Fast tracking of the talented junior towards ‘Open’ tennis in Australia has seen an attention to the players fitness, strength, technique, footwork, repetitive hitting (training) – primarily the same things that was the focus during their developing junior years!
Attending and witnessing the ‘play’ at the Victorian Claycourt ITF this week, and whilst all the before components are evident and important, what stood out glaringly was the lack of ‘play’ components ie: the feel for the game, anticipation, reading the other end of the court, a method/plan for each point, advanced movement and the sustained pressure for the whole match whilst one eye on the bigger picture (future success) and most importantly, the courage to be creative and play to character.
A few examples –
- players moving inside (one step) the baseline and hitting a positive shot, then retreating to one metre or more behind the baseline rather than hold position and continuing to dictate the point
- allowing the opponent to put up a defensive low lob and moving backwards to hit the ball at head level rather than playing a drive volley to keep the pressure on the opponent, who is in a defensive frame of mind
- look at an opponent stretching wide to hit a slice or under spun ground shot that will travel slow and bounce low rather than move in and play a volley
- failure to keep the pressure on their opponent when poor body language is evident along with groans/verbals.
In no way is blame being aimed at the players, their commitment, energy or dreams – past history shows Australia’s under 18’s are world class (and there are many) but history also shows the ‘transition’ is not being converted to the ‘pro tour’ and this should be fast tracked, a 4 year apprenticeship not the much talked about late bloomer and learn to play at this level in ten years !!
The balance of shot development, advanced movement, maturity and discipline needs to lean more to the focus of ‘play’ for these aspiring young ‘pro’s’, then more numbers will transit and with good old fashioned ‘peer progress’ Australia’s stocks will rise.