  Those criteria are:

If your feet are behind the baseline when you contact the ball, you are on Defense. If your feet are inside the baseline when you contact the ball you are on Offense.

If you contact the ball above the height of the white band of the net, you are on Offense. If you contact  the ball below this white band you are in Defense.

If your feet are inside the baseline (Offense) but the height of the ball is below the white band (Defense) you are in the neutral condition such as when you are approaching the net and have to hit a low mid-court ball, or when you are playing a low volley at net.

If your feet are behind the baseline (Defense) but the ball is above the white band of the net (Offense), you are in a Neutral condition also. An example would be when your opponent loops a high ball during the rally.

This is called the DNO Theory (Defense, Neutral, and Offense).

Many players fail to clearly define their role with each shot during the point. This leads to poor shot selection and ultimately unforced errors. Learn to constantly access which condition you are in for each shot, Defense, Neutral or Offense, and respond  correctly to each condition.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


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...


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.

Saturday, June 14, 2014



Everyone responds to events in different ways. Dropping a glass of water can make us angry, shocked and frustrated or could even become a catalyst for laughter. It all depends on the person and how dropping that glass of water makes them feel.  Like thousands of events throughout your day, dropping that glass of water is a CUE that creates an action. In his bestselling book “The Power of Habit” author Charles Duhigg calls the action that follows a Cue a Routine. He states that while the Cue is the same for everyone, it’s in the routine that you see the differences in people.

Watch a game of tennis and you will see all the same cues. You will observe a player who is fatigued, some matches are more important than others, poor line calls occur, a player will go down a break of serve and another will go up a break of serve. These are all cues that evoke a routine. Many of these routines are destructive and lead to negative behavior. Develop enough of these destructive routines and your game becomes a mess of negativity.


The reality however is that we have choices, the player who becomes fatigued can either give up, or fight harder despite the fatigue. Important matches can either stimulate a player to rise to the occasion or to suffer from nerves and under-perform. We can choose to get over poor line calls quickly or let them frustrate us so that we lose the match. A break of serve can either inspire us, or make us feel so deflated that we lose the match without putting up a fight.

Go through in your mind all the recent matches you have played and analyze the destructive routines you have had that followed a particular cue. You may be lucky enough to have just a few to worry about but if you have several very destructive routines that follow particular cues you may need the help of rituals. Positive rituals are positioned just after the Cue so that our responses’ are ones that help us rather than hinder us. If you place these improved, more positive rituals throughout your game at the important times you are creating a shield of protection for yourself.

People often comment on the unusual habits of Rafael Nadal during matches. The obvious one is his water bottle routine in which he must place and position the bottle in the same pre-determined position after every change of ends. In a recent article it was found that he had 19 other routines that he always followed during his matches. Andy Murray has a large whiteboard covering an entire wall of his apartment in Miami that details a host of topics such as diet, fitness, and training schedules for weeks ahead. This acts as a road map for Andy’s routines throughout the days, weeks and months ahead.

It is clear that rituals are critical to your pursuit of excellence and can also help buffer you from those things during matches that conspire to hurt your performance.

The first step in creating rituals is to analyze your game and come up with a list of things that are hurting your result at present. I recommend building two lists; the first list should involve the on-court routines that are hurting your game. These could include:

·       Being overwhelmed by the occasion
·       Playing against an opponent’s reputation
·       Response to fatigue during a match
·       Going a break up or down
·       Starting the deciding set of a match
·       Poor line-calls etc.

The second list should cover personal routines off-court. To reach your full potential you need to look at everything that could help and hurt your performance in matches. This list could include topics related to the following:

·       Sleep habits
·       Diet habits
·       Rest habits
·       Mental training habits
·       Match & Practice habits 

Your task is to choose just a few weak areas in your on-court and personal lists to start with (this can be added to in time) and to replace those weak habits with routines of excellence that will contribute to excellence in competition. Once you have established the areas to target, both replace poor habits with better ones and create good habits where there were none.

Just a few new or improved habits in your day will create a ripple effect in the way you prepare and later perform during matches.

Saturday, June 7, 2014



One of the scariest things you do in tennis is to change the direction of the ball and hit down the line off a ball coming from cross-court. You are attempting to re-direct the ball to another angle which requires considerable skill. It’s much easier going back cross-court because you are hitting through the same line.

If you can execute the down the line shot well during the rally it’s a big plus to your game because it stops your opponent getting too comfortable with your shot selection, they will now have to worry about the unexpected change of direction – something few players can do that well.

Here are the key things to focus on when going down the line (backhand and forehand).

