The sport of tennis has evolved. The days of pure serve-and-volleyers, or pure baseliners, are diminishing. However, tennis players are thinking differently and have become all-court players—executing a variety of strokes in any given match regardless of the surface. It is rare to see players of late to just be pure serve-and-volleyers or just baseliners. They have combined the best of all styles and have branded it as one style, or as I would call it, a concept.
Roger Federer, to name one, pioneered and executed to his advantage, this “all-court” style or concept. Prior to Federer, Pistol Pete Sampras was the king with his one-dimensional, serve-and-volley—mowing down great defenders of baseline like Andre Agassi and Jim Courier just to name a few (no pun intended). Federer was not only able to play the net, but he was also able to stand back behind the baseline and trade strokes. Barring physical impediments, styles can be matched and counter-matched to the best ability of the player to his/her advantage against an opponent.
As a director of tennis for New York Tennis Club (NYTC), I prefer to teach my players the best of the strokes—almost all the strokes in the business—whether they be a slice or a drop shot or a lob—because most players these days are deprived of learning strokes that make a difference in their game, hence their overall playability of the game itself.
Making sure the player can execute a variety of strokes—at any given moment of the match—has been a key to the recent successes of Federer or Rafael Nadal, or even very recently, Novak Djokovic, and on the women’s side, Kim Clijsters, Francesca Schiavone and Li Na. Nadal has been a pure counter-puncher, or grinder for most of his career, but you have seen him closing the net more and more in recent matches, a style that has given a break to his hard-hitting, long-sustaining rallies, which, in turn, has opened the dimension of his tennis style.
This lands us to the case in point of the concept “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”
We have all played “Rock, Paper, Scissors” at one point or another in our life. It is a simple, yet a never-ending game with kids—a (conceptual) game that can be related to the game styles in tennis. Picture “Rock:” hard, rough, tough to break and the first thing that should flash in your head would be a player who can be a grinder or a tremendous counter-puncher who can hit an extra ball than you can to win the point. Secondly, take “Paper” and imagine paper as covering something, as in our case, covering the court, which brings us to the style of an all-court player, someone who can play the net, but as well as make their mark behind the baseline. Still with me? Good! Finally, we have “Scissors,” a player representing an aggressive chip-and-charge, slice-and-dice, serve-and volleyer, in other words, someone whose “office” is the net.
Now, what (style) beats what (style)? Get the concept?
Very recently, Djokovic’s impressive undefeated streak has been attributed to his fitness, his focus, and to his travelling nutritionist who preaches a gluten-free diet, to name just a few. However, people tend to forget that Djokovic is a great, talented player, and his game style has always been paper.
More and more players, on either the pro tour or in sectional or national junior tournaments, are playing the paper style. Federer is the pioneer of this concept, but to teach players, take a step back from strokes and have them run wild with the concept. Because saying all-court and understanding the concept is hard, until you (teach and) play rock, paper, and scissors with your player! Enjoy!