PMac and I were luck enough to watch the riveting match between “the Dog” and Nadal. A packed house on Monday for an evening match. Incredibly contrasting styles, and an entire Rafa cheering squad with pom pons and more directly in front of us. Rafa had mentioned earlier in the week about his back and concerns when serving. And truly, his serve speed was all over the place.
But what stood out to me was the following pattern. When centered on the baseline, Alexandr would bait Rafa to run slightly around his backhand to drive the first ball inside out. Alexandr then played his forehand down the line to yet another forehand for Nadal which our world number one would inevitably whip crosscourt. Now the fun began, and you will see this on replays on the Tennis Channel – Dolgopolov sprinted to the backhand corner to CRUSH sidespinning crosscourt winners back behind Rafa.
Said again, Dolgopolov intentionally opened his backhand wing but would then outhit Rafa in what is normally Rafa’s best pattern. Again and again. Amazing.
Now to the serve. In the 1960′s players always had to keep one foot on the ground. Then the rules changed and players could jump if they wanted. But through that early 1970 and even 1980 era, tosses were simple affairs. Laver, Nastase, Ashe, Borg, Connors or McEnroe – most tossed the ball just a bit higher than contact and served with a continuous rhythm. But something has happened in our present day, for many players now use overly high tosses – Sharapova, Berdych, Steffi Graf (an original outlier on the toss) or Soderling.
Certainly there are many ways to play the game, many ways to serve, many toss heights, but Dolgopolov may return us to the era of the quick toss and hit. The Bryan Brothers use this method, as did Roscoe Tanner and even Ivan Lubicic now the coach of Raonic. But the Dog’s serve is pretty darn good – perhaps we could call it “tossing into the swing.”
After beating Nadal, Dolgopolov went on to “routine” Fognini 62 64 and then Raonic 63 64 before being subdued in the semifinals by the resurgent Roger Federer.
Now a question – Is Djokovic old school? Really. Is the BNP champion, who bested Roger in a third set tiebreaker an old school classical player?
Consider the following. Some years ago compulsories were included within ice skating competitions. Skaters would have to trace a large figure 8 on ice and the judges would measure how closely their skate followed the precise pattern on the ice. A compulsory test to measure “perfection” before the free style performance.
Do we have any American tennis players who could perform the following “warm-up compulsory” that Novak does whenever warming up on court. Novak steps in on EVERY BALL. Novak is on PERFECT BALANCE for every ball. Novak’s POSTURE is perfect on every ball. Roaming the grounds at Indian Wells last week, and watching our two Davis Cup singles players (John and Sam) practice – I rarely saw true balance, both are casual if imprecise with their footwork. Unfortunately Raonic the same but that is another story. If practice makes perfect only when “practicing perfectly” take a moment to watch and rewatch the following two clips of Novak.
And consider – in our literature (meaning magazines, USTA publications, and all the websites) is balance and posture placed front and center as the most important aspect of the game – or is it touched on rarely with more attention paid to grips spin tactics and so forth with the tacit assumption that everyone is balanced (more or less) so lets get on to more exciting stuff.
Power Shares Champions Shootout. Great event. Let me repeat – great event.
The format is brief, two one set semifinal singles followed by a one set final between the two semi winners. In this case Mac played Courier, Sampras played Blake – and then in the final the younger man beat the oldest man – that is James Blake had either more game or younger legs or both.
As regards my press pass, over the years I have been in the press room in Indian Wells, Flushing Meadows, and the SAP Open in San Jose. But somehow, perhaps because they are retired and under far less pressure, the guys were much more open and engaged than in those other venues. The interviews were long and thoughtful, and it even seemed like Pete and Mac were enjoying themselves (which in my experience has been rare).
Jim Courier was right on the mark with two excellent observations. First when asked about one of the best coaching tips he had ever received, he credited Jose Higueras with the following (which was one of the identical elements in my coursework on “The Art of Winnng.”
