From the Author
Insights from Paul on his new book, "Fein Points of Tennis, Techniques & Tactics to Unleash Your Talent"
This burning question is the title of a lengthy essay I just wrote. For this blog, I would like to start by quoting a great ancient statesman and general and a modern athlete and humanitarian. Both believed citizens have a moral responsibility to tackle political issues. Pericles said, “Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
During Amanda Anisimova’s first-round loss to Shelby Rogers at the Miami Open, a Tennis Channel analyst informed viewers that this year she has hit 54% of her groundstrokes crosscourt. The tall, 20-year-old American was touted as a potential future star when, as a 17-year-old, she beat 15-year-old phenom Coco Gauff in the US Open girls’ final. Unfortunately, the untimely death of Amanda’s father and assorted injuries derailed her. Though she peaked at No. 21 in 2019, she currently ranks No. 47.
“Tennis should be at the top of the list for sports with the greatest athletes. I’m in awe of what great athletes they are.”
– Retired baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez
Recently, Tennis Channel analyst Jimmy Arias, while calling a match, said, “I think baseball is the least relatable [sport] to tennis outside of the throwing motion making for a very good serve.”
I have long admired Jimmy as one of our sport’s smartest analysts on technique and tactics as well as for complicated, off-court tennis issues and controversies.
“When you are a young man, you are looking for your own identity, and winning is a way of expressing yourself. When I lost, I wanted to die. And because I thought in victory I became somebody, in defeat, it followed, I was nobody.” – Boris Becker, who won his first Grand Slam title at the 1985 Wimbledon, at age 17.
One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of tennis if you’re a fervent tennis fan or a tennis writer and teaching pro like me is to try to predict which young players will become future champions. Sometimes it’s fairly easy. For example, Serena Williams, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, and Jennifer Capriati were all considered “can’t miss” kids at 11 or 12.
“Now that I’m losing some, I can see how tough I was—the killer instinct, the single-mindedness, playing like a machine. Boy, that’s what made me a champion.” – Chris Evert, near the end of her illustrious career, in TIME magazine (1989)
Several tennis friends asked me if I was surprised Rafael Nadal came back from such a huge deficit to win the Australian Open final. Rafa was down 2-6, 6-7, 2-3, 0-40, facing three break points.
I replied “Yes and no.” Yes, because Nadal was so far behind, and he faced world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev. Also, the redoubtable Russian excelled on hard courts, winning the 2021 US Open, and defeated Nadal in their last match at the 2020 ATP Finals.
“I want to reach absolute perfection. And I think I can reach it.”
– Steffi Graf, owner of the unique “Golden Slam” in 1988, and the only player to win each Grand Slam title at least four times.
People occasionally ask me who my favorite player is. I always answer that a tennis journalist can’t have favorite players because that would compromise his objectivity and fairness. Then I add that I do admire certain attributes of all elite players.
“Don't forget about practicing service returns. This is one stroke that hardly anybody in tennis practices enough, and yet you hit it almost as often as you hit a serve.” — Roy Emerson, from the 1976 instruction book, Tennis for the Bloody Fun of It
More singles matches are played in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament, 64, than in the combined six remaining rounds. So there was a lot to watch and learn from—both from the winners and losers.
“Never allow a player to play the game he prefers if you can possibly force him to play any other. Never give a player a shot he likes to play.”
— Bill Tilden’s authoritative and time-tested advice. From his 1925 classic, Match Play and the Spin of the BallLet the tennis season begin! For the men, 2022 began with a big event, the ATP Cup; and for the women, smaller tune-up tournaments for the Australian Open.One of the most intriguing ATP Cup matches pitted 5’7” Argentine Diego Schwartzman against 6’4” Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas. Three years ago, Tsitsipas, then 20, enjoyed a breakthrough tournament at the Aussie Open when he out-volleyed defending champion and superstar Roger Federer to make the semis.
“In no other sport are the strategic possibilities so numerous, the ways to outwit your opponent so rich and varied within the accepted sportsmanlike bounds.”
– Sarah Palfrey, a clever strategist who captured 18 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles from 1930 to 1945. From her 1968 book, Tennis for Anyone!Sixty years ago, FCC Chairman Newton N. Minow, in a famous speech to a conference of broadcasters, called television “a vast wasteland.” That’s certainly not true of tennis on TV.I find watching the December re-runs of big 2021 matches on Tennis Channel interesting, enjoyable, and instructive. For example, No. 1 Ash Barty’s 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 victory over Karolina Pliskova in the Wimbledon final treated tennis fans to a clash between players with contrasting playing styles, physiques, levels of athleticism, and mental games.
“Tennis matches are won by the man who hits the ball to the right place at the right time most often.” — All-time great Bill Tilden
If you take a complete break from tennis during the holiday season, play less frequently, or don’t compete either in league matches or tournaments, the break will help you in several ways. It will give your injuries vital time to heal. And it will recharge your tennis batteries. When you resume play, you’ll be fired up.
“Tennis is so much like basketball in terms of cutting and moving and a little bit of jumping.” — Basketball legend Michael Jordan, a spectator at the 2014 US Open, in a stadium interview with Pam Shriver
Do you enjoy other sports besides tennis? I live in Massachusetts and playing tennis almost every day isn’t feasible in the winter. So I’ve added indoor basketball and ping-pong to my sporting life. Both sports are a lot of fun, but they also help my tennis, in addition to staying in good physical condition. Both are fast-paced, moving-ball sports that enhance hand-eye coordination and several other abilities and skills required in tennis.
Bigger is better. Height makes might. The good big man beats the good little man. More than ever, these maxims apply to pro tennis today. Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev, both 6’6” tall, look likely to dethrone Novak Djokovic in 2022 or 2023. In the US Open final, No. 2-ranked Medvedev foiled Djokovic’s bid for a Grand Slam, while Zverev captured the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics and overpowered Medvedev in the final of the ATP Finals.
The title of the last chapter of The Fein Points of Tennis asks a thought-proving question: "Does Djokovic Have the Perfect Game?" I focused on Novak's technique and concluded it's near-perfect with only one relatively minor flaw, his slice backhand.
I wanted you and other readers to finish the book thinking about the great importance of technique, which was the first chapter's title. In the US Open final and the first set of the recent Paris Masters final, Novak learned that even great technique is not enough if your opponent has better tactics.