Why is clay court tennis different?

Tennis is perhaps one of the only sports that requires an athlete to compete on more than four different surfaces throughout one season. Just off the top of my head, you have Plexicushion (Australian Open), Har-Tru (Green Clay, Charleston Open), Red Clay (French Open and Europe), Natural Grass (Wimbledon, England and Netherlands), Deco-Turf (US Open, Hard Court, USA) and other variations of hard court surfaces throughout the world. The impact on the body and mind in order to adjust your style of play, movement and strategy every couple of months (even weeks if you consider that the French Open is played only three weeks before Wimbledon), makes tennis one of the most demanding and interesting sports in the world.

I would like to draw your attention to clay court tennis, specifically red clay. I personally find this surface one of the best for game development because it teaches players the following:

  • Adjustment: a player is required to make more adjustments with their feet as there is never a true bounce of the ball (the direction changes on each bounce)
  • Patience: a player has to hit more tennis balls in each rally because their opponent can utilise the slide to retrieve
  • Resilience: there is no such thing as winning a point quickly, because the speed of the ball is absorbed dramatically on impact, slowing the ball down off the bounce, giving the opposition more time to retrieve and extend the rally
  • Movement: the slide is one of the most important types of movement for a tennis player to master, as it teaches a player the importance of fluidity of movement whilst transitioning from one stroke to another during a rally (notice how professional athletes are now sliding on harder surfaces as well).

These four areas are perhaps the most difficult to develop in younger players. Having said all of the above, it is important to note that clay court tennis favours a defensive style of play, due to the slower bounces and ability for players to retrieve by utilising a slide. Many players that train in Asia, Australia and the US develop offensive styles of play since they are exposed to harder surfaces much more than red clay. In contrast, players that train in Europe and South America develop strong defensive styles of play and create patterns of play due to their exposure to red clay.

I believe the best way to develop as a player is to strike the right balance between playing on slower surfaces (clay, plexicushion, synthetic grass) and faster surfaces (hard courts, deco-turf) in order to understand how to be both a defensive and offensive player. Once your body develops, you will begin to notice your strengths and weaknesses as a player and only then you can find your game style accordingly.

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Fed Cup Preview – Australia vs Netherlands

I’m so excited to be heading south to Wollongong this weekend to get behind the Australian team, as they face off against Netherlands for a place in the World Group.

The teams are being led by Alicia Molik (Australia) and Paul Haarhuis (Netherlands). Ashleigh Barty, Daria Gavrilova, Sam Stosur and Destanee Aiava have been nominated to represent the Australian team. The Dutch team are being represented by Lesley Kerkhove, Quirine Lemoine, Demi Schuurs and Indy De Vroome.

Tie Preview 

There is definitely a lot going in favour for the aussies in this tie. They have home court advantage, so we know that the crowd will be getting right behind them in every rubber. That will also help the aussies lift when it starts to get down to crunch time. Both Barty and Gavrilova are current top 20 singles tour players and Stosur is a grand slam champion on a very similar playing surface. On paper, the Australian team appear to be much more credentialed than that of the visitors.

On the flip side, the Dutch women are ranked outside the top 200 in singles however, they’re journeywoman and no strangers to the conditions of play. The European athletes spend a great deal of time developing their game on indoor surfaces and with Schuurs, a top 30 doubles WTA player on their side, they will be well-equipped to handle themselves on court should this tie come down to a deciding doubles rubber.

It will be an exciting weekend with plenty of spectacular shotmaking by both teams. I certainly feel as though Australia has the advantage coming into this tie, but we will definitely have to earn the win.

Prediction – 3 rubbers to 2 in favour of Australia

For more info, visit Fed Cup – The World Cup of Tennis

Back To The Beginning Again

Tennis is one of the toughest sports in my opinion, not just because it is an individual sport, but also due to the fact that there is no set criteria to follow in order to achieve success. If anyone has tried to play tennis at a high level or even a recreational level, it soon becomes evident just how much you dont know about the sport and how little credible information is available to you.

