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Tips from Vic - Groundstrokes That Can Make You Famous

July 2, 2003 03:07 PM

By Vic Braden

Message from Vic:
After fifty-seven years of teaching tennis, I’m still amazed at how simple the mechanics are for producing successful groundstrokes, yet how complex it is to consistently produce a backhand or forehand while under stress. There are many theories for older tennis players, but the physics of sound groundstrokes remain the same for a nine-year-old child as they do for a ninety-year-old player.

Vic Braden
Let’s review one of the current theories promulgated for older players. It’s far easier to hit defensive underspin shots than it is to hit forceful topspin shots. It is true that underspin shots require fewer muscle contractions, but it’s not true that forceful topspin shots should be ruled out for older players.

First, let’s examine the components of an underspin shot. Underspin strokes begin high and finish low. They facilitate the use of gravity, which needs less muscle involvement to effect the stroke. The movement of the racket to produce topspin is from low to high and does require more muscle contractions. However, there are a few points that are often missed in the discussion, and this article is intended to provide some tips that will allow you to possess an offensive topspin shot that will compliment your defensive underspin shot.

First, many problems begin for older players when they are late arriving at the correct position with plenty of time to effect the desired stroking pattern. In studies we conducted at the Coto Research Center in the 1980s, we found that players had a tendency to watch the opponent’s body movements rather than to watch the ball come off an opponent’s racket. Using a special camera that tracked eye movements, player’s eyes seem to be looking in the wrong place at the wrong time. The next time you play, try to stay focused on the opponent’s racket as he or she strikes the ball. See how much faster you are to taking your next step to respond. We found that simply gaining a half of a second made a huge difference in one’s ability to buy some time for the next hit. When you have sufficient time to comfortably strike the ball, the emphasis quickly turns to “placing” the ball rather than simply “returning” the ball.

Secondly, when you have more time to strike the ball, gravity becomes an ally when hitting topspin shots. For example, the pros hit the ball hard because they effect a high-to-low to high-looping motion to gain rackethead speed. When a player has time, the downward segment of the looping motion utilizes gravity and the rackethead speed picks up dramatically. The more time a player has to strike the ball, the less he or she needs to use muscle. However, when one is late, the muscle in the hitting arm must be recruited in a rather violent motion.

Get your racket back fast and your feet in the proper position to strike the ball in a non-rushed manner, there are five components you must honor to produce topspin.

(1) Your loop swing must allow the racket to fall well below the level of the intended point of impact with the ball. This is to allow your racket to begin the forward and upward movement.
(2) The forward and upward movement should be at least 30 degrees or more.
(3) Your racket head should be near vertical at the impact point.
(4) Your racket should be traveling fast enough to hit a ball 50 miles per hour.
(5) Your racket face should be pointed towards your target at the impact point.

One can use tennis balls stuck in a fence to design a perfect swing. Start with a ball about head level and then make half a circle. The next step is to design the forward and upward flight pattern with balls. Then, simply “follow the yellow brick road” to develop a perfect swing.

It’s interesting that we can get most players to generate a perfect stroke in about ten minutes, but the moment the actual match begins, the human brain seems to add electrical signals to the muscles that appear to destroy one or more of the five points. Thus, the problem is to practice a perfect swing and then pay attention to repeating the same swing in actual playing situations.

A good drill to check out the lowest part of the loop is to stand next to a low bench and practice your swing. The idea is to brush the bench slightly before beginning the forward and upward part of the swing. At first, most players have trouble reaching the bench, which seems to be one of the two major problems in stroke production around the world.

Once you have mastered the perfect swing pattern, the next step is to reproduce that swing in actual playing situations. However, when the pressure is on, the majority of players tend to violate the physical principles and that good-looking stroke you’ve spent time to develop disappears.

Motor learning experts tell us that the secret to hitting properly in actual playing situations is to be “process” oriented rather than “outcome” oriented. That simply means that you must consider effecting a perfect stroke when playing rather than to allow other thoughts to enter your mind. If you concentrate on hitting the ball properly, the outcome will take care of itself.

Vic has a free monthly e-newsletter with instructional tips and information on his world renowned Tennis Colleges. Sign up to receive your copy at www.vicbraden.com.




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