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Entries in Groundstrokes (33)


Steal This Drill: The Rainbow Drill

It is said that great minds think alike. As evidenced by the following drill, the same thing can be said about lesser minds as well (just kidding). The following drill is a collaboration between CAtennis.com, Karl Rosenstock and Roy Coopersmith. As it happened, and out of pure coincidence, the three parties discussed covering the following drill on exactly the same date. 

Here's a little background on our co-conspirators:

Karl Rosenstock: Karl is currently the official tennis X-mo cam videographer for USC Tennis and a Contributing Editor for CAtennis.com where he provides video content and articles. These days, Karl is most well known as the tennis slow mo guy insofar as he provides X-Mo cam high speed videography for tennis coaching and keepsake purposes for college tennis, tennis clubs and tennis tournaments. Karl has been a USPTA tennis teaching professional and professional television producer. He has specialties in producing, multi camera studio production and directing, lighting design and studio and remote camera operation. For more information regarding his services, please contact Karl at 415-794-5250.

Roy Coopersmith: Roy is currently the Tennis Director at Pine Bluff Country Club in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. With a tennis career spanning over 4 decades, Roy has done it all and seen it all. He was an accomplished professional, college, open as well as senior player (#6 in Germany in U40s) and, as a coach, he has had the opportunity to coach an impressive list of players including: Philipp Kohlschreiber, Lisa Raymond, Tom Shimada, Jelena Jankovic, Jamea Jackson, Christian Weiss, Toma Walter, Maja Palaversic,  Christina Singer, Kim Couts, Roko Karanusic, Helena Vildova, Nguyen Hoang (2009 Orange Bowl Champion), Josip Mesin, etc. Currently, however, his main focus is on developing the game of his daughter - Niki Coopersmith. Nevertheless, if going to the next level is your goal, Roy has the technical, tactical, mental and physical expertise to assist you.

Rainbow Drill:

Here, at CAtennis.com, we are huge fans of situational-based practice. We feel that if the players have experienced certain pressure situations in practice they will be able to relax and think more clearly in the heat of battle. In the Rainbow Drill, one of the players starts with his racket on the net chord and the other is on the baseline. The coach (or the baseline player) feeds a deep lob over the net-player. The lob should bounce somewhere close to the baseline (even slightly outside of the lines). The net player chases it down and either hits a baseline overhead or a groundstroke. The baseline player must let this ball bounce and the point starts immediately (i.e., if the net player misses the "feed" he loses the point). This drill is not only a fun variation on the ol' baseline game, but it also teaches the players how to hit overheads from less than optimal positions and, also, how to regain the advantage after having lost it. This is particularly important for juniors and female players bacause they may lack the put-away ability from the net. That is, sometimes players get to the net but fail to capitalize on the situation and are forced to "restart" the point if the opponent comes up with a decent lob. This drill will, hopefully, teach the players that losing the upper hand mid-point is not the end of the world. One can regain the advantage with a well placed shot...a shot that must be practiced and mastered. 


Watch the Ball!!!

"Watch the ball" along with "move your feet" are two staple pieces of advice that a player is bound to hear throughout his/her career. Obviously, since one of the centerpieces of our sport is to hit a moving object, both components must be mastered in order to succeed. Although movement has been covered ad nauseum by tennis writers, less ink has been devoted to the concept of watching the ball. Here are CAtennis.com's thoughts on the subject:

1. Watch the ball so that you can pick up the speed of the ball. Remember that light travels faster than sound. Don't rely on the cracking sound of the ball to inform you that the opponent has hit a hard and heavy shot (or, conversely, a soft ball). Pick up the necessary information from your opponent's preparation and the velocity at which the ball is leaving your opponent's string bed. This will enable you to prepare early and adequately. The ball will slow down somewhat after touching the ground - due to friction - but your best guess at anticipating the speed is to analyze the trajectory prior to the bounce. 

2. Watch the ball so that you can pick up the spin of the ball. In addition to hitting fabulous shots, great players are also known for doing the simple things really, really well. They don't overthink or overcomplicate the basics. If the ball comes with underspin, they know how to get (and stay) under and adjust the face of the racket accordingly. If the ball comes with topspin, they know that the speed of the ball prior to the bounce is deceptive - that the ball will bounce and, due to forward rotation, will "explode" forward. Therefore, the high-level players will prepare a smidgeon sooner in order to avoid being jammed by the oncoming ball. As mentioned in a prior article, the ball (whether struck with top- or under-spin) may also come with a slight side-spin which further alters the trajectory of the ball and forces the player to take an extra couple of small adjustment steps. 

