When a player starts out on their tennis journey, it’s nearby impossible to predict what the final results will look like. Tennis technique doesn’t only relate to what the racket does during the shot but also the body and feet. I believe that the way a tennis player plays is a reflexion of their personality.
For example, someone like Nadal who is intense and a workhorse plays with the same qualities on the court while Federer, a more relaxed person who takes everything in his stride, plays with that same fluidity and efficiency.
In tennis, you will never play exactly the same shot twice in your life! What I mean by this is that there is a next to nothing chance of hitting two shots from exactly the same position, with their body parts in exactly the same position on the same place on the court receiving the ball with exactly the same spin, speed, direction etc., with the ball hitting exactly the same place on the racket strings. Through repetition and practice, certain situations can be improved so that the player can adapt better to perform the technique better.
When mistakes are made, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because of the swing of the racket as the cause can be earlier on in the shot production process. As coaches, we have to be very observant and be able to comprehend what a player is doing so that there is an understanding of what needs to be improved. Once you have that clarity, the task of how you improve it is something that the coach and player will need to work together on.
Over the years, tennis has evolved so much and there is no reason to think why it won’t continue. Current players have learned from those in the past plus added improvements with the help of coaches. As one player starts to do something that gains them success, other players will look to change their game to be better, so this is one reason why one technique doesn’t suit all.
There are ranges of acceptability on technique but there will always be players which will step way out of that range and be successful. I don’t know anyone who would teach someone to play a forehand like Alberto Berasategui, the Spanish player who in 1994 got to the final of the French open with an extreme western forehand grip which also enabled him to hit backhands with the same grip.
On the clay courts he was very effective by being able to generate so much power and spin. This is an example of someone who played differently with some success but unfortunately, he retired from tennis with a persistent wrist injury which was probably due to his forehand technique.
Tennis technique applied to a shot is very much dependent on the situation the player is in and the type of ball that they are receiving. The most important elements of tennis that enable us to play well are:
- Perception – A player must be able to judging the balland read their opponent. Processing information via the eyes is essential and leads to making all the decisions when coming up with returning a shot. When the player judges the ball, they must be able to read the speed, height, direction, depth, and spin and when reading a player, they must be aware of their body position, how they’ve set the racket, where the ball is in relation to them and draw on previous experience where they recognise that certain responses come from certain cues.
- Movement – Movement for the next shot starts immediately after the player has hit the shot before. Their recovery, body position, split step and court position will all play a huge part in getting to the ball for the next shot. Finding the best position will come from the information received in point 1.
- Decision making – By recognising the situation you are in, whether offensive, neutral or defensive, what your options are based on – strengths, weakness etc., the earlier the player makes a clear decision on what they want to do with the ball will enable them to set in the correct position to execute the shot.
- Timing – Top players have unbelievable timing. They know when to arrive to the ball and how to release the kinetic chain from the ground upwards into the shot. There are so many body parts that make a desired outcome possible that by changing the timing of any segment can alter the outcome.
- Contact – How the strings contact the ball will ultimate decide what happens to the ball. The angle of the racket head, path it follows and speed will create the desired effects. Other factors e.g. whether the ball is hit in the middle of the strings, out in front and the height that the ball is struck will also influence the result.
Through practice drills, the shots will develop but during open play, I think it is better that the player focusses on improving the 5 points above. Developing these skills isn’t easy and are a lot harder than mimicking someone’s movements. The average club player doesn’t have all these skills developed to a high enough level, they don’t judge the ball well enough which leads to errors.
For most club players, technique comes further down the priority list of things to improve as you can see some great club players with poor technique but apply the playing skills very well.