I never really appreciated the way in which Brad Gilbert played tennis , I wasn't alone . After reading the Jimmy Connors book it seems that Gilbert was a man who was disliked immensely by fellow players for one reason or another , Jonny Mac was one .
After a loss at the Masters one particular year McEnroe took 6 months off the game and said that if he was to lose "to jerks like that" he needed time off. I like this melt down from a legend like Mac , it meant that the guy he lost to meant nothing to him as far as respect for a fellow pro was concerned, but it gave me some ideas. I have always thought that the game of tennis was too glamorous as far as style went , Gilbert was a man who threw a lot of theories out the window.
If you look at the way Gilbert used to play you will see that it is unconventional , ugly and involves giving your opponent garbage balls , but boy it was effective. Why do you think that Andre Agassi became so good ? It's because he was the opposite of Gilbert and owned every shot in the book yet had a tennis brain that 14 year olds owned , Gilbert turned his thinking into a man's.
I had a lesson this week with a kid who quite frankly is a smart kid , every shot in the book he owned , but he didn't know how to construct a point . I paused after a while and almost imagined myself as Gilbert with a young Andre down the other end and I in fact paid him a compliment. I told him " Hey Champ what you need is someone to teach you how to play tennis , you actually know how to hit a ball well but you don't know how to play the game ".
I was genuine in my praise , he hit the ball beautifully but had no tactical mind , understandable , he's young , plenty of time to gain a knowledge. Hopefully he will be back , he is probably the best kid I have seen in years.
I think sometimes in tennis as a coach we perhaps over coach kids , we need to teach them the tactical side rather than keep teaching them how to hit a ball, they get tired of that same old routine. Brad Gilbert picked the issues with Agassi in their very first hit together and told Andre that he was simply doing "dumb things" , things that were costing him on court . Andre was beating himself , not losing to opponents.
If a kid can hit a tennis ball then we should be teaching them how to play , not how to hit , there is a difference, yet some continue to treat students as imbeciles , like beginners , it's how kids are lost to other sports .
The other day I saw some potential in a kid that I believe has not been utilised by other coaches as the shots that were being hit to me had an air of maturity in them that gets us coaches excited at the prospect of nurturing the talent .
My views on tennis at times are not text book but I believe that it is a game that should be looked upon as a game of chess or checkers . A kid who learns the moves early will find a way to the finish line a lot earlier than a kid who is kept under wraps because his coach is too scared to teach them the next step .
We should be teaching 'Check Mate' at an early age for those that can hit a ball , not leaving it until it's too late , just as Brad Gilbert did for a young Andre Agassi who without a tactical mind as his coach's would have been just another wasted talent.
Brains win tennis matches , not just a big forehand . Watch Gilbert play on You Tube , tell me of I'm wrong.....