3. Watch the ball so that you can anticipate the angle of reflection. The basic physics concept is that when a ray of light strikes a flat surface at a certain angle (angle of incidence) it will reflect at the same angle (angle of reflection or refraction) in the opposit direction (see image to the right). For example, if sunlight hits a mirror at 45degrees, the light will bounce off at 45degrees in the opposite direction. Substitute ball for sunlight and the application is that when the ball arcs and then drops at a certain angle it will bounce, more or less, at the same angle (give or take a couple of degrees due to pace, spin, smootheness of the court, wind, etc). As a player, if you can anticipate the angle of the ball's "reflection", you can adjust - whether with your feet, balance, core and/or racket - your shot. A lot of developing players wait for the ball to bounce in order to prepare. Unless you're playing Criss Angel, there is no magic! The ball will not change trajectory in mid-air (and may only change very slightly after the bounce). Accordingly, if the opponent sends the ball your way in a certain manner (horizontal angle as well as vertical angle), you should be able to determine where and how the ball will bounce even before the ball crosses the net. If you truly watch the ball (as well as the opponent's biomechanics), you will shave precious time off your preparation. 

To assist yourself with watching the ball, try doing the following: right after the opponent (pr practice partner) has contacted the ball, tell yourself (in your mind) "Back" (i.e. racket back). Do you have to take the racket back as you're doing it? Depending on your strokes and the particular circumstances - maybe, maybe not. However, giving yourself this verbal cue will put you - mentally - in the position to prepare a split second sooner. In other words, you will trick your brain (and your eyes) to start watching the ball sooner and with a purpose. 


Steal This Drill: Switch!!!

Here's a variation of the 1-on-1 drill known as "corners" where one player stays in one corner and moves his paractice partner side to side. In the standard corners drill, one of the player moves side to side until he tires and then the roles switch allowing the dictating player to move as well. We find the standard drill to be somewhat artificial in that the dictating player's energy level is usually ratcheted back while the other player is moving.

In our version, every 3-4 shots the dictating player yells out "switch!!!!" and the moving player has to direct the shots to the open corner. The dictating player then moves to the open corner from where the game continues. Then, after 2-3-4-5 shots (or even 1), the dictating player yells "switch" again and the moving player directs his shots to the open court. The benefit of this drill is that both of the players are moving and that the moving player is forced to constantly shift the angles of his shots while on the run. The dictating player gets to move as well so this drill is usefull in maintaining a high level of excitement for both players. Furthermore, with both players being forced to move and change the direction of the ball, the drill is a lot more realistic and practical than your standard corners drill. 

A second variation of the corners drill is where the moving player (or coach) yells "switch" and the roles change in the middle of the rally. For example, wherever the moving player happens to be when "switch" is called out, that's his corner and the player who was previously dictating the play is now the runner (hitting all of his shots towards that corner. This is a great drill for practicing in a team format where 3-4 courts can perform the same task and the coach's directive ("Switch") controls all the courts at the same time. 



Biomechanics and Stroke Mechanics

The tennis development process is an interesting animal. Just as there are countless players one can easily find numerous coaches - all with their individual outlook regarding the game. Some coaches are great at fundamentals; others are awesome at the mental aspect; some may be better at strategy and tactics; then there are those who are wonderful at stroke development; a great deal of coaches possess (or like to think of themselves as possessing) a mix of all these attributes.

It is coaches in the latter group - the ones who specialize in technique - who are the focus of this article. I like to call these coaches "stroke mechanics." Some are wonderful of cleaning up even the biggest biomechanical faults in the players' games. They really have an eye for figuring out how the player can hit the "proper" shot and, a small percentage, can skillfully instruct the player to model their game after a variety of top players (suiting their pupil's body type, interests, mental attitude, etc.). Obviously, these types of coaches should be highly-regarder and well-respected for their keen vision, their fearlessness in taking charge of their students' technical side, and ability to mold the player to hit cosmetically-appealing strokes. However, is there a danger in sticking with these coaches for "too long"? We believe that a danger is very much present. You see, as the player develops and his/her physical characteristics change, the strokes will be affected. If you don't believe me, try touching your nose on your kneecaps or sticking your feet in your mouth. These are things that were routine as a baby but, as your muscles and ligaments grew stronger and, you became a whole lot less limber. So things that were routine as a child are a practical impossibility as an adult. 

