How to Hit a Strong Two Handed Backhand

The article by David F. Berens. 

Picture of Dave BerensWhen I was growing up, the two-handed backhand became the shot of choice for almost every top professional on tour. They found they could generate more power, disguise the direction they were hitting the ball and hit more of a variety of driving or heavy spins. If you have a decent two-handed backhand but would like to add some pace and spin to make it a stronger backhand, there are a few simple ways to really improve your stroke.

1. Use your legs

It is common for most players to turn well on their two handed backhands, but too many players stand straight up and try to generate all of their power with their arms. You’re leaving a ton of extra power on the table if you don’t get your legs involved with your two-handed backhand. As you take your racket back, begin to bend your legs. You build up tremendous kinetic energy in your torso and legs that can then be thrust up and out into the shot.

2. Use a small “C” stroke

Though more common on the forehand side, this technique of drawing a letter “C” with the tip of your racket as you make your backswing can dramatically increase your power. Many times a two-handed backhand player will turn and drop the racket straight back and low.

This means that before you swing forward, your racket must come to a complete stop before then moving forward toward the ball. Any object at rest (in this example your racket) tends to want to stay at rest, so it’s hard to get your racket back up to high speed on the forward swing.

Next time, try to take your racket back with the tip slight above your hands, let it drop lower as you begin your forward swing and then up and out into the ball. In effect, your racket never has to stop moving and thus will be moving faster when it gets to the ball!

3. Swing with a strong Left hand

Assuming our player is right-handed, I would instruct them to pay more attention to what their left hand is doing. In many cases, I find that a players’ left hand is simply along for the ride and not really helping much. Try turning your left hand (or top hand) in a way that makes it feel as if you’re going to hit a forehand with that hand.

Then when you swing, really activate that hand – grip a little tighter and swing a little harder with your left hand adding power and movement to your swing. Don’t let the left hand be a slacker when it comes to your two-handed backhand. Think of it as a dominant force rather than passive passenger just along for the ride!

Hit correctly, two handed backhands can be devastatingly powerful! Many of the great players of all time have used their two-handers to blast winners past their opponents before they can even move toward the ball. If you’re just relying on your two-hander to get the ball back in play, consider turning it up a notch and adding some serious power by using your legs, making a small “C” shaped stroke and using your non-dominant in a more dominant way!

As I’m fond of telling my students, when it comes to great two-handed backhands, get out there, grip it and rip it! Using these techniques, you’ll see more winners blasting off your backhand side!

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Four Reasons Why Tennis Players Choke

Picture of Marcin Bieniek

Marcin Bieniek

Tennis is a tough sport. Players have to not only train every day to achieve advanced level but they also have to deal with ups and downs through many years of playing career. Adding technical difficulty to these reasons we can clearly confirm that tennis is one of the toughest sports to participate in. It doesn’t matter at which level you play you will have to cope with many uncomfortable situations. And one of them is choking.

This term is especially popular among juniors but we can meet it also at other levels of performance. Choking is a description of someone playing significantly below own potential. If we have a scale from 1 to 10 and 10 means being in the zone, choking will be around numbers 1 to 3. There are many different opinions related to this experience but there is definitely one common factor that is repeated over and over again. These are mental skills.

Tennis puts a lot of pressure on player’s mind. Players compete for only 20-30% of the total time so away from the point there is a lot of spare time to think. If players are disciplined and mentally strong they know how to use this time effectively by performing specific positive routines. Of course there are always down times when even the strongest athletes have problems with but the difference between top tennis players and less advanced ones is the response.

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer are able to recognize choking symptoms and take proper actions to change this negative momentum as soon as possible. Players at lower levels don’t have these abilities so that is why they lose much more points in a row when they choke. Adding fact that tennis is an individual sport and players have to deal with all kind of situations by themselves we can understand how important it is to equip them with effective strategies to fight with choking syndrome.

