Our Game is Played in a Box

Yes I am a tennis nut – and have played taught and studied the game for a long time

I am now believing that the single most misunderstood element of the game has to do with court position and shot selection.

Said more clearly, players have more options when moving forward and fewer options when playing from behind the baseline.

For sure Rafa has changed the nature of the game with uncanny athleticism and whipping topspin ……..

But the limits of that game are shown by Roger’s court position.

I believe one of the absolute best players ever was John McEnroe.  I know his career was shortened by Lendl’s power game – but to see him compete in his late 50’s against younger men who played the power game (meaning from behind the baseline) showed clearly to me how Mac understood the game was played from within the box!

When is your best opportunity to play “within the box”?

And what would be the consequence if this became your favorite shot?

This Box idea occurred to me reading the latest issue of STMS – the Society for Tennis Medicine and Science.  The academic articles written by sports scientists and orthopedic surgeons detail training issues, injury and more.  But rarely if ever a mention of court position and the consequence of playing style.

Enjoy the video of McEnroe moving forward.  This style may be out of favor at the moment but the advantages are timeless.

 

 

 

 

 

11 Comments

  • Dino Skeete

    Reply Reply September 1, 2019

    Look at Taylor Townsend at this year’s US Open. Taking the ball earlier and net rushing has always been an acceptable and often used strategy but will always be only one of many styles of play that a player can choose to use or not. Surely it’s the wins and not the style of play that makes a player great.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply September 1, 2019

      Dino – I agree about the styles of play, and there are many ways to win.
      Jim

  • Fio Marin

    Reply Reply September 1, 2019

    Our Tennis game unlike many other sports, never leaves us or puts us against the usual triple zero issue, in other words we do not ever run out of time, but we can run out of energy .
    I agree and support Jim’s outlook as it can lead to shorter rallies in its application, one also needs good reflexes , good skills picking the ball out of the air or near your feet , but that is adapting to like moving ,stopping , executing , recovering in the baseline to baseline game plan.
    We in the our coaching role either look at working with players to offer them the best option for what they bring to the sport , or we put them in the assembly line concept of doing what everyone else is working on but doing that because it’s what the flavour of the generation of tennis is at the moment, does need to be the only way!
    Limiting players to 2 & 1 patterns or shots alternating only if Balls come across the body or not , or responding only with variety of position off short Balls is a play it doesn’t need to be a restriction if so , then anyone can do it , product to the fans also becomes a drag!
    Some surfaces and their speed to the ball can designate the amount of use of any game plan , but one needs back up plays .
    Coaches can be leaders not just workers of the present way to prepare future stars. Fio Marin PTR coach,

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply September 1, 2019

      Fio – this dialogue will continue for years – as developing players takes many forms from many coaches. Federer has said the first coach makes the difference – and perhaps it is as simple as that.
      Once at a high performance coaches workshop the question was posed , “at what point do you teach the volley”?
      One of our leading academy instructors said – at about 16 years old as before that they are too young and small to win at the net. Another instructor, who had coached a junior to a Wimbledon doubles title said, “I teach the volley right from the beginning. Anything done later will be too late!”

  • Marek Sikora

    Reply Reply August 31, 2019

    agreed. a great example is Dustin Brown vs Nadal. Dustin made Rafa look like an amateur – not just because of the power returns, but because of Dustin’s approach to net. one stat on their wimbledon match saw rafa come to net once vs 50-60 times with 45 winners for Dustin. he has a 2-0 record against Rafa by using all the court. Rafa just didn’t get it and stayed at his usual place well behind teh base line – unable to compete aainst wonderful short and drop shots. My favourite game to watch and watch again.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply September 1, 2019

      Marek – Yes but still Rafa may break all the records for tennis from way behind the baseline – that said I believe his legs would feel better had he trained in a way to move forward more often and shorten points
      Jim

  • Michael Kelly

    Reply Reply August 31, 2019

    Miloslav Mecir was the master of tennis in a box.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply September 1, 2019

      Michael – thanks, Mecir captures entirely the concept of playing within the box – taking the ball early and truly not always with offensive intent. That style of player with a Federer/McEnroe/Sampras style serve would dominate the game
      best
      Jim

  • Jason Drake

    Reply Reply August 31, 2019

    I believe you are right. Simona Halep, a power hitter by most estimations and a product of the modern academies, was beaten by a younger, less ranked opponent, Taylor Townsend, who came to the net 100 times in their match and controlled the game within the box.

  • Eugene Ovalle

    Reply Reply August 31, 2019

    Jim:

    I am glad you are thinking this way, finally there is a coach that understands the game.

    There is no such thing as “old school.

    In tennis you have to use all the strokes in your toolbox.

    Always play north to south not east to west which by the way is the reason you are seeing so many injuries among baseline players.

    Look a Feliciano Lopez a serve and volleyer that has never had an injury in his 38 years of playing tennis.

    Bravo Jim

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply September 1, 2019

      Eugene – thanks for the note – we even have a 10 year old student using midcourt volleys, drop shots, can even serve and volley – somehow the game can be more fun this way – or at least it is for him
      Jim

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