Wednesday, September 23, 2015

High Tech Tennis

I've been loaned this book (High Tech Tennis) by Jack Groppel, and I'm really rather enjoying the read. It combines two of my favourite subject: tennis and biomechanics! I'm five chapters in, and although the first two were useful, it's at chapter 3 that it starts to get interesting. At least for me.

Chapter 3 is all about footwork. You can't overstate the importance of footwork in tennis. In fact you can argue that if you're going to build a tennis player, the place to start is with footwork, then bodywork and finally racket work. Think about it for a moment. The last thing you do is hit the ball, the first thing you do is move into position to hit it. It's a simple principle, if you can't get in the right position to hit the ball, it really doesn't matter how good your stroke mechanics are, you're not going to make the shot. Footwork is crucial. Reading through this chapter, and the next one on power and control, just makes me want to practise more! The problem is, it's hard to find anyone who wants to practice.

One of the interesting things in the chapter on footwork is the way the drills are organised. For those unfamiliar with the concept of a drill, it's simply a pattern of activities repeated over and over again. For example, you might do a forehand drill where you hit cross court to a target zone and keep going until you make 100 shots in the target (or until you need oxygen!). What is interesting about the footwork drills is that they are done based on the average length of a rally with rest periods that reflect the average time between rallies and also average length of the changeover. So, for example, you might do one drill repeated 5 times for 10 secs for each cycle with 15 secs rest between the cycles. That simulates a typical game. I'd never really considered planning drills in that way. I could probably run 5k in 30 minutes, but you simply don't run like that on a tennis court. On the other hand, doing explosive movements with short recovery periods between is typical of tennis.

When I'm watching the rugby players at the club train, I'm often wondering why the backs and forwards are doing the same things. I can understand doing certain things the same, but forwards generally don't sprint the same distances backs run, so why would you train the same way?

Forwards are most often involved in rucks, scrums and mauls. They have to learn to pick the ball up off the floor and then run short distances with it. If they're not running with the ball they need to get back to their feet and follow the player with the ball to the next ruck or maul. Backs generally receive the ball through the hands and already running when they do. Good training mixes these things up but also focuses them so that players can build their skills.

But this book is about tennis not rugby, so I'll stop digressing and make one last observation form the book that caught my eye. In the footwork chapter there's a great picture of Jennifer Capriati setting up for a backhand. It's a great picture because you can clearly see how the weight transfers and takes her forward into the shot. Oh to be able to do that consistently!

And the best quote from the book so far? Well that has to be the description of what to do when the ball is coming straight at you. Are there complicated movements to make, or detailed descriptions of when to take the racket back? No. The answer is simple. When the ball comes straight at you: Get out of the way!

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