Oh boy, that is one loaded question! Are you like me watching the US Open whenever you can? I am enjoying seeing the qualifiers giving those Top 10 players a good run for their money. And how about Sam Querry, our Southern California home boy? What a US Open he had this year... took a set from Nadal...
Well, whenever I see the top players hitting their forehands and backhands so hard and oh so accurate, I'm thinking why can't I do that? What the heck is wrong with me? I started playing tennis at the age of 33. Should I not be able to serve as hard as them? Should I not be able to hit those down-the-line shots as accurately as they do? Or should I?
Ok, for the sake of this investigation I'm putting my Engineering hat on, trying to examine what the real difference is between Roger Federer and me (besides the age and the height, of course).
Roger is 27 years of age and started playing tennis at the age of 6. He began playing and practicing seriously at the age of nine. Let's say he picked up a "professional" regiment of at least five 6-hour practice days at the age of 12, about 15 years ago.
Let's start with the serves. 15 years of serves, at least 50-100 balls a day, 5 days a week x 780 weeks = 195,000 - 390.000 serves. How many serves have I hit in the past 15 years? Let me think. Ok, maybe 25,000? And most of them wrong, during match play, without any thorough training and guidance. Except from my buddy Konrad. The one with the 21 miles per hour second serve. Boy, am I in trouble! No wonder my opponents are all over my second serve. Today I have a coach who's trying to undo what 15 years of playing like Konrad did to me. Good luck!
Now, let's look at the ground strokes. Roger probably did at least 500 forehands and backhands a day, 5 days a week, for the last 15 years. That comes to 1,950,000 ground strokes for the man. Almost two million ground strokes practiced! I find that disgusting, folks. At the same time I have rarely practiced any myself, just executed about 250,000 (many the wrong way) during match play.
2 Million correct, coach-supervised ground strokes and hundreds of thousands of correct serves with professional guidance. I would say Roger put his time in. He lost a ton of sweat and missed a lot of play time with his friends, in order to become the world class player he is today. In my opinion, he deserves the fruits of his labor today. Career prize money of $41 million? Plus endorsements? Well done, Roger!
Now, what am I getting out of all these numbers for myself? The one and only logical conclusion for me is to hit more practice balls and play less doubles or singles. And that's exactly what Rod Laver told me during a little private one-on-one at La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad (just north of San Diego). I asked him what's wrong with my ground strokes. He told me to hit for about 2 minutes with him. Then we met at the net and he told me: Rich, you need to hit more balls. Forget playing all the time. Practice your strokes. Set yourself a goal, like 100 ground strokes a day. 100 serves a day. Do it consistently with someone who knows what those strokes should look like. I guarantee you you'll get better that way.
Today, after moving from San Diego to the Los Angeles area a few months ago, I haven't lined up that many matches yet. And that's good so, because yours truly is practicing. Four to five days a week I'm hitting against a wall, and once or twice a week I'm practicing with a coach. Admittedly, I will never be as good as Roger, and I will never break into the Top 1000 either. But, I see my strokes developing nicely, my serves come in a little harder, and my overall game improving every month now. It took Rod Laver and my current coach to make me realize how important practice is. And no, don't worry, I'm not trying to qualify for the 2009 US Open (yet).