Monthly Archives: June 2012

Martina Navratilova Presented Official Hall of Fame Ring on Tennis Channel

A true legend of the sport, Navratilova was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2000. The one-of-a-kind rings are being presented to Hall of Famers at tennis events around the world, in honor of their great achievements in the sport and as an official commemoration of their Hall of Fame induction.

NEWPORT, R.I., June 29, 2012 – Having captured 59 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, the great Martina Navratilova truly earned her place as one of the most impressive and important figures in women’s tennis. She won a title at Wimbledon 20 times, a record shared with Billie Jean King, and she is one of just three women to have achieved a Grand Slam boxed set– meaning she won all four majors in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. Today, Navratilova serves as a tennis commentator for Tennis Channel and she remains one of the most highly regarded and respected authorities on the sport. In recognition of all of her achievements, in the year 2000, Navratilova was presented the highest honor in tennis– induction to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Today, this important achievement was celebrated once again, when Navratilova was presented her official Hall of Fame ring. The presentation, which was a surprise for Navratilova, was done in the Tennis Channel’s Wimbledon broadcast booth, and it will air tonight on Wimbledon Primetime. The ring was presented by Hall of Fame Chairman Christopher Clouser, who had some help from a special guest, Navratilova’s good friend and a fellow Hall of Famer, Chris Evert. Also participating in the presentation was Tennis Channel’s Bill Macatee who works alongside Navratilova on the network.

 “Martina Navratilova is one of the most dedicated women in tennis. She is an inspiration to so many, and is truly a legend of our sport,” said Clouser. “Today, we are pleased to be able to recognize her achievements with this special ring, which only the most successful individuals in tennis will have the honor of wearing. We extend our appreciation to Tennis Channel for supporting this well-deserved recognition.”

Martina Navratilova Hall of Fame ring
Tennis Channel’s Bill Macatee, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, ITHF Chairman Christopher Clouser.
Photo by Fred Mullane/camerawork usa

 

 Navratilova’s extraordinary tennis career spanned three decades. She won her first professional title in 1975 and her last in 2006, accumulating 167 singles titles and 177 doubles titles over the years-more than any other woman in the Open Era. Navratilova won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 major doubles titles (an all-time record), and 10 major mixed doubles titles. Her success at Wimbledon was unmatched, as she reached the Wimbledon singles final 12 times, including nine consecutive years from 1982 through 1990, and won the women’s singles title at Wimbledon a record nine times, in addition to winning seven doubles titles and four mixed doubles titles. In 1984, Navratilova partnered with Pam Shriver for a Grand Slam, winning all four majors in doubles. In addition she won the season ending WTA Tour Championships a record 8 times. Since retiring, Navratilova become a commentator for Tennis Channel and is a staple of their on-air team. She is also a national spokesperson and the Health and Fitness Ambassador for AARP.

The Hall of Fame rings were introduced last year and are being presented to Hall of Famers at tennis events around the world over the next few years as a special symbol of their induction. Hall of Fame ring ceremonies have been hosted recently at La Grande Nuit de Tennis at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, where Frankie Durr, Ilie Nastase, Nicola Pietrangeli, and Gianni Clerici were honored, the SAP Open in San Jose, where Stan Smith received his ring, and at the Copa Claro tournament in Buenos Aires, where Gabriela Sabatini was presented her ring. The ring presentations have offered a platform for tennis fans to re-connect with some of the greatest champions of the sport at venues and events that have significant meaning to the Hall of Famers and their fans.

 The personalized rings bear a green stone set in gold, to complement the Hall of Fame’s brand colors. In addition, the rings are etched with each honoree’s name and the Hall of Fame logo crest. The rings have been generously underwritten by The Bruce T. Halle Family of Scottsdale, Arizona.

 Since 1955, 220 of the greatest champions and contributors to the sport have been inducted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Presently, there are 84 Hall of Famers living in 16 different countries, a testament to the global reach of the game. Located in Newport, Rhode Island, the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum is a non-profit institution dedicated to preserving the history of tennis and honoring the game’s greatest heroes. In addition, the Hall of Fame provides a landmark for tennis enthusiasts, offering an extensive museum that chronicles the history of the sport and its stars, historic grass tennis courts that date back to 1880 and are open to the public, an ATP World Tour tournament and the annual Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in July, and numerous public events year-round. To learn more, visit tennisfame.com. 

