Who Will Win the Australian Open 2015?

The Australian Open 2015 has brought many surprises. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep did not even reach semifinals. On the other hand, Venus Williams has achieved her first Grand Slam quarter-final since 2010, and Ekaterina Makarova is in semifinal.

I asked a tennis coach to share his thoughts on the tournament and predict which players have more chances for winning Australian Open 2015. Here is his opinion.

This one is tough to figure on both sides.

Novak Djokovic

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova both had hiccups early, yet I never thought they would lose as I watched their horrendous play. Now they seem dominant.

Ekaterina Makarova was impressive in beating Simona Halep, but her best is at least a level below that of the top two.

Venus Williams is too erratic to win three more matches in a row, but she can still fire the ball. I have to go with Serena because of her serve, though Sharapova’s ground strokes were impressive as she dismantled Eugenie Bouchard.

I like Nick Kyrgios’ attitude. He still has to learn how to play tennis, but he is young. Tomas Berdych finally put together a good game plan against Rafael Nadal, but beating a one-dimensional player isn’t the same as beating Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray. The top men all look good. Nobody seems dominant.

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Time Lag Between “Knowing” and “Doing”

Ray Brown

Ray Brown

A long and complex mathematical computation may take several trials to complete. Each trial is a practice run at getting it right. The combination of trial followed by “gestation” can take as much as three days. After three days there is a good chance the solution is right.

There is no difference between this activity and learning to hit a tennis ball in that it takes a lot of trials to get it right. We know from brain evolution that mathematical skills were built on top of physical skills requiring many of the same processes in the brain. However, physical skills also required the development of a neuromuscular infrastructure that is not required in mathematics.

The implications are significant. When a student of tennis believes that they have got the stroke right in only a few days, it may be true as far as the brain part of the stroke is concerned. But they still cannot execute correctly. The difference is that the neuromuscular infrastructure to “hit it right” takes far longer to develop. Hence the student may become frustrated because their view of what is possible does not agree with what their body can execute. This is particularly true of juniors.

This frustration may be acted out in various ways that are mostly unproductive. Whereas if they understand that there is a significant time lag between getting the right sequencing in the brain versus developing the neuromuscular infrastructure to execute the stroke, there might be less frustration. The frustration can also delay development significantly.

Patience is requires to allow for the time lag between “knowing how to execute” and “being able to execute”. There is no cure for this time lag but the exact amount of time from “knowing” to “doing” can be reduced by separate training activities.

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Advice for a Professional Athlete

Dear professional athlete or just retired professional athlete:

A few things to consider:

Dear Professional athlete

– Your career will fly by quicker than you could ever have imagined, so grab and maximize every opportunity you get.
– You will encounter many temptations and false prophets along your journey.
– Even though you worked your butt off and deserved your success, just remember that there are others that weren’t as privileged as you and given the opportunity.
– You will be given special treatment, appreciate it, don’t think it’s ’normal’ or expected.
– Never forget your biggest and most loyal fans were the ones who couldn’t afford the front row seats or fancy dinner functions.
– Remember that there are kids that idolize and one day want to be like you.
– Remember that the volunteers, drivers and people at tournaments who gave up their free holidays, skipped workdays and weekends, did it simply for the love of the sport.
– Remember that real struggle and toughness isn’t found in a match or event, but in real life – a single mother working a minimum wage, a child cancer patient etc..
– If you go into coaching, you will realize that it is more than just feeding balls and booking courts, it’s a learnt skill.
– You will best remember and respect those coaches or people who told you the truth, even if it hurt.
– You will miss your opponents more than you think.

So with that in mind…

– Find people that care enough to call or text you when you’ve lost or are finding times tough.
– Find people who are not interested in the best table at the restaurant or VIP parking.
– Find people that are willing to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
– Find people who treat those who can’t do anything in return with respect and love.
– Find people you are not ‘yes’ people, but have their own opinions.
– Find people who don’t care for the all the bling and fancy cars.
– Find people who support you, encourage you and build you.
– Find people of integrity, good values and respect.
– Find people who will better you as a person and not just as an athlete.
– Find people who say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’.
– Find people who don’t care for the trophies, medals and accolades, but care for people and simple things.
– Find people, that when after your career, see you for you, and not for what you once were.

