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SMT Daily Tip #8: A Major 2H-Backhand Key

(This video is derived from Topspin Tennis’s YouTube channel)

There’s a very specific piece in Kei Nishikori’s backhand that I want you to focus on (@ 0:16).

Kei Nishikori backhand

You can see here that Nishikori has dropped his racket head below the ball, to the point where it’s almost touching the ground. Note that he does this by raising his right-hand above his left-hand, which is what you must do too!

Why does he do this right before he swings? It is to get the buttcap of the racket pointing at the ball! When Nishikori points his buttcap at the ball, it allows him to achieve more effortless power out of the shot and make consistent and strong contact with the ball.

Making this small adjustment should improve your two-handed backhand immediately.

Hope you found this quick tip helpful and feel free to ask any questions regarding your game!

For a comprehensive breakdown of the backhand technique, check out: https://simplemoderntennis.wordpress.com/two-handed-backhand/

 

 

 

 

 

SMT Quick Tip #2: How to Exploit Net Approachers

(Check out the point that begins at 4:56)

If you have a hard time countering your opponent’s net approaches, try to do what Stanislas Wawrinka does really well here. As Novak Djokovic approaches the net, Wawrinka throws in a short slice which catches Djokovic completely off guard.

As you can see, it is difficult for players who are approaching the net to effectively handle short balls because there is not much they can do to a ball that is low and very close to the net. The best option is to pop the ball up as deep into the court as possible, but that is pretty difficult to execute and if even properly executed, the ball is easily attackable. So what every player usually goes for instead is to hit it short back, and Wawrinka knew that Djokovic would do this from a mile away. As soon as Djokovic made contact with the ball, Wawrinka was already racing to the net to put that ball away. Basically, it is a win-win situation when you feed the ball low to net-approachers.

This tactic is very effective and should definitely be added to your game. You will surely begin winning more easy points when your opponent approaches the net!

Power On Our Groundstrokes

In today’s professional game, power in players’ strokes have become a paramount factor in determining their success/potential. Players are unable to apply pressure to their opponents without enough power. In fact, people who do not have enough power are the ones who are most likely to get pushed around. Being unable to produce power, hitting winners become more difficult and thus you end up having to rely only on your opponent’s errors in order to win points.

Power really adds another dimension to your game: being able to hit winners at will and applying enormous amounts of pressure onto your opponent at even unpredictable times – it just profoundly enhances your game and makes tennis less of a grind. However, of course, using power tends to strongly correlate with making errors but the benefits of possessing power greatly outweighs this con.

Take a look at Ferrer’s match with Djokovic at the Australian Open 2013 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EN4Q2zu4oyY). Compared to Djokovic, Ferrer has no real fire power. What makes things worse is that his ball speed never really changes and that is the reason why having power is so important. With power comes a larger range of gauging your ball speed. What makes gauging ball speed so advantageous is that your play becomes more unpredictable and the opponent will always be on his/her toes. Ferrer is a clear example of how damaging it is not changing ball speeds. Just look at Djokovic! Producing winners left and right, Djokovic throughout the whole match was in such a smooth balance and a fantastic rhythm. What makes it an even worse of a nightmare for Ferrer is that Djokovic can willingly power up his shots. It is just clear that Ferrer is always at a huge disadvantage going up against Djokovic, and the rest of the top guys.

On the other hand, Djokovic masterfully demonstrates why power is an important asset to be at the very top of the game. With power – whenever he sees an opening during the rally – he can end the point right then and there. Many instances during this match Djokovic would be hitting his typical rally-ball and then out of nowhere he will inject a lot of pace into the ball. As a result,  Ferrer will be caught completely off-guard and be put on the defensive. This is something Ferrer can not do as well as others. However, his fitness and machine-like consistency makes up for it – enough to keep him in the top 10 for many years now.

Although having power is not absolutely necessary, it’s an important dimension that can make points less physically burdening instead of having to grind out points continuously.

Why Do I Like Tennis?

Why do people like tennis? Unfortunately, I could not come up with reasons that could generalize for the entire community so I altered the question and changed it to, “Why Do I Like Tennis?”

If you are a perfectionist like I am, then you will probably take a liking for tennis, considering the many, many techniques there are to master. For example, we have the two groundstrokes which are the forehand and the backhand. While they are both classified under the same category “groundstrokes,” they are not exactly identical in terms of technique. The forehand is hit with the dominant arm and the core is what does the swinging; whereas the backhand  – while the core is utilized the same way – is strict on requiring that your dominant arm is straight upon contact. For the two-handed backhand, the core is still similarly used; however, obviously this stroke requires the proper usage of both arms. Furthermore with groundstrokes, there are heaps of sub-skills that you need to or naturally learn as you become more advanced such as the running forehand/backhand and the lasso-whip forehand. Besides the groundstrokes, there are also the serve, the smash, the volley, and the footwork. The vast and maybe infinite amount of techniques there are to master is what makes this sport so enjoyable to me, and probably for many others as well. The sport feels like it’s never ending, for there is always a particular skill to improve in your game.

