Myths in modern tennis
Marcin Bieniek examines some of the myths in modern tennis.
A myth is a story that may or may not be true, but you will find that there are no records or other proof that they happened. A myth may have started as a 'true' story, but over time the story changes perhaps by mistake, or to make them more interesting.
How do myths come to tennis?
There are many reasons why we have tennis myths. A tip may have been true many years ago, but we now have new racquets, strings, methodologies, and support, so the way we play, and coach have to adapt. If a myth is heard time and time again, then we may start to believe it to be true. It may be down to a misunderstanding of a word in the advice or tip given. A myth can be created by focusing on exceptions - e.g. a player who can serve great with 350 grams tennis racquet may say that is the new way of developing the best serve - but is it true?
Myths are common in tennis because of various reasons, but the question to ask when you hear one is "Where is the research to support it? If a player accepts a myth, then it could harm their performance. Below I will look at some of the typical tennis myths and present my point of view of the myth.
Play forehand from the centre
I have heard this tip many times, and I can tell you that I agree with this idea with one important exception: the player's ability. We have to develop a player's skills and natural style of playing. We have to find their strengths from the centre and exploit them so if they have good footwork and powerful forehand. Then they should play forehand on every ball from the centre. However, if we see that a player can play aggressive drives and perfect angles with the backhand, then this stroke should dominate balls from the centre. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, or Sam Stosur are perfect examples of players who dominate the centre of the court with forehand strokes. In contrast, players like Andy Murray, Viktoria Azarenka, or Serena Williams prefer to play winning backhands from the centre of the court. To clarify this tip, we should use our more reliable stroke when we have to play a ball from the centre.
Great passing shots prevent net-game
Modern tennis can be honestly called a ''baseline game''. Most of the rallies are played from the baseline, and the dominant shots are serve and forehand. In the ATP tour, we can see some differences in playing styles, not only baseline battles. We can observe all-court players (Federer, Raonic, Murray) or serve & volley players (Isner, Karlovic, Kubot). On the other side, the WTA tour is dominated by aggressive baseliners. There are some players like Agnieszka Radwanska who prefers all-court game but is an exception. Coaches used to say that players do not come in these days because of great passing shots. I can agree that the technique and effectiveness of these shots are much better than in the past, but it is not the proper explanation of baseline tennis. In my opinion, problems lie in the approach shots and court coverage. Nowadays, players do not spend so much time practicing approach shots, so it is easier for their rivals to pass them. Secondly, players do not have the same level of court coverage they demonstrate from the baseline. A solution for net-game insecurity can be spending more time in the midcourt area and making a habit of coming in.
The depth of shot guarantees success
The depth of a shot is no longer the only factor that can guarantee easier points. Nowadays, players train almost the whole session from the baseline, so they know how to react to deep balls. Reasons for making rallies easier depends on the opponent. Some of them do not like deep balls; some of them do not like slices etc. Modern tennis lacks a variety of angle shots. When we see crosscourt approach shots, we observe a deep return instead of midcourt angle shots. The most challenging ball for everyone is one that crosses the sideline. In tennis, the opponent has to cover a lot of areas to get to play an angled shot. If players can convert more balls into angle shots, then rivals will have to find new ways to deal with them. The weapon of today's tennis is angle shots because players are too strong inside the sidelines.
Myths were, are, and will be common in tennis. Coaches, parents, and athletes have to be aware of implementing some tips into day-to-day practice. Every time you want to add something new to your methodology, check if there is any supporting research; do not rely on the exception. As we can see, some tips can be great one year, and next year it can become a myth. Study, check, debate and pick the best ideas for your on-court performance.
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About the Author
Marcin Bieniek is a tennis coach from Poland and a former professional player (Polish National Juniors Team). He is a certificated tennis coach by the Polish Tennis Coaching Association and the Professional Tennis Registry. Marcin has worked with many of the top 20 Polish Juniors and the top 150 players in the world.