In team sports it is much easier to compensate for teammate’s weak ability. In soccer, if right defender can’t deal with opponent on his side, another player can double up to make chances bigger for getting the ball back. In basketball, if one player doesn’t have his day from behind the 3-points line coach can make a substition and put other guy who can convert possessions into points.

In tennis, players don’t have this possibility to be changed or to get help. If they miss backhand into the net they know and the whole audience know that it was an easy mistake. If they have a set ball but they are not able to convert it and finally the opponent wins the first part of the match all the negative thoughts are in one player’s mind. If the strategy is not working as it should player is the only one who can change it – coach can’t. So these several examples show how mentally brutal tennis is and let’s remember that this pressure is available right from the first lesson on the court.

That is why it should be not surprising that syndrome of choking happens from time to time. If we recognize it and we know how to answer it won’t have any big impact on our performance. On the other hand if choking is a situation where our hands are tied our tennis is in real danger.

Why do tennis players choke? Let’s find out the four most common reasons:

1. Lack of skills

If you don’t possess solid abilities you are going to have doubts while using them in competitive environment. Imagine that you have worked on your kick serve just for the last 4 days before the competition. The new habit is not automatic yet so your body and mind are not ready to use this skill while fighting for the win. That is why every time you will try to use kick serve during the match you will feel pressure and your performance will definitely drop.

Solution: Have enough practice sessions between tournaments and make sure that you work on new skills with quality. During the match use the shots that you are good at – not the ones you will be good at in the future.

2. Lack of self-belief

Self-belief. Is it ingrained or can it be learned? Definitely the second option. Experiences and your reactions shape your belief system. If you are not aware of your hard work, you don’t use positive motivational words and you don’t celebrate great achievements there is a big chance that you will choke more often than not. Choking is your body response for your thoughts and because tennis is a fast sport you have a lot of thoughts during each rally. That is why it is so crucial to know own value and stick with it every time you hit the ball to avoid choking moments.

Solution: Give yourself positive comments and be aware of your hard work. The more you repeat these actions the harder it will be to destruct your solid self-belief.

3. Others more important than you

You can start choking simply by focusing on others. If you play against one of the top players in your country you can significantly underperform if your thoughts will be focused on the level of your opponent. If you compete against lower-ranked player choking can happen if you will think about what others will tell you after losing to much weaker opponent. Focusing on others is the thing that you can’t control so there is no reason to worry about that.

Solution: Focus on yourself. You have to be happy with your game and results. If you are – congratulations. If you are not – learn and improve.

 4. Past or Future

Top players play great only if they are focused on here and now. During each point there are a lot of variables so player has to constantly adapt. If he is focused on the past or on the future he will definitely won’t achieve optimal performance. Thinking about lost points in the first set or about benefits of beating the highest seeded player in the tournament are first steps to start choking. Your body will react negatively to thoughts about uncontrollable areas.

Solution: Focus on here and now. Have ready routines to help you refocus every time your mind starts to wander.

These are the four common reasons why tennis players choke at different levels. The good information is that you can control ALL of these reasons. It is not easy but with proper amount of work you will definitely reduce the numbers of situations when your hands shake and your legs are extremely heavy.

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Sport Science Can Increase Serve Speed

The article by Matt Kuzdub.

Coaches, players, parents…even your aunt Judie know the importance of the serve in today’s modern game. More specifically, the first serve. The first serve is so critical that the top 10 servers on the ATP win over 77% of their first serve points! And it’s not just on the men’s side. The top 10 women on the WTA win between 69%-79% of first serve points.

