Tennis is changing
The conventional, mostly forward concept of a tennis stroke is rapidly disappearing.
Today’s top tennis has components of Martial Arts, where the effect of the short, one-inch-punch rotation has been known to be dramatically effective. Top Martial Arts artists are keenly aware that both the instantaneous change of force direction, or withdrawal of such, making the forward action extremely short, has some powerful and devastating effects on the object so contacted.
In tennis, this discovery has application in very definite but peculiar ways, paralleling also the effects of a whip, where the tip cracks when exceeding the speed of sound. Roger Federer's forehand, at its best, is a parallel of a master of Martial Arts.
So pronounced is the racket-head acceleration that to control the stroke’s power it needs to be deflected opposite the ball’s path. Many top players have felt this aspect for years, but very few coaches allow to exert it purely offensively, thus an exaggerated windshield-wiper swing, taming the ball's velocity, was born instead. One of the most talented players of all time, Lew Hoad, in the 1950s, whom I got to play by chance in a Bilbao, Spain tournament after his career had waned, had devastating groundstroke ball speed.
You approach the ball slowly and suddendly you withdraw that forward momentum, you hand backwards and across you body. An open stance enhances this move. The ball rotation achieved therein is also a weapon that impairs the facility and accuracy of an opponent’s stroke. Rafael Nadal's forehand is an example of extreme whip and extreme topspin combined. In shot percentages, Roger Federer's is the most pure example of achieving ball speed. Nadal's is oriented to attaining damaging topspin. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are geared towards a conservative combination of both until the opportunity to be lethal presents itself.
There is another aspect in tennis that can also be borrowed from the masters of Martial Arts. It is the ability to slow down time. Although innate to the human spirit, this ability has been buried. The constant pounding of material sciences leads in a different direction than the delicate, ethereal abilities and perceptions of the soul.
Conventional tennis teaching focuses on thinking of not being late, on hurrying to prepare.
Martial Arts demonstrates that not-thinking and waiting, delaying action, actually slows down time. This state of awareness, which tennis players of all levels experience at times and in different degrees and pros call "The Zone", befits our innate simplicity and makes the game feel like in slow-motion or at least in slower motion, increasing perception, feel and control.
Moreover, intending to use parts of the string bed other than the center helps stabilize the racquet angle, allows you to play loose, and furthers your control. The lower half of the racquet is optimum for groundstrokes, and Serena Williams is an extreme proponent of such in her best performing days.
I played with these innate abilities in 1956. I had a world-class forehand, my own, and embarked on a breakthrough path in no time. My one-handed backhand, which I had copied from Tony Trabert, was a beauty to behold. My backhand slice, copied from Ken Rosewall, one of the best ever in this department, had uncanny accuracy and effect. My serve and overhead smash, both copied from Pancho Gonzalez, were trusted weapons of choice. My volleys, hit across and copied from Lew Hoad and other best examples, were clean and effective.
There is no limit if you copy success in a way that blends with your own nature. I seemed primed for a high future. Then I was offered "help" from "experts". I listened to conventional lore and changed my forehand, my best stroke. It became erratic. The supreme, unconstrained confidence I had in that stroke was lost. I played the world’s best players in the 1960s in 38 countries, with poor results.
It took me nearly a quarter of a century to come full circle. The result is MTM (Modern Tennis Methodology), a system that rebels against conventional tenets and where all the natural wisdom, feel and instinct of a player falls into place. These techniques, since my first publication in 1989 and consequent TV exposure starting in 1991, have influenced a good part of planet Earth.
Even the William sisters learned, with their father, these techniques.
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