Saturday, July 7, 2007

What's the Greatest Tennis Feat?

I just finished watching Roger Federer beat Richard Gasquet to reach the finals of Wimbledon, his ninth consecutive Grand Slam final. Surey, this is one of the greatest feats in the history of tennis. But, just where does it rank in the grand scheme of things? To figure that out, we must examine some of the other great (Open Era) tennis accomplishments (in no particular order):
1. Calendar year Grand Slams by Rod laver (1969), Margaret Court (1970), and Steffi Graf (1988, including Olympic gold medal);
2. Winning 4 or more Slam titles in a row: Martina Navratilova (6 in a row from 1983-84), and Serena Williams (4 in a row from 2002-03);
3. Winning Slams in at least 4 consecutive years: Bjorn Borg (Wimbledon from 1976-80, and the French Open from 1978-81), Martina (Wimbledon from 1982-87), Pete Sampras (Wimbledon 1997-2000), Chris Evert (U.S. Open 1975-78), and Federer (Wimbledon 2003-06);
4. The French/Wimbledon double, won by Borg in 1978, 79 and 80; Martina in 1982 and 84, Serena in 2002, Steffi in 1988, 93 and 95, Laver in 1969, Court in 1970;
5. The unlikey surface/playing style Slam: Adriano Panatta (serve-and-volley player winning the French Open in 1976);
6. The multi-surface Slammer: Jimmy Connors (U.S. Open winner on 3 different surfaces in 5 years);
7. The winning streaks: Guillermo Vilas (50 match streak in 1977),Evert (125 match multi-year clay court streak), Martina (74 match streak in 1984);
8. Longevity records: Evert (at least one Slam per year from 1974-86), Ivan Lendl (8 consecutive U.S. Open finals from 1982-89), Sampras (year-end #1 for 6 straight years), Connors (8 years between Wimbledon titles);
9. Feats of versatility: John McEnroe (76 singles titles, and 77 doubles wins), Martina (singles, doubles and mixed at all 4 Slams, along with over 100 titles in singles and doubles);
10. the career Grand Slam: Evert, Navratilova, Graf, Laver, Court, Serena, Andre Agassi, and Billie Jean King.
I think that, obviously, the calendar year Slams should be #1, followed by the French/Wimbledon doubles and consecutive year wins at the same slam. It's a tossup to me whether Federer's Slam finals streak (never before done) or the career Slam should be 4 or 5. Winning 4 Slams in a row, while a remarkable achievement, doesn't compare to the feats listed above.
That's my take; what's yours?

Friday, July 6, 2007

Learn (the Right Things) from the Best

I so often hear people comment about doing things “like the pros”, that it made me stop and reflect on just what we can, and should, learn from the world’s best players. It’s not what I hear these folks talking about, either. Forget about “big power”, “huge topspin”, “serve lots of aces”, and things of that nature. The best lessons we can learn from the pros are in five main areas.

First of all, top players are fanatical about conditioning, and rightly so: they earn their livings with their bodies. Weight training, cardiovascular exercise, stretching and proper nutrition are a necessary part of every pro’s day, even in the off-season. Paying particular attention to the shoulders, legs and core muscles, top players go to great trouble to ensure injury-free play. You rarely see a pro at Dunkin’ Donuts, either.

Next, high-level players know you can’t hit a heavy ball without a heavy racquet. The last time I saw it noted, the average racquet weight on the women’s tour was 11 ounces, and the men were 1 oz. higher. Heavier frames allow for more power with less effort, better shock absorption, and more stability on off-center hits than a similar, but lighter, racquet. The higher power level of a heavier frame means it can be more flexible, a real boon to the arm, as well. Remember, you can’t hit (or return) a 120mph serve with an 8 oz. racquet!

Third, good players recognize the importance equipment maintenance makes to their results. Even if a pro uses the same racquet for his or her entire career, they replace them constantly as the fibers break down, ensuring consistent feel, power and control. They also restring regularly, knowing that neglect of this vital area often means the difference between winning and losing. Even grips are regularly changed to ensure arm health.

Fourth, top players know they can’t survive without coaching. Roger Federer may go for spells without one, but you never see any other pros without a watchful eye over their shoulder. Even if not trying to make stroke changes, a good coach can help make sure they don’t slip into bad habits, and be a great aid in scouting and formulating tactics.

Finally, good players know that attitude means everything. They go into a match knowing they have to give their best on every shot, not dwell on the past or hope for the future. This is where they have it all over the rest of us: staying in the present.

Now, you may not play tennis for a living, but you can learn from what the world’s best players do. First, make a commitment to fitness. Hire a trainer if you must, but get off the couch between matches. You don’t need to exercise at a professional’s pace, but lifting weights twice a week, plus a couple of good aerobic workouts, would make a huge difference in your health and performance. Get up 30 minutes early during the week and work out. And replace some of that junk food with healthy meals.

Next, you may need to make some tough choices on equipment. If your current racquet is several years old, replace it with a new one of the same model, or the closest new version you can find. Your pro or trusted racquet specialist can help you navigate the sea of models out there to find the best fit for your game. Also, use the heaviest racquet you can comfortably swing. No matter how light and easy that 8 oz. job you may have is to swing, you’ll get more power, feel, comfort and stability from a heavier one. Replace it, or have it customized by a knowledgeable racquet technician, and have your pro see how it works for you.

Third, replace your strings and grip if you haven’t done it in a while. It’s not badge of honor to use the same string job for years on end, and the money you save in stringing may be outdone by doctor bills for tennis elbow or shoulder injuries. If you play 3 or more times per week you should, in my opinion, restring all of your racquets at least every 3 months. Change the grips, too, even if you use an overgrip. While you’re at it, have your racquet technician make sure your grip is the right size for you.

Fourth, make a call to your local pro for a “check-up” on your strokes. Without a coach’s watchful eye, bad habits can develop, robbing you of power and/or control, and exposing you to injury. After your overhaul, make regular appointments to check your progress.

Finally, work on your attitude. Don’t get caught up in the politics and personalities of the game. Relish the competition, and try to improve something every time you go out. Sure, it hurts to lose, but think of all the less pleasurable things you could be doing at the time. Feel better for having played today, rather than stressed out.

Sometimes, one person can help you with all these things. If you live or play in my area, please feel free to contact me and arrange to have your game and equipment examined. Whatever you decide to do, and whomever you decide to do it with, please do it soon.

My name is Matt Steverson, USRSA Master Racquet Technician and USPTA Certified tennis professional at Sylvan Lake Park in Sanford, Florida, part of the Seminole County Parks and Recreation Department.
This blog is designed to be a venue for my opinions, rants and miscellaneous ramblings regarding the world of tennis
I’ve been a tennis player since 1973, and was one of the players to start the program at NAIA powerhouse Auburn-Montgomery.
I’ve taught tennis, either full- or part-time, since 1978.
I was one of the first stringers to be certified by the United States Racquet Stringers Association (USRSA) in 1986, and now hold the USRSA’s highest level of certification, Master Racquet Technician (MRT).
I self-published the newsletter Racquetech (some of which was featured on the Tennis Warehouse website), which helped usher in detailed equipment analysis, and examined ultra-lightweight racquet technology for the April 1999 issue of Tennis magazine. I’ve strung racquets at many top high school and college tournaments, and have handled tournament stringing for many top professional players, in addition to countless local casual and tournament players.
OK, enough about me. Please check my postings often. And, please feel free to leave your comments. After all, tennis is not a one game played by just one person.
And please visit my website