I also really enjoy that the sport can be played singly. While I do enjoy playing team sports (basketball), I more prefer individual sports because in games, all of the weight are on your shoulders. You are out there on a battle with yourself and the person across the net, mentally and physically. I covet witnessing myself overcome mental obstacles and knowing the extent to which I can last physically. Whatever happens at the end, there is no one else to blame but yourself. You look to fix that by analyzing what went wrong and figuring flaws out with your coach on the practice court. With the aspect that tennis is played individually, you really learn a lot about your own capabilities and how strong you carry yourself as a person.

Andy Murray is well known for his forehand to be extremely loose and neutral of the wrist.

While the core fundamentals are the same for all high-level players, each of them always have a touch about his/her stroke (usually on the backswing) that differs them from others which is also another reason why this sport intrigues me greatly. For example Richard Gasquet’s forehand (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wk_eCLU_qnU) has quite a wild and strange loop to it that almost makes it look like his forehand is at a continental grip when in reality, it’s at a semi-western grip. The way he hits it just seems so unconventional compared to the rest. Also, If you look at Grigor Dimitrov’s forehand (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3vfjOZuKJI), you will notice that every time after he turns his shoulders, he cheekily throws a peace-sign out as he extends his left arm.

Jeremy Chardy’s extremely cocked wrist on the takeback of his forehand is what greatly distinguishes him from the other players

I do not think anyone else on tour does this. Going to Andy Roddick, he’s known not only for his booming serve (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZC_uAGut9s) , but how distinct his serve looks; it’s a rather quick motion. It appears that he tosses the ball literally as he goes into the trophy position while others tend to toss the ball and then proceed to the trophy pose. All in all, from Federer’s graceful and elegant forehand (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71xnOPbmrUI)  to Nadal’s brutalizing and wicked forehand (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxmoF1qzouE) , it is evident that there is not one correct way of doing things in tennis and that each person who plays the sport will always have something perceptibly unique about their game. As a result, this always makes me wonder… what do I do that is unique from other players? In tennis, there is this sense of originality that is felt among players like no other sport. This is what makes tennis so interesting for me to watch and play.

There are many other reasons as to why I like tennis. However, the never-ending feeling in evolving your game, the sense of responsibility one bears on himself, and the distinctiveness the game creates among players are the main reasons why I love the game.

The Importance of Having a Transition and Net Game [Tennis Tactics and Efficiency]

Kei Nishikori

Many people tend to overlook volleys, deeming them not as important as groundstrokes. While that may be true, without a transitional net game, becoming successful on the tour or even in college is very difficult. Take UCLA’s Gage Brymer for example. Ranked one nationally and being a three time Ojai CIF champion, he was a phenom in the juniors. Many people expected him to play somewhere at the top of the line-up (Single’s 1 to 3) for UCLA because of his tremendous results in the juniors. However, he ended playing the number 4 or 5 spot. Why was this the case? If you watch Brymer’s matches when he was a junior and especially in college, notice how he rarely ever transitions to the net. His match with Mkrtchian (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qb6mFdhkHic) is a prime example of his reluctance to approach. In many instances throughout the match, he would hit a damaging shot that would force a weak return capable of being easily volleyed away, but what does he do? He remains at the baseline, and you can even tell that he gives it a thought before he makes the decision. Mkrtchian ends up winning this match. While part of the reason may be because Brymer’s baseline game was not at its usual level that day, Mkrtchian was the one who utilized his transitional net game to great effect. His groundstrokes are not as good as Brymer’s, but what places Mkrtchian at #2 or #3 singles is his ability to attack the net and seize good opportunities, efficiently ending points.

 

On the pro tour, it is inevitable that to be successful, players must have a transition game. Having that kind of efficiency not only expends less energy, but it also makes you more unpredictable. Without a doubt, the top four (Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, and Murray) are the most efficient players on tour. If they know one of their shots will yield a weak shot, they know immediately to begin transitioning up the court to take full advantage. A notable player who has improved this aspect of his game is Kei Nishikori. He has made a tremendous stride on the rankings, beginning at #20 in 2014 and ending the year in the top 5.

 

In his match against Tomic at Brisbane 2015, Kei Nishikori demonstrates clearly his improved efficiency by attacking the net and seizing the moment whenever the opportunity arises. Check out these timed videos to see how he transitions effectively.

