About Us

CAtennis is a passionate discussion for serious tennis players, parents and coaches looking for something different. No talk about technique, no talk about useless theory, no gimmicks; just practical advice from first-hand experience on how to improve your tennis. Kick back, drink the content, bounce ideas, and pitch articles (or friend us on Facebook).

Unless otherwise noted, all articles are authored by the founders of CAtennis.  Enjoy!


Entries in Groundstrokes (33)


My Karma Ran Over My Dogma


Tennis is a difficult sport to learn because of the many components that must be perfectly orchestrated in order to produce a player's individual masterpiece. However, when learning the game, it is becoming on a player to use some critical thinking and analytical skills in order to cut through the flak, misinformation as well as seemingly conflicting information and get to the truth. In this regard, when a coach tells you to "never" do this or "never" attempt that, it is helpful to keep in mind that because the game is so complex, the "never" can mean "most of the time", "sometime" or "heck, I don't know. I don't feel like explaining the difference...just don't do it again".

Take for example our previous article on building forearm and wrist strength. In the article, we sought to emphasize the importance of having a strong grip. One of our favorite readers mentioned, like many players across the United States, that he was taught to hold the racket with the same grip strength that he would use when holding a bird. Sound advice...but is it? USPTA High Performance Coach and former WTA player Yvonne Gallop takes issue with this approach. Her opinion is that the grip must be varied to take into account pace of the oncoming shot as well as your intent vis-a-vis the ball. For example, squeezing the grip against a hard, incoming ball will propel the ball past it's intended target (like a ball rebounding against a wall). Similarly, having an overly-stiff grip and wrist against a soft ball may prevent you from generating sufficient pace. In short, there is no rule of thumb...it's a lot of trial and error and integrating various components (emphasizing some; de-emphasizing others) in the particular circumstance. 

Nevertheless, this brings into question an interesting concept: when we're talking about grip STRENGTH are we, ipso facto, talking about grip PRESSURE? The answer is "no". Think of grip strength as a barbell collar (device that keeps the weights from sliding off the bar). It is a pretty sturdy device made out of metal (first picture above) yet it slides easily onto the bar. If the bar is levered (i.e. tipped) against the collar, the latter won't break...because it's strong. On the other hand, grip pressure is the inward force (purple and red arrows in the second picture, above) that the collar applies to the bar when it's squeezed shut. Once it's locked, the bar doesn't slide within the collar due to the application of this pressure and friction. So, as a player, it's important to be strong when it comes to your grip so that you can apply the right amount of pressure as required by the particular circumstance. Try holding the racket like a birdie against an Isner rocket serve and you'll be collecting the stick from the next ZIP code. On the other hand, try choking the handle against a soft ball and your shot will have difficulty clearing the net.

In a similar vein, when talking about which grip is best and which one this player has or that player favors, keep in mind that there is no general rule. Take for example, tennis legend's Johan Kriek's take on Roger Federer's forehand grip:

"Roger adapts his forehand grip depending on the height of the ball...I have been doing it also for many years...tricky hey!" and "I used to use a continental grip but a little more to the strong backhand grip due to everybody thinking my backhand was the place to serve, which was great for me since it was actually my best shot. I could do anything off my backhand; my forehand was changed 2 years into my career from a continental to a more semi western grip but I used a little more eastern grip on fast surfaces. In 1986 I got to the semis of the French and that was for me one of the most satisfying results ever because of what it took in mental strength to attack so much on clay and the stamina it took to grind and attack at the right time. I eventually lost to Lendl but I was cooked physically by then, just too many 5 setters."

Many authorities, including Larry Stefanki, said the same thing about Bjorn Borg's forehand grip...that he adjusted it based on surface and trajectory of incoming ball. How many teaching pros have told you that you should probably master one forehand but be well-versed in many other grips?! Probably not many. How many pros have told you: (a) never hit swinging volleys (what about a floater?); (b) never play in the no-man's land (what if the opponent can't hit past the service line?); (c) never hit a flat second serve (what if you're serving for the match at 5-3; 40-0?); (d) never hit a drop-shot from behind the baseline (what if the opponent is 15 feet behind the baseline and tired?); (e) never serve and volley on clay (what about Johan Kriek's amazing run to the semis of the French Open?); (f) never hit to your opponent's strength (what if you want to do so in order to open up a weakness); etc.

