Thursday, 4 February 2016




I vividly recall watching a practice set between two of my advanced students several years ago. One had magnificent looking strokes, the other, well his needed work yet he was a thinker, you just knew it by his quiet nature that something else was going on with him. He never said a word. I paired these two up for a match because I was fascinated to see if a 'glamour' style could really be taken apart by a not so glamorous style that had the word 'hacker' written all over it. ( More on 'hacking' later )
It didn't take long for my idea to come to fruition, within ten minutes of the commencement of this particular match you could see quite easily that the 'hacker' was way on top both mentally and physically. The glamour player had dropped his bundle, he was a mental wreck even after ten minutes of play and his body language was one of a player who had played two sets, not one who had played ten minutes. Why ? Well I believe it was all to do with two different perceptions.
The glamour guy felt that his magnificent looking shots should be way to magnificent for the player who was just beginning tennis but he had a much different perception that in fact held way more substance than the other's. Mr Glamour was not used to so many balls coming back at such an uncomfortable height and frequency. He was basically frustrated to such an extent that he started mimicking the opposition by throwing the ball up high himself but that wasn't his game, it was his opponent's so quite simply he was not as efficient at it, so he invariably lost easily.
After the sets were completed I called the guys in and we had a chat about the points played and where they believed they went right or went wrong, I asked for a self assessment. This was Mr Glamour's assessment " He's just a hack " ! Yep that's all he could come out with, he had no time for his opponent's smart play that totally put his game out of rhythm. I didn't get a word out of the 'hacker' so I offered some myself.
"That buddy was brilliant play, it wasn't pretty but no one said you have to look pretty when you play tennis, you just have to out smart the opposition. You did that to perfection". I turned to Mr Glamour and said " You were outplayed both by his shots and his mind, you can call him anything you like but until you beat him, well, he owns you Champ".
From memory it didn't take long for Mr Glamour to exact revenge as the 'hack' was just learning the game and his shots needed some work so the technique expertise won over the next time they played but it took some thinking by the previously vanquished to turn it around.
That whole story to me is typical of perception in tennis as we all have an idea of what we think is good enough to win yet as we all know it is almost an impossibility at any level to keep winning at a sport that has numerous styles of effectiveness. The kid who was new to the sport believed that by simply just getting the ball back at six to ten feet over the net and deep it would beat anybody he played and because he was new to it he feared nothing and no one.
The kid who owned a technically gifted game but not enough tennis smarts thought that by just hitting the ball with a fancy style that his game would be way too good for not just that new kid but for anyone. That match that I set up between the two was a perfect learning curve for both because of the difference in hours on court yet the surprising result.
Sometimes I wonder whether a kid with a totally unorthodox style could in fact be regularly successful in tennis through the junior ranks and then take it to the senior level such as Borg and McEnroe both did with styles that have never been replicated since. Who teaches a Borg style backhand or a McEnroe style serve now days ? The answer is no one because most coaches have the same perception as to how a style should look on a tennis court so they quite possibly do not embrace 'quirky' styles.
When a kid shows some potential what is the first thing that happens ? A coach will 'refine' the player's shots to a style that is what we all refer to as 'text book' and then it really is just a type of race as to which kid can make the grade with it. When you look at it however over the years the most successful players have all had a rather unique perception as to how the game should be played. Take Jimmy Connors for instance. If a 'regular' tennis coach had got a hold of him do you think they would have allowed him to keep thumping the ball that hard and that flat ? Jimmy's record speaks for itself. Do you think Borg's backhand would survive in today's playing and in particular coaching climate ? It would have been thrown out as 'outrageous'. Mac's serve with that footwork ? Too side on Mac.
The list goes on but one thing is for certain the champions of the World of tennis all had a unique perception of what they believed to be the correct and most effective way to hit a tennis ball.

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