 Posted by Steven White, Author of Bring Your Racquet http://www.amazon.com/dp/1933794240

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Sock Awarded Newport Wild Card

NEWPORT, R.I. — Jack Sock, one of America’s most exciting rising tennis stars, has been awarded a wild card to play in the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships, to be hosted July 9 – 15, 2012 on the grass courts of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. At just 19 years old and having competed in only four prior ATP World Tour events, Sock has already caught the attention of the tennis world, and has a major title to his name. In 2011, Sock partnered with fellow American Melanie Oudin to win the US Open mixed doubles title, upsetting veterans and past Grand Slam champions along the way. That same year, he won the USTA Boys’ 18s title and was awarded a wild card into the US Open, where he defeated then No. 97 Marc Gicquel in the first round.

“We have a very strong group of players headed for Newport in just a few short weeks – John Isner, Kei Nishikori, The Bryans, and many more, and it will be great to see one of America’s most exciting young talents in the mix with that field,” said Tournament Director Mark Stenning. “We look forward to welcoming Jack to Newport for his debut on the Hall of Fame grass courts.”

Sock had a strong start to this season, winning a Futures title in Florida in January, and following it up by advancing to the semifinals of another Futures event the following week. Since competing in his first ATP World Tour event at Miami in 2011, Sock has jumped more than 250 spots in the ATP World Tour South African Airways rankings.

A talented and successful junior player, Sock won the US Open boys’ singles title in 2010, and then captured 18 USTA National titles in 2010 and 2011. A Nebraska native, Sock graduated from Blue Valley North High School in Kansas in May 2011. He compiled an 80-0 recorded during his high school career and won four consecutive state championships.

jack-sock.jpg

This will be Sock’s first appearance in Newport, which is the only tournament on grass courts in North or South America, and offers the only opportunity to see men’s pro tennis in the Northeast before the US Open. In addition to Sock, players slated to compete in Newport include the tournament’s defending champion John Isner, currently ranked world No. 10; the record-setting doubles team of Bob & Mike Bryan, who have 11-time Grand Slam titles to their names; Japan’s No. 1 Kei Nishikori who is currently ranked world No. 20; and world No. 22 Milos Raonic, the No. 1 ranked Canadian player.

For additional information and to order tickets, please call the Tournament Office at 401-849-6053 or visit tennisfame.com.

 

Posted by Steven White, Author of Bring Your Racquet http://www.amazon.com/dp/1933794240

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Why is Sara Errani so tuff to beat?

Former champions don’t always make good prognosticators, as Steffi Graf, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova proved when they predicted Serena Williams would win the French Open. The legendary trio was no doubt surprised, perhaps even embarrassed, when 13-time Grand Slam champ Serena was upset by No. 111-ranked Virginie Razzano in the first round. These experts, along with virtually everyone else, also overlooked Sara Errani as a contender—despite her making the Australian Open quarterfinals and then winning three clay-court tournaments (Acapulco, Barcelona and Budapest) this spring.

It wasn’t the first time the 5′ 4 ½” Italian has been disregarded. After winning only her second WTA title at Potoroz in 2008, her sixth year as a pro, Errani said, “… I want to dedicate this victory to all the Italians that never believed in me as a tennis player, and always said I would never go anywhere.”

In an era of “Big Babe Tennis,” where six-footers like Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka and musclewomen Williams and Samantha Stosur crush the ball, Errani plays “small ball.” So small in fact, that entering the French Open she suffered a completely futile 0-28 career record against top-10 opponents.

All that changed on the salmon-hued Roland Garros clay. Our modern-day David slew not one but four Goliaths—former French champions Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 10 Angelique Kerber and No. 6 Stosur. In the final, Errani could not defuse the unrelenting power of Sharapova, who blasted 37 winners, and succumbed 6-3, 6-2. Her breakthrough tournament in Paris catapulted her to No. 10 in the singles rankings, making her the only player—male or female—to rank in the top 10 in singles and doubles simultaneously.

Not surprisingly, the tennis player Errani admires most is David Ferrer, another undersized, tenacious counterpuncher. Her style, however, is more clever and nuanced. After Errani upset Stosur 7-5, 1-6, 6-3, ESPN analyst Darren Cahill noted: “You have to beat her. She doesn’t beat herself. She’s the Rubik’s Cube of the women’s game at the moment.”

What Makes Sara Errani So Effective?

