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Ok time for a little controversy ..
I gave this much consideration and concluded there is probably no feasible way to make this observation without ruffling the feathers of those it may seem I am criticizing. Therefore I want to make this clear, please understand the intent of my Post and try not to assume anything sinister is afoot. Thank you ..
The difference between the ATP & WTA is enormous in every category other than the constant upgrading of prize money evident in Grand Slam & Tier I level events. What is strikingly apparent to my observation is the incredible drop-off in physical & mental ability on the WTA side from the Top 10 or those who obviously belong in the Top 10 such as the Williams Sisters, to those below.
Please don't ask me if I've ever played a professional female player that was ranked low because whether I have or haven't isn't my point. What bothers me the most is, far too many Coaches seem to be content to work on the ability to strike hard consistent ground-strokes and maintain the endurance necessary to stay competitive throughout 3 Sets of Tennis. But what about Strategy?
It's not enough to just know how to strike a ball, you should walk into each match with the concept of winning regardless who your opponent is.
True Story: I remember a few years back living in the Newport Beach area of Calif. hanging out at this local public court, where the winner of a set stays and the next challenger steps up to challenge. This one guy (Rod N.) *Nice guy great player and fun person to talk & play against, was the obvious dominant player on this day. In the time I was sitting around watching the matches, I witnessed him put down 4 different players. The levels were between 4.0 - 4.5 - 5.0 Rod was a solid 5.0 player with a big serve and follow-up at the Net. My name was on the board and used some of that time to not only stretch my muscles but to what my opponent's tendencies. This is what I noticed during my wait.
1. Rod played with an attitude of invincibility. He approached every shot as if he were giving a tennis lesson to his opponent.
[Conclusion] arrogance - intimidation
2. Rod played extremely fast. On his service game, you often saw him waiting for you to get ready for his delivery. There was no more than 20-30 seconds between the end of a point and the start of his next.
3. Rod's approach was the one two punch - serve out wide, hit to the opposite side which he was proficient on both wings.
[Observation] Almost every return from his opponents were back to the Server.
4. He had a high 1st serve percentage because he didn't go for the big serve, he went for placement.
Ok, this is what happened. Now it's my turn and he graciously wanted me to serve first but I relented and insisted he serve first given he was the Champion. My strategy was simple, if I break, I'm up a game and if not we're still on serve. Also, it gave me an opportunity to feel his service game.
I knew he was going to come in on his first serve, first point so instead of just hoping to get the ball in play, I actually contemplated on where I wanted to place my return. I anticipated the out-wide to the forehand which is just where it came. but I was keen not to give my suspect away too early because he could change it up at the last minute, I waited until the ball was tossed to make my shift to the right.
Now I'll bet almost everyone would think my return should be directed cross-court with as much power & angle as possible but instead I was determined to go up the Ad-Court line behind him and follow it in making sure I didn't crowd the Net too closely. You want to give at least 2 Racquet lengths from grip to head. That point went as planned and my return went as had hoped. I won the 1st point and more so, I got his attention. I knew his next serve was going to be a serious attempt to show my point was a fluke.
I expected a down the T, 1st serve but at the last moment, I changed my mind and thought, he probably wants to see what I do on backhand returns so I cheated to the center line enough for him to see that out of the corner of his eye and just as he tossed the ball, I moved to my left for the out-wide shot again. Just as I thought, here it came and my BH return is what I feel is my best shot which is why I always take the Add-Court in Dbls.
My return was straight down the line but I over hit and it went long. However I did get his attention even in my lost of a point because I did pass him and had my shot not gone long, the score would have been 0-30.
The issue I'm trying to illustrate here is, I watched & learned what I had to do to win not just competitive. I knew our ground game was equal, he wasn't going to blow me off the court and wasn't going to blow him off the court so there was no point to engage in a power struggle. Strategy was the key to success. He just got finished playing a number of Sets with different guys and he had to be a little tired so make him run as much as possible. I had to make certain I didn't over or under hit. Keep the ball deep and hit the corners as much as possible. But I threw in one more element that I do not see many women players do, which makes me wonder if they have Coaches.
Any shot that appeared to get him in a defensive position, I followed it in. There was no point in trying to demonstrate my ground game was as good as his, actually he was a tad steadier off the ground than I was so mixing it up with varying pace and well placed drop shots was crucial.
Many women professionals are getting stronger & fitter but recognizing when you have your opponent in a defensive position is critical. This is when you need to look to end the point not keep the ball in play.
You keep the ball in play during practice rallies and you go for the winner when you're in a match. Pay attention to your opponent. If your opponent is hitting long on the forehand side, don't keep hitting to her backhand. Stop getting into these long backhand cross-court battles. Andre Agassi was the best at this, he would start a cross-court BH battle and just when he knew his opponent was determined to show him his BH was as good as Agassi's, Andre would blast down the line.
Play to Win each point .. even if you're down 0-5 in games, you can still win the Set particularly if the games have been going to deuce & add often. Change what's not working, don't stick with a losing game plan. Start hitting two 1st serves if your opponent is killing you on your 2nd serve. Play with guts & determination. Regardless of who you are playing, there is generally only small differences in your overall talent. But confidence is generally to key that separates the Winner from the Loser.
Personally, I hated watching Jennifer Capriati play. Of course I was a huge Jennifer fan but far too many times, I saw Jennifer display horrible court strategy. Jennifer usually won against lower ranked players by her sheer off the ground power but if you matched her power, she was not the best at changing her game plan. When Jennifer got down, she stayed down.
Steffi Graf & Monica Seles were the best imo at figuring how to win at all cost regardless of the score. If you were up 5-1 they still felt that Set was theirs. Strength & Fitness is important but Intelligence is monumental for victory. I implore young players to watch as many matches as possible from Grand Slam Events. See if you can spot the very moment the Player went from Offense to Defense. Watching Tennis on Video can elevate your court strategy if you are able to execute what you've learned.
Last thing I will say right now is, I always stand inside the baseline when receiving serve. I have to thank Andre Agassi for that. Doesn't matter how big a serve is, I stand inside and take the ball on the rise. I never really considered taking the ball on the rise until Agassi came along. He opened my eyes to the possibilities of that posture. You need go hand/eye coordination and it teaches you to watch the ball which most people don't do. Watch the Ball - Watch the Ball.
Congrats to Jie Zheng of China. For a 5' 4" Player, she was formidable and used every bit of her small frame to her advantage much like Amanda Cortzer of South Africa did during the late 80s & early 90s.
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