Tag Archives: american tennis

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.

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Quick Tennis Tip: Keep Your Head Fixed at Contact!

On all of your strokes, whether it is the forehand, backhand, volley, smash, or serve. You should have your head and eyes fixed on the contact point (where you strike the ball) until the ball leaves your racket.

Note that it is impossible to keep your eyes on the ball at impact because the ball comes and leaves too fast.The goal here is to just keep your head and eyes fixed on the contact point. When you do this, you will strike the ball cleaner and also decrease the chance of mishitting. If you do not keep your eyes and head fixed on the contact zone, you will disrupt the swing path because you end up jerking your head up too soon to see where the ball is going.

As you can see Federer below, he is not watching the ball, but he is keeping his head and eyes fixed at the contact zone to prevent the disruption of the swing path to the ball.

ANDRE AGASSI SAYS HE PRIMARILY USES HIS RIGHT HAND ON THE TWO-HANDED BACKHAND

From reading through many threads and videos on the two-handed backhand, the majority of people argue that the two-handed backhand is basically a lefty forehand.

However, tennis-legend, Andre Agassi, who possesses one of the best two-handed backhands in the game, says otherwise.

Andre Agassi: “I hit my backhand primarily with my right hand.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcZFVQCfOQg – He states this after the point at the 12 minute mark)

I initially did not believe Andre Agassi knew what he was talking about due to the fact that many people said otherwise, but after experimenting with the technique and observing a lot of slow motion footage, it seems after all, Agassi knows what he’s saying. How could I have ever doubted him?

It’s understandable that his statement will yield different interpretations. People will think that you lead with the right hand throughout the entire shot; however, this is not what he meant by primarily using his right hand.

The right hand is the key to produce leverage. Leverage is achieved when the buttcap of the racket is pointed at the ball and the right hand is what gets you into that position.

The use of the right hand happens during the forward swing phase. From the takeback, notice how the left hand is leveled higher than the right hand.

Left hand leveled higher than right hand

Now in the forward swing, the right hand will be dominant. When beginning the forward swing and uncoiling the body, the positions change; the right hand drops, causing the left hand to fall below it. Here, proper leverage has been achieved.

Right hand drops, left hand falls below the right.

All of this is what Agassi meant by him “primarily using his right hand.”

Though, in the end, as a result of the uncoiling, the left-hand will propel forward naturally and strike through the ball.

It makes sense for people to say that the two-handed backhand is similar to a lefty forehand because the left-hand is what really strikes the ball, but the forward swing phase and use of the right hand is what makes it not exactly like a lefty forehand. The right hand plays a key role in creating leverage and that is why Agassi says that the best backhanders in the world  use their right hand in the shot.

Also check out my video talking about the key to leverage on the two-handed backhand:

Feel free to leave questions and suggestions for future videos and articles!

ONE THING THAT REALLY MAKES KEI NISHIKORI A DANGEROUS TENNIS PLAYER?

Besides Nishikori’s great mental fortitude, what attributes mostly to his success is the style by which he plays. There are many aspects of his game that are good, but the one that stands out the most is this…

His ability to play close to the baseline

The reason why this style is so effective because tennis is really a game of cutting time away from your opponent.

Say you are hitting your shots at a constant pace and you are five feet behind the baseline. What difference would it make if you were two feet behind the baseline? The amount of time you are cutting away from your opponent: his time to load and time to get to the ball. He will be running from corner to corner more if you were two feet behind the baseline versus five feet behind the baseline.

If you were five feet behind the baseline, the way  to equal the amount of effect you apply when two feet behind the baseline is by upping your pace enough to match that effect. For example, Robin Soderling has crushing ground strokes, but he does not as play close to the baseline as does Novak Djokovic. However, because of his power, he is able to keep up with Djokovic being close to the baseline.

But what if you upped your pace and played closer to the baseline? You will  be adding even more pressure to your opponent now.

One thing to note though; to play close to the baseline, you must be quick on your feet and Kei Nishikori is a perfect example.

Nishikori plays this style remarkably well, which is one of the reasons why he has respectfully earned his way into the top 10.

Nishikori is able to accomplish this ability because of his compact AND powerful strokes on both wings, forehand and backhand. His compact strokes allows him to take less time to load which makes it easier for him to play closer to the baseline. Also, the fact that he can produce firepower in his groundstrokes is a major plus for his style of play. With his power, he is putting tremendous pressure on his opponents, blowing them from corner to corner and greatly taking their precious time away to load properly.

Similar to his ground game, Nishikori will always try to take time away from his opponent when returning his serve, especially the second serve. If the shot is placed with good depth and placement as well, this will put more pressure on your opponent and give you control over the point in the very beginning. With his great returns, he is able to break his opponents more often than most players.

Nishikori, being a specialist at taking time away, is a difficult player to beat. You will see him often times effortlessly hitting winners past you and behind you. In addition, because of the tremendous pressure he applies, you will see him many times following up with a volley to end the point knowing that you will float him one. With his swiftness and aggressive playing style, he is a force to be reckoned with on the ATP world tour.

Check out his style in play by looking him up on youtube! Or check out these links here:

Nick Crystal (USC) vs Andre Goransson (CAL) | Battle of the Bay 2014 Men’s Open Singles Finals | Full Match

Crystal shows great passion to win after dropping the first set against Goransson. Crystal in this match demonstrates amazing passing shots and raised his consistency after the first set. Goransson, unfortunately, could not bring out his “A” game in the final but nonetheless he did not show signs of giving up. Both were tired; however, the hungrier one, Crystal, takes the Battle of the Bay trophy in a thrilling close match.

Keys to the Inside Out/In Forehand

These are the three 3 big things you must be able to master to have an amazing inside-out/in forehand:

  1. Footwork – The ability to quickly run around your backhand to hit your forehand; this is known as the inside forehand. Where you choose to aim it determines whether it is an inside-out (directing the ball diagonally/down the line) or an inside-in (aiming the ball cross court/closer corner). Many people just side-shuffle around their backhand if the ball is at a comfortable distance, but if you the ball is out of that range, your first step should be a backwards cross-step and then side shuffle. The cross step covers more initial ground.
  2. The coiling of your shoulders and hips – It is crucial that for the inside-out forehand that you turn your shoulders completely to where your it is right below your chin. This allows you to load up efficient power into your shot.
  3. How you uncoil – This is very important; if you do not know how to uncoil correctly on your forehand yet, please check out my article or quick video on the modern forehand technique (https://simplemoderntennis.wordpress.com/the-modern-forehand/) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qe3AEBgPJ0g) .

When hitting an inside-out forehand once you are uncoiled and ready to hit the shot, you must uncoil and transfer your energy to the direction you want the ball to go – in this case, inside-out.

Same goes for inside-in forehands – you must uncoil and transfer your energy to that direction you want the ball to go to.

The reason why you transfer your weight to your desired direction is because your racket will follow your body’s movement. Uncoiling puts you into the butt-cap position where the butt-cap of the racket is pointing at the ball.  That means focusing that energy towards your target will make your butt-cap point towards that direction as well.

Check out a video of Federer displaying these three keys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TongA3DfjgM