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JAK'S NEW ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best

Playing with both your feet and your hands

July 2021

There are two systems of coordination that, working in concert, enable you to play your best tennis from the back of the court: Eye-hand coordination, of course, yet with a "stick" in hand in this instance, and a seldom heard term, eye-foot coordination. The latter refers to being in the right place at the right time. That's effective positioning with roomy "spacing" produced with an energized brand of footwork. Finally culminating with a well- timed last ball striking step (guaranteeing that you are tracking the ball) - open or closed stance - for an anatomically comfortable and leveraged shot. The former is about getting your racket on the ball well in front of your body, ideally in your chosen strike zone - preferably your knee to thigh high "wheelhouse" but with comfortable ball height flexibility - for maxed contact duration occurring on the money right in the string bed's sweet spot for "clean" shot making, and that great "feel" and sound.


The great Martina Hingus superb footwork on an open stance forehand.

From personal experience, I came up as a 12 year old, with mediocre coaching, playing instinctively mostly with my feet, which were quick, fast and agile. That came naturally, graced with my National Soccer Hall of Fame Grandfather's DNA perhaps. Hand skills were a different matter. Not nearly as natural. Had to work hard at learning to use those heavy, dead wooden rackets efficiently. But, because I was a good mover, both defending and attacking, that's how I approached the game.

Now, eons past my prime playing years, I am not a good mover, and now having to strive to play better with my hands without the support, and advantage, of being well positioned for my shots.

At the 2021 French Open, Roger Federer, in an interview after his looking good second round win – coming after a year and a half layoff due to two (2) knee surgeries and Covid-19 tour restrictions – referred to "the top" (upper body ball striking) as looking smooth and deceptively easy due to the hard work by "the bottom" (footwork).

It seems the feet, both - 63 years on-court and counting - are worn out. My excellent tennis player Podiatrist, Dr. Marius Espeleta, Cape Coral. FL, explained that like a dog with pads on their paws, humans have padding too, just not visible, and that mine are worn out resulting in the necessity of lots of extra cushioning in my shoes. To make matters more challenging, one knee is in need of replacement. To be able to just keep going, such as it is, I have had a total of 64 synthetic synovial fluid shots (OrthoVisc – Hyaluronic Acid) to date, to offset, somewhat, mobility that I describe as molasses coming out of a jar.

That's slow. Very slow. Anyone who clearly remembers the intense Ilie Nastase - Stan Smith rivalry back in the day can probably relate.


Andy Murray making contact right in the sweet spot.

o, now without the ability to make last second positional adjustments, resulting in often not being at the right place at the right time, relying on my hands more becomes a necessity. This includes when a "bad bounce" occurs, which everyone experiences on any clay court, even those at the hallowed Roland Garros cathedral of "dirt ball." I recently observed multiple major's winner and world #2, Naomi Osaka, at the 2021 French with her own underwhelming footwork on the terra battue in Paris… not to mention her now widely known emotional issues.

To minimize motoring physical limitations at this stage, while simultaneously maximizing my hand skills quest, I keep my over grips fresh, changing them daily. Yes daily! That tacky, secure feel of the racket in my hand, even on the occasional mis-hit, facilitates that all-important maxed relaxation for low grip tension. I also pay more attention to my string tension, always adjusting for seasonal changes to get the feel I like, while restringing often, or approximately every 20-25 hours on court. What? Frame of reference: Summer in Florida – 100-110 degrees on the court, and that's clay, pretty much every day now for months which can accelerate tension loss.

To compensate further, I have to aspire to be a superb ball tracker - both incoming and outgoing – to both get off the mark fast and create a perception and reality of more shot making time, and to maximize movement despite the disappearance of even a hint of any remaining fast twitch muscle fibers. Careless tracking, at this juncture, for me or anyone chronologically challenged, then becomes molasses still in the jar, putting too much onus on one's hands alone to take care of business.

Also playing at a lower center of gravity with a wider stance – putting the stress more on the quads and less on the creaky knees - I employ what I call the "Stalker-Walker" mode of motoring. That is, again, reacting to incoming shots right off an opponent's shot impact, enabling a then workable, albeit slower, low to the ground brand of positioning. Successfully measuring the necessary foot speed and projected spacing for shot positioning, all of which first begins with landing a "split step" precisely at an opponent's moment of contact, syncing up all the shot making components while allowing your hands a less demanding and more effective role.

For those of you still blessed with great wheels – no knee, hip, or foot problems - use them as effectively as you can on every ball to enhance your hand skills. In my often referred to words of wisdom on the topic from LTA British Pro colleague, Steve Heron – synonymous with Federer's "bottom" reference - "No feet. No game. No future."

 

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Past Essays

  • November 2021 - The Backup Racket in Your Bag
    [read more]
  • October 2021 - Every Tennis Player Can and Should Have a Weapon
    [read more]
  • September 2021 - LEARNING NEW SKILLS: First the Process, Then the Results
    [read more]
  • 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
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  • August 2020 - As Good as Your 2nd Serve
    [read more]
  • July 2020 - Shot Shaping
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  • 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
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  • April 2020 - The Zombie Tennis Creed – Top Ten
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  • March 2020 - A Roadmap Into "The Zone"
    [read more]
  • February 2020 - The service toss: myths and realities
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  • 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.