 

https://youtu.be/fSVgdMjmVGQ?t=144 (Kei Nishikori yields a weak return with his serve, takes full advantage of it by hitting a forehand approach, and puts away the next ball with an easy volley)

https://youtu.be/fSVgdMjmVGQ?t=224 (Nishikori serves to Tomic’s backhand, sees that Tomic floats the ball back, Nishikori quickly sees the opportunity and comes in puts away the ball with a volley)

https://youtu.be/fSVgdMjmVGQ?t=334 (Nishikori throws down a big serve, Tomic as a result is stretched and can only put his racket out to float the ball back, Nishikori is quick to act on this and sets up a swinging volley followed with a volley winner)

https://youtu.be/fSVgdMjmVGQ?t=436 (Serve stretches Tomic outside. Nishikori knows that if Tomic were to get the serve back, his next shot will be even more damaging. Tomic does get the serve back so Nishikori is ready with a  backhand approach. He knows that the backhand approach will force a very weak return and so he will proceed to the net to end the point with a volley, and in this case it is an elegant drop volley.)

 

Nishikori, despite not having the biggest serve on tour, still has a very efficient serving game. He knows what does damage and is very well aware of how to best capitalize on weak shots. This is what all pros essentially know how to do and is what separates the level of tennis from college/juniors. Albeit having a great baseline game is heavily advocated, many tennis players tend to overlook how important having a transition game actually is, let alone possessing decent volleys.

Why Rafael Nadal Struggles Against Novak Djokovic

Nadal’s nightmare is a man with an aggressive game(remember his matches with Soderling and Del Potro in ‘09). In fact, Nadal’s worst nightmare in recent time has become Djokovic because of how consistently he executes his aggressive game.

Djokovic spreads the court extremely well, and he is probably the best at this currently on tour. His ability to change direction off both sides is phenomenal and this does incredible amounts of damage to Nadal especially when Djokovic plays close to the baseline.

Nadal is known for playing rather far back so that means if his depth is off that day, Djokovic will be all over him baseline-wise since he plays close to the baseline and can comfortably take shots on the rise.

When talking groundstrokes, no question does Djokovic possess the better backhand

  • His backhand rarely ever breaks down and can easily produce winners, which Nadal is not used to because the backhand is usually where he attempts to draw errors.
  • He has a very solid high backhand shot which further puts Nadal at a disadvantage since this eliminates one of his go-to strategies (pounding the backhand with his heavy-spin forehand).
  • His ability to go down the line sets him up perfectly to avoid Nadal’s forehand. Doing this enables him to have the forehand vs backhand exchange. This is what Djokovic looks for because his forehand is a more solid stroke compared to Nadal’s backhand.

Although not as good as his backhand, Djokovic has a solid forehand

  • He handles Nadal’s heavy-spin forehand most of the times comfortably
  • His forehand is very versatile. Can spin and flatten with power as he pleases and does so intelligently.

What makes Djokovic even more difficult to defeat is that not only does he possess a strong aggressive game, but he has incredible defense as well. With that combo combined with his fitness, that means Djokovic can even go toe-to-toe with Nadal in lengthy and grueling rallies constantly shifting from offense to defense.

Although Djokovic has great defense, that’s not his main strategy against Nadal; it is to be as consistently aggressive as he can. Being able to execute his aggressive playing style against Nadal frequently – unless Nadal is stepping up and playing close to the baseline – Djokovic will be in control of most of the rallies pressuring Nadal. If you view the highlights of their match in the final of Monte Carlo in 2013, you will see how Djokovic always tries to position himself close to the baseline and why Nadal has such a difficult time effectively responding. Against each other, what seems to be a huge factor in who is going to win the match is court position. In the video, you will see that Djokovic is hugging the baseline while Nadal is a couple feet behind the baseline in most points. Because of this situation, the balls are coming back towards Nadal quicker, leaving him less time to load up his vicious forehand or run around his backhand. In addition, the effectiveness of his forehand along with his backhand decrease as well, which of course, gives more time to Djokovic to execute his shots. They both in fact spread the court beautifully; it is just the players’ court positions that gives Djokovic the upper edge.

So what is there left to do for Nadal at this point when

  1. His “go to the backhand” strategy does not work
  2. His court position is weak compared to Djokovic
  3. Djokovic has a consistent aggressive game along with his fine defense

In reality it is rather simple, Nadal either has to just be more aggressive by playing closer to the baseline (he does not really need to amp up his groundstrokes – especially the forehand – for they are penetrating enough) or he must laboriously grind out the points and out-rally Djokovic, which is definitely not the recommended tactic considering his knees. Ultimately, being passive against Djokovic will most of the time not work out, so the better and probably braver route is to definitely be aggressive against him.