Table 1

TOP 10 SERVICE POINTS WON // ATP 2016
PLAYER 1ST SERVE POINTS WON % 2ND SERVE POINTS WON %
J. ISNER 82.2% 54.5%
I. KARLOVIC 82.1% 55.6%
G. MULLER 81.3% 52.7%
M RAONIC 80.0% 55.3%
R. FEDERER 79.9% 56.4%
S. QUERREY 79.9% 51.6%
M. CILIC 79.5% 54.8%
J. TSONGA 78.3% 51.6%
T. BERDYCH 78.3% 51.2%
K. ANDERSON 77.1% 52.5%

Want more proof? Look at Table 1 – the men are winning over 3/4 of their first serve points. On the other hand, when these top pros miss their first serves, they only win between 52% and 55% of the time. That means that every time you miss a first serve, it’s almost a coin toss whether you’ll win that point. This scenario is even more dire on the women’s side (Table 2) – with only 2 players (Stosur and Makarova) having a second serve winning percentage above 50%. So if you’re a female player hitting a second serve, you’ll lose that point more often than you’ll win it. If you weren’t convinced before about the importance of the first serve, you should be by now.

Table 2

TOP 10 SERVICE POINTS WON // WTA 2015
PLAYER 1ST SERVE POINTS WON % PLAYER 2ND SERVE POINTS WON %
S. WILLIAMS 79.5% S. STOSUR 53.1%
L. HRADECKA 71.9% E. MAKAROVA 51.4%
K. PLISKOVA 71.7% C. VANDEWEGHE 49.7%
M. SHARAPOVA 71.5% J. LARSSON 49.7%
C. VANDEWEGHE 70.3% L. SAFAROVA 49.6%
M. KEYS 70.3% S. STEPHENS 49.6%
L. SAFAROVA 70.1% M. SHARAPOVA 48.8%
V. WILLIAMS 69.8% S. WILLIAMS 48.8%
P. KVITOVA 69.7% M. KEYS 48.5%
S. STOSUR 68.8% T. BACSINSKY 48.2%

So…get your first serve in and you’ll win more points….that’s a pretty straightforward equation. Or is it? Just getting the first serve in isn’t the whole story. I could get 90% of my first serves in the court if I wanted to, but that wouldn’t help if I was serving at 80 mph. So therein lies the other side of the equation, serve speed.

Table 3 shows the top 10 fastest serves – both men and women – at the 2016 US Open. Traditionally, big servers have been known to be taller than average but looking at the top 10 on the men’s side for example, 4 of them are either 6’2” or 6’1” (Murray, Sock, Tiafoe, Tsonga) while Dominic Thiem is 6’0”. Yes the other 5 are all over 6’4” – taller players still have an edge – but the gap is narrowing.

Female players are also serving big. Ten years ago only a handful of WTA players could routinely serve in the 110-120s. Now there are many female players that have that ability.

Of course players aren’t serving this big on every point, but average serve speeds are still in the 120s for men and over 100 for the women.This is likely due to a number of factors including racquet & string technology…but sport science tells us there’s more to it than that.

Most players have strength & conditioning coaches & physiotherapists that travel with them full-time making sure they’re in top form year round. Furthermore, the advances in sport science and training theory have helped players gain strength & power, which transfers to many strokes including the serve. So how can we increase serve speed? Let’s take a closer look.

Table 3

TOP 10 SERVE SPEEDS // 2016 US OPEN
MEN’S SIDE WOMEN’S SIDE
PLAYER SERVE SPEED (mph) PLAYER SERVE SPEED (mph)
RAONIC 143 S. WILLIAMS 126
ISNER 142 OSAKA 125
TIAFOE 142 BROADY 122
JANKOWICZ 141 VANDEWEGHE 120
MURRAY 141 KEYS 120
SOCK 140 BABOS 119
STRUFF 140 PARMENTIER 119
ANDERSON 140 V. WILLIAMS 119
TSONGA 139 KONJUH 118
THIEM 138 SHVEDOVA 118

Programming the Serve

Before we get into different ways serve speed can be increased, let’s look at volume of serves a player may hit in a tennis match. In the 2016 US Open Final, Novak hit 123 total serves (63 first and 60 second) while Stan the man hit a total of 162 serves (92 first and 72 second). While Andy and Novak – in their 2-set Barclay’s final this past November – hit 61 and 59 serves, respectively.

