Elite Athlete Fitness: Serena vs Pliskova at the 2019 Aussie Open

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!

Getting the Edge: The 3 Player Workout

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”.

Danny’s Brain

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.

——–

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.

Airline Ergonomics: Profits Up, Comfort Down!

Airline profits are at an all time high and planes are the largest ever but passenger c0mfort is at its lowest.  Why?  Get the details at ErgonomicsDr.com or click on

https://bit.ly/2NiZiPT

Illustration by Moron Eel

Reptilian Baseliner

Dr. Polan, O.D. Interviewed on ESPN Radio About Sports Vision

An associate of Dr. Bailin’s, Dr. Gary Polan, O.D. (DrGaryPolan.com) was recently interviewed on Dr. Robert Klepper’s “Weekend Warrior” program on ESPN Radio 710AM.  Dr. Polan spoke about growing up with Dodger Baseball, seeing a fastball, helping our reading skills, and Sports Vision Training.  Did you know that about 5% of all Americans have severe reading disabilities that can be cured?  How about that we spend over 10 hours a day looking at a screen which makes our eye muscle less fit?

USC vs UCLA Women’s Tennis Clash Saturday at Noon!

Hey Tennis Fans:

I will be at the final regular season match for both teams, the UCLA
and USC Women, which takes place at the UCLA Tennis Center at
high noon this Saturday. Look for me in a long sleeve red shirt
and big hat sitting near the UCLA band who usually sit in front of the
elevator.

Though UCLA is a bit higher in national ranking, my friend and head
coach for USC is retiring after 20 years so, his team will be trying to give
him a going away present.

One thing is for sure, if you’ve never seen a college tennis match,
you’ve never seen anything like this in the tennis industry. If you HAVE
seen a college match, this particular match is the most intense in Southern
California! You watch 3 doubles matches at one time, then 6 singles matches
at one time.

You will also learn a ton watching this match with my commentary.
The doubles matches start at noon so watch for the “I” formation!

Sincerely,
Jonathan Bailin, PhD, USPTA
Tennis Coaching & Sport Science

Essential Tennis Mechanics

Tennis, like most sports, is played from the ground up. Transmitting force, gracefully, and in balance is the key to accurate shot making results. In mechanical terms, “gracefully” means without discontinuities or what a coach would call “hitches” in the motion. Minimizing the motion’s unnecessary stops/starts is the major factor to its efficiency.

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Balance gives the billions of eye/hand calculations the best chance of accuracy.  That is why if an athlete is off balance, their performance must take on more conservative/defensive choices in shot selection.

The more often the player is connected solidly to the ground during ball contact, the more often that player can dictate play and remain on offense. Lack of balance usually, but not always, means the player is on defense.

Interestingly in this sport, hand skills, dexterity, and experience responding to the opponents position, can make up for a deficit in strength, mobility, and foot speed. Age can often triumph over youth for this reason. On and off the court, knowledge is power!

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Now That’s A Roof!

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