AskThePro: A Good String Job Can Manage Your Limitations

In our previous column on rackets, we make reference to the key advantages of a good restring in managing your limitations!

The tournament pros are absolutely fanatical about their choice of strings and the associated string tension — which they change to suit both surface and playing conditions — and often during a match.  I still carry two rackets in my bag each with a slightly different tension to accommodate the changing playing conditions at Manly Lawn.

Conversely, our average tennis player puts what I euphemistically call “two dollars worth of nylon” in a $200+ high performance frame — and expects to play consistently well and without injury, especially tennis elbow.

Most club players who play two or more times a week are well advised to get a GOOD STRING JOB every 8 to 10 weeks depending on the season.  Aggressive players who blast the ball with big western forehands (Boyd, Bosko, Harry & Co) need to update every 3 to 4 weeks or so.  Yep, strings go loose and dead — and performance suffers!

Trust me when I say, your game will improve at least a POINT A GAME with a good restring! You might even be encouraged to take a few lessons to help better manage the rest of your limitations.

So what constitutes a GOOD STRING JOB?

First a little science education since modern strings come in different materials and thicknesses, each designed to suit different playing styles. In the table below, you’ll notice the differences in the main and cross strings and the dependence on whether you want control, power, comfort (did I mention managing tennis elbow?).

Thickness is pretty screwy since 18 gauge string is thinner than 16 gauge, go figure!

You can see from the graph above that the typical $2 nylon (16G) has high durability (to ensure rackets have a good shelf life) and low spin potential ( aka “feel/control”)! How did that new Wilson play Jordan with the $2 nylon??

Even at my tender age, I still use a hybrid combination of 18G multifilament Gamma Live Wire on the mains and Babolat Blast (Nadal’s string) on the crosses. Yep as I’ve aged and reverted to social player status, I’ve gone for more control and less power by reversing the mains and the crosses per the table. The 18G Live Wire is more lively (plays like gut) and gives me much more feel. The Blast allows me to give the ball a nudge and more topspin when I need to (sorry Richard).

And now the string tension.  Most players string the crosses the same as the mains and expect the tension to be even itself out throughout the racket during stringing. Well that’s the logic anyway. The GOAL was always to get an even string tension in the racket to increase the ‘sweet spot’. Yep, for most of my playing life I relied on that logic too. Of course my ball watching was so much better than, and I played with gut, so miss hits were infrequent. And yep it’s SOoooooo Wrong!

Several years ago I ran into a older, chain smoking racket stringer in California who set me straight — and he didn’t hold back!  Turns out that what most people miss is the impact of FRICTION on the Crosses when you’re feeding the string under and over through the Mains. Whatever tension you string the Mains at, you ADD 5lb to the Crosses to counter the friction. Here’s my current stringing pattern to illustrate this key point:

 

So Obi Wan (thanks Howard) how should I translate this to my game? Well most rackets come with a suggested stringing guide for tension. Start with the mid range for the racket for the Mains and then string the Crosses 5lb more.  Then adjust up and down as required until you’re comfortable with the tension. Aside, typically you can use a lower tension that the one you used previously; helps your feel and control.

Just ask Tommie for ‘Rob’s restring’ if you want to try this type of restring at the Manly Tennis Centre. You’ll find an immediate benefit of a bigger sweet spot — and most of your misshits will go over now as your control is significantly improved. Just ask Howard, Ken Grey or some of our other playmates what the effect has been on our games!

As for the choice of string, well that depends on your game. I’ve given you the guidelines in the table above which you can probably figure out yourself. Even so, probably better to go talk to Scottie, Tebbs or Howard when you want some pro advice about what strings may suit your individual playing style.

To repeat what my mate Howard the pro says, you’ve got to manage your limitations — and using better technology (whether frame and/or strings) is a great way to do this. Cunning and guile will only get you so far! Invest in the technology!

Make a regular investment in a GOOD STRING JOB using the latest materials technology; it’s absolutely worth it for your psyche alone!

Sincerely,
Rob
USPTA

Stop Chronic Injuries

Tennis can be tough on your body!  Just ask Federer, Nadal and the typical club member at Manly Lawn.  It’s been cold, wet and windy in Sydney for Badge — the perfect recipe for injury!

At some point, particularly as we age, our injuries become chronic — and our recovery time between play becomes longer. The result: we play less and, even more, are less inclined to play!

For chronic injuries, the Guys from Trident may be able to help you like they did for me — and my bum shoulder. Their methodology — small, targeted interventions to keep you moving,  is similar to the Carrolls, the tennis trainers, who used to keep me on the courts in California.  US Nationals are typically five day events on brutal hard courts, so you needed all the help you could get to make it through to finals day — if you were good enough.

For the rest of us, here’s a link to a series of warm-up and cool-down exercises that were created specifically for tennis players to stop injury or discomfort before it begins.  I have used a variation of Pete’s exercises for many years to continue to play competitively — here’s an example.

