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Do Poor Player Development Strategies Affect Talented Tennis Players Careers

It is a question that must be in the minds of many coaches and federation leaders around the world. At the French open in 1984 I was approached by the head of the Australian junior development program R.R. at the time and was asked if I would like to join the AIS junior development coach team, the reason being: "we need to develop the "Spanish" clay court game in our juniors".

My answer was, "I am honoured with your offer but you must keep in mind that I am a strong believer in the all-round game as well as in the teachings of Mr. Harry Hopman". Needless to say, I never heard from AIS again for years to come.

The Australian Open went on to adopt the slow surfaced rebound Ace tennis courts that totally handicapped their marquee players Patrick Rafter, Mark Phillipoussis and of late a French clay court especially developed for Australia is at Melbourne Park. "Tennis Australia officials like to refer to the particular blends of red dirt as 'Factor X'." (Investment in French clay By Margie McDonald December 16, 2005 "The Australian, Australia's national daily newspaper"). This would be pretty harmless if the likes of Richard Fromberg 6'5'' (195 cm) a baseliner, Lleyton Hewitt 5'11'' (180 cm) defensive baseliner (counter puncher) would not show as by-products of such a grand scheme.In the USA an identical phenomena happened with the death of Mr. Harry Hopman in 1985, players went looking elsewhere for new training havens.

A large sports management group very intelligently bought a tennis academy in 1987, then started and to this day continues to furiously herd present clients and every future tennis star to train there, as well as promoting itself with magazine ads, magazine and TV interviews and various other connections its power within the sport of tennis allows them. With this huge marketing machine and new clients being scouted, signed up and pumped in from around the world, the dawn of baseline robotic tennis and two handed backhands supported by excellent forehands was at hand.Fortunately, players like John McEnroe, Pat Cash, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Michael Stich, Pat Rafter, Pete Sampras and now Roger Federer escaped the onslaught and were privileged to have Coaches/Teachers that offered them the option to fully develop their games with one handed backhands, the serve and volley and the all-round game.

Australia and the USA, as dominant tennis nations for many years, were the standard that others followed to develop their players. Now let us make a small tally of the damage poor development principals can do world wide; false "gurus", teachers conferences, tennis clinics, papers and books, DVD's and VHS, interviews, "expert" magazine articles, tennis camps and sloppy training.How did poor development affect talented players? Let us take Lleyton Hewitt for an example:.What do you think Lleyton Hewitt would be doing to the elite now, if at a young age, he had developed a good one handed backhand, a decent serve and a serve and volley combination? My forecast would be, that Hewitt with the amazing speed he moves on the tennis court and his aggressive nature, Roger Federer would not be humbling him now with short scores like; Wimbledon 2005, 6-3 6-4 7-6(4) or US Open 05 6-3 7-6(0) 4-6 6-3, or with other even more humiliating defeats!.Another example, Andre Agassi what would he have done, if at an early age, he had developed a good one handed backhand, a decent serve and a serve and volley combination? Agassi with his quick thinking, great anticipation (exceptional eyes), creativity and fantastic foot speed, Andre would have amassed more Grand Slams then anyone that ever played the game! (After all these years of watching him play, in spite of all his talent, I still cringe when he volleys or hits a slice backhand!).

Andy Roddick is another flagrant case, of playing robotic tennis sometimes up to 12 feet behind the baseline or whatever the back of the court allows, out-slugging opponents with little imagination or creativity, at 6'2'' (187 cm) you can imagine the threat this young man would be at the net to his opponents instead! What a waste of energy and raw talent! It is plausible that you all remember his last defeat at Wimbledon, if Andy had a solid backhand volley to speak of and knew that most attacks are down the line instead of cross court, Roger Federer today would now be reflecting about the Wimbledon he lost and not the one he won!.Sérgio Cruz you are writing this article but you were responsible for the further development of Jim Courier in 1988/89/90? Oh, yes I was! I can tell you with all honesty, as much as I liked Jim, I was disgusted at the lack of variation, defensive skills, volleys or serve and volley. As an experienced tournament player myself, I knew that I could not make radical changes in Jim's game (especially since he was already 18 years old), so I gradually made the following additions to his armour:.

- Instead of the permanent run of the mill inside out forehand only, I introduced the inside in down the line winner ("non percentage") that he started using after the Stockholm Open 1988 as a surprise factor throughout his career.- Taught Jim the one handed backhand slice as a variation, as a defensive shot and as an aggressive shot especially in the approach to the net.- Introduced him to smart serving, all spins and variations plus the serve and volley combination.- Worked extensively on Jims volleys, foot work included (seeding the premise to his mind that "you end up winning big matches at the net" which he did after the rain delay in Roland Garros final against Andre Agassi.).- Taught him from scratch the jumped overhead smash, foot work included.

- Influenced him to play doubles with Pete Sampras in an attempt to develop Jims volley and serve and volley skills. (They did not do too bad, won the Italian Open and at some point they were as high as 3 in doubles on the ATP Ranking and made it to the ATP Doubles finals at Royal Albert Hall, England, 1989.).- Through hard conditioning training, I helped Jim become one of the fittest tennis players on the ATP tour and created the base for his future success! (Andre only achieved that kind of fitness in 1996 with Brad Gilbert!).Yes, I must admit I did not do everything perfect, if I could go back in time to Rome 1990, I would not have allowed Jim's agent or the ATP to influence him to play the Nations Cup in Düsseldorf, instead of as we had planned resting that very week just before the French Open! Unfortunately I feared to hurt Jim's confidence by saying that playing Düsseldorf would compromise his performance at the French but that was dumb of me! It cost us a years work and a French title for which Jim was then ready!.Going back to, "how does poor development affect talented players?" Parents, teachers and coaches, have to understand that tennis is a very complex process that cannot be alienated by success alone.

