Monday
Mar062017

Avoid insanity on the court

Albert Einstein once said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This can apply to many aspects of life, including tennis. If you or your child are looking to have long-term success in tennis, or even being successful in a match, it's important to avoid this kind of insanity. Solutions need to be found, changes need to be made. No one wants to be a one-dimensional player, unwilling or unable to change the course of a match or adapt their game to accommodate an aging body, for example. But it turns out that avoiding insanity on the court starts from a young age. Without the right start, when a player finds themselves in a rut, they may be too far gone to be cured!

talent can get you to the top but talent alone is not enough to keep you there

Roger Federer said “I was very talented but I was not Tiger Woods, or Martina Hingis or Rafa (Nadal), who at the age of 10 years you knew would become number one.” Still, Roger Federer has enjoyed a very long and successful career (not over yet), winning 17 grand slam titles, making him more successful than many players who appeared to have more talent from a young age. Martina Hingis won her first junior grand slam at the age of just 12. She then went on to become the youngest ever winner of a grand slam at the pro level when, at the age of 16, she won the Australian Open. She crowned this achievement by also becoming the youngest player to be ranked number one. On the men's side, Lleyton Hewitt became the youngest ever number one, at the age of 20, and Rafael Nadal was the first teenager player to win a Grand Slam (Roland Garros) since Pete Sampras (US Open) in 1990. Although these young stars had great careers, in the end their results fell short of the very high expectations a lot of people had for them.

These players’ careers show that talent can get you to the top but talent alone is not enough to keep you there for the long haul. So what went wrong? All of these young stars had a similar style of game: very consistent from the baseline with an ability to turn defence into offence (counterpunchers). But in a word, they were one-dimensional, strong when their game was on, but very vulnerable when it wasn’t or when opponents managed to overcome their style of play. This style of play may be a very effective way of winning as a junior, but playing this way as a pro can be physically grinding, is more likely to result in injury, and may even contribute to early retirement. Also, top pros are more likely than juniors to be able to find solutions to overcome this style of play. So although these young stars had great careers, in the end their results fell short of the very high expectations people had for them.

As players age and the game changes, players need to be able to adapt. Players expecting longevity in the game need to be able to play shorter points and have a good mix of aggressive and consistent play. Hingis, for example, was never able to develop a stronger serve, which was one of her weaknesses, or add more power to her game overall. Nadal is still trying to improve the depth of his shots and play closer to the baseline, but with the extreme grips he has on his groundstrokes that’s difficult to implement. So if it’s quite obvious what needed to be done to improve these players’ competitiveness, then why were these talented players unable to do it?



Maybe it’s no coincidence that Hingis and Nadal both kept the same coaches throughout their careers, mother and uncle respectively. In contrast, Federer and Serena have searched for more experienced coaches to help them add new dimensions to their games. Serena has maintained her ferocious power but added more topspin to her groundstrokes which has given her more control. She has also kept working on her serve which often gives her very handy free points. Federer, with a very complete game, has made changes more on the tactical level. In the past, he had a reputation for beating his opponents at their own game and was against serving into the body. Lately he has been focussing more on using the strengths of his own game, has started serving into the body, and has been approaching the net more often. The changes these players have made have been possible for two reasons: first, is the good advice received from experienced coaches who are knowledgeable of what the best course of action is for these players in today’s game; second, particularly in Federer’s case, is having developed strong technique from a young age.

That leads us to the importance of good coaching to develop a strong base. Regardless of whether you are a pro player, a recreational player, a beginner, young or old, you should always search for a good coach. A good coach is one that understands the technical and tactical challenges of the player at their level and, in the case of beginners, is able to prepare them to excel at higher levels in the future. Even a legendary player like Federer, who in recent years experimented with not having a coach, realized he needed an expert’s advice, in his case to help him adapt to changes in the game and his physical capacity. This helped revive his career which really looked to be over.

For a young player, it’s especially important to develop a solid technical base that will allow them to more easily make changes and improvements to their game throughout their career. Hitting countless balls in practice will not get you very far if there is little or no attention to technique, in fact it will hinder your progress in the future. Hingis said that her mother used to make her hit 100 serves everyday and at least 90 had to be in. This kind of exercise will help improve consistency, but if there was no regard to quality then it’s no wonder that she never developed more power. And if Hingis’ mother thought that somehow this kind of practice would improve quality then she should have realized quite early on that she was mistaken, and if she persisted with it even after the point that it became ineffective in improving Hingis’ serve, well then Einstein would have considered her “insane.”

So make sure that you or your children receive proper training from a certified coach that will allow your games to develop for years to come. And when it comes to competition, don’t put match results ahead of development, especially early on. Good results early on are not a reliable indicator of future success, just ask all of the previous winners of the junior title at Roland Garros - Stan Wawrinka was the first player ever to win both the junior and pro slams in Paris! There’s plenty of time to focus on results once you’ve become the best player that you can be.

