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August 24, 2012

Don't Copy Tennis Pros' Strokes

An intriguing article in the Wall Street Journal quotes numerous teaching pros as saying that amateur players shouldn't copy the strokes of top pros. That used to work in the days of Rod Laver and Chris Evertt, but today's pros have strokes adapted to their games' high speed play that you don't need and will simply give you bad habits.

WSJ: The top pros "perform all sorts of intricate feats that are nearly impossible to imitate, brutal on your back, and rough on your knees, elbows and shoulders," plus they lead to bad form. (Good, concise video here of tips by former world number one Mats Wilander.)

... "Pros swing the way they do and use the equipment they use because they have to.

"They don't have time to turn completely sideways and step into the ball with their front feet, so they hit most of their shots with an open stance, with their feet almost facing the net. They can't afford to hit serves with their feet on the ground, as Evert did, so they propel themselves into the air. They barely have time to get to the net anymore, because the pace of the game is too fast and the passing shots too accurate. They need all the power and topspin they can get, and will sacrifice the feel of gut strings to get it."

The article also advises amateurs to use natural gut, because it is much easier on the arm, instead of the co-poly that dominates on the pro tour. 

Peter Burwash, a former pro whose company manages tennis facilities, says the high speed of the pro game can be misleading. People watching the pros don't understand basic things like contact.

Burwash: "bemoans the windshield-wiper finish that accompanies almost all modern forehands. In high speed, it looks like the player whips across the ball with a lot of wrist snap in an upside-down U-shaped motion."

"In reality, the wrist is passive (the forearm rolls) and the hitting arm extends fully at contact, out toward the target over the net. The pro follow-through is a function of how hard pros swing and how well they set their feet and turn their shoulders. Copy the finish without the beginning and the result is a sloppy, whippy stroke that produces inaccurate shots and errors."

The article is a good read and worth checking out (paid sub link). Other topics covered: Open-stande forehands (pros do it because they have to, you shouldn't), Forehand dominant play (you're not fast enough, learn to hit a backhand); The buggy-whip forehand (learn to hit through the ball); Swinging volleys (stick to a more reliable punch volley); Serves (don't jump also take your racket back at the same time you toss); One-handed backhand topspin (few pros can hit it well, stick to slice), change directions (unless your balance is perfect, it's much safer to hit the ball back in the direction it came from).

Yeah, but is playing smart and safe nearly as much fun as when you go for that spectacular shot and it actually works? <g>



Reader Comments

Big fan of your blog. Im gonna disagree with SOME of what Peter and Mats are trying to say.... Im of mind that you can have a pro stroke with the correct application and understanding of physics. Ive seen some of these rec players and yeah it gets crazy...but because they dont know why for example Federer hits with a straight arm vs a bent arm. You can hit with a bent arm and still hit a really good topspin modern stroke. So what Im favor in is better education.. why is a windshield wiper forehand taught the way it is? When I first learned it..it was taught as a follow through. Its not a follow through, its the end result of swinging up on the ball. While you cant play like the pros its perfectly feasable to copy their application of physics in their strokes.

Oh and on the subject of strings...I agree with using natural gut buuuutt...its kinda expensive and a pain in the ass to string and tends to break easier..for a string thats easier on the arm and plays like gut, Id go with a multifilament string. :-)

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