If you are interested and passionate about a specific job, you will be provided with a job description, which assists you in considering your chances of landing the role. If you want to purchase a product, the price, brand and description of the product is given to you prior to purchase. If you want to travel to a certain country, it just takes one online search to find out everything you need to know to proceed. In a way, there is some form of expectation and so working towards meeting that expectation seems plausible. What about tennis? Where are the ‘trip advisors’ or ‘expedias’ in relation to tennis? It’s non existent. You may be wondering why this is the case. I know I have on many occasions.

The biggest reason for that in my opinion is because becoming a professional tennis player is like wanting to be a successful actor/actress, singer, performer, artist etc. Nobody really knows whether or not someone will excel, even though the potential is evident. There are no two individuals who will have the same journey either. Take Venus and Serena Williams for example, who were born to the same parents, raised in the same household, had the same upbringing, but have had very different careers as tennis players both on and off the court. There is no certainty that being taught at a prestigious school, academy or anywhere else and by whom for that matter will result in success either. It’s a matter of trial and error, drawing to a halt and then starting back at the beginning again in order to find what brings out the best in you or your player. The trigger for this process is when you begin to see your results plateau over a period of 6 to 12 months. Flexibility is just the start. Being open to new ideas, innovation and changing routines/processes is what this is all about.

In sport, your biggest rivals are your competition. The key is to be on your toes so to speak, keeping your eyes and ears open, continually studying your competition to understand their strengths and weaknesses. All the while to ensure you HAVE and SUSTAIN a competitive advantage. Differentiating yourself is the greatest asset of all!

 

The DNA of a Professional Athlete

I have been underestimated on many occasions due to my background of being a professional athlete. This apparently meant that I have lived a privileged life and knew nothing of hardship, loss, disappointment and pain. It was almost as though people thought I lived a luxurious lifestyle. All they heard was that I was travelling from one city to another each week to compete, but going behind the scenes, it tells a very different story.

In my opinion, a professional athlete has to endure a great deal from a very young age, particularly those who have reached the highest level in their respective sport. Imagine being ‘tested’ for faster times, more repetitions of a particular activity, better precision and refining your technique on a daily basis. There is nowhere to hide, because you cannot escape the truth that lies within a video recording or a time that is below your personal best. The professional athlete learns very quickly that failure and success is part of everyday life. The only thing you can do is accept that fact (which builds resilience and forms the basis of having good sportsmanship), and take ownership over your actions. This then allows you to focus your mind on the job at hand, which is simply being better at your craft. No compromises. No excuses. After all, a slump in form means that its time for you to pay a visit to the sidelines for a duration of time that you have no control over. All you can do is keep showing up and persevere with the hope that you will get that phone call, offering you a position back on the field/team again. And for those professional athletes that compete in an individual sport, any slump in form will result in you simply drifting further and further away from the pack within a few short months. The road ahead seems ever so daunting.

Imagine facing all of the above realities from the age of say 5 or 6 and throughout your adolescence, simply by being exposed to sport at a professional level. The lessons learned can be carried on throughout the rest of your life. There is certainly nothing luxurious about it. I hope that the next time you come across a former professional athlete, the word ‘resilient’ comes to mind as opposed to ‘privileged’.

 

 

 

 

How To Beat The Heat

It is fair to say that tennis is an outdoor sport for many people all over the world. I am an Australian and have grown up playing tennis outdoors. I feel as though the toughest challenge apart from the game itself, is dealing with extreme heat and a high degree of humidity. There really is nothing that can prepare you for the conditions here in Australia, except experiencing it firsthand and seeing how your body responds. Having said that, there are a few things that you can do to help you deal with such conditions.