On tour player’s are looking at hitting between 50 and 200 serves in one match. In a Masters 1000 tournament, if a player reaches the final, they’ll hit around 500 serves while if players make it out of the early couple rounds of a Slam, they may hit anywhere from 500 to 1000 serves (or more). Consider this, MLB pitchers throw between 90 and 120 pitches per outing AND they only have to do this a couple times a week. Yes the stresses of throwing are higher but serving also takes it’s toll on a player’s body.

How about junior tennis? A 12 year old girl I previously worked with hit just over 300 serves in one weekend tournament (5 matches)! We then wonder why players are having elbow and shoulder problems at such a young age. It’s simple….we should look at the serve as we would any other training component…by closely monitoring volume and intensity. There was only 1 coach that I ever saw do this, his name was Larry Jurovich. He would prescribe daily serve numbers with is top players – including how many slice serves, flat serves & kickers and in what direction to hit these serves. Here’s what I would add to his prescription:

Varying Speeds

You can’t hit all out every time you serve, our bodies aren’t prepared to handle that type of constant high neural stress. Look at sprinters. They don’t sprint fast every time they train, this would destroy them. They can still gain speed by adjusting the intensity of their sprints throughout the training year.

Adding Throws to the Program

Although not identical, the mechanics of throwing and serving are similar. Using various types of throws and weighted implements act as an overload to the throwing arm (similar to a heavy squat acting as an overload for the lower body). Over time, not only will you develop greater force generating capabilities in the internal rotators (which will add velocity) but you’ll also develop sport-specific strength (which will help stave off repetitive strain injuries…that are all too common in tennis).

Recovery/Regeneration

Often overlooked. As coaches we often ask our players to hit a bucket of serves. But what about recovering from those stressors? In baseball, pitchers participate in a thorough recovery session after each outing to restore internal and external ranges of motion. How many young tennis players go through this type of routine after a tennis match? Andy Murray has a 2 hour recovery routine after every match and I’d bet his serving arm goes through an extensive regenerative process.

Whether it be academy settings or private lessons, the serve is often left until the end of practice. The young player won’t be prepped for a tournament with random serving practices. Bottom line, fitness coaches and tennis coaches need to work together to plan serving sessions appropriately based on time of year, training status of the athlete and injury history.

Complex Training and the Serve

So how can we increase serve speed? One way may be through a sport science phenomenon called PAP (post-activation potentiation). A few weeks back, Tsonga did a form of PAP training – he performed a heavy set of bench press and followed that up almost immediately with some attacking forehands. The theory being that the heavy exercise will increase the power output of any subsequent high velocity movement. One study (Vial 2014) attempted to increase serve velocity using a PAP technique.

College players performed a set of 5 power cleans and followed it up by hitting 5 flat tennis serves. Some players did increase peak velocity by just over 2% but overall, the results were not significant. In any case, increasing a player’s serve almost instantly by 2 mph isn’t too bad.

Another study looked at the effects of throwing weighted plyo balls and serve speed in young (U14) players (Ferrauti & Bastiaens 2007). Again, there were no significant increases in serve speed but the problem here was clear.

First, PAP works best with older athletes who are already strong and powerful. Second, some athletes are responders to PAP while others aren’t – sport scientists aren’t quite sure why and the only way to figure it out is to test with each athlete individually.

Future research into PAP should aim to use exercises that are more biomechanically similar to the targeted stroke – like a med ball throw rather than a power clean – while using physically mature subjects.

Strength, Power and the Serve

What about strength & power programs? Fernandez-Fernandez et al. (2013) were able to increase serve speed in 13 year old competitive juniors following a 6-week training program that included general core exercises, a band routine and a series of high velocity medicine ball (MB) exercises. While core and band exercises can help improve general strength and stave off injury, the authors proposed (and I agree) that the upper body plyometric program was likely the reason these youngsters were able to increase serve speed by close to 10 km/h in such a short time frame. They used the following MB exercises:

  • Chest Pass
  • Overhead Throw
  • Ear Throw
  • Squat to Thrust
  • Overhead Slam
  • Diagonal Wood-Chop
  • Close-stance Throw

Another study compared the effects of a plyometric training program versus a strength training program and increases in serve speed (Behringer et al 2013). The plyometric group increased velocity by 5-15 km/h over the 8 week period. The strength training program had no increases (although machine based exercises were used which have been shown to be less effective in improving strength/power compared to free weight exercises).

