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The Development Spectrum


When it comes to sports, it's important to have heros...idols. They make the game look so effortless and smooth and completely within reach of us mortals. Invariably, a junior (or even dedicated adult) will, with best intentions in mind, attempt to model his game after a particular pro. When going down this road, use your best efforts to remember the relevance of proper fundamentals.

Now, CAtennis.com seeks to avoid lengthy discussions about techniques or grips. We're not here to tell you that Federer's forehand is the best (probably is); that a semi-Western is superior to an Eastern grip; or that you have to start the shot like this and finish like that. These things are best left to your on-court pro who can explain to you the various aspects and how they fit your particular body/mental type. As a matter of fact, in previous postings we have taken the position that tennis is not just about the strokes. However, this is only to emphasize the fact that tennis involves more than just strokes. One must master several other dimensions in order to become a good player.

Nevertheless, when starting out with this game, it's indispensable to understand the proper fundamentals of the game in order to have a shot down the road. Having a solid foundation, as the term entails, allows you to build upon it and develop new dimensions to the game. Unfortunately, in a rush to be the best player in the world, many players seek to emulate a particular player without first mastering some basic concepts. Sometimes, they copy a player who has a certain peculiarity (e.g., finishing a forehand swing over his head as opposed to "through the ball" in the vicinity of the left shoulder) and wonder why the same shot doesn't pan out for them...why it doesn't fit their particular physical characteristic. Unsurprisingly, a failure to grasp the basic fundamentals is many times the answer. In terms of tennis development, think of a particular pro's game as a light spectrum. It doesn't matter who it is; it could be Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Williams sisters, or anybody else for that matter. In this regard, what you see today in their game is usually not how they started out

For example, in the picture above, these top players may have started in the "blue" end of the spectrum. As they developed (got bigger, faster, stronger; got more experienced; or bodies changed a particular way) they made small adjustments towards the "green" end of the spectrum. Sometimes, they have decided to de-emphasize a component (e.g. loading) and over-emphasize another (e.g. swinging). Through this process, however, they have have understood (like a surfer mastering the long board before moving down to a 6ft board) the elements of a proper shot but made a conscious decision to modify the particular components to suit their respective, individual needs.

Nonetheless, when copying a "top" player, too many times beginners start at the "green" end of the spectrum and then make even further adjustments from there. Because the basic biomechanical and physical components are a foreign language to them, some of these players end up completely "off the reservation" in terms of their strokes. I have seen players who were willing to swear on a stack of holy manuscripts that their game resembles Nadal's, Moya's or Roddick's. Often times, the "style" is only a perversion of the original motion. The outfit is there; the shoes are there; the racket and strings are there; but the only thing that matters - the strokes - aren't anywhere near. Once you find yourself with funky shots, the road back can be daunting. Think about it: when you're young you don't have a lot of power so you can slap the ball silly and it's probably not going to fly on you; crazy swings, wide open stances, imperfect footwork and the ball still goes in. However, as you get older, power is cheap to come by - control is actually a scarce commodity. And a great deal of the control components comes from sound fundamentals. 

Accordingly, when learning the game, spend some time getting a real good understanding of the basic shot elements. Know why the grip should be in a particular range, why the footwork should look a certain way, why the torso and shoulders should be integrated in a proper chain reaction, why the swing should look and feel like this or like that, etc. For example, if you're trying hit the ball forward learn to drive through the ball in the direction of your target. I know it's hard, but learn to rely on logic and common sense. Although it's great to have idols, until you're on the right track, try to refrain from copying too much of your idol's strokes. After grasping the basics, it's OK to make small adjustments in pursuit of your ideal model. If you do the opposite - trying to copy someone too soon - you risk implementing a component in your game (something that may stand out to the untrained eye) that serves only minimal, cosmetic purpose and which could be problematic in the later stages of your development. Ideally, you should learn solid fundamentals by the time you're 14 so that, going forward, you will make only small adjustments dealing with power, placement and control.

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Reader Comments (2)

Really astute advise - this coming from someone who's made it a lifetime study to comprehend tennis and tennis shotmaking! Best, Karl Rosenstock, The Tennis Slow mo guy

December 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKarl Rosenstock

When I was growing up, I thought McEnroe was the ultimate - now if I watch his strokes in slo mo in 2011, they resemble nothing of the top 100 players of today. Strange stiff wrist postiion on groundstrokes, strange approach to volleys (yet the best vollier in history IMO) In addition, it became obvious that his style and strokes were actually more of a "freak of nature" type approach to playing tennis, as opposed to technical beauty. I would kind of put Nadal and Fed (including Fed's straight arm forehand) in the "freak of nature" type stroke category, and focus on some of the other top guys instead, maybe a little further down in the rankings. It helps me personally to watch ATP pro beautiful strokes in slo mo (avoiding certain guys like Nadal and Fed and Soderling) because then I have a point of ultimate reference, instead of just the local teaching pro's view who is simply not in the same league - not by a long shot. Combing this slo mo study of ATP pros with a high level local teaching pro and video self analysis helped me the most by far in my quest to become a higher level tennis player. I want to study video of these current ATP strokes because their is a very good reason for why they are doing this stroke approach in 2011 (which is indeed different from the strokes of 1984) I wonder, what will the top guys look like in 2020?

December 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertweener

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