THE NEXT LEVEL OF MEN’S TENNIS (66)

Novak Djokovic’s win over Rafa Nadal in the 2011 Men’s U.S. Open
showed tennis fans a new level of play in the history of the sport. I’ve
discussed Nadal’s Circle strategy to defeat Federer and the rest of the
men’s tour consistently. But Djokovic has taken the baseline game to a new
level. He has perfected deep, heavy shots that keep Rafa out of his Circle.
Djokovic and his team have engineered their rise to the top of the men’s
game much like Andre Agassi’s team did. A rigorous fitness regimen and
diet have amplified his natural counter-punching style, and he is returning
serves and hitting passing shots as effectively as any player ever. I
can’t remember a Grand Slam final (grass, hard, or indoor) where the first
service percentage carried almost no statistical advantage. Neither Nadal
nor Djokovic benefited from their normally deadly first serves. It makes you
wonder if Pete Sampras could have held service while serve and volleying
against Djokovic.
This also makes me wonder about the upward evolution of the game and
who will achieve the next level.
Djokovic has almost perfected corner-to-corner baseline strategy.
Another thing that he seems to be getting better at is the drop shot. The
old adage that you can’t drop shot on a hard court is being tested more at
the top level. There are four corners on each side of the court. Two are up at
the net. The only player I have seen who could hit an unreturnable drop
shot from the baseline was CharlieOwens. Many watched Charlie
dismantle quality players with a disguised, featherlike drop shot that
confounded even great players.
Maybe there is someone coming along with this unique touch, who
combined with the other tennis skills needed will produce the next level
in the never ending evolution of tennis. Women players might be well
advised to note this possibility. And to be aware that not only should she
be able to hit drop shots, she must be able to defend against them. My
guess is that many players and teachers have realized there are four
corners on each side of a tennis court. I watched the Wimbledon men’s single semi finals. If you go to the three strategy articles in review, I think you will find I was pretty close:
basic tennis strategy, The Circle Stinger, and Rafa vs. the Joker. In the latter,
I predicted this season would feature a lot more drop shots (Andy Murray
vs. Baghdadis, for example). To follow up, or evolve, as a teacher-coach, it
then seems we must learn defense against the drop shot. In addition to
the basic strokes of tennis there are auxiliary shots (returns, approaches,
passing shots…) with different techniques to be mastered. Drop shots are
one of these now more than ever. There are also unlimited awkward shots
in tennis (for example, a backhand overhead, or running down a shanked
shot). These shots, including defending against drop shots, must be
identified, the proper techniques practiced, and implementation mastered.
Please remember, players and parents, that this isn’t easy work. Don’t
abandon the insightful pro who pushes this mastery for a guy who simply
moves you left and right. And don’t worry about how you get
to a good drop shot. No one has done that gracefully.

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