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The Open String Bed Block
by John W. Naprstek, Sr.

Everybody's natural innate tendency is to duck when anything is flying toward their head or at other tender spots of the body.

On the court the quickest, surest solution is to already have developed comfort while using the Continental Grip ala Billy Jean King and Tony Trabert. Then you can instantly protect yourself by blocking all shots to your head and body with the backhand stringbed. Practice their suggested method every time you warm up, even including blocking balls aimed at your head, and you soon will become so confident you will be able to stop ducking and begin blocking back winners.

The Continental Grip will allow you to make some difficult returns at the net that two hand backhanders almost never can make on balls such as those aimed at either hip or either shoulder. Two handed backhanders are severely handicapped at the net and their contortions often become futile when balls are approaching at high speed. This is because having so little time to react and shift one's body position to one side or the other is out of the question!

When you have become confident with this technique you will be able to stand your ground and will fearlessly and enthusiastically find yourself blocking back winners!

When opponents are moving to poach they will often punch the ball at your feet. You will quickly thrust your racquet head down in front of your feet and be able to block it right back at, or even behind them!

If the ball comes to your forehand side, tape high or below, one's natural reaction is to open one's arm and swing the racquet head out low to your right. That wastes precious time, i.e. the 180 degree turn of the racquet head gradually decreases the string bed exposure to the ball to nil; only the edge of the frame is toward the ball, and then you gradually gain stringbed exposure again. If the ball arrives during that turning out motion you have little chance of returning it. You may miss the ball completely, angle it too much, or even catch it on the frame edge.

The quickest, most efficient method of getting your racquet head out to a right side contact point is to use the Continental Grip while sliding your racquet head down and out to the right (left for lefties) to intercept the return. Even though only faster by a fraction of a second, that difference often results in success rather than failure. You will be taking advantage of today's larger miracle material racquet heads and strings by maintaining the backhand string bed orientation toward the net with a strong Continental grip. Then simply notice that the string bed is exposed to the oncoming ball 100% of the time!!! Even though you will have little muscle strength available to work for you, just a firm grip will allow the miracle racquet materials to return many balls! With practice you will soon learn how much to angle the racquet head foreword and/or add pronation or supination in order to direct the ball both over the net and to an area of open court.

When you are back deep in the court and you realize you must move up to execute a volley, for example, you will find that your Kinetic Memory has automatically made the grip transfer to the Continental for you in a fraction of a second.

If an opponent's volley is approaching your forehand-side shoulder-high or above, simply maintain the backhand stringbed facing forward while rotating the racquet head up and out and to your right to extend it to the contact point to effect a block. With practice you will begin placing such blocked balls by orienting your racquet head with the help of forearm rotation and/or moving your arm forward or wider to create the angle you want. Sometimes one can even pop a lob over your opponent's head for a winner!

Utilizing these methods you will occasionally even make a few returns from non-sweet spot contacts. You will simply be blocking, not punching, not even pushing, but ANY ball returned gives your opponent a chance to err.

If you will add these additional areas of coverage to your repertoire and practice these methods every time you are on the court, they soon will become second nature to you. Also, you will make returns that others will "think impossible."


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