Interestingly enough, both studies above saw increases in serve speed with MB exercises while neither study saw a drop in serve accuracy. Why? Because players in each study continued practicing their serves while participating in a power training program. This provides us with a bit of validity that training to increase serve speed doesn’t have to compromise serve accuracy.

While power programs have had better success with increases in serve speed, we shouldn’t count out strength training. Kraemer et al (2003) conducted a 9-month strength training study with an NCAA female tennis team and many performance measures improved – groundstroke velocities, leg strength, upper-body strength – including serve speed...which saw increases at each testing interval; 4, 6 and 9 months. The authors concluded that these gains occurred because of 2 main factors.

First, there was a variation in training volume and intensity – i.e. heavy day, moderate day and light day – and the program was long enough to see positive adaptations. And second, because heavy loads were used, the female players recruited more type 2 muscle fibers, leading to increases in explosive abilities & power output.

Serving Up Some Recommendations

Based on the above findings we can provide some general recommendations when it comes to increasing serve speed.

  1. PAP needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis and should be employed primarily with more advanced players.
  2. A periodized strength and power program will likely increase serve speed across all age groups and genders.
  3. Including a variety of high velocity exercises (like med ball throws) works better than a traditional strength training program when trying to increase serve speed in a short time frame.
  4. When incorporating strength training into a tennis player’s program, it’s important to use heavy loads. If avoided, players won’t reap the benefits of increased type 2 muscle recruitment and an enhanced neural drive – this will impede their long-term power generating capabilities.
  5. Periodize the serving program just like you would an off-court training program. Vary service speeds throughout the training week, use various implements to work on shoulder specific strength and prioritize recovery.

To learn more about strength and power training for tennis, along with other coaching advice, visit www.mattspoint.com

College Tennis Is for Losers 

Below is a sample of a conversation that would transpire between myself (ME) and many coaches (MR. COACH) around the world while I was recruiting players to play college tennis. Some of the quotes have actually come out of the mouths of many coaches and every college coach has heard this type of thing countless times.

  1. COACH: “College tennis is for players who have given up and have no interest in getting better…”

ME: “Really, why do you think that?”

  1. COACH: “College tennis is where good tennis players go to die, because so-and-so went to college and now they are terrible.”

ME: “But what about so-and-so from your country who has improved tremendously and is now in a much better position to play professionally than when they were age 18?”

  1. COACH: “I don’t care, my player is turning pro and does not want to go to college.”

ME: “You mean this player we are watching here, with no backhand, and is yet to make it out of the qualifying of a $10K event in 13 attempts?”

  1. COACH: “Ahhh, yes.”

ME: “So you truly believe that college tennis is a waste of time for any player with professional aspirations?”

  1. COACH: “Yes, if you go to college your chances of turning pro are very low.”

ME: “Well, is that not the case for almost all aspiring young tennis players coming out of juniors and into the pros? Have you ever thought about all those promising, top 25 ITF juniors that never made a living from the sport and are most likely languishing somewhere in the 200-500 range on the ATP or WTA tours?

They are probably spending money they do not have, having difficulty staying motivated, and doing little to help their future career prospects. Has “turning pro” not been a waste of their time and resources? Would you not say that a player who attended college and now has little to no debt, a significant number of college credits, if not a degree to show for their time, not to mention the chance to mature physically and mentally might be a little better off?

  1. COACH: “If you go to college you cannot be a professional tennis player, the coaches are terrible and players don’t improve.”

