The net has become a lost art in tennis, but I think that's about to change. I believe the next paradigm in tennis is the all-around attacking player. You are going to see the same type of power we see now, or even more power, but you are also going to see much more volleying in the next five years.
There is just a huge opportunity to play successful attacking tennis, especially in the women's game. And if that's true in pro tennis it's 50 times more true at the recreational level.
One of the mistakes we all make is dividing players into arbitrary categories according to so-called playing style. You are an aggressive baseliner, or you're a serve and volleyer, or you're something else.
The next generation of players will transcend these categories and do it all; players who can stand in and take the ball on the rise; players who have great variety with slice, drop shots and feel; and players who want to finish points at the net. It will be natural and instinctive.
We will see more serve and volley, but the real change is going to be in opportunity attacks off the ground and off the return of serve by players who are every bit as athletic and powerful as today's baseliners.
To do this, coaches will have to develop the volleys and the forward movement patternsof their players so they are a seamless part of the overall game. Going to the net will become an equal option with hitting one more big forehand, or retrieving one more ball on the run.
What we need to understand is how the net fits into the picture puzzle of the overall game. I don't think we do right now. To develop complete players we have to work with them in a different way on the court to integrate attacking play.
The Problem of Power
In the pro game, the level of power keeps increasing. The rackets are explosive, and with the new strings there is even more power and spin.
In today's game, you can become a world-class player on sheer athleticism. You've got hundreds of international players who have played on clay their whole lives. They run like deer. And if you can't run now in the pro game, you need to take up golf.
These players are going to grind. And it's working. This clay-court mentality is dominating the tour. Most matches are being won by hitting relentless heavy groundstrokes.
Even in today's high-intensity game, opportunities exist to attack the net.
I think we can trace a lot of this mentality to the coaching. Global coaching has changed; it's become follow-the-leader. The majority of successful world class players are grinders, so this is what the coaches are preaching. And when young players look up the ladder, this is what they see in the players above them.
The game has become so fast that it is virtually impossible to play serve and volley, at least as a primary strategy. It is just very difficult to get in and out of the split step, to cover the court, to maintain balance and to have enough control to win points at the net as an exclusive style.
But that doesn't mean that opportunities aren't there to go to the net. In fact, it's the opposite. The power game is actually creating new options for attack. The balls are there for the picking in every pro match I see.
Many players are moving up closer to the baseline, trying to take the ball early, trying to force their opponents on time. The next step is for players to come forward when they push their opponents off balance and take more balls out of the air. There are huge openings in the court for players who can step up and do this.
These openings will be something players will look to create and exploit as often as possible. And when a player or two emerges that has success, then the game will change. And we'll see another round of follow-the-leader from the coaches.
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