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The Left Handed Tennis Player

Nadal Rafael

Being a left handed tennis players has many advantages and statistics from the United States Tennis Association have shown that roughly 10 percent of players in the world are left-handed. Over the years there have been many lefties that have dominated the sport, from Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe to Martina Navratilova and Rafael Nadal. Left-handed champions have used their advantages to win many major titles. The tactics utilised by world class lefties can also be implemented at club level. Whether you are left or right handed, I hope to explore a few of the areas in which lefties can be effective so that if you are a lefty, you can hopefully work on these OR if you are a righty, then hopefully you can work on how to combat a lefty.

Rallying cross court

There is a much higher percentage of right handed players out there and they are used to playing other righty’s, but a lefty will get to play more right handed players so they will automatically have an experience advantage when the two meet. It would be fair to say that most peoples strength is their forehand and a higher percentage of shots in a rally are cross court. Obviously, when two righties play a cross court rally, they will hit to each other’s forehand but when a lefty gets to hit their forehand, they may have the advantage of striking it to their right-handed opponent’s backhand. Now you may say, “Well that’s the same for a right handed player hitting their forehand to the left handed player’s backhand.” That’s true but because the lefties play the majority of their tennis against righties, then they are more used to having to defend these shots on their backhand.

Out-wide Serve

Serving out wide is a fantastic weapon that any lefty can use to great effect against a righty. When a lefty serves on the advantage side of the court, they can use the slice serve to swing the ball out wide onto the right handers backhand. The lefty should then be looking for a weak response to take control of the point. Again, because the right isn’t used to receiving the ball at this angle from right handed players, they will have to adapt more to come up with a good return.

Using Spin

One of Rafa’s major weapons is his ability to apply a huge amount of spin on the ball so it kicks up high on his opponents or moves around a lot so it’s hard to judge. Now if a lefty can use spin coming in from an angle that the right handed players aren’t accustom to, then this makes for a very interesting tactical battle. One very successful tactic for the lefty is to hit a forehand crosscourt and apply lots of topspin to a high looping ball. The ball will then kick up high onto the righty’s backhand which is always a tough ball to defend. Another good tactic for the lefty is to hit heavy slice off their backhand to the right’s forehand, so they have to dig-up the low ball.

Opportunity to get to the net

As we now know, the lefty has a great advantage off their forehand and serve to drag their opponent’s out wide. With this in mind, they should be looking to take the opportunity to get to the net and finish the point with a volley into the open court.

Things to consider when playing a lefty

To help prepare a righty for battle against a lefty is important and here are a few areas of consideration:
• When a lefty serves, they are likely to apply spin that will make the ball move more to your left, so be aware.
• When lefty’s use the slice serve you may wish to start a little bit further to your left so that you’re not over-stretched on the backhand return, but also be aware of the lefty serve down the middle that could swing into your body.
• Try to hit your forehand crosscourt and your backhand down the line so that you keep the lefty stretching for backhands
• When serving from the ad court, try serving down the centre of the court
• Try serving as wide as you can to the lefty’s backhand when you are at on the deuce court and if you can apply slice to the ball, this will also help the ball spin away.
• Try and avoid hitting to lefty’s forehand so they have less opportunity to use it against your backhand.

Scouting a player

Whether you are right or left handed, it is always good to watch your opponent in action before you play them, but extra attention needs to be paid for a lefty as they ball will be coming in differently from each direction. Look at how they react to their opponents shots and how you can get an edge over them.

There are certain clue like do they tend to aim for certain areas on the court more often than others? Do they have a preferred shot that always seems to be a winner? This will highlight their strengths. It is always good to look into player’s patterns and shot combinations from the moment they serve. You can find out whether their targets are consistent or random or whether they like to get to the net or stay back.

When in a match, righties must stay focussed as initially they could be disturbed with the tactics employed by a lefty. They must give themselves time to get into the match and not let their emotions take over. Many times have players taken a lead to have the match turned around once the opponent figures out how to play the person down the other end.

Final tip for a lefty

Check the direction that your grip is put on. Most rackets are gripped in line with the contour of the right hand, so put your grip on upside down. The racket will feel a lot better in your hand and you will feel a lot more comfortable.

My advice to any player is to try and practice against lefty’s whenever they get the opportunity so they are better prepared in matches. People are like locks and there is a key for every lock…you’ve just got to find it!

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Nick Saviano Talks about Tennis

This interview with Nick Saviano by Colette Lewis was posted on Tennis Recruiting Network.

