A few years ago, I was recruiting at the Orange Bowl Tennis Tournament in Key Biscayne, Florida. Orange Bowl is arguably the premier junior event in the world and it is one of my favourite tournaments because you get to see future tennis stars as well as enjoy the beautiful island that is minutes away from Miami.
I remember watching this little kid playing on one of the outside courts. He had an effortless game and was smooth as silk. Sampras-like I thought and definitely a player I wanted to keep an eye on him in the years to come. I looked at the draw sheet and marked his name: Roger Federer. Little did I know I was watching perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time.
What makes Roger so special and what can we learn from watching him play? Besides the fact that he is a great athlete and an amazing talent, what separates him from the rest is his efficient stroke. He is technically sound and that is why he does not break down under extreme pressure. Roger keeps every thing as simple as possible and there are a few things we can incorporate in our game from watching the Federer Express.
1 Grip. Make sure you have the right grip. For forehand, start with an eastern grip and do not let it go past a semi-western grip. For backhand, switch to the eastern backhand grip with the help of the non-dominant hand. And for serves and overheads, use the continental grip. Proper grip gives you the ability to get the proper contact on the ball and a smooth follow through. Roger does not have extreme grips and that is why he is so successful on all surfaces.
2 Balance. Next time you watch Federer on tv watch how still his head is on all his strokes. Balance is very important in tennis and the minute your head bobbles, you lose control of the ball. Keep your body upright and think about balancing an egg on your head while you hit the ball.
3 Preparation. Turn your shoulder as soon as you know which side the ball is coming to instead of waiting for the bounce of the ball to turn. If you do that, it's too late. This tip is for all your strokes including the overhead.
4 Compact swing. Keep your swings circular and compact for ground strokes. (Letter C) For volleys, a shoulder turn is all you need for a back swing. A huge back swing means you are going to be late with your contact point and that leads to disaster.
5 Contact point. Keep the ball out in front of you at all times. As soon as the contact point is behind you, it will be difficult to direct the ball.
6 Stay Relaxed. Easy to say but hard to do. Be aware of your breathing pattern and make it a point to inhale and exhale during and between points. Having relaxed muscles will help you execute the way you want to. When you have adequate oxygen, you are going to be able to make the right decision quickly.
7 Proper Footwork. Stay on the balls of your feet and take smaller steps the closer you get to the bounce of the ball. You must have a split step (small hop) before you move towards the ball. This will help you react to the ball quicker and get you in a better position to hit the ball better.