  1. Wear loose-fitted clothing and opt for material such as Dry-Fit (Nike) or Climacool (Adidas).
  2. Try to avoid wearing dark colours since they absorb the heat rather than reflect heat such as black, dark blue and purple. White is the best option during these conditions.
  3. Use a hat/cap, sweatbands and a lot of sunscreen.
  4. If you are comfortable with wearing sunglasses, then it is a great option as it can reduce glare.
  5. Wear a fresh pair of socks every 90 minutes of play. This can help avoid blisters. There is also the option of wearing two pairs of socks on each foot, however one pair should not be as thick otherwise you will not be comfortable.
  6. Drink sports drinks such as Gatorade, Powerade or Mizone alongside water in order to replace the electrolytes within your body that you lose through sweat.
  7. Bananas are a great source of potassium and during change overs or in between session breaks, taking a bite into a banana is a great idea.
  8. Glucose tablets may also be beneficial to you, however it does depend on the individual. I used to prefer eating lollies to glucose tablets, my favourite are the All Natural jellies.
  9. Taking a shower using cold/cool water after sessions can help relieve muscle soreness and pain.
  10. Try an ice bath at the end of the day if you are very keen!

 

Tennis Tips You Don’t Want To Miss

When you think of past and current tennis champions such as Mary Pierce, Martina Hingis, Anna Kournikova, Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, Jelena Jankovic, Maria Sharapova, Sabine Lisicki, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Tommy Haas, Max Mirnyi, they all share one thing in common. Not only are they all grand slam champions, but they have achieved most of their success under the tutelage of a man named Nick Bollettieri. The IMG academy based in Bradenton, Florida was established by Nick Bollettieri and has been the breeding ground for multiple grand slam champions, particularly during the 1990’s and early 2000’s. He is arguably one of the best tennis coaches the game has seen. I’d never miss an opportunity to hear some tennis tips from this man and I’d recommend his latest set of tips to you.

Nick Bollettieri – Tuesday Tennis Tips (25 November 2015)

1. OK. You’re about to play a match against an opponent that you’ve never seen before. During the first 5 minutes of the warm-­‐up try to develop a strategy:
• How do they hit their groundstrokes; flat, spin, aggressive, moderate?
• Are they comfortable at the net?
• Check out their first and second serve.
• How effective is their overhead? If you back them up, is the overhead still as effective?
• Do they move in and back as effectively as they move from side to side?
Using your warm-­‐up as an opportunity to evaluate their proficiency at these important parts of the game will allow you to develop a viable strategy before the first point begins.

2. Can you out-­‐hit your opponent? First, you’ve got to be honest with yourself and put your ego in your back pocket. Otherwise, you’re making a fatal mistake. If the answer is NO, try to slow down the speed of the rallies with some lobs, drop shots and short angles. Try to avoid playing into your opponents’ hand. As a rule, at the club level, nobody is good at everything. Find the something that they’re not so good at!

3. There’s an old saying that you should “Change a losing game.” Accept what your opponent can do well and make small adjustments to your game plan. Don’t forget, the object is to win. If the way want to win isn’t working, then win the way that you don’t want. But WIN!

4. Don’t tell me that you’ll play the best that you can. I want to hear that you will play to win. This attitude won’t allow you to accept second place. PLAY TO WIN!

5. Surprise your opponent! Your weekly opponents know your game. They know exactly what you can – and cannot do! Why not come up with a drop shot, attack the net or attack their second serve? SURPRISE YOUR OPPONENT. DO THE UNEXPECTED!

6. Andre Agassi said, “The next point is the most important point.” You can’t change what happened, but you can try to make sure it doesn’t happen again! Clear your mind and stop feeling sorry for yourself. Stop looking for excuses and get ready for the next point. It is the most important point!

7. Any negative look can provide fuel for your opponent. Scream at yourself? Throw your racquet? Don’t empower your opponent by displaying this negativity. Losing is easy. Don’t make it any easier for your opponent to defeat you! Let that opponent – and every opponent to follow, know that if they’re going to win, it’s gonna take all day!

Source: https://m.facebook.com/nickbollettieri/

 

The Club Coach Is Slowly Becoming Obsolete

I began my journey in this sport as a social player and progressed all the way to the professional level. Many people would find it difficult to believe that I didn’t feel qualified to play the role of ‘coach’ for a very long time. Upon request, I would take a look at a friends swing from time to time and give them some pointers, but that was all. It was only after years of playing hundreds of tennis matches in varying conditions, fitness and mental training, dietary planning, research, attending tennis clinics, workshops and working with club coaches, that I began to feel as though I had enough knowledge to begin a coaching career. Even after all that, there is always more to know.