When it comes to tennis, there are exceptions to every rule. It's your job as a player to read through the "nevers" as well as the "always" and determine when you should apply the exception and when to apply the rule. The more you play, the more experience you will acquire and the more adept you will become at parsing the communication. No coach in the world will be able to give you the exact recipe for every shot or every play since the exact factors that may exist in a practice scenario may be missing in a match. Accordingly, you have to do the dirty work of discovering the game yourself.


Steal This Drill: Aggressive Baseline Practice Part 1

CAtennis.com received the following message from a friend and college coach: "Dear CAtennis.com, It's been a long time. I enjoy reading your tips. I am now a college coach at _____________. I have a couple of players on my team from Europe and South America and they are having difficulty adjusting to the fast-paced game of college tennis. No matter what I do, they just want to stay back and grind (like you, haha). Are there any drills you can recommend for getting them to come in more? I hope that all's well with you and we should get together soon"

Assuming that basic drills such as serve and volleying or approach-pass have been tried, I believe that part of the issue with the baseliner mentality is that they simply do not put sufficient value on points won inside the baseline. Here are two drills that one can try:

1. In the first drill, set up a the court so that there is a line about 3-4ft behind the service line on each side. At first, play regular points (maybe up to 21) and simply keep track of how many times the player ventures inside that area. This sets the measurement standard. Thereafter, play a game where the player can only hit a winner from that area (i.e. winners from baseline don't count) and that if he loses a ball from there (i.e., misses a volley or gets passed), it doesn't count. This adds a layer of confidence in that the reward of coming in outweighs the risks. In the third game, the player can still only hit winners from inside the area but he can also lose the point from there (e.g. missed volley or attacker gets passed). This means that the risks and rewards are about even. In the fourth game, adjust the scoring so that any point won from inside the area counts as two (the player can also lose the point from inside the attacking area as well as anywhere in the court). This teaches the player to add more value to points won while in an aggressive position. However, unlike the previous game, here the player can choose which point will pay the most dividend. Lastly, play another "regular" game to 21 and keep track of how they do in this game versus the first. In this game, you can also make it so that the player runs sprints (e.g. ten-balls) for the difference between points lost and number of times ventured in (for example: lost 18 points but made it inside 15 times = 3 sprints). 

2. In the second drill, set up the court so there's a line about 4 feet inside each baseline. THAT line becomes the baseline. The regular baseline is the "cliff". The rule is that if the player steps behind the baseline during the point, he falls "off the cliff" and loses the point (over-stepping the side-lines is OK). As above, try to have the players compete in a couple of baseline games and see how many choose to venture inside the service line. The objective is to become accustomed to playing from this area of the court in order to be more relaxed during the transition stage. Accordingly, the players should be instructed to "work the point" rather than slapping at the ball senselessly. Once there's an opening, seek to come in and cut off the short ball or floater (regular or swinging volley). 

One issue with college practices (or other "team" formats) is that the workouts are often designed to suit the greatest number of players without being tailored to a particular player's needs. In this regard, simply hitting more volleys is not likely to get the desired response from a pure baseliner. Sure, the volleys will improve but not his/her comfort level through the mid-court. CAtennis.com believes that these drills (part of a series) are a good step in the right direction to "stress inoculating" the grinders to the pace/style of American tennis. Hopefully, after a couple of focused workouts, the player will look at every point with the intention of stepping inside the baseline. 


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.


Whip The Ball For Better Topspins

When trying to develop monster topspin shots off your ground strokes, it is important to visualize a whip. A whip is thicker at the handle and tapers down towards the tip. When snapped, it can create speeds surpassing the sound barrier (cracking sound). Your body is similar to a whip in design: your trunk/torso is generally thicker and moves slower. However, your shoulder, biceps and forearms are considerably smaller and, therefore, move faster.