1.       The position of your feet:
o   The best way to change direction, either down the line or cross-court, is to change your contact point. Many players try to change their swing to alter the direct of the ball but the best way is to take the ball earlier (cross-court) or later (down the line). 

    Anticipate where you want to contact the ball and set your feet in a position of balance and strength. Make sure that the late contact point is supported by footwork that will allow you to make the change of direction in a balanced position throughout the stroke, particularly the finish of the shot.


2.       Keep the swing the same:
o   Now that you have created the best possible base for the down the line change, keep your swing the same as if you were hitting any other backhand or forehand, it’s only the contact point that is changing.

3.       Select the correct ball to change on:
o   Always attempt to change direction when your opponent has hit a weaker shot in the rally. That weaker shot is a signal that it’s time to attack and take advantage of the situation. You will know it’s a weaker shot when several things happen (1) the ball lands short on your side of the net (2) the ball comes to you higher, and (3) the ball comes shorter and higher! 

    This is based on the DNO Theory which was published here in a previous article: 


4.       Hit 90 degrees through the far baseline:
o   To continue our theme of changing down the line sensibly and safely, make sure you cross the far baseline at 90 degrees. By disciplining your shot in this way you will be focused on controlling the ball rather than resorting to a “hit and hope” mindset. The 90 degree angle has been the method of choice for the world’s best players for many years. 

    For more information on this shot selection theory here is the link to a previous article where I explain "The Directionals" and how to train them;  

To practice each of these 4 suggestions you will need to include a repetition segment to your practice and a pressure segment.

For the repetition you can return balls down the line from a cross-court feed (basket feeding) and mentally go through setting the feet in position, delaying the contact point slightly and hitting through the far baseline at 90 degrees. Repeat this until you start to feel like the 3 elements are beginning to complement each other and you start to feel comfortable changing direction.

The second phase is to introduce pressure so that this will all come together in a match without you choking. Play points with your practice partner and work on not only executing the 3 technical parts you dealt with during the feeding segment, but also the DNO shot selection element. 

Spend a week changing the ball out of a cross-court exchange and striking your opponent down the line and this newly created ability will make you a far more dangerous opponent.

Saturday, May 31, 2014



The most important two shots in tennis are the serve and the return of serve. While many “modern players” today are extremely competent hitting ground-strokes, the very best players have also developed their serve and return games to a high level.

Unfortunately it’s normal that little more than 10-15% of practice sessions involve these two shots.

Serving practice involving a basket of balls is helpful to develop technique but it lacks those elements that would make it realistic. What you really need to help your serve and your return and make practice more realistic is to include the mental pressure, variable outcomes and spontaneous decision making of a real point.   We also need the serve and the return to be repeated many times so that they both become instinctive. The Combination Drill does all these things.

The Combination Drill will improve your “First Strike Tennis", meaning that you will become better at attacking and generally dictating the point earlier, something that can prove decisive in tennis at all levels.

Most points are won or lost on the serve or return, and by dominating your opponent with the serve or return you gain a huge advantage in the match.

Combination Drills give the player confidence in this critical early phase of the point. That confidence has a profound effect on the rest of your game.

Combination Drills can be practiced with 2-4 players on the same court. Designate where the serve, return and first groundstroke must go. For example the server must serve to the backhand side, the returner must reply cross-court and the first groundstroke must be hit down-the-line.  

·  If the players fail to find any of the designated targets stop them and start again.  This creates some healthy pressure on the player and adds discipline to the drill.

·  Start by achieving the 3 designated shots and then stop. The important thing is to repeat the combination many times for it to be grooved and for confidence and competency to build. Allow the players to focus solely on the 3 designated strokes.

· Once you feel the players are grooved, allow the players to play the point after the ground-stroke (3rd shot).

   Practice one combination per session. Don’t try to do multiple combinations in the same day. Again, it’s about grooving the combination to achieve confidence and competency.

· These are the options for combination drills:

The Serve has 4 options

1.   Wide to the Deuce court
2.    Down the middle to the Deuce court
3.    Down the middle to the Add court
4.    Wide to the Add court

The Return has 8 options
1.    Return (#1) cross-court
2.    Return (#1) down the line
3.    Return (#2) Cross-court
4.    Return (#2) down the line
5.    Return (#3) cross-court
6.    Return (#3) down the line
7.    Return (#4) cross-court
8.    Return (#4) down the line

The First Ground-Stroke

1.    Change direction by hitting cross-court
2.    Change direction by hitting down the line
(there are 8 variations for the “First Ground-stroke”)

There are many benefits to working on the various Combination options. It’s one of those drills in which you will see immediate results in competition.