From the Author
Insights from Paul on his new book, "Fein Points of Tennis, Techniques & Tactics to Unleash Your Talent" as well as news and analysis of topical tennis issues
As I watched Christopher O’Connell, a 28-year-old Australian journeyman ranked No. 98, valiantly extend heavily favored Daniil Medvedev to 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in the Doha quarterfinals, I knew it was only a matter of time before his weak one-handed backhand would break down. It took longer than expected because Medvedev inexplicably hit too many shots to O’Connell’s forehand. But the result was still inevitable.
The Australian Open provided much food for thought about how to play and teach tennis.
Here are four observations, and perhaps lessons, about the year's first Grand Slam tournament.
If you’re a player, you likely want to improve your technique or tactics or both. If you’re a coach, it could be to advance your understanding of technique and tactics, and especially the critical connection between these two cornerstones of the game. I recently wrote an instructional article—“The Missing Link: The Connection Between Technique and Tactics”—in which I posited six axioms about the connections that players and coaches should think about.
We all would like to see our favorite players display sounder technique and smarter tactics so they’ll win more. So here is what I propose for the New Year’s Resolutions of some elite players.
Technique and tactics form two of the main pillars of a winning offense and defense in tennis. Indeed, that’s precisely why these pillars inspired the subtitle for my award-winning book, “The Fein Points of Tennis: Technique and Tactics to Unleash Your Talent.”
The recent ATP Finals in Turin, Italy, provided some lessons for both technique and tactics. Here are some of them.
“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 won 18 Grand Slam titles in singles and doubles
When world No. 3 Daniil Medvedev was dominating the second set of his Paris Masters match against Alex de Minaur, Tennis Channel analyst Paul Annacone averred, “Medevev is a strategic genius when it comes to playing points. He knows just what he wants to do. He is such an anomaly. It’s tough to figure him out.”
Just as 6’8”, 265-pound basketball superstar Lebron James could never be a horse racing jockey, whose weight averages 108 to 118 pounds, former junior Wimbledon champion Noah Rubin conceded he was too short to make it on the ATP Tour. So the 5’9”, journeyman Rubin, whose ranking peaked at just No. 125 in 2018, recently quit tennis and announced he was switching to pickleball. In a video on Instagram, the 26-year-old American said, “The tennis court is just way too big and there’s way too much ground to cover.”
What will you miss most about Roger Federer—as a player?
In my recent career retrospective, “Roger Federer: A Champion’s Champion,” one section is titled “Tennis Brain.” It explains why Roger was clearly one of the most tactically intelligent players in tennis history. His shot selection was generally smart, sometimes very clever, and occasionally innovatively so, such as with his SABR (Sneak Attack by Roger).
Here is what I learned. As serves and groundstrokes increased in power this century, the need for running speed became greater. However, not every player uses speed for both offense and defense. Gael Monfils, one of the fastest players in tennis history, never fulfilled his vast potential partly because he seldom used his speed offensively to attack when he should have. Conversely, former world No. 4 James Blake, another speedster, seldom used his speed defensively to keep the ball in play when he was in untenable court positions. Instead, Blake attempted low-percentage shots and frequently missed them.
One of the most exciting aspects of playing tournaments—at any level—is checking out the just-released draw. Similarly, one of the most challenging aspects of writing about Grand Slam tournaments is predicting the winners and contenders. And . . . the dark horses.
“A lot of players don’t like to serve first. I don’t know why,” commented respected Tennis Channel analyst Paul Annacone, who ranked No. 12 in singles in 1986 and later coached superstars Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, during the recent Canadian Open in Montreal.
Iga Swiatek provided one of the most thought-provoking quotes during the Wimbledon fortnight. After 32-year-old Alize Cornet, a versatile, clever French veteran ranked No. 37, ended Iga's terrific 37-match winning streak, by upsetting error-plagued Iga 6-4, 6-2, the 21-year-old Pole said, “Usually when I’m coming back, I have some kind of a plan, and I know what to change. Here I didn’t know. I was confused. On grass courts, everything happens so quickly. I didn’t tank it, but I just didn’t know what to do.”
In her May 8 FiendatCourt.com, Teresa Merklin tackled a thought-provoking topic that was encapsulated in the shirt message, “I’m just too creative to be limited by Smart Shot Selection.”
What exactly is the connection between creativity and smart shot selection?
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.