Technical Tennis: Racquets, Strings, Balls, Courts, Spin, and Bounce
By Rod Cross and Crawford Lindsey
Much has already been written about tennis, mostly about how to improve your mental and physical game and about famous players. This book is about neither of these topics. It is about racquets, strings, balls, and courts and how they interact with each other and with players. You can play a very good game of tennis (or golf or baseball) without knowing anything about the equipment you use or about ball trajectories, but being aware of the basics can help you avoid common pitfalls. In fact, it is amazing how many of today's top players appear to be unaware of the basics. Watch them when they change ball direction back over the net. They are very good at returning the ball straight back to their opponent, but as soon as they hit away from their opponent, their error rate increases dramatically. There is a simple reason for this. It is always safer to hit the ball straight back to your opponent because the ball will travel back in that direction no matter how hard you hit it. If you try to change the direction of the ball, then the angle of the ball off the strings depends on how fast the ball is traveling toward you and on how hard you hit it. If you know about this, then you will be less likely to aim precisely for the sideline. Chances are, if you aim for the line, the ball will go out.
If you know how and why you are doing a particular action, it may not directly help the performance of the action, but it will enhance your mindset, which in turn influences the performance. If you know why, for example, that tilting your racquet face forward causes more topspin, then you will be more likely to practice doing it with confidence, without those nagging doubts that it is stupid and your instructor is nuts because you obviously can't hit the ball over the net, with topspin no less, while "aiming" into the ground. If you know how much extra power, spin, or comfort you can or cannot get by changing string tensions or by using bigger racquets, then you will be able to make intelligent equipment decisions and not waste emotional and intellectual energy agonizing over whether your trial-and-error guess of what's best for you is really best. Changing strings, tensions, racquets, and customizing weights and balances then become fun, tactical elements of your tennis game, not spin-the-wheel whims of chance.
Knowing what your equipment can and can't do for you makes a big difference in how you approach the game. Knowing how, when, and why the ball grips the strings and how that affects your shot frees you from chasing solutions to getting "more grip" on the ball that not only don't exist, but would have no effect if they did. Understanding why a ball bounces as it does on a topspin, backspin, or sidespin shot enables you to ready yourself, get in position, and anticipate your return of the shot. It eliminates the frustration of being caught flat-footed and clueless time after time. It enables you to make intelligent corrections in your game.
But most of all, knowing what actually happens during the hit, flight, and bounce of the ball and why it happens is just plain fun. To be able to explain how and why the court, racquet, and air affect the speed, spin, and direction of the ball — the very essence of tennis — and thus why strokes, tactics, and strategy have evolved as they have, is a rush matched only by being able to actually do these things. Knowledge and performance combine to provide a much deeper and enjoyable tennis experience, if not a more successful one as well.
For readers who are interested in the technical and scientific aspects of tennis or are just plain curious or are looking for an extra understanding that will give strokes and shots meaning, this book has been written especially for you. It contains the results of many years of investigation and many experiments designed to extract the secrets of how and why tennis balls, racquets, and strings manage to behave the way they do. We still don't know everything there is to know about the subject, but we know a lot more than we used to know. For example, we know very little about players' perceptions of equipment properties and why they are so often quite different from actual measurements of those properties. Likewise, we don't know why one player has a favorite string or racquet and another will think that particular string or racquet is the worst he or she has ever played with. Not knowing all the answers makes the search an adventure, finding them out is exhilarating, and applying them raises the level of the game.
Many people have contributed to this book in many ways. We thank all of them profusely, especially Howard Brody, Ron Kohn, Paul Metzler, Greg Raven, Kristine Thom, Ron Waite, Nancy Crowley, and our wives Voula and Susan.
Rod Cross and Crawford Lindsey
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