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Luca Mandalino

The Theory of push lines.

The four unescapable push lines and the five fundamental principles of modern tennis playing technique.

Chapter twelve.

“The tennis of the past”. “The new forehand to a rebound in back-spin”. “The perfect player” and “the player of the future”.

Tennis has always been in evolution and it is still evolving; in the seventies you played with wood rackets, tennis players were not super athletes and the playing technique was approximate and very different compared to the modern one.

You played with wide excursions of the arm and position of the feet which prevented the natural synergic action of the body; the forehand stroke was played in a sideways position to the net and at the end of the stroke the shoulders were turned forward with a totally unnatural torsion of the sides and of the leg.

Moreover, training and nutrition techniques of athletes could not be compared to the ones which are at present used, which benefit from years of scientific research and experimentation.

The tennis of a few decades ago, compared to the tennis of today, was played at slow rhythms, with particular inventiveness and it was full of drop shots and lobs, drop volleys, serves and runs on net; the players’ personality was kept in high consideration and quite often spectacular antagonisms emerged between the “duellists”.

The term “feel of the ball” comes from the tennis jargon of the past, precisely because the reduced ball speed and wood rackets allowed players to “feel the ball” also when they were precariously balanced,  often enabling them to execute spectacular and impeccably placed shots, which surely required  great sensitivity.

From the seventies until today, the introduction of modern rackets, built in increasingly lighter materials and with a wider string face, the continuous and progressive improvement of the player’s training and nutrition techniques, and the adaptation of the professionals’ technical movements, have caused modern tennis to base itself on athleticism and on the precision of playing techniques, thus strongly conditioning the strategic, tactical and mental aspects.

Obviously, the game played by today’s professionals offers us a completely different performance, compared to those played some time ago. The opportunities allowing them to “feel” the ball have greatly diminished; normally, the ball is hit with force and speed.
The verb has changed:  today you use more frequently the term “to smack” the ball.

Precisely for this reason, for some years now, many no longer very young tennis enthusiasts, see modern tennis with a particularly critical and negative eye.
The nostalgia which ties them to the tennis of the past brings them to say that: modern tennis no longer offers the performances you had in the past; the first serve ball is too quick just like many exchanges from the backcourt, which don’t last long; and finally, players experience difficulties in running on net; public interest drops as the number of trainees diminishes.

With the assumption of making today’s professional tennis more spectacular, some currents of thought are actually suggesting to change, if not the rules, at least the characteristics of the rackets or of the balls , or maybe increase the height of the net.
We mustn’t forget that the tennis of a few decades ago also offered boring performances, when you had to watch matches played by regularists and by enthusiasts of the topspin, who repeatedly hit slow exchanges from the backcourt hitting the ball dozens of times.

As far as tennis is concerned I was born with a wood racket, and while I understand the nostalgia of some tennis player generations, which is often due to the psychological mechanisms linking us to the years of our youth, and in particular to the more pleasant experiences of our lives, in general, given the enormous gap existing between tennis enthusiasts from all over the world whether competive or not, on the one side and professional players on the other side, I believe that you must not run the risk of stopping the evolution of this wonderful sport, because the tennis we see on the television, could shortly become spectacular also for nostalgic tennis enthusiasts.

Besides, one must take note of the fact that the future of tennis lies in the hands of the young people of today, who have only seen wood rackets hanging on the walls of historical tennis clubs; on the other hand,  as far as the diminishing numbers of trainees are concerned, I believe one must take into consideration  several other social aspects, tied to technology, information and economy.

When life imposes a change on us, we need time to get used to it, and tennis is no exception. Both we, as spectators, and professional players, are undergoing a continuous metamorphosis.
We are beginning to appreciate more and more the spectacular and growing speed of the balls played, players are technically adapting to meet them, by smoothing the technical movement which becomes more and more essential.

Today, the topspin is played at such a high ball spin speed level, that it allows present champions and, why not, also regularists, but only those who practice backcourt “pressing”, to execute spectacular narrow crosscourt trajectories also giving the ball an incredible forward speed.

This recent evolution of the topspin, which makes it less insidious, requires, like in the case of a serve, a physiological time of adaptation of the players, who are learning to face the deriving difficulties.

Following the optics of the present theoretical experiment, I commit myself to say that the next step in the evolution of the technical movement, will bring players to drastically improve the forehand on rebound with backspin movement, especially when you hit the ball at shoulder level, a stroke which today is executed like you used to do decades ago.

