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Turbo Tennis
May 2004 Article

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Play with Power

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Ron Waite, USPTR

Almost every month, I receive e-mails from readers who ask one simple question: "How can I add more power to my game?"

If there is one thing that truly characterizes the "modern game" of tennis it is the increase in power among both men and women players. Big serves and huge groundstrokes abound on both the ATP and WTA tours. Junior players are almost always attempting to find a way to hit the ball with more power.

Really, this increase in the use of power in the game of tennis is not surprising. First, wood was abandoned in favor of a host of different materials making racquets lighter but more powerful. Coaches began to seriously analyze how to hit strokes in a more scientific and efficient manner. Taller players became the norm on both tours…this added height enabled serves to be hit with much greater force. Finally, athletes on both tours began to integrate strength training into their regimens.

The result has been staggering. What was once a genteel sport for country club players has become a battle among titans.

Those of you who read my column regularly know that power is not my first concern. In fact, it is the last element in my pyramid of priorities. However, there is a place for power in every level of the game. All things being equal, the more powerful player usually prevails…however, things are not always equal.

For us mere mortals, tennis is a game of errors. The player who makes the fewest errors is likely to win. Winners are great, but they have to be, in fact, winners. Powerful errors are no better than less powerful errors. Simply put, errors are errors in tennis.

However, this month I will focus my column on how to improve your power game…at least in terms of the amount of power associated with your strokes.

Before I begin I must caution you. Power is like potential profit when making a financial investment. The greater the likelihood of making large and quick profits, the greater the risk of losing everything. With power, you can win big…but you can also lose big. Unfortunately, I have seen many players "blast" their way to a loss.

So with this in mind, I will hope to explain how you can add more power to your game. However, whether you use this power well depends completely on you.

RACQUETS

The fastest way to add power to all of your strokes is to upgrade to a more powerful "stick." Today’s racquets literally employ space technology to make them lighter but stiffer. The more stiff the racquet, the more power it will generate for you.

The problem with this solution is that a new racquet may be weighted and balanced very differently from your present racquet. These changes may mean that you have to "re-learn" your strokes. This process may take some time.

Still, a new racquet may be the best solution to adding more power to your game. Of course, trying a racquet out before making a purchase is well advised.

ADDING WEIGHT TO YOUR RACQUET

Most pros have their racquets customized. They will find one frame that they truly like and have racquet technicians make all of their frames "identical" to this "ideal"…in terms of grips, weight and balance.

Sometimes a pro will add weight to a frame to provide more power. If I am not mistaken, Pete Sampras added significant lead tape to his frames, in part to make them more powerful. I believe that Jimmy Connors was really the first to use this lead tape solution to provide more power and stability to his old Wilson T-2000 frames. Usually lead tape is placed on the sides of the racquet head, near the racquet throat, and at times, on the shaft or under the grip.

The problem with adding weight (via any means) is that it makes the swing characteristics very different. A powerful racquet that is too heavy to swing is usually not desirable.

It is a simple rule of physics. The heavier the frame, the more powerful it will be. I actually like this power "solution" and frequently "tweak" my racquet frames. Frankly, I am not really fond of the modern breed of "lighter but stiffer" frames. A more conventional frame that has some added weight is how I like to "stoke up" my frames’ power levels.

STRING TENSION

If you are not inclined to change frames, you may want to tinker with your string tension. Lowering your string tension 3 to 6 pounds can make a significant difference in the amount of power you can generate with your present racquet.

The problem with this solution is that lowering the tension may increase the "trampoline" effect associated with the string action at the moment of impact. This trampoline effect makes it much more difficult to control the ball.

Still, for many, this may be the best solution to their power needs.

STRING TYPE

Natural gut strings are still the preferred type among pros on both tours. They offer a nice "feel" to your strokes and are very lively. This liveliness does not seem to diminish the level of control as much as does lowering string tension.

The problem with natural gut is its cost…sets of natural gut are very expensive. Natural gut doesn’t wear as well and needs to be replaced more frequently. In addition, natural gut is very sensitive to any moisture. Rain, water, or moisture associated with clay surfaces can severely weaken the string.

