Article by Phillippe Azar
Director of Tennis - Bio & Wellness Resort Stanglwirt
Regional Manager EMEA - Peter Burwash International
One of the best things about the Australian Open – or any Grand Slam, for that matter – is that it brings all pro players together. You get to watch and compare the largest possible field of Men, Women, Doubles, Juniors, Wheelchair, and – new this year – visually impaired players.
With such an array of players in such proximity, it’s a fantastic opportunity to recognize both the breadth of different styles as well as the commonalities between all of them.
And these two factors are so very important for us, tennis coaches, to discern.
The game today, especially on the men’s side, is more multi-dimensional than it has been for a very long time. Whilst the one-handed backhand continues its decline, we are seeing a resurgence of the backspin backhand (and even true slice down-the-line, where the ball curves off sideways, as demonstrated so brilliantly by Andy Murray). At the same time, top players seem to be once again increasingly inclined to rush the net.
But what is most striking is the differences in techniques for basic strokes. There aren’t two players with the same swing path, same grip, same stance, same preparation, same follow-through.
What does that mean for us and how we teach our lessons? Simply put, it’s OK to be different. We need to keep reminding ourselves that there are many ways of hitting a forehand and encourage our students to discover and develop their respective styles. We need to take a step back and not impose our own vision of what a stroke should look like. Our students only need us if they are doing something that will lead to an injury or if the ball isn’t going or doing what it’s supposed to. Anything else?... put the car in automatic and let it go with the flow!
But just as much as it’s OK to be different, top players also teach us that there are some commonalities/fundamentals that are indispensable for success. These players, all, without exception, are exceptional at controlling their racket-heads at contact, at staying balanced when pushed out wide, at using their opposite hand to set up their rackets, among other basics.
And those commonalities are exactly what our students need to know and grab back to when their strokes break down because, more often than not, when the fundamental isn’t solid, mistakes follow. Those should be our focus in lessons.
Ultimately, we have a duty to balance the encouragement of individuality with a focus on solidifying fundamental skills, as demonstrated by the demi-gods of the Australian Open.