ME: “Look, I could sit here and rattle off a bunch of names that will disprove your argument. Then you will tell me all the names of the players that did not go to college and are now professional tennis players. I am not arrogant enough to say that any one path is the right path to making a living as a professional tennis player. No one truly knows the correct pathway to tennis greatness, as there are so many different factors and everyone responds differently to these factors. I believe the advice you are giving this young player, and other players you are coaching, is highly misinformed and somewhat selfish!”

  1. COACH: “Really, well why don’t you enlighten me young man.”

ME: “Don’t worry I will, but firstly, have you really questioned your motives behind dispensing such one sided advice to your pupils? Is it because you want them to keep paying your salary? Is it because if they do somehow miraculously make it, you will be lauded with praise, and maybe they won’t dump you for Boris Becker once they get to the top?

Will it finally be redemption for all your other strongly held misinformed opinions about tennis development, and show everyone you were right all along, and your way is the best way despite all the other players you coached that never made it? All of sudden you are the best coach out there because one of your 340 students over the last 3 decades finally made it, and YOU should get the credit?? Are you really doing right by your pupils if you are telling them the only way they can possibly make it is if they turn pro at age 16?”

  1. COACH: “College tennis is for losers. How can I tell them they will achieve their dreams going to college?”

ME: “Are they really their dreams, or are they your dreams?

  1. COACH: “Well then, why don’t you tell me why my pupils should choose college over professional tennis.”

ME: “Just to set the record straight, I am not saying that college tennis is for everyone. There are several reasons why college might not be the right fit for an accomplished junior tennis player but ultimately, there is no reason why you cannot have both.”

  1. COACH: “Oh, so now you agree with me that college tennis is not for everyone?”

ME: “Yes, I like to give balanced information and make players aware of all their options and take nothing off the table. If a player has no interest in leaving their hometown and does not believe they would be happy moving away from their family and friends for a few years, then availing of a tennis scholarship might not be for them. If a player has no interest in pursuing a third level education, and does not want to spend another 4 years in a classroom for a few hours per day, then there is nothing wrong with that and they probably should not go to college.

Lastly, if a player is consistently engaging in competitive matches and sometimes beating players in the top 300 (in tournament play, NOT PRACTICE) in the ATP or WTA rankings, then they may be ready physically, mentally and technically to play professional tennis on a full time basis. Everyone else, I believe, would benefit greatly from accepting a college scholarship to a university that meets their needs.”

  1. COACH: “Ohh, so college tennis isn’t perfect after all?”

ME: “No, of course it’s not. That is my point, there is no one way for any player. If someone had the roadmap to tennis greatness, then we would all copy it and life would be boring! However, here is why I think college tennis is the right solution for the vast majority of aspiring tennis players:

Most players are not fully physically or mentally prepared for the rigors of the pro tour and facing older, more experienced competition week in week out for 30 weeks per year. The average age of a top 100 WTA and ATP player is now in the late 20’s (29 on the ATP Tour!). Do you want them spending money they don’t have, losing early in tournaments, while depleting their confidence in themselves and their games as they flounder at the lower levels of the professional game?

What if they could go somewhere for 4 years, all expenses paid and become physically and mentally tougher due to the natural maturation process? What if they also had unlimited free access to world class health care, training facilities, and coaches and are provided with all the equipment they need, as well as support staff and team mates to help them accomplish their goals?

Yes, I agree with you, Mr. Coach, that very few players who play college tennis actually make it on the pro tour, but yet again very few players make it on the professional tour, full stop. In fact, I think college is the perfect place to weed out all those players who thought they wanted to go pro, only to find out they really don’t have what it takes, and are not all that interested in spending the next 10 years of their lives travelling from one hotel room to the next, and devoting every waking hour to their tennis.

College tennis is doing the pro ranks a favor by letting these players actually determine for themselves if a career in tennis is really what they want after all. There are so many young junior players that come to college who were on the fence about going to college or playing pro.

