Ah, yes, a tennis pun.
In this case, "love" referring to the score of zero in tennis.
Yesterday, I took a tennis lesson. This was my third lesson private lesson I've taken. Because the price of a lesson is generally pricey, I don't take a lot of them. I took one around Thanksgiving, which was like 60 dollars, then one in February or March which was like 65 dollars, and finally one yesterday, at 30 dollars.
The most recent lesson was arranged through "Serve It Up", which was founded by two high school tennis players that wanted to make a business of teaching tennis cheaply, or at least, by normal standards. Figuring that most people might not trust someone so young, the idea of cost cutting seems interesting.
When I arranged my first lesson, I asked the guy what his teaching philosophy was. This is just vague enough that if he didn't have an answer, he might not know what he's doing. He said he follows the Oscar Wegner method. Oscar is an Argentine player who feels he has the answer to hitting a ball more naturally. For example, he says that hitting a ball is like catching a ball and throwing it across your body (not realizing, for example, that not everyone can catch and throw a ball).
Now, the first lesson I had was with a guy named Joel. Joel is more holistic. He believes that the racquet has a natural way it wants to move, and that you swing by throwing the racquet at the ball. He doesn't want to get too deep into any mechanics. He feeds a lot of balls.
The next lesson I had was with Mike. He had more technical aspects to cover, and again, plenty of drills, and like Joel, mostly at the baseline.
Sharat started differently. In particular, we went with a mini-tennis drill. Mini-tennis is when you rally from service line to service line and eliminate about half the court. In order to hit in the short court, you have to hit softly. I've always found that really difficult on my forehand, but in hindsight, it's an interesting drill.
One could argue that if it's hard for you to hit softly, then hitting hard might have some unnatural hitches too, that are prone to break down under pressure. He wanted me to slow my motion down so that I could hit this drill, and to be honest, I probably didn't quite get there in that lesson, but at least, it got me thinking.
There were several funny moments. I'm sure Sharat had phrases he wanted to use but couldn't in front of polite company (meaning me). When I was going to hit the ball, I was supposed to caress the ball. He want to provide an analogy like "caress the ball like you are...". You are? You are what? Making love to a hot chick? He probably had some idea like that, and his brain told him "uh, can't say that". There were other times I felt he wanted to say something like "hit the s**t out of the ball", but didn't.
What was unusual, and this might mark a little inexperience on his part (and a lack of a lot of balls) is that he talked a lot. By far, he talked a lot more than either of the two guys I took lessons from. I could say that more than half the time was spent him talking to me, at least, it felt that long. I'd wonder if there would be some complaints, given that most people feel they pay for hitting rather than listening.
Having said that, I'm willing to give him a chance. He assumed I'd be taking a lot of regular lessons with him (I'm sure he sees the money potential in having me take lots of lessons) and for now, I'll play it by ear. Since my forehand is the issue, he's taking the approach of working on just the forehand, and that's a little unusual. Given that his price is about half what I'd get elsewhere, I think I may stick it out a little longer to see where it heads.
A few other notes. Wegner is more of a hands guy than a feet guy. He thinks too many players worry about their feet, and wants players to think about how they hit the ball, and just let the feet do whatever. Even so, Sharat wanted me to get closer to the ball so I don't get out of position. I do find myself stretching out to hit balls, especially on my backhand, and that I don't move forward or back to the ball like I should.
He pointed out something I just recently noticed myself. Most players prepare rather late. Although coaches tell you to get your racquet back early, getting it back to early creates hitches in the motion (I'm sure I blogged about that recently). He suggested I hold the racquet (using my left hand), longer than I would feel natural.
He also noticed I wasn't hitting through the ball so well, which is another issue I've been having. He had this idea of hitting as if there were several balls on a skewer, and trying to hit all the balls on that skewer. The idea is to keep the racquet moving forward rather than lift up too much.
Finally, he suggested I hit more in front of my body.
It's funny, but I think he believes most people really want to hit the ball hard. Not everyone does. I have several people I play with that almost universally want to do this, that if they don't hit hard, they feel they aren't getting what they want out of tennis.
They might tell themselves "I don't just want to get the ball over the net, I want to hit it hard". And they do hit it hard, and they get it in more often than not, with power. But they lack consistency. I suspect what happens in that case is the ball approaches them differently and they alter their motion in such a way that the mechanics of hitting changes, and the ball's path is wrong.
One guy, for example, always wants to hit where he skims the top of the net, clearing it by inches. Jimmy Connors was good at doing this, but still, you want to clear the net by 2-3 feet all the time. I would say he needs to clear the net, and yet, hit shorter, because he overhits all the time.
Having said that people who hit hard should learn to hit with more control, and not worry about hitting hard (a hard proposition for most people, who find blasting the ball cathartic), I suspect really good players learn to control their hard shots rather than hit their soft shots harder, that it's easier (in theory) to learn control than to learn power.
Anyway, we'll see how these lessons proceed. It's given me food for thought, which is good.
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