Sometimes losing at an earlier age in order to develop the right game or strokes is far more important.For example, I have taken young players to ITF and ETA tournaments where I observed doubles teams playing whole matches at the baseline! This makes me often think that I am in the "Twilight Zone" or in some kind of a nightmare! This kind of attitude from coaches often condoned by shortsighted parents is exactly what produces robot tennis players and stymies development.Now what did Australia and the USA have in common that made them dominant tennis nations for many years and was ignored from top officials and cognoscenti, I could argue:.- They ignored and denied the greatest asset their players had and that was the extraordinary innate ability their players had to volley from any position on the court unlike any other players from other nations.- They ignored and denied the extraordinary inborn ability Australians and Americans had to serve and volley with all its nuances perfected to an art through the years, which players from other nations could not rival!.

- Finally, they ignored and denied the unequalled perhaps genetic ability their players had to approach and attack the net to set up easy put away volleys from any position on the court, coupled with the athleticism to hit incredible overhead smashes when lobbed!.After so many years of playing the game and observing other players from all over the world, I am lead to believe that even though there is always an exception to the rule some countries have generated a larger share of risk-takers, quality net rushers, serve and volley, all-round players then other countries:.They are Australia, USA, England and México. Germany was a late entry with Becker and Stich.On the other hand other countries produced great defenders and counter punchers:.

Spain, Argentina followed by Italy & Sweden with a dry spell at the moment.This leads me to believe, barring exceptions, that certain groups of individuals (Nations) have certain genetic characteristics that are more suited to the attacking all-round game then others, in this particular case Australia and USA.That is why I dare say; that by making baseline robots out of Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and others with fantastic innate athleticism and abilities, myopic officials, leaders and teachers denied them an even higher ground in the tennis world.Roger Federer has opened the Pandora box by blatantly showing the short comings of his peers and now there is no more place were to hide, officials, teachers and coaches have to come to recon that, slowing down surfaces, introducing bigger and heavier tennis balls to favour baseliners and limiting tennis to hitting the ball mindlessly harder and harder from the baseline is just not enough! It is time for a change to one form or another of "retro tennis" the creative skilful "old" all-round game.It is never too late but you better learn all skills while you are young, I would say very, very young!.

Ok, enough of "status quo" bashing as I am critical of such shoddy tennis development, I am also responsible to present solutions, here it goes:.Five effective "old" ways to develop the all round player in you!.All athletes are influenced by several factors in their development but no other has more relevant position on the scale then training and training methods. I am not going to get in depth nor the details or individual specifics of training, I will rather give you a basic training session.Presently about 80% to 90% of the tennis training time of most players is spent on the baseline.

When designing your training, reverse the trend and schedule 60% to 70% of the training involving the net game and all of it's components:.1- Start the warm-up with all players at the net gently volleying to each other (cross-court or down-line). Transition to a mini-tennis serve & volley in the service box (all touch shots).2- Switch to all players at the baseline and have them play a 2 x 5 minute control drill cross court to each other, involving all spin and pace variations, the use and development of the slice (forehand and backhand). Play a 7 point a baseline game 1 against one or 2 against 2 all court (2 points awarded for points own at the net).3- Transition to one player at the net one at baseline, work on consistency and control volleys, after 3 to 5 minutes switch player positions (This can be done cross or up the line).

Play a game to 7 or 11 points, where the player at the net is obliged to play a nice deep volley of off the feed from the baseliner (first volleys landing inside the service box are points for the player feeding). Players will keep the net position as long as they win, once they lose a point they have to quickly move to the baseline and the opponent moves to the net.4- Start a serve and volley exercise preferably up the line emphasis on serve spin variation and solid volleying. The return focuses on bringing the ball back into play low to the opponents feet or with chip shot (returns), on second serves even simultaneously going to the net and force a quick volley battle! :-).

After 3 to 5 minutes warm up, play a serve and volley match (no aces allowed!), 7, 11, 15 or 21 points.5- Finish the training session with a team or individual point play were serve and volley points are worth 3 points, points won at the net (approach shots, chip-charge etc.) are worth 2 points, points won from the baseline are worth 1, exception for clean winners 2 points! Play it to 21 points.As I said at the beginning this is just a basic training suggestion you can go from here in any direction you may wish to, just keep in mind that the net game is the focus.

I estimate this training session to go for 1.30 hour to 2 hours. If you do include variations of this training on your schedule 2 to 3 sessions a week and reverse it to the baseline training the other days, you will soon see a substantial increase in the confidence you (your players) will have at the net as well as a much higher percentage of variety and creative plays that will emerge during match play.As an instructor and former all court decent player I sincerely believe that, if you do not give your young players the opportunity to develop a well rounded game of tennis that encompasses all facets of it, you are denying that youngster (or adult) the possibility to develop himself into a better, more creative, more curious, more interesting tennis player. Enjoy "The Game".For comments or ideas about this article please email the author Sergio Cruz.

Copyright © 1999-2005 Tenniscruz.com®. All rights reserved.


Sergio Cruz is ex # 1 National Champion, Davis Cup Player from Portugal and former Coach Jim Courier ATP World Ranking # 1.Contact: cruz@tenniscruz.com - http://www.tenniscruz.com - http://www.forum.


By: Sergio Cruz


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