Thursday, July 7, 2011

String Maintenance And Why This Could Make All The Difference

I bet you knew that every tennis shot should make contact with the strings in the racquet, and not the racquet. Wouldn’t this, in a way, make the strings more important than the frame itself? So why are players always so choosy when picking out the frame, yet pay little to no attention to the string? They are very critical of the head size, weight, balance, even the paint job. They go to great lengths demoing frame after frame, and even switch frames several times a year when a switch in strings could have saved a lot of time and money. So why spend nearly $200 on a racquet, and then equip it with cheap or inappropriate strings for your game, which don’t perform? I’m sure most of you reading this would agree that putting a set of low performance tires on a Ferrari would result in poor performance, yet this is essentially what most tennis players do in relation to the strings they put in a racquet they went to great lengths in choosing, and spending upwards of $200.00.

In the same way tires, their air pressure, and tread life could drastically impact the performance of a car, so do strings, their tension, elasticity, and “string life” impact the performance of your racquet, and more importantly your game. When one looks at car races such as the Daytona 500, the most important thing in winning races comes down to the tires on the car, the air pressure, and wear, because these are some of the most important things impacting performance and could mean the difference between winning and losing. As a result, tires are continually switched out during these races in order for the car to continue performing at a very high level. These race teams don’t wait for the tire to blow out before switching them out, nor should you wait for your tires to blow out on the expressway. Typically, when tires begin to go bald, we switch them out for new ones. What you end up with is your car running smoother, less stress on your engine, brakes, and a significant savings on gas to name a few.

Yet, the vast majority of players continue hitting with strings that have lost an enormous amount of tension, elasticity, have long since “gone dead”, and as a result, lose their power and control. Players don’t realize they are working harder when playing with strings in this condition. They are simply not getting the same performance that a fresh set of strings would give them, not to mention having the strings snap at the most inopportune time. We have all been there; break point, we hit a great return, and we here that familiar “snap”. Very frustrating to say the least. Why wait until you are going 100mph on the highway to have your tires explode, or till that crucial moment in a tennis match like a break point to have your strings snap?

Players of all level often forget or don’t realize that although frame selection is important, the STRING is what makes contact with the ball, not the frame, so make sure to keep your string job in that expensive racquet, fresh and lively!!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sizing Up The 12s Nationals

Every kid who wishes they were taller and every parent who thinks only giants win tennis matches needed to stop by the USTA 12s Spring National Championships in Delray Beach. Small Players with Big Games and Fast Feet were all the Rage of Semifinal Thursday. The days of the 12 and under Pushers have Come and Gone, I am very happy to report. I got there at first ball of the early morning matches featuring 2 South Florida girls playing on Hartru on either side of the Clubhouse. Sophia Kenin was in her usual spot, playing deep into a National Tournament and facing a taller opponent with a more powerful game. I am a big fan of Sophia because she is as good a shot maker as you will see at that age, but, big is never a word that people will use to describe her and sometimes she tends to play passive and not lose. That formula usually dooms her against aforementioned opponent's in previously mentioned situations. Today, if you just watched the ball you never knew who was hitting it. Sophia played first strike tennis, went for her shots and used her feet to frustrate and wear down her slower and of course taller opponent. The girl she played was good, but, got beat by a harder hitting and much faster Kenin.

Awaiting the #1 seed in the Gold Ball Match is dare I say another Small Wonder. On any given day you will see Usue Arconada sliding around the Hartru Courts at the Sunrise Tennis Club under the watchful eye of her Argentine coach Luis Brest. Ask her what Grand Slam she wants to win and she will answer Roland Garros in an accent that sounds like Rafa. Usue and yes her taller opponent from Maryland were locked in a "winner" take all match. They pounded the ball for a tiebreak set that Usue would win before rolling through the second. Short balls led to winners and Usue used superior footspeed, hard groundstokes and variety of shots to wear down a bigger opponent. Does that sound redundant. Kenin vs Arconada. The tale of the tape wont size up the match, but, their new found power games certainly will. Two girls who are a growth spurt away from WTA Stardom. Being small is a blessing because they win with their feet, have learned more shots and now have the pop on the ball that wins them National Titles. Parents and Players takes note!

When I was 12 years old I played a hard hitting lefty from Croatia at the Port Washington Tournament held over Christmas. He was shorter than me, but, boy could he hit the ball, he got to everything and won points at the net. I played great and never had a chance. The loss hurt, we became tennis friends and I smiled 18 years later when Big Goran raised the Wimbledon Trophy. Two years later, I played in the Round of 16 of the Orange Bowl, next to me was a little kid from the Netherlands, who was hitting one handers and serving and volleying. He lost to a giant guy who beat me, but, he grew into another Wimbledon Champion.

I am not saying that the kid who I watched play today, Alex Del Corral will raise the trophy at the All England Club, but, he is 5 foot nothing and strikes the ball with authority. He plays shots with a high margin, opens up angles with his forehand, steps into his backhand, uses a drop shot, finishes at the net and most of all he understands how to use all parts of the tennis court. I remember watching him hit a few years ago and he wasn't worried about his ranking. Well he is on his way to #1 and the curve he is on has him destined to be a Pro. When Alex grows, so will his serve and he will gain natural power. Right now he is fearless, just turned 12 and his best days are still way ahead of him.

Unfortunately I have no idea what it feels like to be Sophia, Usue or Alex. One because I was always very tall and two because I never made it to a USTA National Singles Final. I was slow and relied too much at 12 years old on strength, my feet were slow and I didn't develop enough shots to go to the Pro level. I muscled my second serve and my backhand and it caught up to me when the other guys grew. Height was not a blessing for me because it created a false sense of ability and it didn't force emphasis on speed and technique. It wasn't for a lack of effort, but, my one and only USTA ball was a silver I won in my last 18s National playing doubles with Daniel Nestor, another smaller kid who grew into a Grand Slam Doubles and Olympic Champion.

Big or small, you need to be fast and have weapons. Right now players are moving faster than the ball in Men's tennis and the top Women make you pay every chance they get. My message to every Junior out there especially when you are small is don't hold back, go for your shots and work on your speed. Bigger kids please don't take your size for granted, focus on all the details of your game from head to toe. Your size when you are young can be a curse or a blessing, it is all up to you. It is always a great day for tennis24/7