Although long considered one of the top developmental coaches in the world, 58-year-old Nick Saviano did not vault into the limelight until 2014, when he became the tour coach for Canadian Eugenie Bouchard. Saviano had worked with Bouchard regularly since she first began training at his Academy in Florida at age 12, and their partnership last year saw the now 20-year-old from Montreal reach the semifinals at the Australian and French Opens and the final at Wimbledon. She ended the year No. 7 in the WTA rankings, up from 32 the previous year.

NS is the best tennis academySaviano and Bouchard have since parted ways, with Saviano now coaching Sloane Stephens, another young player Saviano has worked with for many years at his academy, Saviano High Performance Tennis, currently located at the Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation, Florida.

A two-time All-American at Stanford, which won NCAA team titles in 1973 and 1974, his freshman and sophomore years, Saviano then turned pro and spent eight and a half years on the ATP tour, winning one singles and three doubles titles and reaching a high of 48 in the rankings.

After retiring at age 28, Saviano began his coaching career, working with the USTA as a national coach, director of coaching for men’s tennis and director of coaching education and sports science. He left the USTA in 2002, after 15 years, to start his own academy, where he can still be found feeding balls to eight-year-olds with grand slam dreams.

While in Florida last month, I sat down with Saviano to talk about his coaching philosophy, why he is now coaching at the tour level, how that differs from developmental coaching, and many other topics.

Questions and Answers

Colette Lewis (CL): How has coaching changed in the three decades you’ve been involved in it?

Nick Saviano (NS): Coaching has fundamentally not changed very much at the core. If you’re talking about the specifics of what you coach on a court because the game has changed, yes, but the value system should not change. At the center and core of my philosophy is that when you work with a young person, it’s a sacred trust. It’s a sacred trust to the young person and it’s a sacred trust to the parents. That has not changed in the past 20 years and I don’t believe that should change in the next 100 years.

From that other fundamental principles emanate. I personally have to be committed to excellence, try to provide the highest quality of information, and do only what is fundamentally in the best interest of the child.

I’ve been blessed to be able to work with many talented, outstanding people in a multitude of ways. I feel fortunate, and I think one of the reasons I have so many long-term relationships – I’m still close to people like Jim Courier and Justin Gimelstob, and even more recently, some of the young gals I’ve worked with since they were young – is that there’s a trust, and people know that I’m going to try to do the right thing first and foremost.

From a business component, that will long term turn out to be a good move anyway. It’s not always easy to do that, but you have to have the courage of your convictions to try to do the right things.

CL: What are your thoughts on all the celebrity coaches, players who have been grand slam champions, coming back to coach?

NS: The fact that players who were all time greats are choosing to get into coaching I think is wonderful. I take a backseat in coaching to no one. I also don’t put myself in front of people either. In other words, I don’t look at somebody and say, ‘oh, they were ranked higher than me, therefore they’re a better coach.’ Conversely, I don’t look at somebody who wasn’t a world-class player, like I was for nine years, and say, ‘they can’t coach.’

Now, if one looks at the greatest coaches of all times, in every single sport, in all of the arts, music – generally speaking, you would find an interesting list, and it usually doesn’t include a lot of all-time great performers. That’s not to say any of them couldn’t be, but for whatever reason, there are a lot of coaches who achieve tremendous things that weren’t great players.

There’s not a direct correlation between being a great player and a great coach, nor does that discredit somebody from that. However, what is required, if you’re working with younger people, is a skill set. You have to understand the developmental stages. For a great player to work with an outstanding, world-class player that doesn’t really need that much development, but possibly needs some guidance, or confidence, or a couple of thoughts, strategically or tactically, clearly these people have much to offer. I have tremendous respect for all those people and I think it’s wonderful that they’re in the game.

CL: How does the developmental side of coaching differ from tour coaching?

NS: For me, coaching on the tour is almost like stealing candy from a baby. When I say that, it’s stressful in that there are other challenges, but a lot of the stuff is not esoteric. These players are skilled, they’re talented, they’re athletic, a lot of times they need simple adjustments to help get them over the top. Developing a talent is far, far different than going with someone who has won six or seven grand slam titles and decides they need a new voice. I’m amused by people who say that someone who has won six grand slams needs someone to help them win the big matches. I’m sorry, but that train has already left. If you’ve won five, six grand slams, a Davis Cup, I think they understand. However, it doesn’t mean having a new voice isn’t going to be helpful, absolutely.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with young players who aren’t that advanced, all the way up to great players. I’ve been blessed to be on the court with players when they were No. 1 and winning multiple grand slams. I’ve been blessed to work with people when they were younger who went on to win grand slams. But for me, personally, in my life, I came off the tour the day my daughter was born.