And following the unfortunate Davis Cup tie in San Diego where we lost to Britain, Courier also had this to say about the state of the global game and the fortunes of American tennis.
You probably know my fascination with the serve, with the commonalities between Pancho Gonzalez and Pete Sampras, and even the interview I published with one of his childhood coaches. See my podcast on Pete’s snap
I am always wondering how much of a difference coaches can or do make, and asked Pete about his experience and his own feel for the serve.
Pay special attention to his comments about the coaches picking the direction of the serve after he had tossed the ball. Wow.
Now to the tennis, and in particular the semifinal match between John McEnroe and Jim Courier.
Their games, even their techniques are a study in contrast. Where Courier is strong and muscular (his nickname for this event was “the Rock”), McEnroe whips the racquet and ball without seeming effort. No where is this more apparent than on their service motions
Pete had a bit of a sore shoulder and provided little resistance to James Blake, but equally 8 years does make a difference, Blake is 34 and Pete 42. But the real match to my eye was Courier (43 year old legs) against McEnroe (at 55 perhaps the best player at his age in the history of tennis).
The match showcased two entirely different styles of tennis. The big forehand vs the all court player. The banger against the artist. But let me digress. Ivan Lendl may have been the first player to truly dominate with the big modern forehand. In their rivalry, Mac remarked that he could rarely get his return of Ivan’s serve away from the deadly accurate forehand. But in many matches Lendl was comfortable keeping his backhand slice in play, waiting for the forehand but not always running around the backhand to hit the forehand stroke. In the next wave of players from Florida, Courier Agassi and others took this game to a new level, running around the backhand to punish opponents with forehand winners from all parts of the court.
But, and this is the key, those who run around their backhand are often giving up valuable real estate, and perhaps as one’s legs age, this tactic may be less useful.
Mac and Jim were on serve through 6 games, Mac dinking, slicing, finessing and more, and Jim stroking many forehand winners, and varying on his backhand wing with one handed underspin (rarely effective) and bold two fisted drives. At 3 all Courier surged ahead in the game, and held a break point. At this juncture McEnroe’s vile behavior (yes I said that) emerged, ranting, stalling, childish pique. Courier waited for the match to resume, and in the wink of an eye Mac held serve, broke Jim, and served out the set at love.
As regards McEnroe, Courier tweeted the following, “He’s the greatest 55 year old tennis player who has ever graced the earth” Jim Courier on John McEnroe to KUTV in Salt Lake City last week.
And Randy Becker, a good friend who has played with some of these guys had this to say about Mac’s game, “I feel the champions on the tour have a tough time playing Mac because he always covers the highest probable shot. Mac appears to fully understand the 78×27 rectangle,, especially his 50%. He gives up the lowest % shot, and often I have watched champions appear to change their shot selection based on where Mac is and what’s most open as a target.
Finally, Courier was asked about playing Mac, about the challenge Mac creates with his variety, his court positioning, and his net rushing skills. Jim said the game has changed so much with the players more and more on the baseline playing power topspin tennis, that it is unlikely that anyone again will play a version of the McEnroe style.
I for one, hope Jim is wrong on this score. What do you think?
Every club has one of these, a player who moves very well, makes darn few errors, often hits the ball softly or with unusual form, but over and over again this is a player who wins, and more than that this is a player that most dread.
The term “pusher” is somehow derogatory, implying that perhaps anyone could “win” that way but most pretend they would not stoop to such tactics.
I believe just the opposite. These players understand that ours is a game of ERROR MANAGEMENT.
I am encouraging you (dear reader) to accept the challenge to improve your play against these players. And that improvement must be mental, it must be technical, and it must be tactical. And rather than avoiding this issue, I believe when you come to terms with your own ERROR MANAGEMENT, with understanding exactly whey they are so difficult, and when you learn how to WEIGHT AND WAIT your game will grow immeasurably.
I have two lessons from a series called 5 Keys to Compete Against the Pusher and want to share the following to encourage you to come to terms with perhaps the ultimate tennis challenge.
