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Does Faster Mean Better In Tennis?

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Does Faster Mean Better In Tennis? by by Sérgio Cruz

The impression I have from many TV commentators and almost every tennis expert that I have read or listened to, is that they all seem to be in awe on how fast the game of tennis today is. Everyone seems convinced that players of the past played slower games and therefore could not cope with today's fast game. Is it true that power and power alone and faster means better in Tennis? I dare challenge everyone to think twice.

Remember Mike Tyson in boxing? Who drove him to the border of insanity? A boxer that had mastered an "old" punch, the jab, Evander Hollyfield.

In tennis the two most dominant male players of the last few years Pete Sampras and Roger Federer mastered the "tennis jab" the "old" backhand slice from "eons" past. When you have understood the importance of such a shot and the advantages it brings to your game you will understand why sometimes slower is better.

Like in boxing the jab is designed to open up the opponents defense to allow a KO, in other words a powerful straight right (or left if you are a left-hander). In tennis the slice backhand is to allow you the put away forehand. In many cases if you do have an excellent slice, many opponents get so frustrated that they end up making unforced errors before you even need to put the ball away! That is a bonus!

What happens when the slice is well executed? That changes dimensions in the whole game, from fast to slow, from waist or higer level shots, to low skidding balls, from not bending to getting down on your knees, from being comfortable with your racket grip to having to change gripping slightly to get under a lower ball, from using the opponents pace to having to generate it yourself and so on.

So what does a good slice backhand do for you?

  • If you are in trouble it can give you more time to get back into position by floating it deep.

  • It can force the opponent into giving you a slower high shot that you can put away.

  • If you play it short with an angle it can bring any opponent into no man's land and allow you to hit behind them into the open court.

  • Again, if you play it short with an angle it can force your opponent to have no other choice but to come to the net (where he may not want to be) from an uncomfortable position. Roger Federer has mastered it.

  • Once you have displaced your opponent out of the court with a punishing stroke, you can easily surprise him with a sliced drop shot (if you disguise it well) instead of a deep ball.

  • You can use it as an attack on second serves from your opponent (the so called chip and charge) and go to the net. Pete did it both with the forehand & backhand and Tim Henman executes it classically.

  • Then again, from an attacking position inside the court, if you play it deep with good pace and keep it low, you can approach the net with a much higher likelyhood of winning the point with your next volley.

In almost all point situations, time and variation are crucial factors. By playing the backhand slice judiciously, you will be putting both elements in your favor.

For example, many players today attack the net with incredibly fast strokes usually top spin and get passed systematically or do not even make it to a confortable position at the net and therefore volley poorly. While other players hit the ball a lot slower but deep with slice, getting alot closer to the net and being able to put the volley away. The main factor in both cases is time.

In the first case by hitting the ball fast the player with topspin is trying to take reaction time away from his opponent. Nevertheless, in most cases opponents are quick and the higher bouncing topspin ball allows them to hit the passing shot before you have reached a comfortable volleying position. This means getting passed, hitting a volley on your shoe strings or hitting a generally poor volley and getting passed in the next shot.

Much in the style of play of the 50's, 60's and 70's, in the second case because the slice ball is substantially slower it may seem to advantage your opponents time to get earlier to it but, in reality it is in your advantage; you will have more time while the slower ball is in flight and your opponent can not do anything about it but, wait for the ball to bounce! This will allow you to get in closer to the net and in most cases to hit your opponents passing shot attempt with a winning volley of your own while the ball is in a position higher then the net. Further more, your adversary will have to deal with a deep low skidding ball and a possible need for a slight change of grip to attempt to get under the ball, which will make it much harder to hit an effective passing shot.

Here I do not pretend to have given you all the ideas and solutions for the use of the slice backhand, but I am sure that it is a good start for you to build a better game.

Remember never underestimate the "oldies" there are many good things to learn from players from all eras in tennis. For example; millions of us tennis lovers would give anything to hit a ball as well as these 3 "Great Oldies": Donald Budge, Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall.

The important thing is to play the most effective game with the least effort possible, when you have achieved that you have mastered the game. Young Roger Federer is an excellent example.

For comments or ideas about this article please email the author Sergio Cruz

Copyright © 2005®. All rights reserved.

Sérgio Cruz is an ex # 1 National Champion, Davis Cup Player from Portugal and former Coach Jim Courier ATP World Ranking # 1

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