On paper, the players who can hit bigger serves and harder shots appear to be the favorites to win. Yet, in reality, it's not the case. For example, in 2005, Donald Young won the Australian Open Juniors. He was 15 years old. Most of his adversaries were physically fitter, had bigger serves and groundstrokes, and were more experienced. Some had ATP ranking points already. The difference in physical abilities between 15 and 18-year-olds is significant. Despite being disadvantaged on paper, Donald became the youngest male to win a junior Grand Slam event. Donald didn't have big shots and had a relatively weak serve. So, what tools did he use to win?
When I was coaching, I would frequently hear parents and students talk about the need to hit hard. Children as young as eight often told me they needed to smack the ball as hard as possible to become good at tennis. And parents would express concern when their child hasn't been hitting hard and fast during practice. Many of you reading this blog might be thinking along the same lines--that the better players are the ones who hit harder. So, my job is to change your belief on the importance of hitting hard.
Why are having goals important? A former coach used to say having no goals is like driving without a destination: you end up wandering. Likewise for tennis, if you step on the court without a clear objective, you'll practice mindlessly. So, in this post, I'll provide you with a few dos and don'ts of setting goals and objectives.
In the summer of 2001, I played my first European Tennis Association tournament in Germany. I didn’t know any of the players, and so I did not feel the pressure I would typically get playing tournaments in the U.S. I competed without expecting to win or lose and thus reached the finals without dropping a set. My game was so steady that, in the finals, I took the first set 6-0. During an early changeover in the second set, however, I began thinking about what I would say for my post-match interview (there was a local news crew filming the match). At that moment, unbeknownst to my opponent, I handed him the tournament title. I cashed in before finishing the job. I signaled my mind that I had won after only reaching the halfway point and thus lost sight of my game.
In my previous blog posts, we learned that developing the right contact point and using good judgment on shot selection are the essential ingredients to winning matches. But how do you get there? Many players are aware that a good contact point is a requirement for hitting a good shot. Yet, in sport, knowing is not enough. Imagine Michael Phelps tells a person who's never been in water the game-changing aspects of swimming. Will that person suddenly swim well? Unlikely. That person needs a formula and a pathway to acquiring those game-changing skills.
When I was 14, I played in the quarterfinals against the top seed in a 16’s international event in Florida. I was shorter, thinner, and weaker than my opponent. I won the first set 6-2. I surprised myself. But I earned that set because I controlled most of the points by mixing my shots between low, high, soft, and angles. My opponent never found his rhythm in the first set, and he had trouble making clean contact. Unfortunately, I felt overjoyed and lost sight of my game plan. I began hitting hard. My shots continued to feel good, but my opponent suddenly began winning more points. He started controlling the majority of the points and thus won the following two sets 6-2, 6-2. I won the first set because I was actively thinking of my shot selection. The following two sets, I didn't make smart decisions.
Many junior tennis players don’t feel in control of their game. On bad days, players will try magic to make their shots go where they want it to land. I’ve seen kids pray, wear lucky shirts, sit only on the left side of the court, and eat the same thing at the same time every day during the tournament to not jinx their luck. In junior tennis, superstition is as common as it was in the Dark Ages because they lack the control that professional players have.
I hope your summer is going well. You will receive an email from me every two weeks on tennis related topics. My goal is to furnish you with the right knowledge and provide you with a logical understanding of the game. The topics will vary from physical and mental training, technique, drills, and understanding the physics of the game. Today’s email is an illustration of the importance of having the right knowledge. Subsequent emails will dive into specific components of tennis. Please get in touch with me if you have questions, feedback, or simply want to say hi. LeoaRosenberg@gmail.com