Dick Bradlee's dream came true

Vic Braden

by Vic Braden
Contributing Tennis Writer

In the 1960's, a tennis instructor in Santa Monica, California, was promoting a weird theory of hitting tennis forehands with an "Open Stance". At every opportunity, he would corner his victim and tell him/her about the value of "Open Stance" forehands.

As the tennis director of the Jack Kramer Club in Palos Verdes, California, I was spending many hours each day telling students about the virtues of hitting in a closed stance while moving towards the net. While I was on the court, Jack Kramer was being bombarded with daily calls at his home from Dick Bradlee telling him about the virtues of the "Open stance". Kramer's patience finally wore off and he told Bradlee that he would honor his request for a demonstration, but that Bradlee was not to call him again.

A date was set and Jack, Bradlee and I met at the Kramer Club for this weird demo of the "Open stance". Jack started the ball rolling by hitting an easy forehand to Bradlee. It could have been the result of sheer nervousness, but the ball on Bradlee's forehand came off the frame and went over a 40 foot fence that separated the tennis courts from the next door golf driving range. That pretty much ended the demo, and even some spectators couldn't stop laughing. We were never again asked by Bradlee to perform a demo.

The key to the "Open stance" forehand was to generate a credible speed while remaining on the baseline. That was not an easy task with a 14 or 15 ounce racket. Stiff rackets were needed to generate speed and that meant adding a huge amount of wood to the old rackets. That made them difficult to swing fast to produce greater ball speed.

But, some decades later, NASA came up with some special materials that were strong, stiff and light. Racket companies were quick to convert this new material into eight and nine ounce stiff racket frames. All of a sudden, players could hit aggressive shots from the baseline and volleys were beginning to disappear.

Pete Sampras
Pete Sampras was one of the all-time best baseliners during his career.

In the 2007 Wimbledon, former champion, Pete Sampras, told how saddened he was to see the grass court championships become a baseline game. In one tournament, while our research team was recording every shot on hidden video cameras, we only had fifteen volleys to digitize in three days.

For several years, only a hand full of players could put a ball "away" from the baseline with a 15 ounce racket. Today, there are thousands of players who can swing that eight ounce racket with blinding speed and many of these players see no reason why they should go to the net. Another factor comes into play to keep "Open stance" players at the baseline and that is the severe body uncoiling sends the center of gravity towards the middle of the baseline and they lose close to nine feet going to the net. That's why "Open stance" forehand hitters are often passed as they only make it just inside the service line when going to the net. So, why go to the net?

So, I will have to pay a belated tribute to Dick Bradlee for his insight into a new forehand technique in 1960. Now, I look for a student's personality type. For those players who live in mortal fear of being passed at the net, the "Open stance" is acceptable. For those aggressive players who are eager to end points quickly with aggressive net rushing, I have drills that prove the value of hitting with a "closed stance".

Comments? Contact Vic Braden at vicbraden@vicbraden.com.
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