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Tennis Strategy #38 Speed Kills, A Second Draft

Speed kills. ~ Conventional Wisdom

It has been said by a wise old tennis pro, C players hit slow, B players hit fast, A players hit fast and slow. There is an almost universal fascination with the fastest shots. Everyone wants to be there when the fastest shot is hit, it’s a wonder to behold. Trust me when I say I’m fascinated by all the factors that must line up for the creation of James Blake’s 122 MPH Forehand, which was a one time thing. The limitations the court dimensions don’t allow for groundstrokes that fast. It doesn’t matter how fast the shot was, if it was out.

It's Not A Speed Or Beauty Contest

When it comes to winning points, there are two very important considerations to keep in mind. One is technical, one is philosophical. Some people would rather be the player with the best looking strokes, and the fastest shots. Other people don’t mind if their strokes lack aesthetics, and they don’t hit particularly hard as long as they win. This book is for the other people, and maybe to give some people something to think about so they can win more matches.

Fads, Topic Of The Month

Of course, better technique can create better efficiency, of shot, but not for the sake of being seen as a skilled player. Technique is only useful when they construct skills that allow a player to use tactics, that are part of a cohesive strategy. But racquet head speed is one of those teaching fads that comes through the game now and then. Don’t get swept away. The technical component that you want to foster is to use clean, efficient contact with the ball. Greater efficiency will allow you to have more options of how and where to hit the ball.

Control Wins

This leads us to the philosophical element, that you should value control over absolute power, even if you are a power player. I was having a great conversation with my my friend and sometimes co-author Chuck Tomlin, who said that 80% of the matches he sees are won by the player who hits the ball more slowly. At first I found that surprising, but let’s break it down. Chuck didn’t have hard data, and neither do I, but the more I watch the game the more I observe this as true. When we say the player who hits the ball more slowly, what we mean is that the average shot speed they hit throughout the match is lower by a few miles per hour. There could be a few reasons for this. I have sat with Chuck, watching matches and seeing post match data, and sure enough most winning players were on average playing the ball 1 to 2 MPH slower. Among the 20% of players who win matches while hitting harder, the power player will be winning a lot of those. So consider this, if you play one of the other four styles other than power style, then most likely you will be hitting more slowly than your opponent, and more accurately.

What explains this notion of slower shots win?

The hardest hit shots in a match or more likely to be outside the court, thus driving up that player’s average miles per hour, but losing them points.

A well placed serve at 110 MPH, out of reach, or hard for the opponent to reach, is much better than one hit to a place within easy reach of the opponent at 120 MPH.

Better placement of slower shots have a better effect at creating an advantage, than faster shots that increase the amount of errors made.

Lobs, drop shots, and low slices can be among the slowest shots in the game, they can be very effective, and drive down a player’s average MPH per shot. Players who exhibit great touch have an added dimension to their game.

The Power Player has built their game around ball speed, so when they win, it’s generally because they are hitting the ball harder than their opponent. This is the exception, but they will also need to keep the ball in the court to succeed.

When you play a disruptive style, very few of your shots will be hit at full speed. The create of spin takes away from absolute pace of shots. you create a larger variance of all your ball speeds. This can help destroy the timing of your opponent, when the ball arrives at widely differing times, while also lowering the mean speed of shot.

Learn Efficient Strokes

I strongly recommend learning from Jack Broudy, as he provides a technical foundation that I don’t discuss much, because I don’t like to reinvent the wheel. Here is a link to his online school for technique. I have been using his model as the ideal for efficient stroking for years, and while I have my own ideas, and ways to make corrections, the core techniques I teach emanate from Jack’s work.

Jack Broudy System Of Technique

I have been a fan of Jack’s since the mid 1990’s and was one of the early adopters of the 8-Board. I have used Jack’s online training as staff development in the years that I was a director of tennis. All of my first tennis lessons with new students introduce the key concepts Jack taught me, and people learn to play amazingly fast.


SpecTennis - A Much More Tennis Like Alternative to Pickleball Played On Tennis or Pickleball Courts


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