The same concept applies when it comes to tennis and strokes. The strokes that you have as a child (or are expected to have) will shift, adjust and modify as you get bigger, faster stronger. Many coaches, however, find themselves (intentionally or inadvertently) on a mythical quest to find the picture perfect strokes for their students; strokes that will remain unchange from age 8 to 18 and later. Although well intentioned, coaches who limit their expertise - and how the game is won and lost - to technique are doing their charges a great disservice. Yes, players should always seek to perfect their strokes. But as we said in the past, tennis is more than just about groundstrokes. The entire game - mental, physical, emotional, tactical - must be developed alongside the strokes. By obsessing over strokes, the players fail to develop these other areas along with their peers. They may end up having the cleanest, most picture-perfect strokes but might not know how and when to use them. Strokes themselves are only the tools of the game; players must understand - just like mechanics - how to use them in order to obtain a desired result. If collecting tools is all you do, you will end up being the tennis-equivalent of a suburban garage mechanic. You'll have the nicest set of tools but you will not know how to use them. The issue being that one could always improve even the best and cleanest shots... even Federer's forehand can be more penetrating, be better placed, or more effective. Therefore, the best developmental coach would be the one who not only shows you the proper technique but also develops it in context thereby allowing you to grow the game. In other words, if the components of the game can be broken down into bars (each indicating a different field: strokes, footwork, strategy, mental, emotional management, physical, motivation, etc.) on a music volume analyzer display (above), the best coach would try to raise all the bars (sometimes at the same time; other times separately) and not leave certain portions of the game unattended. This will ensure that the player grows with and into the game and, as a result, will be in a better position to launch an attack towards the top of the rankings when it matters. 


Tips for Playing Against Heavy Topsins

With the Australian Open fortnight upon us - a tournament generally known for higher ball-bounces (although the Plexicushion has sped things up quite a bit resulting in slightly lower bounces) - let's take a look at some tips for playing against a player with high-bouncing topsin strokes. 

1. It goes without saying ("well, why are you saying it then, genius?!") that if you want to handle high topsins from the opponent, you should be practicing against people who hit with a lot of topsin. This will allow you to read their body language and ball trajectory so that you can anticipate the type of bounce as well as depth thereof. It can be a daunting task to try to take on such a player for the first time in a match. So improve your chances by playing against similar players in advance. 

2. Footwork; footwork; footwork. When you're trying to handle extreme topsins, you must be prepared to not only move forward and backwards but also sideways. Remember that an opponent can generate topsin that rotates "top-wise" or even slightly lop-sided (by brushing upwards AND to the outside/inside of the ball)If the latter happens, you must be prepared to for a ball the explodes sideways slightly and take an extra step or two before striking the ball. Don't get set too soon (as you would against a flat shot that is driven into the contact point); keep moving until you're in optimal position to strike. Adjust the angle of attack so that you're always moving forward and slightly to the side. If you get set too soon, there's a possibility that you may be either too closed or too open - making for an ineffective stroke (which the opponent can demolish) - or that you will allow the ball to bounce over your shoulder (which is exactly what your opponent wants to see happening). 

3. When the ball comes high, think "low". It is tempting, when seeing a high ball, to want to stand straight up "since the ball will end up bouncing high anyway" (DOH!!!). However, this type of thinking can be dangerous. When the ball bounces vertically and you swing horizontally, the two paths (1. path of the ball; AND 2. path of the racket) form a "plus" sign. Unless you have picture-perfect timing, there's a strong chance that you will either (a) mis-hit the ball, (b) generate insufficient pace, or (c) hit a ball without much arc (resulting in either an error or a short ball). To correct this, think about getting low as soon as you see the high ball leaving your opponent's racket and, after you've set up (see step #2 above), come up with the ball. If you you manage to do this well, although the racket will still swing through horizontally, the path of the racket will be at an upward angle (synchronized with the upward movement of your body). In other words, when compared to your body, the racket moves horizontally just as before; however, when compared to the ground, the racket actually moves upwards. This allows for not just better timing but also for a ball with more arc (and margin for error) over the net.  Furthermore, by working with the legs, you don't have to tinker with the path of your stroke. 

Closely related to this concept is trying to shorten the backswing a bit in order to have better timing. Remember that an exploding topsin has, in fact, pace. However, this pace is vertical (produced by spin as well as gravity) as opposed to horizontal (such as on a flat shot). A smart player will redirect this pace (by adjusting the face of the racket) and send the ball back to the opponent in an effective manner. If, however, you try to do this with a huge backswing, either your timing will be affected or you will mis-judge the amount of pace required. Therefore, try to cut down on your backswing just a tad and see how that works (particularly if you actually "stay down" and take the ball close to the bounce). After a couple of shots, you should be able to feel the amount of pace required. 

4. If all else fails, match the angle of the racket with the angle of the bounce. Assuming that you cannot adjust to a ball as outlined above, you may have to recognize that your opponent has managed to put you in a defensive position. In that case, rather than trying to hit a flat shot against a high-bouncing ball (which may end up going into the net), try to match the angle of your swing (i.e., path of the racket) with the angle of the ball-bounce. For example, if the ball explodes off the court at 80 degrees then try to drop the racket under the ball so that you can swing upwards at 80 degrees as well (towards the ball). Too many players try to "cover" a high-bouncing ball resulting either in a mistake in the net or a short ball. Forget it! Match the angle of the bounce and send the ball back high and deep to the opponent. Let HIM try to fight off the high ball - if you're lucky, he may just miss or hit you a short ball that you can thump. 

What suggestions do you have for playing against someone with massive topsins?