PS. At the 2013 ATP Masters final in London, Nadal needed to win two matches in round robin play to reclaim the Number One ranking. And in those two matches (which he won) Paul Annacone and Jimmy Arias (who are two of our best on air commentators) described Rafa’s play as pushing! They said he was PUSHING! Meaning he played the ball safely, rarely close to the lines, and was willing to out rally his opponents. Certainly Rafa’s brand of pushing may be hard to fathom, but nevertheless that was their description of his round robin play.
The two cardinal rules of tennis.
Put the ball over the net.
Always be ready for the opponent’s reply.
You could say, “Hold on Jim, what about topspin, what about conditioning, what about …..”
All true. But at the base level, you must put the ball over the net (ours is a game of hitting up) and you must be ready for the opponent’s reply.
The reasons pushers are so difficult is that they do put the ball up and over the net (if they miss they are more prone to hitting the ball long) but more importantly they are always in position ready for your shot.
Because, when hitting often more softly than you, they have more recovery time. Repeated – MORE RECOVERY TIME.
Big hitters, if slow afoot, are truly often out of position – where their shot reaches the opponent so quickly they have not fulling recovered.
Take as much time as necessary to make sense of this. Your first step is to clearly recognize this situation. Let me know what you think.
I wanted to publish these videos to give you a sense of the material within my 5 Keys series of products. In this series we go into more detail on how to compete against the pusher and much more.
First, let me say the tennis between Grigor Dimitrov and Rafael Nadal was electric in the men’s quarterfinals. Dimitrov was truly amazing. He may be the face of the next wave of men’s tennis.
Pinpoint servers, wicked forehand.massive topspin backhand, winners from any pont on the court. In 2012 in San Jose our ball kid squad worked a match with Dimitrov and Kevin Anderson. Dimitrov had all the shots but was still asembling his “mental” game. He lost that match. In 2013 I saw him on center court at the BNP Paribas against Djokovic. He had Novak on the ropes when serving for the first set but Novak escaped.
Nicknamed “Baby Fed” this guy has the goods, and we can only see if and when he ultimately delivers. Coached by Roger Rasheed, who is renown for his fitness training, ofttimes fitness will lead to confidence. We can only see. Somehow I wish he could hook up with Murray’s mental coach Alexis Castorri. but truly that is another story.
Uncle Tony, Rafa’s boyhood coach, has been thinking and working “outside the box.” Training in Majorca instead of Madrid, using very small grips because that is done as he said in ping pong, and most importantly converting Rafa from a rightie to a leftie. Laver, McEnroe, Ivanisvec, Connors – the left handed player may indeed have an advantage in a game played by right handers. Lefties represent about 10% of the world’s population, and the same more or less prevails in tennis.*** (Please see below)
But, and this is a very important but – Nadal has perfected a glaringly simple strategy against Federer (and most other righties) by serving to the T in the deuce court, and way way out wide in the ad court. With Rafa running around backhands at every opportunity, his side spin (no kick serves at all with this guy) serve creates creates a succession of forehands for the third shot of his service games.
In an excellent article in the New York Times, Craig O’Shannessy tallied the following
52 of 56 first serves directed to Federer’s backhand return
Federer won just 28% of the points with his backhand return of Rafa’s first serve
Nadal hit a forehand after a first serve 72% of the time, winning 73% of those points
Certainly Novak, with the best service return in the men’s game, can counter Rafa’s strategy, but to date Roger is still looking for answers.
Now to Stanislas Wawrinka. He had been getting quite close, narrowly losing long 5 setters to Djokovic in last years Australian and US Open tournaments, but this year is different. Beating Novak in the quarters and Berdych in the semis the stage was set for the finals.
Stan jumped out to win the first set with dominanting play (and remember Dimitrov did as well). Rafa, with blisters, left the court in the second set with a back injury, and played listlessly in the second, came back strong in the third, but was closed out in the fourth. And whether the injury mattered or not, it appeared as though Stanislas could impose far more heavily on his backhand wing than did his Swiss counterpart. Truly this was dominating hitting, as big as Delpo, and in spite of a few patchy spots where he lost concentration as Rafa worked thru his tight back, Stan or the “Stanimal” as Roger calls him, out played and outhit the world’s number one.