Most string manufacturers have spent lots of research developing new synthetic strings that replicate the "play" of natural gut. Each year, the results improve.

High tech synthetics are generally less expensive and wear much better than natural gut. Some of these strings allow for a little more snap in your strokes given your preferred tension. It is well worth investigating.

STROKE TECHNIQUE

Quick fix solutions are usually just that. Over time, a new or differently weighted frame, livelier strings and lower string tensions do not bring truly significant or lasting results.

The really best ways to increase your power involve you! One way you can change your power level is to learn to hit the ball more "sweetly." Timing and execution are really the best solutions to your power needs.

When I am coaching players, I have noticed that when they hit the ball "sweetly" they automatically hit a more decisively powerful shot.

Generally, groundstrokes are hit sweetly when the following are in place:

  1. Good anticipation and footwork in getting to the ball.
  2. A shorter backswing!!! The shorter the better.
  3. A knee bend when taking the racquet back.
  4. Keeping a relaxed arm and grip throughout the stroke.
  5. Keeping one’s head motionless at the moment of impact.
  6. Transferring one’s weight forward at the moment of impact
  7. Making certain to finish the stroke completely…in the modern game, many players augment this finish by going airborne (leaving the ground). By moving upward at the finish, you automatically allow for more topspin while being able to hit with greater power. When finishing a groundstroke, good body rotation helps the power and flow of the stroke regardless of whether a player goes airborne.

Volleys are "sweetly" struck when the following occur:

  1. A player moves to the ball with a forward motion. The goal is to strike the volley before the ball dips below the height of the net.
  2. A player keeps the racquet face higher than her/his wrist in preparing for the volley…the racquet is never really taken back far…there is virtually no backswing. Good volleys are hit with a high to low motion whenever possible.
  3. "Firming the wrist" (really the grip) at the moment of impact.
  4. Hitting the volley in front of one’s body.
  5. Keeping one’s head motionless at the moment of impact.
  6. Transferring weight forward at the moment of impact.

Serve power is increased with the following:

  1. Keeping the arm loose throughout the serve.
  2. Adding body rotation and knee bending to your service motion.
  3. Hitting up but snapping the wrist forward at the moment of impact
  4. Finishing the serve motion fully.

I promise the reader that if she/he works on the above aspects of technique there will be an automatic and lasting increase in her/his power capabilities.

However, there is one more way in which a player can change himself/herself and increase power potential…through regular strength training.

Most of us like to "muscle" strokes when we want to hit harder. However, this muscling technique is fatiguing and counterproductive to good stroke techniques. With the exception of volleys, strokes in tennis benefit from a relaxed arm.

So, how does one increase "racquet head speed" without muscling the ball?

Well, by getting stronger. That’s why pros on both tours have trainers in their ensembles that do nothing but work on making the player stronger. Gil Reyes has been working with Andre Agassi since he was a teenager. Even today, Andre works diligently on his overall body strength…and it shows in his ability to smack a ball.

Racquets, strings, technique and strength training can all combine to make your game more powerful this summer. A little more power in your game and I would not be at all surprised if you become a tennis overdog!

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Turbo Tennis Archives:
1996 - 2002 | 2003 - 2014


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This column is copyrighted by Ron Waite, all rights reserved. Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Ron by using this form.

Ron Waite is a certified USPTR tennis instructor who took up the game of tennis at the age of 39. Frustrated with conventional tennis methods of instruction and the confusing data available on how to learn the game, Ron has sought to sift fact from fiction. In his seven years of tennis, Ron has received USTA sectional ranking four years, has successfully coached several NCAA Division III men's and women's tennis teams to post season competition, and has competed in USTA National singles tournaments. Ron has trained at a number of tennis academies and with many of the game's leading instructors.

In addition to his full-time work as a professor at Albertus Magnus College, Ron photographs ATP tour events for a variety of organizations and publications. The name of his column, TurboTennis, stems from his methods to decrease the amount of time it takes to learn and master the game of tennis.


 

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