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July 2015 Article

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Does Sensationalism Trump Reality in Tennis?

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Tom Veneziano

Many inconsistencies are taught in tennis that lead to much confusion. The problem stems from the way we watch and analyze top pros. We are tempted to let the sensationalism of their play trump the reality of their methods.
Recently there was a professional tennis tournament here in town, and a player that I coach attended some of the matches. I've been working with this player for many years, so as she watched these outstanding matches with her trained eye, she was stunned. She came to her next lesson and said, "I can't believe it. The pros jump off the ground all the time!" Yes, that's right! Tennis pros also do many other things that are traditionally incorrect. They are jumping, slashing, diving, swinging, flicking all over the place. Whatever it takes!
Does anyone see the reality of all of this swashbuckling style when watching the pros? No. Why? Because the results are so sensational, so magnificent, so spectacular, it appears whatever the pros are doing is right. Even though conventional methods would say it is wrong, the sensational trumps that 'reality.'
The criteria for determining 'good mechanics' are predicated on successful or unsuccessful results. What better successful results can you find on the planet than with your sensational playing pros! The pros create results that are astounding, fantastic, even at times surreal. Therefore, their stroke production must be as traditional methods teach. Or is it? Most players do not recognize that the top pros do many things that are incorrect according to conventional techniques. Everyone simply assumes the pros are mechanically sound.
However, if YOU were to do what the pros do but you miss the shot, according to tennis pundits you would be wrong and your technique would need correcting. I believe we have a double standard here! Thus all the confusion.
How does this apply to you? Let's say you are taking a lesson and you are working on your forehand stroke. The "sensationalism trumps reality" concept is more subtle, but alive and well. The process goes like this. A coach tells you to hit a forehand, to stay on the ground and stop jumping. You hit the forehand, jump up a little and miss. You then hear, "Stay on the ground. Don't jump up!!" The next time, you hit a forehand and nail a beautiful crosscourt shot. The coach exclaims, "Yes, excellent shot!" But you still left the ground to make the shot! The result dictated whether the mechanics of your shot were right or wrong.
To the coach, if the result of a shot is bad, you are doing something wrong. But if the result of a shot is good, you are doing something right. This is the concept of the sensational trumping reality.
Should you jump off the ground? Yes, if it happens naturally. If the movement of the shot makes you leave the ground, that's fine. The reason pros come off the ground when hitting many of their shots is because the momentum of the shot naturally pulls them off the ground. It is much easier for them to jump in order to maintain and recover their balance. The pros always do what is easier and more natural. That's right! Oddly enough, it is much more difficult, if not impossible, to run to a ball and then come to a screeching halt to hit the shot. Yet that technique is still taught by many traditional coaches.
Why make everything so difficult? Why not play the easy way, like the pros? The next time you watch the top pros play, really observe them. Not their results, but their physical movements. See if they always stay on the ground, bend their knees, keep a firm wrist, follow through toward their target, take the racket back before they run or hit with their weight forward. This is not what you will see.
What you will see are pros with a variety of mechanics and individual styles adapting to the situation. Not because they have painstakingly and meticulously worked on every little detail of every stroke and every situation, but because they have hit so many tennis balls that their body has naturally adapted to what is easier and more efficient. Meanwhile, beginning, intermediate and advanced players are attempting to learn the game the hard way by micro-managing every little mechanic and every situation.
The pros learn the easy way and everyone else learns the hard way? This does not make sense! As a Tennis Warrior, do not fall prey to this misconception of sensationalism trumping reality. In the Tennis Warrior world, reality trumps sensationalism. The pros are not playing according to the book, and neither should you.

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This column is copyrighted by Tom Veneziano, all rights reserved.

Tom is a tennis pro teaching at the Piney Point Racquet Club in Houston, Texas. Tom has taught thousands of players to think like a pro with his Tennis Warrior System.


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