I have no opinion on whether the one handed backhand is dead or not – but darn it – if Rod Pete Roger and now Stan use it – it is good enough for me.
Finally, part of the story of this years Australian Open concerned celebrity coaches. Lendl has helped Andy Murray turn the corner, with a Wimbledon title, a Gold Medal and a US Open title now under his belt – they have made a good team. Further their styles may have been suitably matched, for Lendl was a back court player, with considerably more offense than Andy – but that may be the secret – his insistence that Andy play more offense.
Federer now works with Stefan Edberg. Again these styles may match – but I say may, for it depends how often Roger will move forward to make something happen. He had the net rushing Paul Annacone in his corner as he remained on the baseline, but somehow Stefan took his game to the opponent, but truly Stefan never had to answer Rafa’s punishing topspin artillery.
Djokovic and Boris Becker. Only time will tell. Certainly their styles do not really mesh, and in spite of the incredibly close quarterfinal match with StanWawrinka, Novak lost the last two points at the net.
Years ago Tony Roche attempted to help Ivan Lendl at Wimbledon, but it may have been that it was truly too late to show Lendl the nuances of movement and anticipation at the net, only to be overwhelmed in straight set fashion in 1987 by Pat Cash in the finals 62 78 75.
I had the outstanding chance to interview and even hang with Emmo a bit at the USPTA Norcal conference this past week at Stanford – and certainly Emmo had a few thoughts about coaching and more. Note that those video is a little shay but I thought you’d like to see it
Celebrate the one hander. Hats off to Stan Wawrinka. Now go out and set the grip for an eastern backhand and see how it feels!!
PS – I do have an online course on the backhand – it may be worth your while. You can read more about it here
** Mea Culpa – a few readers have shown me an interview where Rafa said it was not Tony’s decision to play left handed, but rather Rafa came to it as something “natural.” I am sorry for promoting something that was untrue – Rafa still however has a massive advantage with his side spin serve, but Tony may not have been “outside the box.”
Here is a short list of tasks required to hit simply one ball over the net:
turn to the side early
move your feet to position for the hit
get their quickly in time with the ball
prepare the racquet in time with the bounce
use your legs to drive the hips
allow the torso to follow your hips
allow the arm to follow the shoulder
manage your contact point in sequence with the grip
contact the ball out in front
keep your head still during the swing
brush the ball as required for either topspin, backspin or sidespin (when approaching)
feel the ball on the strings
watch the ball as it crosses the net
be ready when the opponent makes contact
then go thru this process again, and again, and again
Frankly, many of you have been with coaches who can add to this list of tasks. And my concern is whether it is possible to listen, to remember, to manage these tasks in sequence and still stay fully concentrated on the ball.
Said another way, we once had a pro who worked at our club who said (this was actually said), “I like the sound of my own voice.” And in his lessons, and this may have occurred to you, there was a constant stream of verbal instructions.
Mindset by Jackie Reardon (which is an excellent book on attitude and on what occurs between your ears) recommends that when looking for a competent tennis teacher, select one who talks less and empowers the learning more.
Rephrased, teacher centered learning occurs when teachers actively instruct, student centered learning (which is documented to work better) occurs when teachers instruct less and empower the student to explore, to feel, to experiment, and ultimately take responsibility for their games.
Hopefully you are finding me in the latter category.
So then I start to wonder, how basic, how grounded, how simple, how can I deliver small bites of stuff that unlock the feel of a stroke, the method, the balance, and this list does go on and on. I try this on court, I try this in our podcasts, and now I am trying this same method in a new product stream – the “5 Keys.”
Meaning, what could be 5 simple easily understood keys to say – a one handed topspin backhand, the modern double bend forehand, the drop shot, or even a tutorial on the grips.
