PitcherI wonder why tennis serves are not more similar to baseball pitchers'. I have tried to revamp my serve and am picking the left leg up high and following through with the right, the way all the right hand pitchers do, and it increased my speed and accuracy. Is there a flaw in this approach or analysis? I remember from squash the fastest serves I ever saw came from baseball pitchers.

Bill Humbert replies:

I remember Pat Cash reflecting that he felt he would have had a better serve landing on his left foot. Other great servers like Becker and Laver landed on the dominant (right) foot also. I switched from this style to the modern style while still in juniors — I found it easier to control, and easier to reposition myself at the baseline. But it would seem to suit a serve-volleyer to land on the dominant. Speaking of tennis, here is a little essay I wrote: Looking in The Mirror.

Players often go through long periods with their confidence low (I am in one now, both in my tennis and my investing). I believe that I am a good tennis player, capable of a certain standard of play, while my body is able ( which at the moment is not! ). I believe that with planning, practice, hard work I can get myself out of this rut, even though this is one of my worst. However that belief is not there when it comes to my trading and investing. Last year I blew up, losing too large a chunk of what I'd accumulated ( and spent ) over the years, and I've not traded since. I've gone back to work after having semi-retired, literally starting over. Not only that, I look in the mirror and ask whether those ten years of success and wealth accumulation were due to in large part luck - I'm starting to believe they were, and with that loss of belief there is no way I can apply the same principles I'm applying to the tennis court to get my mojo back. If you see a failure in the mirror, you will fail time after time. Here are some of the simple but expensive lessons I've learnt since watching Federer beat Nadal last year at Wimbledon.

1. Know your strengths and nurture them. We are all built with a particular strength, it's there to be nurtured. The right mentor might enlighten us, or sometimes even friendly opponents. Most improvement in a player's game comes from recognizing this strength and finding the opportunity to apply it over and over. Hide and protect your weaknesses, apply your strengths. You'll win more than you lose. Do you know yours?

2. Imitation leads to elimination. Much time is wasted by players trying to be what they are not, and giving away what they are best at in the process. Create your own style - that way you'll know its not been seen before.

3. Accept your shortcomings. Every player has holes in their game. A big step is made in accepting this. A player can then make better judgments on which balls to attack. This nurtures a more patient approach as the player realises he cannot hit every ball for a winner, cannot win every point.

4. Keep it simple. You do not have to be able to do know everything or do everything well to be successful. Success and winning is as much about getting the basic stuff right over and over again.

5. Know your next move. Rule 1 in grasscourt tennis: volley to the open court. With this rule in mind, you are applying an edge over and over without having to think about it. Your opponent may start anticipating, but he will be at a disadvantage more often than not. Having a set of moves from basic court positions simplifies your game. The task is then to execute. A good plan is very hard to beat even when they know what your are doing.

6. Don't play if you are injured. There nothing to gain. Injury means less practice, hesitancy during play, losses, and a spiral of falling confidence. Much like a depleted trading account which isn't letting you play as you would.

7. Do what it takes to restore your confidence. Any trick will do. Sports and trading are confidence games, and you are a useless player without it.

8. Know when it's time to hang up the racquets.

Steve Leslie writes:

I don’t follow tennis much any more but I have been researching some of the greatest players. As I suspected, on the men’s side Federer and Sampras are both 6′1″ according to Wikipedia. Becker is 6′4″. The women Lindsey Davenport and Venus Williams both go over 6′ and Sharapova is 6′2″. So compound their height and the high tech racquets that can withstand immense tightening of the strings and this in all likelihood are concomitant reasons why the serves are so fast today.

Basic physics dictates that to get greater velocity on the ball, the racquet head speed must be high. How you get there is up to you. Roscoe Tanner had a very compact swing as I recall. He was a striker. Becker would get there through a very long arc on his serve. He was more of a sweeper.

I do think that there is a corollary to the elbow problems that pitchers face and that is tennis elbow. Most likely due to the snap that the tennis player tries to get through the ball to obtain a little more velocity and the stress they put on the joint itself.

I know in golf that high clubhead speed is attained through shaft length, flexibility of shaft and acceleration through the strike zone. There is also a trampoline effect that is realized through the composite material used on the face and the design of the actual clubhead itself. In his day, Greg Norman was probably the greatest driver of the ball, which is a combination of accuracy and distance. He is considered a sweeper. Hank Kuehne and Daly are more strikers.

I still will never understand how or why Bryant played with a broken leg. Hacksaw Reynolds also allegedly played with a broken leg. A word of caution here. Bryant also had half his team quit at Texas A&M during his boot camp and according to the show on ESPN one almost died from heat exhaustion. Kerry Wood may have been permanently ruined because of abuse and pitching hurt and before he was sufficiently healed. And my all time hero, Dave Dravecky pitched after receiving treatment for bone cancer and broke his arm forcing amputation of his arm. These are two stark examples. I could also mention Mike Ditka, Joe Namath, Dick Butkus Dan Marino who walk like 80 year old men. There is a big difference in playing with pain and playing when really physically damaged.


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