From the "Life of a Scrappy Player" Series
What does it take for an adult tennis player to win matches at any level without having to undo 20 years of bad habits and completely re-learn the game?
Our Scrappy Player has been around for a while. Over the course of the last 25 years he has played USTA League tennis and tournaments, attended clinics and tennis colleges, had private lessons on and off the court, networked nationwide with coaches, pros, players, and organizers. Lately, MrScrappy went on a quest to demystify tennis teachings and look at simple ways to remind adult tennis players what’s really important in order to win matches. To do so he has talked to the best in our sport or read up on their teachings. The following is a short analysis of the bare essence of their philosophy, followed at the end with the concluding down-to-earth advice MrScrappy has for all adult tennis players.
The journey starts in St.George, Utah, at the famous Vic Braden Tennis College.
Vic Braden – Keep your eyes on the tennis ball, bend your knees, and swing low to high
Vic Braden and Rich Neher
Vic Braden is a tennis legend in the United States. One of the best and funniest keynote speakers for tennis events, Vic has been around for a long time with a very scientific approach to the sport, analyzing the strokes of the best players in the world and sharing his findings with all of us. The two pieces of advice our Scrappy Player took away from Vic’s clinics are:
- “Keep your eye on the ball”. Really? Is that simple rule everyone keeps reminding you of indeed a key element of your match? According to Vic it is. He writes on his web site: “If you pretend as though you are watching the ball into the strings, your head will remain quiet and will not disturb your swing pattern”. Here is the real value of that advice: Not watching the ball can make you move your head, which in turn has an effect on your swing and how you hit that ball.
Note: Roger Federer does this excessively. What a surprise!
- “Bend your knees and swing low to high”. Whole armies of tennis players hit many groundstroke shots into the net and don’t understand why. Vic explains that bending your knees and trying to get “under the ball” and swinging the racquet up from low to high prevents that error. Too simple? Yes! But tennis is really not a difficult sport according to Vic. A few of those basic rules and lots of practice is all a player needs.
Note: Doesn’t that sound like Rafa Nadal’s and Serena William's movements and swing? Or just about anyone else in the Top 100?
Hmm, that didn’t really sound too difficult. MrScrappy makes sure he looks at another legend’s philosophy and drives to Encino in the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles.
Oscar Wegner – Follow-through with your tennis racquet on every swing
Oscar Wegner is a tennis legend with international success. According to his web site a bunch of heavyweight tennis celebrities are following his concept: Venus and Serena Williams, Gustavo Kuerten, Vincent Spadea, Paradorn Srichaphan, Marat Safin, to name just a few. Oscar’s teachings of “Modern Tennis” are interesting because they, too, are based on rules that are almost too simple to believe.
According to his web site, early on in his career “…he made the crucial observation that tennis was being taught one way while the pros played in an entirely different way”. His research led him to isolate the actual basis of tennis that apply to any player at any level, whether a pro, an intermediate player, or a beginner. MrScrappy observed how Oscar explained the basics of tennis to a young man who had never touched a racquet or set foot on a tennis court. After 10 minutes that man was able to hit consistent forehands across the net without one unforced error.
One of the basic elements of Oscar’s teachings is the follow-through with a tennis racquet on every swing. Also, the natural movement of a player’s body in order to generate the most efficient strokes is being emphasized.
Note: It appears that just about every player on the Pro-Tour does that. Right?
OK, that was good advice for any player, beginner or advanced, like MrScrappy. Next stop: San Diego.
Brad Humphries – Place your shots and hit it where they ain’t
When you play tennis in San Diego you don’t need any introduction for Brad Humphries. As Director of Tennis at the San Dieguito Tennis Club in San Diego North County (Encinitas), Brad has made a legend name for himself since 1970. Teaching kids as well as adults the lifetime sport of tennis is his passion and his approach is systematic and professional (USPTA P1).
Our Scrappy Tennis Player observed: Brad, too, is able to concentrate his message for adult players who want to win more matches to very basic advice. He says:
Implement any one or all three of the following strategies:
1) Hit the ball over the net three times in a row.
2) Hit every ball to the weak side.
3) Hit the ball where the opponent isn't
Aha, and here is where MrScrappy had an inspiration. “Hit the ball where the opponent isn’t” Hu? Could it really be that simple? There was one last person he needed to observe. Back to the L.A. area.
Ali Ordonez – Don’t hit to your opponent on the tennis court
Alejandra (Ali) Ordonez is a legend in her own right. As USTA Section League Coordinator, and Vice President of the Neighborhood Junior Tennis Program, as well as former top tennis player in the US Southwest (ranked #1 for Community colleges in the State of California in 1979 and #1 for Mixed Doubles in the entire Southwest in 1988).
Watching Ali play tennis is like realizing within 5 minutes why she wins matches so easily. She just does not, never, ever, hit to her opponent(s). Be it with a powerful cross-court forehand that lands just inside the sideline and makes her opponent scramble to get a racquet on it, or with a carefully placed soft volley, surprising everyone and just out of reach. Look wherever her opponents are on the court and you’ll see a place where Ali is NOT hitting to.
“Get a solid foundation of ground strokes and volleys and serves, practice lots and then make it a habit of not hitting to your opponents”, says Ali.
OK – it all comes together now for the Scrappy Player. No more guesswork. The quest for finding what’s really important to remember when it comes to winning matches has come to an end. He is able to bring it all down to very basic recommendations.
1. Keep your eyes on the ball
2. Bend your knees and hit low to high
3. Follow through on every swing
4. Don’t hit to your opponent(s)
Great advice, thinks MrScrappy. Not that he didn’t know all four of those tips for years. But no one has really pointed it out to him so clearly. He has a game plan now and he’s going to try all four from here on. That should help improve his win/loss ratio significantly. He’ll try it out tonight…