BEST TENNIS GEAR
Welcome to BestTennisGear, a site dedicated for tennis lovers and players. BestTennisGear is a blend of a tennis shop and a tennis blog. It is for all “tennis buddies”, young and old, to drop in and discover what we have, not only about tennis, but more!
Tennis has a long history. The first organized tennis tournament on record, was held in Britain by the All England Croquet Club at Wimbledon in 1874. The game then spread to the US, and the first US National Championship was organized at Newport in 1881. You can read more about the history of the game here and here. Tennis had progressed since then. The types of tennis equipment used and rule for tennis had evolved too. Today, we see tennis matches played on clay, grass and hard-court surfaces. We can also see technological advancement in the design of tennis rackets, tennis shoes and tennis accessories.
As a tennis player myself, I can talk a little bit about the “chemistry” of the game. I started rather late, in college. In high school, I saw the game played by “old people in white” on a few clay courts. In fact, the courts were just beside my classroom! However, I wasn’t interested at all because of the perception I had about tennis at that time; tennis is for old people. In my country, tennis is played, but it was not as openly accepted, followed and famous as soccer, field hockey and badminton. I was in one of the oldest school in my country and we shined in many games, won state and national titles in a few well-known sports. However, I didn’t really hear much about our school shining in tennis. I may have overlooked tennis because I didn’t follow it that much. So, much of my teenage life was away from tennis. I shine in many other sports. I played soccer for my state under-12, played soccer, field hockey and sepak takraw for my under-15 school team.
What was my other perception? Tennis looked difficult to me. I remembered holding my brother-in-law’s wooden Slazenger racket. It was heavy for my teenage arms. I also looked at the big, clay tennis court in school and told myself; how could I cover this big area with that heavy racket in my hand? Basically, it was a no-go for tennis at that time. In fact, I did not have any friend playing tennis and no one had ever invited me to try the game. I sort of regret it now. I could have shine in tennis too.
A few years later, I found myself in a foreign land. I went for my studies. I was housed in a dormitory, called international house. From my room’s window, the first prominent things I saw was two tennis courts. I later found out that it was a clay tennis court. Earlier it was all white snow over it. I could only see the green fence and two net poles. Other buildings outside from my window view was a middle-school, a school field and a basketball court. However, when the snow faded off and spring comes, the white lines over brown clay became one “interesting” view to me. I somehow became attracted to it although it was the same clay and there too, I saw “old people in white” playing it! In the open school field kids with strange-looking, huge leather gloves throwing and catching baseball balls. I quickly realised that I was in an American-influenced country. They were driving on the “wrong side” of the road, played baseball, basketball and yes, tennis. I was no more in a soccer, badminton and cricket land!
My first few months there was classes and when back in the room, that view of a beautiful clay tennis courts! In the dormitory, I used to see one of my country man, also a student, always in shorts, a collar t-shirt, a pair of tennis shoes and a tennis racket bag. He seemed to be a friendly, jolly guy compared to his peers. Later, we became friends and he started talking about the fun playing tennis. I started visiting his room and again, he will talk about tennis.
One day, he invited me for some tennis strokes. I came with a sports track trousers, a round-neck T-shirt and I think, a New Balance jogging shoes. I walked onto the clay court with that jogging shoes. He showed me how some strokes were executed. I heard the term stroke, forehand, backhand, serve, volley and lob. He showed me the way those shots were executed by his moves, without any ball. Later he asked me to try hit some shots from the baseline, facing him on the other side of the net. It was awkward. I could feel that the racket was quite heavy. I barely managed to return more than two balls in the drill. It was hard. From that day, I started to come down to the clay court, sometime hitting a few shots and most times, watching some “old people in white” playing it. Once in a while I got to see some fast games with powerful strokes executed when one student from the dorm came down to play with my friendly country man. I began to like what I saw and slowly, I became interested.
After a few weeks. in spring, I told him about my intent to buy a racket. He accompanied me to a huge sports shop, in one huge baseball stadium complex. The shop was predominantly selling baseball and skiing equipment, and quite a big portion for tennis. I ended up buying a Rossignol tennis racket. At that time, Mats Wilander was one of the top players and he uses Rossignol. I was a bit brand conscious then. He didn’t say much, but commented that as long as the racket body is carbon, it will be fine. Later, he asked me to buy a pair of tennis shoes. He reminded me, nicely, to buy a proper tennis shoes, not jogging shoes. He said, just ask the shop owner for a pair of tennis shoes. In the shop, I learned a few specifications of the right pair of tennis shoes, one which I still recalled, shoes with flat sole. I ended up with a pair of Ellesse tennis shoe. Ellesse was used by a few professionals then. I also bought a pair of Nike tennis shorts complete with a pair of Nike track suit. At that time, although I was new, it felt extremely good to finally have a set of tennis gear! In short, my tennis apparel is awesome. It felt good!