I can attest that these exercise, when done regularly, will help you feel more agile, relieve any joint or muscle tightness, and ensure that you are ready for most shots that comes your way — so you can play tennis for life!

Wishing you good health and tennis for life,
Rob
USPTA

The Psychology of Turning Points in Tennis

Now that we are hot and heavy into Badge, thought the attached IT coaching article might be helpful in managing/understanding the competitive pressures!  Cheers, Rob

The psychological strategies used by players to deal with these turning points will determine how effective players are in using these situations to their advantage.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the concept of turning points and understand more clearly the strategies applied by elite players to deal with turning points during a tennis match. A series of semi-structured interviews was conducted with nine elite professional players from five different countries, followed by a thematic content analysis of the interviews.

The analysis revealed four key themes: positive turning points situations, negative turning points situations, strategies to capitalise on positive turning points and strategies to cope with negative turning points.

On a practical level, strategies are suggested that coaches and psychologists can use to help players managing turning points.

Here’s the link: ITF-PsychologyTurningPoints

Badge Dubs Clinic 26Apr- White Line Fever

Here’s a quick recap from our clinic:

 

White Line Fever

One of the hardest lessons for players to learn is when to attack and when to defend. Too often, most players get frustrated and ‘pull the trigger’ way too early when the percentages are definitely NOT in their favour.

In golf, it’s relatively easy, you have specific clubs to suit your position on the course in relation to the hole. In tennis, there’s no such aid, there’s one racket, one or two players, and a court which is marked for ‘scoring’ NOT positioning.

To help players better understand this key principle, Rob marked up the court as shown below with a white line located between the service line and baselines:

NOTE the thin white line where Pam is standing in the middle pic.  Typically when the ball bounces behind this line, you’re playing defensively because you have to hit the ball up and have very little angle to work the ball.  As Rob pointed out, taller players have the advantage here and can extend the white line closer to the baseline.

When players can hit a rally ball around the thin white line, they are playing offensively — they can either ‘pull the trigger’ as Kirsten is prone to do or play an approach shot and become a threat in the volley position shown in the last pic.  Now you have opened up the court to angles and sidelines.  Just remember that you’re always trying to play your net partner into the game — the player closest to the net takes the ball. There is ‘no my side’ in dubs if you want to better manage the real estate.

It also follows that it’s a great strategy to keep your opponents behind the baseline as much as possible — ala Nadal! This is also why the lady lobbers do so well against the typical ‘hitter’ — “you’ve got to be kidding, this isn’t tennis”; oh but it is! And it’s smart tennis! Hitting a very slow high bouncing ball is perhaps the hardest shot in the book!!

Art of the Lob

We learned how to use the same technique we learned on the volley to hit a simple, high defensive lob to counteract both the lady lobbers and the net rushers.

Dubs Practice: We finished with our pairs ‘king of the hill’ drill to practice our White Line Fever.

Great to see a continuing steady improvement in our players. Since most players have well developed styles, with life long habits, these small interventions can help you get the most out of your game.

If you want some serious coaching to make some major changes, then please contact Scott or Michael directly.

We adjourned to the bar for the traditional post mortem drink, more questions and snacks. Good time was had by all. Denis will be back next week to join us.

Always happy to share the knowledge. Paraphrasing Dave, a little understanding goes a long way to helping you better enjoy your tennis.

Cheers,
Rob

 

Badge Dubs Clinic 04Apr- Quick Recap

Here’s a quick recap from our clinic:

  1. We built on our understanding of the 80% Rule.In particular, we learned why Doubles is a Team sport because one player gets to stand in a winning position without hitting a ball! The server’s, and the receiver’s, job is to get the ball to their partner at the next.We learned how to be a ‘Threat”: by court presence with examples Hugo (big guy dominating the net) or Carl (fast guy moving around on the net)!  In weeks to come, we’ll look at how to counteract/defend against this strategy.
  2. Dominant Eye on the Volley:  We used a 6 people volley drill to emphasize ‘seeing the ball’ in the field of play.  You have to move your eyes since it takes too much time to move your head. Good volleys require you ‘to see the ball’ by focusing on the lines, or seams, on the ball with your head steady.  We repeated our basic simple ball catching exercise to make the point.
  3. Volley Ready Position: We learned about our proper ready position.
  4.  Balance is THE key to a good serve:  A good serve is built on a good ball toss to transfer body weight into the ball with a smooth rhythm.  We learned the simple trick of learning how to bounce the ball properly to get your balance before starting to serve.   To better understand the role and importance of ‘Balance’ see our page at Tennis For Life.
  5.  Dubs Practice: We finished with pairs doubles play with a single ball serve to start the point.

Great to see a slow and steady improvement in our players.

We adjourned to the bar for a post mortem drink, more questions and snacks provided by Denis. Good time was had by all.