Nothing long winded, very little to digest, but actionable lessons, in small bites, that unlock a particular skill – but without the jargon, without the long winded (online) introductions when you may wonder when he or she will ever get to the point, and without the need to somehow translate the instructors words into basic elements that you can actually learn and feel.
Here is an example – at our club many of the players are unfamiliar with the look and feel of the drop shot. But if you have ever played a ringer who knew the court and could feather drop shots when you were out of position – then you know how deadly this shot can be (on either the sending or the receiving end).
I believe the 5 basic keys to the drop shot – to playing “North to South” must include the following, and in this sequence:
It all begins with the continental grip
Lead with the lower edge for backspin
Court Position matters!
Double your backspin with an ascending incoming ball
Finish with a feathering touch!
I will be working within this 5 Keys – basic vein – if there are topics you would like to see covered – please reply within the comment stream below. I’ve pulled out just one of the lessons out of 5 Keys to understanding Drops Shots. Take a look…
The 5 Keys series are a set of short, simple, discreet courses that can help you with your game, they are:
The following is a two part article. With part two presented first, and part one to follow. And this intrepid reporter is guilty (as charged) because I had written part one prior to the results in Beijing at the China Open. At that tournament, Rafa recaptured the Number One ranking, but along the way was thoroughly dismantled by Novak in the finals. As you will see later (in the original part one – I assessed his game as nearly unbeatable – Novak (read on) had other ideas. Part Two – In the finals at Beijing Novak outplayed our newly crowned Number One 63 64. In a victory that Novak described as ,”Very important for my confidence. It’s very important mentally and emotionally for me.” For Novak had lost three times previously this year at Roland Garros, Montreal and the US Open, In this particular match Novak was overwhelming, winning :
91% of the points on his first serve
77% of the points on his second serve (vs 30% for Rafa)
Facing no break points
and breaking Rafa on two of the four break points on Rafa’s serve
Rafa may be exposed when returning from so far behind the baseline,and it may be now that Camp Djokovic will place much more stock in serving to the corners. So it seems as though there will be more tennis played between these two in the remainder of this season and well into 2014. Part One (the guilty as charged part) Rafa captured the 2013 US Open title, dismantling Novak Djokovic. But in addition to the convincing victory, as well as to the addition of his 11th Grand Slam title – somehow it appeared that Rafa had broken Novak’s will. In a infamous fight between Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980 – there came a moment when Duran, for whatever reason, threw in the towel, turned his back on Sugar Ray, and told the referee “No mas.” Stop. I am not in any way saying Novak quit. But, and this is important – I believe that at this point in men’s tennis, Rafa is simply unbeatable – he is a genuine game changer – and the guys all know it. Patrick McEnroe has said, “All the players have the new racquets and strings, but Rafa is the only one who can hit it harder and with more spin that all the others.” Many years ago the same was said of Pete Sampras. At that point, most of the guys could get the ball above 120mph, and they could all get the rpm’s above 2000, but only Pete could do both on the same serve. Said another way, Pete had more racquet head speed than any other on the serve, and now the same can be said of Rafa on his marvelous, consistent, but deadly forehand. As regards a simple accounting of tennis skills Rafa -
Concentrates better than all the others
Competes at a level that exceeds Jimmy Connors – the kid is a fighter
Has much more margin when his balls cross the net – because of the vicious topspin
Is totally comfortable playing the net – which is not the case for many of the others
Can hit the ball very hard and extremely close the line when needed
Appears to have no holes in his game – anywhere
The stats in the fourth set of this 62 36 64 61 drubbing tell the tale -
Rafa made 3 unforced errors to Novaks’s 11
Rafa converted 76% of his first serves to Novak’s 59%
Rafa won 15 of 19 points on his first serve – Novak won 4 of 10 points on his first serve
Rafa faced 2 break points but was not broken – Novak faced 4 break points and was broken twice
Total points won – Rafa 27 to Novak 15. Game over!