They get to college and they are A) astounded by the level, and B) unable to keep up the work rate and intensity required during training sessions on and off the court. They truly have no idea what it takes to train like a professional because coaches like you have mollycoddled them for so long and not exposed them to the type of discipline, tough love, focus and time management required to be successful in their sport! It was a toss-up for these players whether to declare as a professional or come to college and many of them only came because they knew they could turn pro after one year.

That would have been another year of them showing up late for practices, having terrible attitudes, and getting away with the same undisciplined behaviors that they have gotten away with for years.”

MR.COACH: “How dare you, my players are extremely disciplined and work hard!”

ME: “Yes, I am sure they are. This player here without any backhand started tanking two games ago and I have counted her throwing her racket five times. The other player I saw you coaching this morning is over there on his cellphone, eating a KitKat and drinking a Coke, even though he is next court on. Anyway, back to my third point:

Players don’t have to come to college for 4 years if they don’t want to. Many colleges will now pay for them to come back after their pro careers. The college year is just 9 months long. The players who want to play pro can play a full professional schedule in the summers.

Also, many programs are now taking their better players to pro events, and even hosting pro events in the fall term in order to give their players exposure to the pro level. They can get the best of both worlds! And if it doesn’t work out or they are dominating the competition, then they can make a smoother transition to that next level at any time. They really have nothing to lose and so much to gain. They can test the waters of playing professionally to gauge where they are at without limiting their future prospects.

Players have access to great medical care and should they suffer a career ending injury or illness, their scholarship is still guaranteed and they will be able to finish their studies, while receiving some of the best healthcare the world has to offer, all free of charge. That is not the case if they turn pro at an early age and reduce their options. If they get hurt, well, what then?”

  1. COACH: “Yes, yes, ok I understand, but college tennis is still for losers…”

Parents and junior players, please be wary of the coach who is pushing the pro path and making you feel guilty for not committing to a 12-month schedule of practice and competition under their supervision, and telling you that you cannot be a professional tennis player if you go to a traditional school or go on to play college tennis.

Coaches, please do your research and give fair and balanced advice to your students. In my opinion, we need to take our egos and self-interest out of the equation and put our player’s best interests for the future ahead of our own.

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Humility and Solid Fundamentals, Secrets of a True Champion

Javier Palenque

Javier Palenque

For the past two weeks, living in South Florida allows you a great luxury which is to watch the Jr Tennis Orange Bowl. Each year one gets to watch the best of the best compete in this great international competition.

The scene is sometimes surreal as you get kids with entourages, arriving in teams from all over the world. The qualifying draw is a 256 entry draw which means you have to win 4 matches to enter the 128 main draw. Brutal is a simpler way to describe it.

The kids that win it, have the privilege to have their names alongside of people like: Andy Roddick, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Dominic Thiem, Guillermo Vilas etc. This list alone lets you know how difficult it is to qualify and much more to actually win it.

This year I had the special treat of knowing a young player named Victor Lilov, his tennis credentials are remarkable and impressive, and he just came from losing the semis at Eddie Herr in Bradenton. For the Orange bowl he was seeded #3 in the tournament, he easily advanced to the semis without dropping a set and very few games.

In the semis he needed three sets and 7 match points against him to reach the finals. During those 7 match points he showed us an even temper, a reliance on basic solid fundamentals that at the cusp of pressure don’t fail. His shots in the most pressure situations were as clean as expected from a great talent.

What impressed me the most about Victor, though his tennis is undoubtedly superior to most, were two things, first his calm in tough situations and to see how his strokes did not falter, that was impressive. The second thing is his humility and clear understanding of what tennis his tennis secret is “hard work”.

These two fundamentals, though them seem obvious I find them that they are rare, specially in the younger kids. A well-deserved first place for a well taught Victor by none other than the highly respected Steve Smith. A great display of finesse, control, technique, humility and resilience worthy of a true champion, and this is only the beginning…

Victor Lilov in his own words. https://youtu.be/H1R_eJf2Ego