I do find the current trend of former tennis champions beginning to take on the role of coach to current professionals quite interesting. Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario and Martina Navratilova are the latest former champions to jump on the coaching bandwagon, working with Caroline Wozniacki and Aga Radwanska respectively. I wrote an article a few months ago with further details on this current trend, beginning with Andy Murray’s partnership with Ivan Lendl (see: https://alisonshemon.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/andy-murray-slicker-than-your-average-tennis-player/).

In my opinion, the club coach is going to suffer big time. Our game is driven by the actions of the current WTA and ATP players. Almost every coach that is in the players box did not actually ‘develop’ that professional. That is what a club coach does and more. Without the examples of dynamic duo’s such as Uncle Toni and Rafa, Carlos Rodriguez and Justine Henin, Nick Bollettieri and Monica Seles/Mary Pierce/Andre Agassi, Robert Landsdorp and Tracy Austin/Lindsay Davenport, Peter Carter and Roger Federer, the hiring of a club coach at the highest level could soon be a thing of the past.

 

Off/Mid Season Conditioning – It Does Exist

The Australian Open, Wimbledon, Fed Cup and Davis Cup are broadcasted on TV each year, and we are amazed at the level of play. For some of us who are lucky enough to watch the action live, it’s even more exciting to see. Then, we go out for a game and realise that it really isn’t as easy as it looked.

When we watch the professionals competing, we are witnessing the final result of months of hard work and preparation. Just what do these players do behind the scenes which enables their bodies to handle such a physically demanding sport?

I’ve gathered a few videos posted by various professional tennis players, which will give you some insight on the various types of conditioning exercises they use.

Andy Murray – Slicker Than Your Average Tennis Player

Andy Murray is someone I admire very much. Yes, he may not be overly emotional or expressive on court, but that’s been serving him quite well in his career thus far (31 career titles, including Wimbledon and US Open). Apart from being an amazing tennis player, there is so much more to Andy than just being an exceptional athlete. Below, I have listed some important facts about him that may just inspire you and perhaps tempt you to jump on the Andy Murray bad wagon.

  • A talented soccer player, offered a place with Rangers Football Club at the age of 15.
  • His mother is the Federation Cup Captain for England, and has played a major part in Andy Murray’s career in terms of his coaching and training decisions.
  • Andy has a brother, Jamie who is also a professional tennis player.
  • In February 2013, Murray purchased Cromlix House, near Kinbuck, Perthsire which served as a hotel for many decades. The hotel was closed in 2011 due to financial difficulties, however Murray helped finance its re-opening as a luxury 5 star hotel. The hotel served as the location for his brother Jamie’s wedding.
  • In 2011, Murray hired Ivan Lendl as his coach and mentor in the hopes that he would guide him to grand slam success. That certainly was the case and a new trend had emerged where former grand slam champions began to work with the top players. Thereafter, Stefan Edberg was hired by Roger Federer and Boris Becker was hired by Novak Djokovic. More recently, Michael Chang has come on board team Kei Nishikori.
  • In 2014, Murray hired coach Amelie Mauresmo, former grand slam champion on the WTA tour. Since then, we have seen another female coach in Gala Leon Garcia, hired as the new Spanish Davis Cup captain.
  • Murray is managed by Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment and more recently signed a contract with Globosport, run by Indian tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi. Murray was an early supporter of the new ‘Indian Premier Tennis League’, a major project of Bhupathi’s. The IPTL is designed for tour professionals both past and present to compete in exhibition style matches towards the end of the season in India. Murray felt that there was potential in promoting tennis in the Asian market and he capitalised on the opportunity. The event had its maiden year in 2014 and was a great success.
  • Has signed multi-million dollar endorsement deals with Fred Perry, Adidas and currently wearing Under Armour apparel.

I always believe that you truly know someone’s character based on the decisions they make in their life and whether or not they have foresight. Andy Murray is a quiet achiever and is certainly slicker than your average tennis player.

 

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