It's no secret that my influences from tennis stem from the late 70's and early 80's, even through to perhaps 1990, after that well I really didn't care too much, the game changed. From the Swedish domination of Borg, Wilander, Edberg etc to the emergence of Agassi in '88 the game saw some classic matches and some real characters, players who left a lasting impression.
I remember some matches vividly where some players had styles that almost resembled robots like Lendl, even Borg, two players who sat on the baseline and simply waited for the opposition to miss or 'commit suicide' by coming to the net. These guys owned a structured game that took an amazing amount of discipline to implement day in, day out, it's why they became so successful. They didn't really own a Plan B, they had such a good Plan A that not too many players could infiltrate so they stuck with what they knew best. Fascinating to watch a player that good.
I have been meaning to read the Brad Gilbert book titled 'Winning Ugly', a book about 'Mental warfare in the game of Tennis' however I have not had the pleasure so far. I have though read some snippets of it and it typifies the sort of player Gilbert was, a genius. The man who took Andre Agassi from almost a waste of talent to the World's best player had a unique style of his own that could only be described as 'unconventional'.
Brad Gilbert would dish the best players up all sorts of things like short sliced balls, high looping topspin balls, balls with no pace and he would also mix the play up with net advances just to dispel the theory that he was perhaps a baseliner. In other words Gilbert gave his opponents 'nothing'. The American had a nasty habit of almost 'poking' balls back into court with just a breath of wind on them especially from his backhand and then ripping the next ball past his incoming opponent.
Brad Gilbert had an uncanny knack of almost lulling opponents into a false sense of security not unlike the great Czech Miloslav Mecir who could also put an opponent to sleep then wake them rather rudely. How Andre Agassi found Brad Gilbert was nothing short of a master stroke but it worked to perfection, two contrasting players, a genius with no weapons and a player with many weapons who was no genius.
The win by Gilbert at the 1987 US Open against Boris Becker in the round of 16 will go down as one of the all time great upsets in New York as Gilbert was seeded 13, Becker 4. What made the win even more remarkable was that Becker won the first two sets, he was all over Gilbert but the unconventional American had a structure to his game that was all about self discipline, just as Borg's and Lendl's was.
With winnings of over five and a half million dollars, a highest ranking of 4 in singles and an intelligence that attracted a player of Andre Agassi's standard it is no wonder that Brad Gilbert was destined for success in coaching when he finished playing professionally in 1995.
In fact in 1992 just two years before he started helping Agassi he belted his future student 6-1, 6-2 in Paris when Andre was ranked 8 in the World, perhaps a match that stuck in Agassi's mind regarding talents versus brains.
Some days when I see kids play the game it seems to be all about the ego and how to out hit an opponent who is playing big shots, much of it lacks thought. If you have ever seen Gilbert play it surely will remind you that tennis can still be won now days without the glamour if certain structures are put into play from the outset.
Watching the AFL matches each weekend it is noticeable that the best sides have a discipline about them that at times seems ridiculously effective. When these teams are on song it is almost like they have an extra man or two on the field and it has opposition coaches scratching their heads at ways to break the structure.
It is one thing to offer a style of play by a coach but it is another totally different thing for a player or team to implement it. So it begs the question once again.
As a coach of a sport are you teaching tactics just as much as you are teaching technique or are you simply hoping that when they come up against another good player they will simply have a better day than their opponent ? When two juniors come up against one another with no game plan but similar styles then who will win ? It's a raffle, correct me if I am wrong.
If however a player has certain structures in place and can implement a Plan B as well as a preferred Plan A then they will go a long way to winning against a player who doesn't own the ability to keep thinking when in trouble.
Brad Gilbert had no weapons, no glamour and no obvious physical advantages yet he beat players in the Top 10 on 27 different occasions. How is that possible ?
Well I believe that his book is one of the best sellers of all time, it may just hold some secrets as to how we can all become a little more successful in the sport of tennis.......