If you are looking for an outstanding tennis holiday, where you can get really really up close and personal to watch Rafa practice on the outer courts, or play within the magnificent stadium – then mark your calendar – March 5 – 16th for the 2014 BNP Paribas Open. Enjoy the desert climate, while watching what may soon become the 5th Grand Slam title (or at least that has been in discussion). Topnotch Tennis Tours will offer the finest accommodations at La Quinta Resort, handle all your ticket needs, even arrange for you to play on the hard or har-tru courts. Have a question about a BNP Paribas Open package? Call your Topnotch Tennis Tours specialist at 800.289.3333 or visit their website or you can download their brochure here.
The game has changed from the old wooden racquet era. Next was graphite composite racquets. Then stronger and stronger players. Followed by more and more topspin (unfortunately from further and further behind the baseline).
The next era in our game’s development occurs from the new “copoly” strings – essentially a polymer material, but somehow little or no friction between the strings.
You will note, no longer do the players walk around between points straightening their strings. That is because those strings move back and forth when meeting the ball – imparting much much more spin.
If you want to magnify this effect, try stringing a racquet at 40 lbs or even lower. Really!
String Theory: Talking with Top Stringer Nate Ferguson
He has held Hall of Famers’ heads in his hands. He’s given Grand Slam champions that often-elusive quality called “feel.” He has worked more major matches than the entire ATP Top 10 combined and continues to pull strings for the world’s top players.
You may have never heard of Nate Ferguson, but if you’ve watched pro tennis during the past quarter-century, you’ve witnessed his work.
Ferguson, founder of the Tampa-based Priority One Tennis and racquet customizer to the stars, has tailored the frames that have produced some of the most sensational shots in Open Era history.
Roger Federer hit his two U.S. Open tweeners with a Wilson frame strung by Ferguson. John Isner edged Nicolas Mahut in the longest tennis match in history wielding a Prince frame Ferguson customized. Ferguson strung racquets for Hall of Famer Pete Sampras—at exactly 75 pounds, using 1.22 gauge gut. Sampras was as attuned to his Wilson Pro Staff as a classically-trained violinist is in tune with a Stradivarius.
“Certainly, Pete has had great success with that 85 square-inch head, 27-inch long Pro Staff racquet, weighing just over 390 grams,” Ferguson says. “Pete never changed length, weight, balance or swing weight in all those years. Pete is aware of the slightest change or difference in a racquet.”
A native of Glastonbury, Conn., Ferguson was already working with future Hall of Famers when a then-unheralded and skinny teenager from L.A. scored successive upsets over Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Andre Agassi in 1990 to capture his first U.S. Open title. With the victories, Sampras became the youngest Flushing Meadows men’s champion at 19 years, 28 days.
Sampras was still a few years away from reaching No. 1, but Ferguson was already at the top of his field, refining racquets for Lendl and Martina Navratilova. The former high school and college tennis player had little indication that his initial phone conversation with the soft-spoken star would prove to be a life-altering event for both of them.
“The company I was with in Connecticut was almost strictly custom-building racquets, so we had a great list of clients, including Lendl and Navratilova, and along comes this 19-year-old kid named Pete Sampras,” Ferguson says. “He called and had a lot of questions about racquets and I explained to him what the process was of duplicating a favorite racquet. He had a real genuine interest in racquets and how they’re customized. I could tell the handle, head and feel of the racquets were very important to him right off the bat.”
Sampras and Ferguson formed a friendship and partnership. Working exclusively with Sampras, Ferguson launched P1 in 1998. Today, Ferguson and his team—Ron Yu, Glynn Roberts and Mike Ludwig—travel to the top tournaments in the world with their own stringing machine and equipment, customizing frames for notable names including Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Robin Soderling and John Isner.
The P1 team re-strings, re-grips and balances each racquet to suit each client’s specifications. The man who makes the strings sing for several of tennis’ top players is busy working behind-the-scenes at the Australian Open, which is where we found him for this interview.