Coach Renato’s Tip:
Avoid insanity in you matches. Tennis is a sport with no time limit, so if your initial tactic is not working try to change it. Try to figure out what is holding you back from going ahead in the match and make some adjustments, there is always the possibility of recovering, even from the worst positions possible. Don’t allow yourself to get too much inside your own head, understand that your opponent also has doubts about themselves. Perhaps try to make them move more, try to play more consistently, go to the net sometimes, or maybe try to bring your opponent to the net. In tennis it is natural for momentum to swing between players. Look for what you need to do to grab the momentum and when you have it hold onto it for as long you can. If you need some help, consult with a certified coach. Above all, enjoy the sport and have fun with it.

Renato Amaral is a Senior Pro at Bahrain Tennis Academy and is an LTA certified professional. Email him at renato@bahraintennisacademy.com.

Tuesday
Dec202016

Should Roger Federer retire?

Roger Federer is certainly past the peak of his career, yet he still ranks as one of the best players in the world. Recent injuries and a dearth of major titles of late has predictably led some commentators to suggest that he should consider calling it a day. Should he?

FOR:

He is past his best and can’t win as often as he used to. With 17 Grand Slam titles, 6 ATP World Tour titles and 24 Masters 1000 titles, Roger Federer has won more major tournaments than any other player in history. But his strike rate has gone down considerably over the past five years. Over an eight year period, from 2003-2008, Federer won 16 Grand Slam titles and was runner-up on six occasions. Since 2011 he has reached the final of five majors but was only able to win one of them, which was way back in 2012 at Wimbledon. It’s unlikely that this trend is going to get any better, so why continue to battle it out on the gruelling tour when you’ve experienced such highs in your career and there is little to look forward to? Wouldn’t he be wise to follow in the footsteps of the great Pete Sampras who, after eight consecutive years of winning slams, followed by an absence of majors for two years, retired after finally capturing another (his 14th) Grand Slam title?

He is too old and becoming plagued by injuries. At 34, Roger Federer is one of the elder statesmen of the game. When players hit their thirties they typically become increasingly susceptible to injuries due to the natural degradation of soft tissues in the body. Federer has had remarkably few injuries in his career and as a result holds the Open Era record of 65 straight appearances in Grand Slam main draws. However, he has finally begun to experience the perils of age and was forced withdraw from Roland Garros, breaking his record streak. He has had issues with his lower back, which has resulted in his withdrawal from a number of tournaments, and had to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus in January. Although the torn meniscus was the result of a freak accident while bathing his children, and by no means completely attributable to age, injuries in your mid-thirties take far longer to recover from than in your mid-twenties, regardless of the cause! Roger is already well past the age by which most pros have retired - Sampras was 31 when he won the 2002 US Open and called it quits - so realistically how much longer can he expect to compete at the highest level?

AGAINST:

He is still one of the world’s best players and can still compete for major titles. Federer may be a little long in the tooth and not winning as often as he is used to but let’s put things into perspective. The fact is he is the number three player in the world and still has the ability to beat the best players in the game, including world number one Novak Djokovic who has dominated the game so much over the past couple of years that he has earned the right to be considered one of the all-time greats alongside Federer. In fact Federer is one of the few players who have been able to take a match off Djokovic every now and then. Federer still ranks above another active all-time great in Nadal and was second only to the sublime Djokovic as recently as last October. So he is hardly down for the count! Despite it being nearly four years since his last slam victory, he has reach three slam finals and two semi-finals in the past two years. After a very poor 2013 by his standards, there has been no further decline in his results, in fact his results in majors have improved of late. So he’s not just going through the motions but is committed to continuing to improve his game to give himself a shot at winning more slams. So why shouldn’t he keep going?

He is the GOAT (Greatest Player of All Time) and we we want him around as long as possible. Each one of us have witnessed the development of something very special over the course of Federer’s career. From the 19-year-old, pony-tailed punk who took out four-time defending champion Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001 to the greatest player to have ever picked up a racket. It will be a long time before we see another Federer, a player who will dominate the game so completely for so long. We’re lucky that despite all his past success he’s still motivated to keep producing his best. Why would we want to wish away a talent like that? And more than just being the GOAT he has been one of the greatest ambassadors the game has ever had. As one of the very best athletes in the world, Federer’s feats have attracted massive amounts of media attention which has been great for the game of tennis, especially since he always conducts himself in a highly professional manner and is a great role model for children. And if, against the odds, he can capture another slam, well then the media will lap up that story like never before! So the longer he can stick around the better.

Coach Dan’s call: I say, “Long live the King!” What’s your call?

Friday
Nov112016

Big boys prepare for battle

As the world’s best players head to The O2 arena in London for the ATP World Tour Finals, let’s take a look at the line-up and see who’s likely to be crowned the best of the best at the end of next week, and how it might affect the race to be the year-end No 1.

Good form is invaluable and trumps all historical records.

This year’s line-up will be somewhat of a shock to long-time tennis fans as the tournament will be without six-time champ, Roger Federer, who has missed the cut for the first time since 2001. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge what a phenomenal achievement it was for Roger to feature in this elite group of players for the past 14 years. His debut event was so long ago that Andre Agassi was still part of the top eight! He will be sorely missed, along with Rafael Nadal who qualified in eighth position but won’t be competing again until next season.

