Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hips vs Hands-Mastery of the Forehand

The forehand can be a fickle stroke. We demand so much out of our forehands-consistency, power, spin, placement, changing direction, on the run, inside-out, put away ball-that it needs to feel just right for us to feel like we are playing well. Making great contact is the key to a confident shot, and in order to make great contact you need to know what technique to use on that particular forehand. The question to ask is “are you on the run or stationary?” If you are stationary, in order to hit a heavy spin rally ball, you need to use your hips to rotate into the ball. This will create the power, spin and feel that you are looking for in your repetitive rally ball. Excellent examples of this use of hips are Nadal and Verdasco. These are prototypes of the modern forehand. When you’re on the move and hitting an offensive shot use your hands and stay locked in your hips. Hit the ball out in front and clean with your front shoulder staying in, and this will create a powerful and accurate forehand. Use this technique on the run and on the first serve return. The epitome of this type of forehand is Sampras. To hit a terrific forehand in today’s game you need to master both techniques- the hips and the hands.

How Much Training for Junior Players?

My name is Mitch Bridge, and I am a tennis coach from Southern California, USA.  I have worked with high level junior tennis players for over twenty years.  Players from age 11 and up can thrive training 20-25 hours per week as well as participating in tournament play on the weekends as part of that 20-25 hour training week.  It is very important to blend several important parts of training into that 4 hour day.  First, a player needs one-on-one or two-on-one coaching as part of his/her daily training component.  Next he/she will need live ball hitting and sets play.  The third training component should be cardiovascular training followed by flexibility/stretching.  With these four types of training the player can develop well while keeping his/her body healthy and fit.

When the player is 14 he/she can add another hour of training to his day.  This should be 30 minutes of serves and returns and 30 minutes of strength training.  Now he/she is training like a professional with 6 of the most important training components for a professional player.  Add a weekly or bi-weekly massage and this player is going to develop extremely well.  If possible have the coach attend as many of the tournament matches as possible because the feedback and support are invaluable

US and Professional Men's Tennis

There are two main reasons that the US isn't faring well in professional tennis, especially on the men's side.
The first reason is that tennis has become so global that many countries are producing quality players and the competition is much greater.  In the 1970's when the US had 25-30% of the top 100 pro players, tennis was only popular in 10-12 countries.  Now tennis is widely popular all over the world, and in many of those countries tennis is more popular than it is in the US in the heirarchy of sports.  This is largely due to tennis becoming an Olympic sport in 1988.  Countries started investing in tennis development for their athletes, giving tennis more credibility as a sport for the masses.  Now tennis is growing faster than any other major sport in the world.

Secondly, the US is failing to produce top tennis talent professionally among its citizens because our top athletes are playing football and basketball.  The US has some of the greatest athletes in the world, but they are not playing men's tennis.  Two of our best female athletes are the Williams' sisters, and they have done extremely well.  But our best boys aren't being funneled into tennis development.  Imagine if Kobe Bryant, Lebron James or Adrian Peterson were trained in tennis since the age of 5 or 6.  This is where the USTA should put their Player Development dollars.  The US could have as many or more top players than any other country if it went out and recruited the best athletes and sponsored them into tennis.  Only when this happens will the US once again have many top players, and this in turn will make the sport more popular to the US audience which will drive the sport for many years to come.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Catch 22: Monster Bat vs Skinny Stick

In today's tennis world it can be perplexing whether or not to use a Nadal-like wide-beamed racquet or a thin-beamed more traditional racquet.  We all want the power of a fat bat, but are we giving up placement?
Players that grew up playing with a thin beam are more likely to continue to play with one because of the comfort level, but are they missing out on the power of the wider beams?  It is hard to say if the wider racquet pros like Nadal, Roddick,Tsonga and Lubicic are less accurate than they would be with a skinny racquet.  Certainly the bulk of the top players don't like the wider racquets, but that could be a feel issue.  Where is tennis going from here?  With the overall enhanced athlete, putting a power racquet in their hand might make it nearly impossible to play with them.  Traditionalists like myself love a weighted, thin-beamed racquet that only feels powerful when you hit it in the middle, but we might just be holding on to the past and missing out on some wicked ball striking of the future.  Only time will tell.    