TENNIS.com: Nate, given the variables of Melbourne—players can face extreme heat, or the roof can be closed shut—what are the biggest challenges of stringing and customizing at the Australian Open? Is this major different from the others in your line of work?
Nate Ferguson: Being honest, there is no difference in customizing for this event and the rest of the year. Although we pay very close attention to the weather forecast, there are no racquet-building differences incorporated into our work leading up to the Australian Open. That being said, the fact that there can be a huge difference in ambient temperature from day to day, and even within a given day, means we are always looking ahead and are anticipating what the weather will be like. It could be 65 degrees if the wind is from the south, and it could be 100 degrees if it is from the north. These temperature differences cause us to adjust string tensions, but not the racquets themselves.
TENNIS.com: At the 2002 U.S. Open, when you were working with Pete Sampras, you told me during the first week that you thought Pete would win. You were right. Who are your clients now?
Nate Ferguson: Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Robin Soderling, Fernando Gonzalez, Lleyton Hewitt, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Mardy Fish, Sam Querrey, John Isner, Gael Monfils, Marcos Baghdatis and Stan Wawrinka.
TENNIS.com: I notice there are no women on that list. Why don’t more women pros customize their frames?
Nate Ferguson: Men care and they notice the difference in their racquets when they are customized. And it’s not that I say women don’t care about customization at all, because there are exceptions, but generally, in my experience, women get the racquet they’re given and play with that. I heard a story about a lady who played all the way through the quarters of Wimbledon with one string job. Women pros are perhaps not as technically orientated as men. There are exceptions, don’t get me wrong, but in my experience it’s extremely limited.
TENNIS.com: I was told that early in her career, Serena was playing with a game-improvement racquet you could buy off the shelves of a Modell’s or a retail store.
Nate Ferguson: I’ve heard the same thing. Serena kicked everyone’s ass playing with essentially retail racquets, and Venus was the same way for a while. They were not using elite player frames so they had to string it very tight, using all gut, or they would break their strings. It makes you wonder if Serena would have won even more, had she been playing with a frame best suited for her game.
TENNIS.com: You have a family. How challenging is traveling all over the world to tournaments, and how often are you on the road?
Nate Ferguson: Home for me is Tampa, Fla., and I’m on the road about 22 weeks a year. It’s still hard but it’s something my kids have grown up with, so they’re used to it. It used to be Ron and I doing it all, and then three years ago we hired Glynn Roberts from England and Mike Ludwig from the University of Florida. So now it’s not just Ron and I stringing for 13 guys. Also, with the four of us there’s a duplication of effort, which helps in that not everyone has to be at the courts all day. We can have a guy working at the hotel, so it’s getting easier, thank God.
TENNIS.com: Who is the pickiest player you’ve ever worked with—someone just super sensitive and picky about their strings and frame. Do you mind revealing that?
Nate Ferguson: I don’t mind revealing it. Pete Sampras was, without a doubt, the pickiest client ever. Pete could tell around the butt cap flare with his leather grip. If it had compressed the thickness of two hair widths, Pete could feel it and tell. It was unbelievable and uncanny.
TENNIS.com: In recent memory has any pro strung his racquet ridiculously low?
Nate Ferguson: Lleyton Hewitt was into the 30s (pounds) at Wimbledon using half poly and half gut. The poly allows players to play so loose, and they are swinging so hard with low tension and getting more of that cupping effect. And equally as important, they can really swing out and keep the ball in the court with poly.
TENNIS.com: People know the story about Goran Ivanisevic smashing so many frames that he actually ran out of racquets during a match. Have any of your players ever experienced racquet emergencies due to destructive tendencies?
Nate Ferguson: Fernando Gonzalez, when he lost to Guillermo Coria in the 2004 Key Biscayne semis, smashed a few racquets during the match and gave the rest of his frames to a few kids after the match. The next day I get a call from Fernando: “Nate, I gotta start practicing to play Davis Cup next week, can you help me out?” These guys are professionals, but they’re human, too, and they get emotional sometimes. But the fact they work with a customizer tells you they do take their equipment and their jobs seriously.