In Group John McEnroe, newly crowned No 1, Murray, will compete against Wawrinka, Cilic and Nishikori in the initial stages, while Djokovic will head up Group Ivan Lendl, which also consists of Raonic, Monfils and Thiem.

Murray will go into the tournament as the favourite, not just on paper but due to his scintillating recent form that has him on a 19-match winning streak. Coach Lendl’s job will be to ensure Murray remains focussed on riding this wave and doesn’t dwell on the past - like the fact that Cilic and Nishikori are amongst the few players he has lost to this year, or his poor record at the event, having only ever reached as far as the semi-finals.

Djokovic’s recent slump in form, in comparison to the lofty heights he has taken his game to in recent years, will be of great concern to him. But he will take solace in the fact that he has never lost a match against any of the players in his group - his combined head-to-head is 23-0. This draw, combined with the fact that as a five-time champion he has made this tournament his own in recent years, should help him ease into the event. He’ll have plenty of motivation to bring out his best in order to reclaim the No 1 ranking, which he had held for 122 consecutive weeks.

Should both men make it through to the final, it would be a dream end to the season, as the winner would take the prestigious title of season ending No 1. Djokovic has history on his side. Almost every stat you can come up with, prior to his slump, would indicate that he should have the edge, from his vastly superior haul of big titles, to his record at this event, to his dominant head-to-head (24-10).

But good form is invaluable and trumps all historical records. Along with his skillful game, Andy’s ascent has shown he has the goods upstairs too. This makes the title his to win or lose. But if he does face Novak, he will be asked a question that will put him on the spot: “Do you REALLY think you’re better than ME?” His response will determine whether he’ll be a "one-week wonder" or a No 1 of note.

Friday
Nov112016

Tip of the week: Know which ball is yours

In doubles, you are essentially responsible for covering your half of the court, left or right, not front or back as many players assume. If you're covering front or back, the logical (lateral) position for both the baseliner and volleyer would be in the centre of the court. This renders the players largely ineffective as both sides of the court are unguarded, meaning both players have to cover the full width of the doubles court, an impossible task!

By covering left or right the players are required to only cover half the width of the court. You may say, but what if the baseliner gets a short ball? Well, they come forward, just as they would in singles! BUT, what if the volleyer gets lobbed? If the volleyer is defeated, meaning they can't hit an overhead, then in this case the baseliner can scoot across to retrieve the shot because typically this high ball will allow adequate time to do so.

To enhance your effectiveness further, when you're the net player, don't sit right on top of the net. Position yourself around half-way between the service-line and the net and you'll find that successful lobs occur a lot less often than you fear. See you on the court!

Friday
Oct282016

Is Murray number one material?

As the end of the season approaches, thoughts inevitably turn to who will be the year end No 1. In recent years the top player has been a fairly obvious pick. This year however, Kerber will take the mantle from Williams, since Serena has already called an end to her season due to a shoulder injury, and Murray has a realistic chance of snatching the title from Djokovic. But does Murray have what it takes to get there? What about to stay there? And does the No 1 ranking even matter?

(it) will come down to whether Murray believes he belongs there

Since resuming his previously successful relationship with coach, Ivan Lendl, Murray has been on a tear. After achieving a Wimbledon and Olympic Games double for a second time, he made the final of the Cincinnati Masters 1000 and then, after a self-imposed hiatus, returned to win the title in Beijing as well as the Shanghai Masters 1000. He clearly has a level of focus and motivation that we haven't seen from him before and, although he’s not one to predict his future successes, it’s evident that his self-belief is at an all-time high. It has never been an issue of talent for Murray, so now that he’s on a roll both physically and mentally, and Djokovic is distracted with unspecified "personal issues,” I believe only he himself can thwart his aspiration to become the oldest first-time No 1 since John Newcombe in 1974.

If he does manage to get there, the next question will be whether he can stay there. This is a tougher question. It is a phenominal achievement for any player to reach the summit, but the best of the best don't just get there, they stay there for a season or two . . . or, in the case of Federer, nearly six full years! The weight of expectations on the World No 1 can be crushing and Murray has never been considered amongst the game's mentally toughest competitiors. Assuming he does reach the top, what will happen when Djokovic regroups, and perhaps others challenge for the top spot, will come down to whether Murray believes he belongs there or if the demons inside his head convince him otherwise - "you've never been good enough, you just got lucky towards the end of your career." Coach Lendl, who won 33 tour titles before claiming the No 1 ranking, but went on to own it for 270 weeks, will be an invaluable support.

But would reaching No 1 really impact Murray's legacy? Winning a Grand Slam title certainly elevated his place in the history books, and winning multiple Slams and Olympic gold medals have taken him up another notch. Could his star rise any further? Sure. Becoming World No 1, even for a week, would be another significant accolade as it would make him a member of yet another exclusive club. As for retaining the mantle, at 29 he's certainly not going to be dominating for a record breaking timespan. But if he's able to own the No 1 position for a full season or two, he would certainly elevate his status even further. Because for many, Murray's career has promised much but often failed to deliver. If at this late stage he was able to assert some dominance over his accomplished peers, he would be remembered for having one of the most remarkable endings to a career, rather than as a highly talented player that "did well."