TENNIS BASIC STROKES
I finally became attached to tennis and started visitIng our college courts regularly. In the college tennis club, there are three, well-maintained clay courts and many good players. It is a different set of environment and players from that court near my dormitory.
After a few days getting to know the members there, I got to know two good players. I asked them to teach me and they were kind enough to guide me. In the club room, posters of Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander filled the wall. I was taught the very basics. One of it was the term “eyes on the ball”. He gave me a tennis ball and asked me to throw it towards the wall and as it bounced back, to catch it. He asked me to practise that tennis drill. I did that at the club and also, at home. After a few days, the concept was firmly instilled into my mind. Now, I know how important that “eyes on the ball” concept is. I have written a bit about it here. One of the other “drill” I went through was levelling or sweeping the court. In fact, I didn’t hit any ball in court for the first few days. At that time, I personally knew where my level of play was. So, I have to abide by the coach’s basic drills.
I finally stepped onto the court after sweeping it and helped draw the lines. I was with the coach, standing at the baseline. He orientated me around the court, showing me where I should stand while serving, how many feet behind the baseline I should be in tennis rallies and the “dead zone”, where I must not be. He described the size of the court, it’s length, width, even the height of the net. I was beginning to feel the size of the court, which wasn’t that big to cover. He gave me another term, “shuffle your feet” to the left and right and always back to the centre, behind the baseline. After the court orientation, I became a ball-picker and was asked to be an umpire. I assumed, at that time, that it was part of the phases in tennis training. It was good for me. At least, I learned a few etiquette and rules of tennis. I was always hoping to hit a few balls correctly like them and play powerful, fast games. I began to think tennis, talk tennis and sleep tennis. It was fun and a new exciting world for me.
I started the on-court tennis training after he imparted one of the most important drills, the one-two-three-four tennis stroke sequence. What is this training about? It is about our stance in executing a tennis stroke.
The first stance is the ready stance. In this stance, our feet are slightly apart, knees bend, all load on the front side of the feet, body slightly bend forward with the eyes a bit around the level of the net. In this stance, the racket is held in front of the body with the dominant hand, aided by the secondary hand. This is a ready position, with eyes on the ball and the potential to move in any direction, by shuffling or taking big steps forward. In short, this stance is the ready-to-pounce position.
The second stance is the movement while opening up the racket. This stance required the anticipation of where the ball bounce, moving into the ball, and adjusting the hitting target or the point where the contact between the ball and the sweet spot of the racket takes place. In this stance, the racket is swing backwards, with shoulder turned to be in line with the incoming ball and the secondary arm stretched forward, pointing at the ball. In this stance, the eyes must be on the ball too!
The third stance is the downward swing of the racket head from the position behind the body, down to the point of contact with the ball, after the ball bounces. This downward swing can happen in a stationary position, while shuffling the feet or running towards the ball. The point of impact is utmost important in this stance. During the swing down, the whole body is turned, in the same flow and direction of the racket. It is the proper turning of the body behind the swing and the full swing of the arm, that determine the power of the stroke. In this position, the eyes are totally focused on the projectile of the ball so as to decide where and when to place the front feet in sync with the downward swing of the racket head, towards the point of contact.
The fourth stance is the follow through of the stroke after the point of contact. In tennis, it is called a stroke, not a hit because the full loop of the swing is the whole process and the point of contact is part of the stroke. A carefully executed follow through will determine the power and accuracy of the shot taken.
In the whole game of tennis, these four stances are repeated again and again throughout. It can be a forehand or backhand, the sequence is the same – ready, open the racket, down swing and into the ball and follow through. Once in a while, volleys are executed. A volley is a stroke that is executed before the ball bounces and usually done in an attacking position, moving forward towards the net. In volleys, the back swing is a bit short and the hit is more like a stop or a block against the flight of the ball. Another type of stroke is a lob. A lob is a simple hit above and over an approaching player, usually as a defensive action when pressed deep in the court or when a player is in an awkward position to execute a passing shot.
So far, I have been writing more towards a basic visualization of the game, not all of the required physical drills one has to undergo in a proper coaching session. I know not everyone is privileged enough to be sent to a professional coaching school for a certain duration which costs a lot of money. In some places, there may not even be a professional coach in a hundred kilometre. So, one have to make do with what is available, or like in my case, just learn from friends. When we learn the game correctly, we will progress correctly and get to enjoy the game.
Tennis is a gracious and technical game. In a way, we move graciously along the baseline by shuffling our feet and every shot is technically challenging to execute. It is difficult to execute because there are many factors involved like the speed of the ball, the spin of the ball, the trajectory of the ball, the height of the point of contact and the position of the player in the court. Also, all these factors changed at every single shot taken and in a game, these actions have to be done repeatedly, consistently with accuracy.
Tennis is indeed a gracious and technical game, but once we got to play it correctly, it becomes a beautiful sport to enjoy. So, here in BestTennisGear, that is what we want you to do – enjoy tennis!