Winning Tennis Strokes is a short guidebook to tennis techniques and a splendid general introduction to tennis strokes. With this book, Bill Longua, a veteran tennis instructor and USPTA pro, has produced a concise guide to learning the fundamentals of the game.
As Longua explains in his foreword, this book is intended for players who range from beginners to NTRP 4.0. Unlike some other tennis books reviewed in this space, there are no admissions of drug use or high-level strategic concerns in Winning Tennis Strokes.
What you get instead is basic instruction with a non-bossy tilt. Loop backswing on groundstrokes or straight-back? Eastern, Western or Continental Grips? One-handed backhand volleys or two-handed backhand volleys for players with a two-handed backhand groundstroke? Longua says players learning the game can take their pick from these options. Fair enough.
The book also includes some practice tips for players just learning the game which, while basic, will be useful. He says beginners should bring as many balls as possible to the court so they don't have to spend so much time picking them up. This is a good point.
You could also use this concern as a reason as to why beginners should take lessons, because with a pro and a hopper in use across the net, the student can make the most of their court time. Longua does caution readers of his book that before they show up at the courts with a shopping cart full of practice balls, they should make sure there are not many players on adjacent courts.
At the East River Park courts in Manhattan where I play, there is a sign that says you can only bring six balls on the court. Most people interpret this to mean you can only have six balls per court, but it could just as well mean there can only be six balls in use at any one time on all 12 courts. This would make Longua's advice hard to put into practice.
Longua is an advocate of the "watch the ball onto the strings" theory of tennis. There are other theories about this, even if nobody says to not watch the ball. Some pros say that watching the ball is overrated advice. In any case, Longua is a traditionalist on this topic.
A topic that Longua does tackle, sort of, is the open stance/closed stance debate. He takes a compromise position on this. Players should start off with what he calls the traditional forehand, turn, step, hit (closed stance) and when they graduate to an intermediate level, may switch to The Modern forehand, load, explode, land (open stance).
The author says, "I recommend that players using the closed stance learn to hit in an open stance when pulled to the corner for a forehand."
Oddly, he doesn't define closed versus open, so let me say that a closed stance for a righty's forehand means the left (front) foot is out in front and further to the right than the back foot. Open stance means hitting off the left or back foot without the body having fully turned sideways to the net. Because I learned the game in the era of white balls, wood racquets and long pants, I believe the closed stance is the morally superior way to address the ball. But I do agree with Longua's general approach, which is that players should have some flexibility as they learn the strokes.
In his section on serving, Longua identifies three kinds of serves: Flat, spin and slice. This is a little weird since a slice serve is a spin serve. What he calls a "spin" serve must be what the rest of the tennis world considers a "kick" or an "American Twist." But no harm, no foul.
In the section on lobs, Longua says, "Many players feel the lob is a cowardly shot and an easy way out of a difficult predicament."
This may be true of inexperienced players, but I recently attended an exhibition match in which three of the four players had ATP points on their resumes and the one player who didn't used the lob volley to great effect. For beginners and intermediates, this compact book will be a good companion to take to the courts with you.