Sports writer Paul Fein has listed the reasons why. Here they are…

Shot Selection — Errani rarely overhits or underhits. She plays “percentage tennis” as well as any short player since 5’2” giant-killer Amanda Coetzer in the 1990s. That keeps her unforced errors way down. She committed only 11 versus Sharapova’s 29, 21 versus Stosur’s 48, 17 versus Kuznetsova’s 38, and 14 versus Kerber’s 25.

Advantage Topspin — Errani, like Coetzer, understands that topspin is a must for the short player who hits a lot of medium-speed shots. Topspin provides safe net clearance and works well with gravity to keep her shots from flying beyond the baseline or into the alleys. Whenever Errani doesn’t have a clear opening on passing shots, she stymies volleyers with topspin shots that dip sharply at their feet.  

Her lightweight serve, while vulnerable, has overspin to give it a decent kick and reduce her double faults (only 3 in the last three rounds). It also ensured she had an extremely high first-serve percentage (68% against Kuznetsova, 82% against Kerber, 86% against Stosur and 79% against Sharapova) which minimized the number of her weak, attackable second serves. That proved crucial against Stosur who won 11 of 13 points started by Errani’s second serve that averaged only 110 kmh (68 mph).

Fast Feet — “Errani has quick feet and a quick mind,” noted NBC analyst Mary Carillo. Whether it’s returning serve or exchanging groundstrokes, Errani’s feet are in perpetual motion, a la superstar Steffi Graf. That enables her to react with quickness, agility and balance, which is imperative against today’s power players. Light feet also make it easier to take the small steps necessary to align her body properly to hit the ball, and improvise even on wind-blown shots and bad bounces.

Where did Errani get her fancy footwork? She played football (soccer) as a kid. When the Women’s Tennis Association challenged players to display their football skills, she impressively produced 208 straight touches before the ball hit the ground.

Perfect Position — Unlike some counterpunchers and retrievers, Errani positions herself close to the baseline on serve returns and throughout rallies. She blocks big first serves with short backswings, and contacts kick serves before they bounce high and away from her. And like Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki, she manages to absorb powerful groundstrokes simply by meeting the ball on the rise and returning it deep. By holding her ground, Errani can also construct points with two- and three-shot combinations, usually with deep crosscourt shots that create openings for her aggressive forehand.

Smart Tactics — Errani changes pace to disrupt her opponent’s timing. Stosur, in particular, erred by swinging too early when Errani slowed her shots or too late when Errani surprised her with more power. On match point, Errani attacked with a forehand and then belted a forehand winner. Her drop shots also kept opponents off balance.

Stosur has the weakest backhand among top 10 players. To exploit it, Errani explained, “I tried to move her to hit to her forehand and then hit to her backhand.” The only flaw in her strategy was not slicing backhands enough against the 6’2” Sharapova, who uses little topspin and might have had problems dealing with the low bounces.

Right Racket — To get out of the contract for a Wilson racket she no longer liked, Errani took the highly unusual step of paying the company $30,000. She then switched to a longer (27.5”) Babolat Pure Drive + racket to increase the power of her shots. “My arms wouldn’t get longer, so I got a longer racket,” she joked. Errani partly credits the new racket for her breakthrough season, pointing out that it’s added 10 kph (6.2 mph) to her serving speed.

The vast majority of tennis players strangely use 27”-long rackets, despite significant differences in their height, reach, strength, strings and playing styles. How ironic that a small player switches to a longer racket when bigger, stronger players should do that, just as they generally use bigger and heavier implements in other sports.

Mental Game — Errani revealed she’s learned to relax and now sleeps well before big matches. She also said she “had tension” against Stosur, especially in the last game, but she controlled her nerves. In fact, she grabbed 12 of the last 15 points of the match.

After Stosur overpowered her in the 6-1 second set, Errani kept her poise and never gave up. As Carillo said, “She’s a ferocious competitor.” She demonstrated her ability to handle pressure by helping Italy win the Fed Cup in 2009 and 2010, and she racked up a 6-4 singles and 6-2 doubles Cup record during 2008-2012.

Doubles Assets — Errani has blossomed in doubles this year, too, winning six of her career 14 doubles titles, including the French Open, while gaining the Australian Open and Miami finals, all with Roberta Vinci. She smartly transferred some of those doubles skills and tactics to her singles game.

