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JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best

On mechanics and style

December 2020

Serena Williams Serving in TennisI often find myself encouraging lesson clients, of all levels, with one of the really attractive aspects of tennis played well - ball striking is not an exact science, and that there is indeed room for individualized athletic interpretation of established and essential core fundamentals.

In short, there is no single, "right" way to hit a ball. The real deal is dialing-in efficient biomechanics that get the job done for each individual, versus inefficient ones that do not. If yours are working well, and there is no residual body harm, then they work. Period. Albeit one qualifier: As long as long term continual improvement and game expansion is not stifled.

Sophia Kennin playing in a tennis match
Sophia Kennin

Consider: Does Rafa's forehand lasso finish look like Federer's? Does recent French Open wunderkind Iga Swiatek's two-handed backhand prep mirror image Naomi Osaka's? Or compare 2020 Australian Open champion, and most recent French Open finalist Sophia Kennin's idiosyncratic head down serve toss to Serena's classic version.

Myriad variations, slight and otherwise, are collectively products of:

  • Body type — Ectomorph, Endomorph, Mesomorph;
  • Physical strength and fitness level;
  • Grip positions;
  • Flexibility/agility;
  • Athleticism — eye-hand/eye–foot coordination;
  • Early coaching influences.

Roger Federer returning the ball to DjokovicConsider that if you layered multiple transparencies, scaled to size, of the best pro forehands in the business, men or women, that isolated their take back positions there would be obvious differences and no exact matches.

What we're seeing – the "eye test" - is top players putting their own athletic signature on their arsenal of shots, some even defying, to varying degrees, accepted mainstream biomechanics and the accompanying coaching wisdom of today.

Thankfully, tennis is not a cookie cutter sport.

Rafael Nadel of Spain during a 2020 Tennis CompetitionFrom that perspective, the late Jack Barnaby, Harvard player first, then their longtime men's coach, was once asked what his coaching system was that resulted in the unmatched Ivy League success his teams achieved for decades. His response was, "I avoid all systems like the plague; I adapt to the individual."

In Matt Hart's excellent new book about Nike sponsored and trained world class runners, Win At All Costs (2020), he notes the mechanics conundrum applicable to any sport: "Taking America's best through a full- scale biomechanical overhaul was an extremely hazardous endeavor. Many experts believe that athletes at this level, through years of training, have naturally found the most effective and efficient patterns for their individual physiology."

Iga Swiatek
Iga Swiatek

So, as an aspiring club player, relative newcomer or long timer, absolutely do get some periodic coaching in order to better understand existing mechanical parameters. Additionally, learn how to maximize the inherent power/control characteristics of your racket. After all it's the ball striking tool. Ideally, it's strung to your specific game's needs on a regular basis — tight, loose, mid-range - while simultaneously minimizing potential elbow, hand, wrist, or shoulder injuries. Even factor in improving the feel of the compression dynamic of the ball itself on your string bed.

Djokovic playing tennis
Naomi Osaka

At the end of the day, if your shots do feel good, sound good, and possibly even look good, then you're probably on the right track. If you do have a few quirks in your game no worries. Just picture 2020 year end ATP Finals champion, Danill Medvedev (defeated Nadal, Djokovic, Thiem in succession), whose unbelievable all-around game had been previously described by a fellow player as "really good ugly."

Copyright© 2020 by Jak Beardsworth Tennis. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

COMMENTS WELCOME: JB1tennis@comcast.net

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Past Essays

  • March 2023 - Classic finish line failure
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  • February 2023 - Defending the lob over your net partner – The "Switch"
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  • December 2022 - E. I. D. - Extended Impact Duration
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  • November 2022 - Movement Enhancement to Stay Better In-Point Connected
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  • September 2022 - Advanced Visualization 301
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  • August 2022 - Tennis' uniqueness: warming-up the enemy
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  • July 2022 - Extracting Double Faults Through Receiving Positions... and more
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  • June 2022 - Consider Serve and Volley
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  • May 2022 - How the Toss Primes the Serve Relaxation Pump
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  • April 2022 - Ball Watching and Science
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  • March 2022 - Caving
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  • February 2022 - Kenny G and Emmo
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  • January 2022 - The Knees
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Essay Archives