Cheers,
Rob

 

Badge Dubs Clinic 22Mar- Quick Recap

Here’s a quick recap from our clinic:

  1. 80% Rule at all levels because doubles is about ‘managing the real estate’. Simply, standing there means you’ll at least get a shot at most balls.  Of course the outcome will depend on your respective ability.
  2. Seeing the Ball:  We learned the difference between just watching the ball’ and actually ‘seeing the ball’.  Good volleys require you ‘to see the ball’ by focusing on the lines, or seams, on the ball with your head steady.  We did a simple basic ball exercise to make the point.
  3.  Balance is THE key to a good serve:  A good serve is built on a good ball toss to transfer body weight into the ball with a smooth rhythm.  We learned the simple trick of learning how to bounce the ball properly to get your balance before starting to serve.  The same simple technique can also be used to quell nerves when playing under pressure ala Djokovic!   To better understand the role and importance of ‘Balance’ see our page at Tennis For Life.

Everybody had a chance to practice these points in between a couple of rain showers. It was interesting to watch the improvement in everyone’s serve when they understood the importance of balance!

We again adjourned to the bar for a post mortem drink and snacks. Good time was had by all.

NO CLINIC this coming Thursday March 29  due to the Easter Holidays.

Cheers,
Rob

 

Badge Dubs Clinic 15Mar- Quick Recap

Last week, Denis started our doubles clinics for our Badge members.

A couple of folks asked me for a quick summary recap:

  1. Doubles 101 is about ‘managing the real estate’.  Attached sketch shows the ‘80% rule’ — the key to playing good doubles. 80% of shots fall in a 2 metre circle around the centre T — irrespective of grade played.  Simply, standing that means you’ll at least get a shot at the ball.  Of course the outcome will depend on your respective ability.
  2. Size matters!  We learned about ‘zones’: when to attack, approach and defend! Taller players have a significant advantage with a much larger green zone. In summary, you have to keep the ball deeper in the court, or at their feet, and preferably out of the 80% zone or they can hurt you!  See below for the little exercise we did.

 

  1. Good doubles means being aware of who/where the ‘threat is’ and positioning yourself accordingly. This is how you build pressure in doubles!  This generally translates into not playing the net person into the game particularly if you’re the receiver– if at all possible.  Conversely, the server is trying to play their net person into the game — their net person gets to stand in their green zone without hitting a ball!

 

Everybody had a chance to practice all this with some fierce points played out! We then adjourned to the bar for a post mortem drink and snacks. Good time had by all.

The clinics continue each Thursday, weather permitting. Space is limited and signups are required.

Cheers,
Rob

 

How to Play the Lobber

Denis & Chris successfully used a ‘lobbing strategy’ to win their last match.  This begs an answer to the question how should you play against a doubles pair who continuously lob you if you’re on the receiving end of the lobbers??

So why do lobbers win?  Apart from exhausting your patience (“This IS NOT tennis is often the catch cry”) , lobbers win by exploiting two key weaknesses common in most players: 1) Footwork and 2) Lack of Anticipation.

Re footwork, the average player tries to move backwards heels first, loses their balance and often stumbles to try to get into position. The result a muffed shot at best!

Of the five different types of moving on a tennis courts, moving backwards is by far the hardest for both sexes. I’ll get to the 3 typical choices momentarily, but the common denominator is to to position your dominant foot behind you by turning sideways. This allows you to shuffle backwards like a crab, or cross over your steps for better balance, or combine the shuffle/cross over step depending on whether you’re running down the lob or hitting a smash.

Of course all of this is pretty pointless if you’re caught unaware by the lob and lack anticipation!

Here’s how to help you anticipate a lob.  Firstly, consider the PATTERN of play. As Denis alluded to above, he invoked the strategy from the outset, or if you serve down the middle on Dunno’s backhand expect a lob back. Then consider the opponent’s POSITION on the court: if they are in a defensive position–you’re attacking the net or they’re off the court, expect a lob! Allied to this is POISE, if the guy is off balance or stretching for a ball, expect a lob so they can buy some time to get back into the game.. And lastly, study their racket PREPARATION–if you can see that far and/or still have presence of mind–an open racket face indicates a lofted ball, a closed racket face indicates a drive.

If you can consistently recognize 2 or 3 of these P factors, you’ll be well prepared for a lob.  Now what you do with the next shot, we’ll perhaps that’s another column in the future. Suffice to say, one key is NOT to hit the ball short to the opposition so that can have lunch.

Tennis is a great game with many different styles of play. Face facts. lobbing is one of them — and it works because it exploits common weaknesses.  Hopefully, this little missive will help you understand how to play against the lobber but more importantly, why you might want to incorporate in your own game. It might be ugly but it wins at all levels of tennis — just ask Denis and Dunno!!.

Rob Muir USPTA