The lifestyle, for me personally, wasn’t conducive to raising a family and being married the way I wanted to. So I turned down a lot of great players. I turned down Capriati when she was the hottest item in the world; clearly she was going to win a grand slam title. I turned down Courier when he was 19 years old and the hottest player in the world. I’ve turned down many players since then. When you have that kind of talent already there, it’s not the same as starting with someone at 10, 11 and working their way up.

CL: Does the latter give you more satisfaction?

NS: They both give me satisfaction. I enjoyed enormously travelling with Genie [Bouchard] and helping her try to win a grand slam. She got a lot closer than people would have thought at the start of the year. She was closer to winning the French than Wimbledon, in my opinion. She was closer to beating Sharapova in that semifinal and I liked her odds in the final if she had played Halep. I’m not saying she would have won, but I’m saying at Wimbledon, she was beaten by Kvitova, who played too well for her on that day. I thought she had more of a shot at the French.

Now my youngest daughter is 25, my wife and I have been married 32 years and will be married for the rest of our days, and we have a very close knit family. So it’s not a big deal for me to travel some. I have the academy set up, so I get a little bit of the best of both worlds, and I’m going to be traveling this year with Sloane [Stephens]. Exactly how many events, I’m not sure. I don’t particularly like to travel, but I certainly can go 15 weeks or something like that.

CL: Is coaching overrated?

NS: In some regards it’s underrated, in other regards, it’s overrated. When you are talking about mentorship, when you’re talking about guidance of a young person during their formative years, creating world-class fundamentals which will enable the player to be everything they can be at the different stages of development, it is absolutely a critical component to developing a world-class player. Show me somebody who has achieved real greatness and there are key individuals you can pick out that were there during the formative stages of development.

CL: Which coaches in other sports do you admire?

NS: Bill Belichick. Year after year after year they have players come and go, assistant coaches come and go and he’s always got them in the hunt, always got them striving for excellence.

Pat Riley in basketball, Vince Lombardi in football, John Wooden in basketball.

In tennis, Nick Bollettieri for his innovations, his genius concepts of the academy and promotions, just getting things done.

Robert Lansdorp has done some great things, developmentally. Harry Hopman, who in his own way was truly a great coach. Pancho Segura was very, very knowledgeable.

CL: Does everything have to go right to make the transition from great junior to great professional?

NS: Everyone’s different, but there are fundamental principles. So much of it has to do with how they are raised. Being taught a commitment to doing things as well as they can do them. A commitment to go beyond excellence. There’s a courage required, an inner strength. Sometimes some people are faced with tremendous adversity and it forces them to be stronger and tougher. I’ve seen other people who have been given a wonderful plush kind of background and upbringing and yet they have this burning desire to be everything they can be. So it’s not just about the haves and the have-nots. That’s not a valid argument and there’s too much empirical information to refute that.

When you see people who are going to achieve greatness, they have the courage to meet their fears and strive out for what they want. They’re not impeded by what other people are going to think; they’re not afraid to reach for it. They accept that they could fall on their face, but they want to go for it anyway. You can’t hedge and be great. Courage is a really, really important word when you’re talking about people who accomplish great things.

To achieve greatness you have to realize that you don’t guarantee the result. Ever. So you get totally absorbed in controlling the things you can control and maximizing that to the fullest.

CL: Have you been approached by the USTA regarding the General Manager of Player Development position recently vacated by Patrick McEnroe?

NS: I’ve made it pretty clear that I have no interest in leaving the private sector.

CL: Do you think the USTA belongs in Player Development?

NS: There’s certainly a place for the USTA to facilitate in the development of top world-class players, and there’s a very significant role for the private sector there. It’s a matter of having the knowledge and the skill and the good intentions to put something together that is very synergistic, as opposed to something that disincentivizes many people to be involved with top American players.

CL: What is the one thing you hope any student of yours, regardless of their talent level, learns from you?

NS: I want them to learn to strive to go beyond excellence, to be everything that they can be in the areas that are important to them in their lives. And that principles, values, they mean something. Values of integrity, work ethic. I want each one of them to know how special they are. I want to be teaching life skills and principles and doing it using tennis as that vehicle.

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