The preparation, or opening movement, of the present forehand on rebound with backspin, utilizes a peripheral rotation angle of the face of the racket on the grip which is limited and far from the 180 degrees of that of the one-handed backhand.

(figure showing a comparison between the rotation angle of a one-handed backhandand that of the present forehand)

The preparation of the “new forehand on rebound with backspin” utilizes a width of the rotation angle of the face on the grip, which is even greater than that of the backhand, thanks to the swirling movement, slightly less wide than the one used in the serve; in this way, it is possible to hit the ball with a higher speed of the string face, giving it a quicker speed in spin and forward motion.

(figure showing the width of the rotation  angle of the swirling movement)

As explained in chapter eight, the action of compensation and optimization allows the second push line to act together with the third, by optimizing the advance of the racket along the hypothetical track which takes it to the precise ball-racket point of impact, thus aligning them with the fourth  unescapable push line in the direction of the point of rebound in the opponent’s court.

The result is a particularly low and quick rebound of the ball near the backcourt line which places in a difficult position precisely those players who use the topspin as their main playing weapon.

Moreover, it is precisely on the balls to hit at shoulder height, like the ones arriving in a topspin, or in meeting second serve balls, that we can execute  with greater ease and self-assurance this new forehand with backspin, making it risky for our opponents to use upward spins from the backcourt if their shot is not particularly deep.

This, precisely because a forehand with backspin on rebound, played with a strong spin and with a rather stretched and linear trajectory, is risky if it is played very far from the net; we would run the risk of not clearing the net or of sending the ball too far, beyond the backcourt line, because of the upward effect of the arc,  which is a characteristic of this spin and of the closure of the available angle for the trajectory of our ball towards the opponent’s court.

In fact, from the backcourt it is safer to hit this shot by directing the ball on a long crosscourt, to pass the net over its lowest point just above the net cord, in order to take advantage of a greater distance of available space; on the other hand, when we find ourselves  in, or almost in, the forecourt and therefore a bit nearer to the net, the effectiveness of the new forehand with backspin on rebound can be compared to a normal winning forehand with topspin.

(figure showing the arc, the available angle above the net cordand the court depth for the along the line trajectory)

(figure showing the arc, the available angle above the net cordand the court depth for the crosscourt trajectory)

The forehand backspin on rebound, played with a semi-swirl movement, is today used only when we try to reach a quick ball which brings us to chase it rapidly towards the court side; lacking the time to stop in order to utilize a good foot support with an efficient synergic action, we therefore tend to hit the ball with a quick movement, thanks to a semi-swirl, by utilizing the wrist joint stretching mechanism to give it a backspin, and the pronation to give it a forward speed, as in a kick serve.

Logic suggests to utilize this movement not only when we are in difficulties and we play strokes in a modified execution,  but also and especially when we hit a ball at  shoulder height with a good foot position during an optimal execution of a technical gesture.

The forehand backspin, with the point of greater pressure of the hand acting downwards by 45 degrees along an oblique line which passes through the barycentre axis of the racket, utilizes an impact plane which is slightly set  back compared to that of a flat topspin forehand, with hand and racket finding themselves in any case in the area of maximum force and maximum sensitivity and it helps us find a higher advancing speed of the string face thanks to the double function of the hypothenar as described in principle number five; moreover, it utilizes the strong forward push action of the ball spin and the final movement of the stroke is smooth and natural.

The particular execution speed requires great care in choosing the right timing, but it also offers the possibility to properly hide drop shots, which, with such a backward ball spin, could even make the ball bounce back to this side of the net after the rebound.

The “new forehand with backspin on rebound”, utilizes the mobility of the arm-racket lever, with all the particular freedom of the arm-forearm segment in carrying out the swirling movement  which, because of the limits dictated by biomechanics, should be executed forehand; even the two-handed backhand would be difficult to execute.

If time will prove me right, in this hopeful and bold prediction, the “new forehand on a rebound with backspin” will become popular and insidious and the runs to net will gain ground compared to pressing shots from the backcourt, thus giving tennis of the near future a new and more spectacular appearance.

I would like to conclude,  continuing in my hopeful and bold prediction, by saying that the “player of the future” will use, for every shot, the correct grip according to the theory of push lines, and he will produce an all-round optimal performance, without gaps, as on the other hand often happens today also to absolute champions in professional tennis.

To give a practical example, I wish us all to be able to watch, in the very near future, a player capable of using indifferently any type of grip, and of expressing when playing either the positive game characteristics of  Federer or those of Nadal. In other words, “the perfect tennis player” – “ the tennis player of the future”.

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