Once you start uncoiling into a shot - particularly the forehand - the momentum generated travels through your arm towards the racket. Here is where things get interesting: although your arm moves in one direction following its natural path, the wrist often snaps (or, some say, forearm rotates) in order to generate topspin (a deviation from the normal angular momentum of the arm). This "snap" is a slight (for some, not so slight) brushing of the ball which creates the spin. However, to do so, the wrist must deviate somewhat from the natural path of the arm (obviously, it still remains attached to it) while holding on to an object (racket) about half its weight (human hand weighs between 22 and 30 ounces). 

The issue that we're dealing with is control of the racket. In order to have a good topspin it is important to have a strong grip (although not choking the racket) as well as a strong forearm in order to commence the topspin motion. Remember that momentum = Mass times Velocity. In this regard, although the hand (tip of the whip) weighs less than your body, it's also moving faster thereby creating momentum in a certain direction. To "break away" from its natural path, a greater "force" is necessary (i.e., forearm and hand strength). Tennis players, like baseball players, have understood the importance of hand and forearm strength for decades. Some have squeezed broken tennis balls as a way to cross-train; others have lugged around forearm builders such as clamps and pulleys.

One of the best way to develop forearm-grip strength for tennis is to practice a lot of drop-feeds where you are isolating this portion of your body. Try to LIFT the ball 6 feet over the net by BRUSHING the ball (rather than scooping it). Once you get the concept, you can transition to slightly more sophisticated workouts such as hitting against rapid-fire balls on the ball machine (minimum of 300) or hitting 1000 volleys in a row against the backboard. The key is to "feel the burn" in your forearm and develop grip and forearm strength. This concept is particularly important for female players. Unlike guys, girls tend to not be gym rats and they don't often play sports which require arm strength (e.g., baseball or football). Therefore, although girls generate a great deal of force with their torsos, shoulders and arms, they tend to fall just short of mastering the topspin due to their relatively low forearm strength. As a result, a lot of female player tend to have flatter shots and a lot of teaching pros perpetuate this mistake by teaching the shots that they see on TV rather than addressing the physical issue. 

Nevertheless, things are starting to change and some players have broken away from the general mentality. Take, for example, Samantha Stosur. When she first started on tour, she was a very good player but her shots lacked the "bite" necessary to penetrate the court. Take a look at the size and definition of the arm, particularly the forearm (note: size is only one indicator of strength but it's not exclusive).

Now take a look at the picture on the right taken in 2011. Forget about the racket finish - we are only using this picture to point out the definition of the arm, specifically the forearm. If you watch Samantha play now, you will notice that she plays similar to a male tennis players: not just powerful shots (Venus and Serena have been doing that for years), but shots with heavy topspin. 

Given the pace of the game, these shots would not be possible without forearm and grip strength. Therefore, rather than making excuses as to why you're not hitting decent topspin, take the initiative and start improving yourself physically and then see how it goes from there. With modern technology (lighter rackets; more powerful strings; awesome gym equipment), there's absolutely no reason why you should not be able to generate monster topspin groundstrokes.

Of course, don't forget about the other components of the shot (e.g. footwork, balance, torso, preparation, etc.) and to practice, practice, practice. Before you attempt to tear phone books and crush rocks (and destroy fluidity and range of motion in the process), know that this is only a small piece of the puzzle (Stosur's as well as yours). However, when encountering obstacles in the development of these shots, keep in mind the strength ratio between your body/arm and forearm/wrist. 


It's not about Forehands and Backhands, Stupid! [Redux]

Yes, Karsten Braasch was ridiculously good given his unorthodox shots. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't pursue "clean" strokes; just don't become consumed by this quest. At some point, "it is what it is" and you're just going to have to figure out the best way to win. 


Or how about Monica Niculescu? Not bad for WTA top 30. Before you judge, please check out her preparation, intensity and movement. If it helps to avoid the distraction, cover the top of the video and just focus on her feet. How many of you who would like to play D-1 can move like that?!