My coaching philosophy…
If one thinks there is just “one right way” to hit a shot, a serve or he/she is playing too flat, too much topspin or he/she is playing too defensively or too aggressively, etc. I say it is shortsighted. If a coach wants kids to play like he/she did, I say it is shortsighted and will shortchange the student’s tennis development.
I was very aggressive as a player, and it showed in my fines!… Lol! Although that is what I liked to do as a pro, as a tennis coach and mentor to my academy kids, I really study a kid’s “tennis persona” and coach accordingly. However, I also teach my students every shot imaginable. Some shots we work on a weekly basis I call “specialty shots” such as clay court sliding low and close to the net drop-shot gets, drop-shot get lobs, topspin volleys off both sides, backhand and forehand topspin lobs in every direction, backhand jump overheads while moving backwards down the line and crosscourt, etc. My reason is that I would like to send my kids into the tennis battlefield with as many “tennis tools in their tennis toolbox” as I can. Only then will I be comfortable, regardless if they win or lose, that I have done my job. Obviously, the mental side is a huge factor in executing everything in the match, starting with the shots, then the tactics, etc. But I will talk about mental issues in later articles. It is the most neglected part in US kids’ tennis development. I see a lot of “mental midgets” (just like I was at that age) running around playing tournaments.
Let’s return to my previous comment about a kid’s “persona.” I have girls in the under 12′s that hit quite flat and parents asked me if I should change their shots. Heck no! I will, however, make sure they understand that to be a little bit more effective and safer with their groundstrokes, is to dip the racket a little more in the “rally mode,” to use the forearm/wrist a little more in creating topspin, aim a little higher over the net, and keep the same good intensity in footwork, reading skills and look for that opportunity to attack, be it an outright winner with their favorite “flatter” shot or to come in and attack the short ball or put away the volley or overhead.
Just listen to the commentators talk about Nadal and his “flatter shots” suddenly magically appearing, as if it were the biggest thing since sliced bread! I know they gear their commentary mostly towards a “low information” tennis public, but it is so clear that all sorts of spins and flat shots have their place in a match. A very clear example of spin is Stosur’s kick serve that puts a lot of pressure on right handers especially returning Stosur’s second serves on the ad court. Another super topspin that is in the history of our sport — probably the biggest and most effective shot — is Rafa’s forehand. He pins Federer in the ad corner with huge high and heavy topspins, especially on clay, and then plays ping-pong from there. Winners start popping everywhere off his forehand.
However, I also saw James Blake beat Nadal some years ago twice in a row by hitting flat! Blake hit his forehand to Nadal’s forehand so hard that Nadal could not create the same power or topspin to neutralize Blake’s penetrating and skidding forehand. That was very smart! Blake was so confident doing that over and over that he ended playing incredible tennis in all other areas of his game. As we say it, he played “in the zone.” Pretty simple concept but to execute it well all together to win is another story.
In closing, I teach my kids all the shots they may need in a battle. But I also know some like to play more baseline-based tennis, be it a runner retriever, or an aggressive runner and a big hitter while others are more aggressive moving to the net quicker. But all need to know what to do in all situations. It all comes down to executing the right shots for the right application in a particular situation. The rest is “luck of the draw”…