Tennis June 1988 (abridged)
Golden Lessons That Helped Me Win the Grand Slam
“At the end of my off season winter work in January and February 1937, my coach, Tom Stow, said to me, “Don, you are the best player in the world. go out and prove that I am right.”
I began working with Stow in the fall of 1934 at the Claremont Country Club in Berkeley. What was so great about him was that he’d tell you what you were doing wrong in a way that would make you laugh, then he would go to work.
I would like to share the following fundamental stroking concepts we followed.
Backhand – be sure you follow thru. Prepare a little below the level of the ball and hit up and through it. You must follow through for a penetrating shot. Like a good handshake it must be firm but moderate.
Forehand – turn your shoulders to prepare. Many teachers say get your racquet back but Stow said, “Turn your shoulders.” When you turn your shoulders you are in a better position to step forward into the shot which gets all your weight moving into the ball.
Serve – keep your weight back for power. Stow and I admired the serve of Ellsworth Vines, the powerful 1932 Wimbledon champion. Vines would toss the ball up and hold his weight back until he began his forward swing. Pitchers use a thrusting motion off their back leg. Do not shift your weight forward as you toss the ball, hold it back until the toss reaches its apex.
Return of serve – watch the ball not the opponent. Focus on the ball to improve your anticipation and your return.
Ground Strokes – learn to hit on the rise. In January 1937 I umpired a pro match between Vines and Perry. Vines played 6 feet behind the baseline, Perry was one foot behind the baseline but playing those same balls on the rise. When I returned to California Stow and I began working on taking the ball on the rise. If you hit with a perpendicular racquet face the ball will fly up out of control. By closing the racquet face slightly when you hit on the rise you can control the return better. If you learn to hit on the rise, you will be able to play farther forward in the court which will give you more opportunities to get into the net.
Volley – use your racquet to stop the ball. Stow explained, “Don, get your racquet in the way of the ball, do not take a backswing. Get the racquet in the way of the ball in front of your body, but not way out in front. Directional control is more important than power,
Overhead – shorten your swing and keep your eyes up. I took half a backswing, early waiting for the ball. You must turn sideways, for you cannot hit the ball with any power when facing the net. Finally, watch the ball until after contact, otherwise you will mishit, keep your eyes on the contact spot well into your follow through.