What makes this tennis blog different?

As an Exercise Physiologist, Biomechanist, and Ergonomics Consultant, my students have learned to ask questions about human performance that most tennis coaches might not get, such as:

Why isn’t the United States dominating the men’s and women’s tour anymore?

Biomechanically, what makes Federer such a good model for tennis movement?

I have trouble getting enough partners to practice when I need to, what should I do to improve?

What warm-up and stretching routine is right for me?

Should I try to imitate Andy Roddick’s serve?

What features make a good tennis lesson?

How do I know when my eyes are the problem with my tennis?

Why do the pros often drink from two bottles on the change overs?

Why is Maria Sharapova having so much trouble with her serve?

My opponent keeps making bad line calls, what do I do?

What do the pros eat before a match and when?

How did Pete Sampras and Roger Federer stay #1 for so long and Nadal for such a short time?

What are the main features of a good tennis shoe and are these shoes right for me?

Why do my wrists hurt while I’m on the computer?

Is there an underlying cause of Nadal’s injuries?

What is the difference between a tennis coach, tennis instructor, and tennis trainer?

Is there anything I can do to see the tennis ball better?

When I swing like Nadal, how come my forehand doesn’t go in?

How should cross train for tennis when I’m off court or in the gym?

These are just some of the great questions I get. Here we will take a swing at all them. 

Go forward. Life is more fun at the net!

Sincerely,
TennisDr

Dear TennisDr:

My 11 year old daughter has been playing for 6 years and is highly dedicated and now playing competitive tennis. We are disappointed that you have retired and are not available for personal coaching. ;-( What advice would you give us on helping her become a great player, the best athlete she can be, and how to mature as a tennis player?

Warmest Regards,

Marjorie

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Dear Marjorie:

First, I would never dangle the prospects of being a professional athlete in any sport to a parent. The odds of a successful pro career are VERY slight and the life is not glamorous as it is so often portrayed.

On the other hand, the scholarship money for girls applying for college tennis is easier to get than for boys and I highly recommend that life experience for any child who enjoys tennis. Let’s discuss her short term training.

There is no substitute for proper repetitions to gain physical skills, so backboard practice is a huge advantage. That is how Billy Jean King and I learned our skills.  I call it a “lost art” to tennis skill acquisition.  When it comes to getting sufficient repetitions, research shows that ALL elite athletes, and even musicians, have logged at least 10,000 hours of proper skill repetitions.

A competitive tennis player needs a large assortment of weapons, both physical and mental, to solve problems during competition.  Proper backboard practice can make those weapons easy to execute when needed.  A few of those skills/weapons are also a “lost art”, can provide a huge advantage, and are even rarely used in the pro ranks which, in my opinion, overuse strength and power shots.  

Ashleigh Barty and Roger Federer are two great exceptions.  “Ash” has all the tennis skills in her “tool box” needed for any match.  She has also done extensive work with a sport psychologist as she used to show displeasure with inevitable mistakes on court.  Know that competitive tennis is also a “poker game” in many ways.

The mental skill of showing “no tells” is required to have the best chance to beat other great athletes. Body language of distress or discouragement is encouraging to the opponent. A tennis poker face and hiding disappointment requires skilled repetition also and Sports Psychologists are used often.

Attentive parents need those skills too when watching their children because it is their job to provide the adult, big perspective of long term improvement. Humans generally learn more from losing than winning.

Like poker, tennis becomes a game of percentages and small margins over the long haul.  Statistically at all skill levels, winning only 53% of all points played wins 80% of all your matches.  Patience is a great weapon in tennis. You might ask, “Are there any shortcuts to skill acquisition?” Yes!

Developmental Optometrist can now improve all 24 skills of vision in all people in an office setting. Whether you struggle reading, catching, or playing tennis, the science and art of Vision Training can help.

Good luck with your tennis!

Regards,

TennisDr

Growing up with the dream of being a tennis champion is difficult.  Having to beat your hero at the majors, is a major obstacle!  For Naomi Osaka, it took several tries to produce her best tennis on that small stage against Serena Williams.  But she did it.

Hey TennisDr:

I miss our classes that included “Bailin’s Breakers”. That format in which we get to play 12 point tiebreakers against everyone in class.

When are you going to start teaching again in Marina Del Rey?

Best Wishes,

Kerrie

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Hey Kerrie:

I know you always liked “Bailin’s Breakers” because it gave you a chance to practicepure tiebreakers and to do so against everyone in your class.  I would like to take creditfor the format, (though its name and the “Bailin Breaker’s Dozen, 6-6 Superbreaker are all mine), but playing tiebreakers among team members (or class members) is a standard college tennis practice technique.  


All fans stop and watch the tiebreaker which is part of the training.  Right?  Getting comfortable being on stage is one of the great life lessons of tennis so I use it as often as possible.


They also helped us make decisions about the lineup.  Plus, college tennis players tend to play more tie breakers and they can make all the difference for the team score.  Unfortunately,I don’t see it being safe to teach until perhaps March as Covid rates in LA County fall.


Advice:  warm up your two hander, but don’t be afraid to abandon it during the match because yourone handed underspin is formidable, accurate, and messes with those who don’t see underspinmuch.  Jumping from a flatter to your SS serve is another of your very formidable weapons.  For a woman to beat you, they will have to deal with all of those weapons, not to mention your forehandwhich produces points and opponent errors too.  
Testing yourself in singles tennis competition is one of the most fun things you can do in your life.You practice shutting out all other thoughts when you compete well.  A key to your particular mind and those who find their thoughts wandering off the court.

