Category Archives: Body Mechanics

Winning Ugly

O.k., I didn’t win, but I did learn something very valuable. I have been reading Winning Ugly by Brad Gilbert. He suggests scouting your opponent, evaluating their weak points and exploiting them to win the match. Brad Gilbert is the guy, after all, who precipitated John McEnroe’s first retirement at age 27 by beating him 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 leading McEnroe to say, “When I start losing to players like him I’ve got to reconsider what I’m doing even playing this game.”

I have played against T. countless times, usually losing. I know he has a killer topspin forehand, it bounds irretrievably over my head and into the fence at least a few times each match, and I’ve adjusted by taking the ball in the air when possible but I’ve never made up a list of his weaknesses and thought about ways to take advantage of them.

During warmup I noted that his backhand is a slice backhand that stays down and is a bit erratic so I decided to hit to his backhand as much as possible throwing in some junk – high looping shots. I already knew that he has a patsy second serve but during the match I realized that I should approach off his second serve by hitting the ball hard and flat, if I looped the approach shot it sat up and made it easier for him to pass me. Also during the match, I realized that if I hit a short shot to his backhand, he had to lift the ball up on his approach shot and that made it easier to pass him or hit an overhead.

During league play I know the schedule for the season so that will allow me to scout my next opponent during league play this week.

Practice and Competition Report: practiced for an hour, played two sets and two rally games with T: 3-6, 5-7, 5-15, 18-20
Solutions Analysis:
1. Looking for a solution to the problem of hitting overheads into the net. Possible solution: think about where I want to ball to land – my opponent’s baseline – as I hit the ball.
2. Keep my legs straight while doing forward bends during yoga practice.
Success Analysis:
1. I was able to place my serve well.
2. I hit some winning passing shots.

technique vs. target, word vs. image

After giving instructions to two men working on my house, I jumped into my car and rushed to the court so that I would have time to practice before my match. When I opened my trunk… no rackets. I rushed back home and back to the court and practiced my serve until my playing partner turned up. Except that he never turned up. I can entertain myself for hours hitting a tennis ball against a wall, weird I know but it comes in handy sometimes.

I’ve discussed the difference between thinking about technique when you hit a shot versus having an image of where you want the ball to go. If you are thinking about technique once a point starts, you’ll never be able to keep up – you have to react, not think. In the book Zen Golf, Robert Parent describes the situation another way. If you’re thinking about technique then you are worried about hitting a good forehand, backhand or whatever. If, instead, you keep the target in mind, landing the ball in a deep corner of the court for instance, then you can swing freely without worry and likely get a better result. Parent puts it very well: “The best target is where we want to send the ball. The best intention is to trust our swing. The best purpose is to enjoy playing the game.”

Our subconscious instructs our body to carry out all those perfect shots we execute on the court. The subconscious works with images not words, especially if those words are, “You idiot, you took your eye off the ball again.” That explains why we mentally rehearse our next shot before each point and also explains why keeping a target in mind is an effective way to execute a shot.

Practice Report: practiced for two hours, hit against the wall for half an hour.
Solutions Analysis: the backswing on all my strokes is a trunk twist – my racket goes back only as far as my trunk will twist. It also helps to step into the ball and hit it well out in front of my body if I want to hit it hard.


I have a friend who goes into people’s dreams at night (only if he’s invited) and helps them out with their problems. That is his way of serving others. I have enough problems of my own and would likely turn your dream into a nightmare but I do have my own version of nightwork. After I close my eyes and before I go to sleep, I mentally rehearse aspects of my tennis game that need work.

Each week I identify 3-4 things that need improvement and I work on these throughout the week. Currently I am working on three things: 1. swinging the racket with a neutral wrist position – i.e. don’t drop the racket head as I hit the ball and end up with tennis elbow again 2. stepping into the ball and following through 3. coming to a stop and hitting my approach shot before moving forward to the net. It happens a lot, I run into the net to hit an approach shot and all of a sudden the ball is about to hit me in the nose because I’ve overrun it.

Whether I’m trying to make a current stroke more automatic or incorporating something new into my game, nightwork can be very helpful.

What I want to know is, how does Roger Federer win three Grand Slams in one year without a coach?

Practice and Competiton Report: played league tennis today, one set of doubles and one set of singles: 6-4, 4-6
Solutions Analysis: looking for a solution to rushing the approach shot.
Success Analysis:
1. I hit a lot of service winners by serving to my opponent’s backhand.
2. I was down 5-0 but came back to win the next four games before losing 6-4. I was very nervous but I’m getting much better at keeping with my routine despite the nerves.

elvis pelvis, silly walks

Most of the exercises in my new workout regiment consist of pelvic twists such as this cable pull exercise: The pelvis does all the work in these exercises, the arm just follows along. It’s supposed to be the same in tennis. I’m supposed to bring the racket back by twisting my trunk then step into the ball and whack it using pelvic twist and abdominal muscles to blast those winners. Watch pro players, they propel themselves at the ball and twist all the way around as their shirt goes flying. Then watch recreational players. Much of the time their arm does all the work. No wonder there are so many tennis elbow straps sold. Did you ever see a professional player wear a tennis elbow strap?

When I severely injured my back in 1986, my movement teacher gave me a very valuable suggestion. She asked me to watch how people move so that I could learn how to move efficiently myself. Watch joggers for instance, they look like they belong in a Monty Python silly walks episode. Sometimes their legs move and their top doesn’t. Sometimes their arms move and very little else. Sometimes they land on their toes and other times they look like Frankenstein clomping along. Look at walkers also. Notice where the movement stops in their body: are their hips stiff, is their spine frozen, are their arms glued to their sides? Your entire body should move from the foot through the legs then the pelvis and the trunk. Start noticing how other people move and then look at how you move.

Practice Report: worked out at the gym for an hour and a quarter

palmball, technique or results?

Peter was practicing his serve on the court next to me. I sprained a ligament in my thumb trying to return his serve a few weeks ago. He made up for it today – he looked at my serve and suggested I toss the ball with the palm of my hand instead of my fingertips. This way the ball doesn’t spin. I suppose it’s like a juggler, they pop the ball up in the air with their palms.

Before each stroke in a match, I rehearse my next shot – I am practicing technique. Once the point starts I think about where I want the ball to land. After the point starts, it’s too late to think about technique, there’s no way the one-step-at-a-time conscious mind can keep up with all the steps needed in even one rally. But what happens if I lose technique during a match? My serve starts going into the net for instance. It’s likely that I’m taking my eye off the ball but to correct that, I would have to be thinking about technique during the point. I don’t know the answer and the back and forth yo-yoing between the two is driving me a bit crazy. I can sometimes choose to think about one technique thing only during a point, say keeping my eye on the ball while serving, but it takes me out of the rhythm of my shots. Any suggestions?
practiced for an hour; played two sets with M.: 6-4, 7-5; practiced my serve for one bag of practice balls
Success Analysis:
1. I hit some hard serves for service winners.
2. I played agressively and won a lot of points at the net.
3. I moved back a bit and gave myself room to step into the ball and hit it more solidy.
Injury Report: I went to see my physical therapist, Andy Choi, because I was feeling twinges in my elbow again. Two things seem to be bothering my elbow: I am still dropping my racket as I hit the ball which weakens my wrist and puts pressure on my elbow, I twist my racket to hit across the ball when I make contact on my serve but I don’t really have enough flexibility in my forearm to do this.