Much like compatriot Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 champion and 2011 runner-up at Roland Garros, Errani capitalized on her aggressive approach shots and strong volleys. She won 56% (5 of 9) of her net approaches against Kuznetsova, 65% (15 of 23) against Kerber, 71% (12 of 17) against Stosur and 60% (6 of 10) against Sharapova. When Errani lofted a beautiful lob over Sharapova early in the second set, she instinctively sprinted to net where she put away an overhead. As Carillo pointed out when Sharapova led 6-3, 2-0, “Errani’s best shot is to challenge Sharapova with doubles tactics, but it’s so tough to do that against so much pace.”

Errani has yet another reason to continue playing doubles. “Playing doubles makes me better prepared for singles, physically,” she explains. Like 1980s superstar John McEnroe, she’d rather win major titles and lucrative prize money in doubles than endure sometimes tedious practice sessions for singles. It’s a winning formula for her fitness, too. McEnroe, an NBC analyst, said, “She’s a roadrunner. She’s obviously very fit. Look at those legs.”

Whether this fast roadrunner with the slowest serve in the top 100 can go any higher is uncertain. What is certain is that Sara Errani will never be underestimated again.

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Is “Racquet Back!” Still Relevant?

TennisOne’s Joe Dinoffer says that the one-time joke on tennis pros used to be, “Racquet back, bend your knees, that’ll be twenty dollars please.” And I’m inclined to agree. At least in the old days, this was more or less the standard of teaching tennis. After all, it worked quite well for millions of players in the 1960s and ’70s, didn’t it?

Chris Evert in the classic takeback position.

The “old school” recommended a swing pattern for groundstrokes that was simple and easy to understand: Use your hitting arm to take your racquet straight back as quickly as possible to the back fence and then follow through by finishing with the racquet tip pointing at the opposite fence. Boy, a lot has changed in the last quarter of a century.

I’m often asked whether the racquet back position still takes place in today’s game, only faster?

 

Well, not exactly. For efficient and powerful hitting in today’s game, a very different swing pattern has evolved. Nowadays, players only take a quick partial turn of the shoulders and hips to allow them to move quickly to the ball. This is commonly called the “unit turn.”

Still, they say, doesn’t the racquet eventually have to be taken all the way back and paused before swinging at the ball?

Yes and No. Yes, the racquet takes a full backswing. No, it does not pause in the full backswing position. From the partial turn and set-up, better players today perform one fluid and explosive motion through contact and continue with an extended follow through. Note that the racquet does not pause between the initial shoulder turn and partial take back of the racquet all the way through the complete swing follow through. 

And the days of the back fence to front fence swing is a thing of the past. The length of the swing of the tip of the racquet is actually three times longer than in “old school” tennis. The modern player now starts with the racquet tip pointing forwards, then loops it back, drops it in a somewhat circular path under the ball to create the “brush up” needed for topspin, and finally finishes with the tip pointing at the player’s own back fence or even further, not across the net.

This increased relaxation and swing length maximizes racquet head speed. The opposite would be a short swing and tight grip – more or less like driving a car with the emergency brake on.

Of course there are other contributing forces at work. Angular or rotational forces are generated from the circular motion of the swing, and ground or linear forces are created by bending the knees to load energy and then thrusting smoothly upwards with the hit. On top of all that, the shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints should be relaxed to create a controlled but whip-like swing that extends forwards through the area of contact as well as around in a circle.

Furthermore, squeezing the grip as tight as possible is not a very efficient way to generate power nor is overall strength a necessity (although if used efficiently it could be a contributing factor).

Surprisingly enough, there are many 8-year-old girls hitting harder than some 250-pound recreational male players! Simply put, relaxation increases fluidity. And the more fluid your swing is, the more potential you have for your racquet head to accelerate and hit powerful shots. This concept holds true for many other sports as well. Relaxed and fluid motions that are also quick are needed to properly throw a baseball or football, as well as swing a golf club.

So just how relaxed should the grip actually be?

As relaxed as possible. Just keep two criteria in mind. First, you obviously don’t want to be so loose that you literally throw the racquet over the net when you hit the ball. And, second, you eventually need to be consistent. Most coaches who look at long-term skill development will say relax first, and with patient repetition, ball control and consistency will follow. The overall idea is that in order to hit as efficiently and effectively as possible, relaxation and fluidity are essential.

 

Posted by Steven White, Author of “Bring Your Racquet” http://www.amazon.com/dp/1933794240

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