by Vic Braden
Contributing Tennis Writer
The battle between coaches about tennis tactics and strokes has never been more fierce. The coaches who teach a student how to get to the net every time they find an opponent in a vulnerable position, have certainly been in a minority the last few years. The coaches who prefer life on the baseline point to most of the players these days.
That's why the "old fashion coaches", as they are called, were all smiles watching Svetlana Kuznetsova whip Amelie Mauresmo and Maria Sharapova in the NASDAQ 100 while going to the net at every opportunity. I have been called one of the "old guard" who thinks most of the baseliners have forgotten that tennis is a game won by players who can intimidate opponents. There's no better way to intimidate an opponent than by rushing to the net at key times.
Why is that so? When a player rushes the net when the opponent is in poor position, the opponent must hit a passing shot within a two degree range to be effective. In some cases where the opponent is far out of court and moving laterally, the range narrows down to one degree in many cases. I call this, "Intimidation".
Svetlana Kuznetsova disposed of the #1 and #4 ranked players in the world to win last week's NASDAQ 100 tournament in Florida.
That tactic was utilized effectively by some players one might remember, like Patrick Rafter, Pete Sampras and Martina Navratilova. And let's not forget a pretty effective player named Roger Federer.
Before anyone gets too angry, I feel the whole issue relates to personality types. There are "A" players who want something to happen fast and one way is to gain position at the net. Of course, we're considering that these players have the strokes that will get them in that position. These are usually extraverts with quick foot speed.
Then, there's the player "B" with the personality that would like to wait until an opponent makes an error. That's fine. The problem with this type of player is that if one player is far better playing at the baseline than an opponent with the same style, the lesser talented player has no options except to "take gas". As a coach of 60 years, I will always bet on the player who has options.
People use Bjorn Borg as an example of a player who was extremely successful and only went to the net to get the check. Right on, but there has only been one Bjorn Borg. He was so good at the baseline that he didn't need an option. As a matter of fact, it took a net rusher, John McEnroe, to finally dethrone five time Wimbledon champion, Bjorn Borg. There are millions of players out there today who have no net game and who will be quickly forgotten by the public, or never remembered. As I travel around the world, I run into players who are fantastic from the baseline and can't even win a single "Challenger" match.
What I have seen happen in the last few years is the development of a large contingent of coaches who never went to the net in their lifetime and can't teach an approach shot and the fundamentals of "net rushing". On the other hand, when I asked Roger Federer how he developed a game with several options, he replied, "I had good coaching". I also know coaches who know the value of good net play, but they're afraid to go against the "modern"
system, as it is called. I remember doing some research on Tim Gullickson's game while he served as coach for Pete Sampras. He truly understood the role of a great net rusher.
It's no secret that when our coaches finished the three-dimensional study on different approach shot styles, the players who hit with an "Open stance"
had little reason to attack as they were normally nine feet further back for the volley than the player who moved through the approach shot, commonly called the "old" method. All one has to do is to watch Andy Roddick get passed at the service line when he does decide to attack. I actually hurt for him. Such a brilliant player with every shot in the game except the "old" way of moving through an approach shot.
Oh well, I'm writing this because Svetlana made tennis on television interesting again. Thank you Svetlana for breathing new life into the "old coaches".
Vic Braden is a longtime sports science researcher, licensed psychologist and the founder of Vic Braden Sports Instruction and the Vic Braden Tennis College, which are held nationwide at premier resorts. He has produced sixteen instructional videos that incorporate his research and his coaching knowledge.
Vic has authored six books, contributed to publications such as Sports Illustrated, and continues to author editorials for several publications such as Tennis Week and Tennis Life. In addition, he has appeared on popular television shows including NBC?s Today Show, hosted his own television shows on PBS and ESPN, and provided televised tennis commentary for numerous professional events.
His lighthearted approach is endearing, and his motto of ?Laugh and Win? has helped shape the resoundingly positive attitudes of decades of students. In his books, videos, Tennis Colleges, and speeches, Vic strives to teach effectively and connect with students on a personal level, aiming to uncover the ?genius to perform? that he believes rests in every individual.
Working with famous sports researchers for several decades, Vic finds great joy in passing on new and valuable information. He strives to help students maximize their performance and enjoyment of this great sport in the shortest period of time. In our (thoroughly biased) opinion, Vic is ?simply the best!!!?