Click a year to view more essays


  • December 2021 - The Match is with You
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  • November 2021 - The Backup Racket in Your Bag
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  • October 2021 - Every Tennis Player Can and Should Have a Weapon
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  • September 2021 - LEARNING NEW SKILLS: First the Process, Then the Results
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  • August 2021 - The Challenge of Visualizing… For Some
    [read more]
  • July 2021 - Playing with both your feet and your hands
    [read more]
  • June 2021 - Finding the Range
    [read more]
  • May 2021 - The Focus
    [read more]
  • April 2021 - About Your Butt Cap
    [read more]
  • March 2021 - The Essential Forehand and Backhand
    [read more]
  • February 2021 - On Being a Doubles All-Courter
    [read more]
  • January 2021 - Same Grip Volleying Myths
    [read more]


  • December 2020 - On mechanics and style
    [read more]
  • November 2020 - THE BIG 3: The Glue That Keeps Your Best Game Together
    [read more]
  • September 2020 - Protocol and Game Tradition Revisited
    [read more]
  • August 2020 - As Good as Your 2nd Serve
    [read more]
  • July 2020 - Shot Shaping
    [read more]
  • June 2020 - Getting a Point in Jeopardy Back to Neutral
    [read more]
  • May 2020 - A Positive Mind-Set: On and Off the Court in Today's C-19 Reality
    [read more]
  • April 2020 - The Zombie Tennis Creed – Top Ten
    [read more]
  • March 2020 - A Roadmap Into "The Zone"
    [read more]
  • February 2020 - The service toss: myths and realities
    [read more]
  • January 2020 - Shot Gazing
    [read more]


  • December 2019 - The Dreaded High Bouncing Moonball Dilemma
    [read more]
  • November 2019 - Chalk Flew: Troublesome Line Calling without Hawkeye in Clubland [read more]
  • October 2019 - In the Spirit of Don't Drink and Drive… Don't Think and Hit [read more]
  • September 2019 - Old School vs New School [read more]
  • August 2019 - Getting the Ball Where You Want It [read more]
  • July 2019 - Taking Points Off…What? [read more]
  • June 2019 - Confidence Is Confidence: Take It Wherever You Can Get It [read more]
  • May 2019 - TENNIS INNOVATION IMPLODES [read more]
  • April 2019 - Defending the Court with Older Bones: A Club Player's Guide to Saying "Nice Shot" Less [read more]
  • March 2019 - Do You Have Doubles Rally Tolerance? [read more]
  • February 2019 - I Knew Jimy Van Alen: A Historical Look Back [read more]
  • January 2019 - The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Mental Toughness Skills [read more]


  • December 2018 - Less Bling is the Thing [read more]
  • November 2018 - Anatomy of a Doubles Serve Return…from the Inside Out [read more]
  • October 2018 - Older Dogs and New Tricks: Still Improving at Any Age [read more]
  • September 2018 - The All-Important Dynamic of Gripping [read more]
  • August 2018 - The Cinemascope Syndrome: Undermining Your Ball Watching [read more]
  • June 2018 - Serving and Returning Better with a Quiet Eye [read more]
  • May 2018 - The Man Who Breathed for Two [read more]
  • January 2018 - Rituals Anyone? [read more]


  • December 2017 - Why Serving is so Difficult in Clubland [read more]
  • October 2017 - Managing your body and mind in tennis space [read more]
  • August 2017 - Why Bother Breathing to Improve Your Game [read more]
  • May 2017 - The "Maintaining" One's Game as One Ages Fallacy [read more]
  • February 2017 - Punta Gorda Tennis Clubs: Setting the Bar [read more]
  • January 2017 - State of the Club Game: The Growing Death of Sportsmanship [read more]

Check back often for more essays.