Sincerely,

TennisDr

Joey noticed yesterday how potent my three player/90 minute classes can be. Usually avoided in recreational tennis, a three player workout is encouraged in Davis Cup/Fed Cup team play
for an important reason–every player on the team might play singles or doubles.

My 3 player/90 minute format, 60 minutes of drills and 30 minutes of point play in which two servers swap out each point, is a potent teaching tool. It epitomizes the nature of college coaching and the “Academy Style” used in Florida. Players need preparation for both games and, as Joey noticed, styles at the same skill level are very diverse in recreational tennis.

Compared to a two or four player class, my 90 minute three player format (never play doubles vs singles!) is actually my favorite as it gives you more time to consider the style of the different opponents between points. Yes, they are singles thoughts in point play but, it gives me a chance to interject elite player thinking while you wait for your next point.

In the hour before point play, each needs to work on particular physical weakness and practice strengths for both games. Rotating with 2 versus 1 IN PRACTICE for the first 60 minutes is perfect for this. Most of my students have performed these drills where I feed from the middle to a net player in the middle who has to practice a volley to the sidelines, while the doubles team gets to hit to the imaginary middle of a doubles team at the net.

During singles point play, better problem solving occurs versus two different singles styles which gives my students the edge and makes you a better thinker on court in competition. Be aware that a very subtle 2 or 3% edge will dominates 80% of your matches! Play the long run percentages and don’t emphasize, be consumed by, or waste energy on, short term fluctuations in performance.

Given two well matched players, the calm, problem solver will predominate. Simona Halep on the champions podium said that she finally learned this lesson from Darren Cahill. On court, she appears more kind to herself, accepting of her flaws, and will continue to win slams because of her new demeanor of “calculating calm”.

First, there is no doubt in my mind that Serena Williams is the GOAT of women’s tennis. Statistically and biomechanically over her career, she is likely the best server in either gender. As a long time fan of hers, that’s why this match was so difficult to watch.

Pro athletes know that if you are not at your most fit, you are vulnerable to situations exactly like the one that yanked Serena out of a 5-1 lead in the third set versus Karolina Pliskova in the Quarter Finals. Serena was rolling through the third set but, getting a little fatigued due to her extra weight.

Athletic trainers would probably characterize her body as about 25 pounds on the “fluffy” side. Suddenly, that fatigue translates into clumsy footwork, of course trying to change directions against the extra load, and she SLIGHTLY rolls the ankle. Luckily, not enough to
to get a trainer to re-wrap it tighter or, to effect her gate. She had no discernible limp. In that situation, even if your movement is questionable, it comes down to making good decisions in each point. When to you give yourself the green light to swing away!

Starting at 5-1, she STILL should have won the match during any 1 of 4 match points. Pliskova did not dominate any of those. In each, Serena had chances to go for a winner. Many coaches would call that being a “mental midget” for not swinging away every chance she got.

What explains why a great champion would not reason her way out of that box? Great question. Perhaps, this is an advertisement for on court coaching during the majors. It was tortuous to watch Pliskova get back into this match. Not even Carolina could believe it. All in all, despite my years of watching Serena, now I’d rather watch Osaka!

Dear Jonathan:  Thanks for all the private lesson time over the last couple months for my 10 year old Danny.  He is really enjoying it.  We will be traveling to my homeland South Africa over the holidays and I am considering a hiatus until next year.  What do you think?

Maggie J.

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Hey Maggie:

First, I think Danny made significant progress in terms of his coordination, limb strength, and skill acquisition. He now knows the 5 fundamental shots of the sport and can continue to practice them on his own though we will need to check for flaws early next year. He also knows how intense and difficult the sport is to learn mentally and physically. Letting that challenge ferment a while, away from lessons, is likely an advantage.

I had my first lessons when I was 10, but my motivation to practice was locked in by my parents who both played. They valued the sports safety, physicality, and intrinsic coping skills, as they were both educators and musicians. Jack needs those aspects as much as any child his age. Your countryman and commentator Cliff Drysdale has promoted these intangibles on air his whole broadcasting career.

Danny’s ability to shake off small, but inevitable, and frequent failures and bring his focus back to task is likely THE most important life skill that tennis offers in spades. Current research tells us the brain is physically being wired for these functions right now and many more. During these years the brain gets wired for empathy for the feelings of others, or it doesn’t, like Donald Trump’s brain.

Research shows now that failure is far more valuable than success to human development. Trump is another great example here as he was always allowed to escape failure.

That is why tennis is the best sport in my opinion for all kids. Better than team sports, it is a constant test of dedication and mental resiliency but it is also a showcase for handling disappointment in ourselves and empathy for those across the net. From a motor skills perspective, this age sees normal sputtering communication between brain and limbs.

When I was 11 and 12, my mother drove me all over Southern California and watched quietly and dispassionately while I lost my first 8 tournaments in the first round. Her enlightened attitude was that if you have a passion for the sport, failures and practice come with the territory, as did her passion for the cello. Musicians accept failures as routine. Finding passion for something challenging is the key and why physical education and music in schools must be expanded.

At 11, my parents took me on my first international trip. They knew that seeing other cultures is an important adjunct to this maturation process that we now know is going on quite physically through brain function studies. I hope Danny gets a chance to drink it all in during the trip. Yes, check back in January.

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Illustration by Moron Eel