TENNIS.com: A broad question: How has string technology impacted the game?
Nate Ferguson: Polyester has really, really changed the game and the way it’s played. A few weeks ago, Tennis Channel replayed the Pete Sampras vs. Guga match from the 2000 Tennis Masters Cup. After 10 minutes of play, Pete had already broken a string. People don’t break strings during matches anymore.
I was at that match, and watching it again on TV, I noticed, number one, what a tremendous volleyer Pete was, and number two, how many volleys Pete had to hit off his shoe tops in that match. Guga was one of the first to go to Luxilon strings, and if you watch that match, notice how Guga is hitting normal looking forehands that dip tremendously at Pete’s feet. What we’re looking at when we watch that match is the earliest evolution of the game changing right before our eyes, because of the strings. Though at the time, no one realized what was happening.
Technology has impacted the game, particularly for players who have grown up with that string technology. It’s tough if you just try to take a great ball striker like an Andre Agassi and give him the new strings, though he did use them and they did help. But when you’ve got a young kid named Rafael Nadal who grew up with this stuff, then you’ve got a guy who can accentuate the benefit of the string and a guy whose game has truly evolved playing with the string.
TENNIS.com: What are your favorite customization tools?
Nate Ferguson: 1. Lead tape. 2. Double face tape—you can use it for a variety of things, including grips. 3. A variety of grips at different thicknesses, both synthetic and leather. 4. A powerful staple gun. 5. Lighter fuel. I’m not sure so many people know about the benefits of lighter fuel, but I find it’s effective to take any residual residue off when working with lead tape or grips on the handle.
Podcast 26 - Loose Strings - Very Loose StringsDownload
In the end, whether the third set of the women’s final, or the fourth set of the men’s final, the results had more to do with will power, and less to do with tactics or technique. John McEnroe, early in Rafa’s fourth set rout, opined that Rafa had, “Broken quite a few players will.” In fact, just that happened early in the third set. With one set apiece, Nadal was serving at 1 – 3, love 40, at a moment when Novak had gained the upper hand, momentum wise – and in the blink of an eye Rafa captured the set converting on both of his subsequent break points, while Novak squandered his 5 break point chances, breaking serve only once at the opening of that pivotal set.
But the same happened in the semifinals between Djokovic and Wawrinka
The stats tell the story about will power – read on.
Djokovic overcame Wawrinka 26 76 36 63 64 – but as regards will, and the power of Novak’s will over Stanislas, in the fifth set Novak never faced a break point on his serve. Wawrinka faced eight break points, lost just one but that told the tale of the match.
But this will power is relative, for in the finals against Rafa in the telling fourth and final set of their match Rafa ran away with it facing just two break points but holding serve throughout, where Novak faced 4 break points, losing two, but in the mean time spraying 11 unforced errors vs Rafa’s 3. Novak played with a broken will throughout the fourth set.
Finally, in this match, Novak (seemingly “Murray-like”) beseeched his team in the player’s box, as though at any point, they could have helped.
In the women’s final the story was the same. Williams prevailed, 75 67 61, and in a telling sift of momentum, Williams served for the title in the second set, only to see Azarenka turn the tables in the tiebreaker. But the third set was again about will power – Serena never faced a break point on her serve, and broke Victoria twice on her three break point chances.
In your game (or mine) somehow concentration, focus, intensity, playing one ball at a time, always in the moment – is simply a contest of will power. When our opponent misses early in the rally we may assume we are playing well. When we come up against someone who is tougher, more engaged, somehow a player that “refuses to lose” then this will power thing comes to the fore.
Please share your experiences on this will power continuum.
P.S. – I am off to Nuevo Vallarta on a tennis holiday in November – check it out – last year was a blast, this year promises to be more of the same.
P.P.S – I am soon to release a new product mix – “The 5 Keys” – simplified lessons, direct, to the point, and priced below market, actually priced well below market – stay tuned for the details on the 5 keys to