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cooperation Over Competition

My first tennis coach was an extraordinary man by the name of Powell Blankenship.  Powell was a highly-skilled player and coach from San Diego who developed Australian Open Champion Brian Teacher.  I was 19 when I started working with Powell, and I decided that I needed to learn this game the right way after being bounced by the bigs over and over again after moving to the big city.  My game was a technical disaster, and my plan was to put it together with the help of a Master Coach.  Powell had other plans.  Because I had competed for years with strong athleticism and little game, he went after my mind instead of my strokes.  He felt that I was too combative with the game, and he wanted me to flow when I played-swim downstream.  He preached that I needed the guy on the other side of the net just to play this game.  That your opponent had to hit you balls to orchestrate the points.  "Cooperation over competition" was his mantra, and I understood it intellectually, but it took years to sink in to my daily practice and habits.  Powell drastically changed my mindset, and only then was I ready for the technical side of the game.  Thank you, Powell, for teaching me how to play nice and play well.  Many problems would be more easily solved with Powell's words of wisdom.        

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Is Jimmy Connor's Being Ripped Off By Modern Tennis Historians?

Who has won the most tournament titles in ATP history? Most matches?    Most tennis fans know that Jimmy holds these records with 109 tournament titles and 1337 match wins, clearly out-distancing all other great champions.  Novak is having a phenomenal year in 2011, but Connors went 99-4 in 1974 with 14 tournament victories to go along with his 3 majors, and he was banned from the French that year for playing World Team Tennis.  Also, Jimmy was number 1 in the world for 5 straight years from 1974-1978.  This was unprecendented before Sampras' 6 year reign. 

The argument here is not for "Greatest Player Ever" status, but to acknowledge that the playing field changed when Sampras went on his Grand Slam historic run.  Back in the 70's and 80's players weren't concerned about counting slams as the main way to measure greatness.  The most important gauges for dominance were being #1, winning Wimbledon and the US Open and winning tournaments-all tournaments.  Many top players didn't even bother to make the trip to OZ.  Does that sound like they thought the Australian had historical importance? 

Connors is tied for fifth in majors with 8 but is often left out of the top ten in critics' eyes.  His 5 number 1's tie him with Federer in the modern era with only Sampras eclipsing that mark.  His match wins and tournament wins are second to none.  Federer has 69 titles and has won 3 this year.  Sampras has 64.  When you think of winning and tennis Connors 109 titles has to be in the conversation.       

Friday, November 11, 2011

Murray the Best Player Ever(to Not Win a Major)

Andy Murray is an absolutely terrific tennis player.  His feel and movement around the court are second to none.  He is a topnotch world-class athlete who happens to play tennis.  He has beaten everyone, and he is a top challenger at all the Masters Series events, winning 8 titles at the Masters 1000 level.  The giant question is "why hasn't Andy won a major?"  If he can win against the best players, and also beat them back-to-back then is he just choking in the 3 major finals that he has lost?  I think the answer to this question is absolutely no.  Murray is very good under pressure, and he is not losing his major title opportunities due to nerves.  It is his style of play that wears him out in the best of 5 set Grand Slam format.  Andy came onto the tennis scene with his ability to stay in a rally all day with anyone, including Rafa.  Unfortunately this counter-punching style can take away your stamina if you don't blend it with enough ball-striking offense.  Andy has been too conservative in his approach to winning majors by not blowing out some opponents in the earlier rounds, and by not attacking enough in his play.  The best of 3 set format at the Masters Series events allows Murray to play his usual style, but the Slams do not!  It is not nerves, talent or fitness that Andy is lacking, but his nature of counter-punching and extending rallies.  Watch him grow his offense and ball-striking abilities and the majors will come, even with Federer, Djokovich and Nadal in his era .