After the U.S. Open, I got really interested in Arthur Ashe. If you watched even 5 minutes of the Open, you probably heard his name repeatedly since the main stadium for the U.S. Open is (you guessed it) Arthur Ashe Stadium. Which also happens to be the site for Arthur Ashe Kid's Day which kicks off the U.S. Open each year.
I picked up his book, Arthur Ashe on Tennis: Strokes, Strategy, Traditions, Players, Psychology, and Wisdom. You probably know that Arthur Ashe died in 1993 at the age of 49 from AIDS-related complications. He won 3 Grand Slam titles in his tennis career – the 1968 U.S. Open, the 1970 Australian Open, and Wimbledon in 1975.
His book was published in 1995, after his death. So Ashe was not around to see all of the changes we see on the pro circuit today – powerful racquets, indestructible strings, open-stance strokes, exaggerated grips. But you and I aren't playing on the pro circuit (at least I don't think we are), so a lot of his points are still valid for club players like us, out to have fun and play some competitive tennis. He gives lots and lots of bullet-point tips on strokes and strategy. Here, for example, is a right-to-the-point list of tips that Ashe gives to immediately improve your game (pp. 50-51):
Keys to Better Play – Here are eight suggestions on how you can improve your game almost immediately:
- Play with a decisive attitude. Make up your mind where you want to hit the ball and hit it there, without worrying about your opponent. It is critical to do that on passing shots.
- Mix up your shots. Be unpredictable to keep your opponent off balance.
- Have a plan on break point. It can be as simple as trying to get the ball in play. Against a net-rusher, hit the ball cross-court over the lower part of the net, giving you a better angle for putting the ball at his feet. Against a baseliner, return deep, preferably to his weaker ground stroke so he cannot hurt you with his big shot. If you return short, he may hit a winner.
- Lob when you're in trouble. It is almost always a safer option that a passing shot when you are pulled out of court.
- Hit approach shots down the line. . . .
- Cover the open angles at the net. That means moving in the direction of your preceding shot. . . .
- Get moving after you hit the ball. You don't have time to stand there admiring your shot.
- Practice with a purpose. Use a lot of balls, divide your practice time into segments during which you practice only one things, and finish your session [by playing out points].
I probably need someone standing on the side of the court during my matches shouting, “Number 7! Number 7!”
But more than these insights, what I really like about Ashe's book is the chapters on tennis traditions and wisdom. He spends one whole page talking about the wearing of tennis whites and the somewhat controversial move to colored apparel. He even points out (p. 63) that “In 1969, I was among a group that broke the color-clothing barrier in the U.S. Open . . . by wearing pastel-colored shirts.” Gasp!
Ashe has several great recommendations for playing doubles, which I like as many books, magazine articles and websites fail to recognize that that's what a whole lot of us are playing. I'll go into a few of those in future posts as they are pretty insightful and could definitely improve my doubles game (and maybe your's too).
© Kim Selzman 2009
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