Tennis racquets and strings have made hitting the ball easier for me. As a junior, I was at times too weak to hit a topspin one-handed backhand terribly often during a match. Even with a reasonably good underspin backhand, players quickly zeroed in on my backhand to get a predictable reply. Movement and conditioning seem to decline with each passing year, but I feel like my racquet allows me to hit with greater variety than I did in the past. The Head Genesis had a lot of power as a racquet, but it did not offer a lot of touch to its user.
At any rate, I was watching some videos of Patrick Rafter recently and thought of all former pros if I were to try to mimic someone it would be him. Rafter was incredibly athletic on the court, and I am never going to be as athletic as him, but my opponents are not going to be Lleyton Hewitt or Pete Sampras either. Rafter played with a tactical disciple focused on keeping the ball low and getting to the net. I am doing more of that today and it is helping. Just because I might be able to hit some shots that I did not hit when I was younger, does not mean I should play aimlessly. Having a basic focus on keeping the ball low and getting to the net builds upon years of serving and volleying I did when I was younger. Having a bit more tactical focus to go along with a racuqet that allows for variety as needed has helped.
PS – Why not someone else?
I came of age in the late 1980s and 1990s as a tennis player. Dennis Emery, the former University of Kentucky tennis coach, said my game reminded him of Michael Stich in 1992 when I was at his camp. I do take pretty full swings at the ball, but whatever my old smooth service motion was is long gone. I think a lot of 1990s players who attacked the net, Stich included, could ride massive serves to easy holds. Edberg and Rafter were two guys who did not blast a massive number of aces and service winners en route to victory. I cannot hit that number of aces or service winners now and probably didn’t do it as much as I thought I could years ago, but the idea of hitting quality serves, quality returns, quality groundstrokes and then taking the opening to get to the net has been a real rebirth of my tennis in recent weeks. I have gotten better about reacting to lobs faster too and this has helped. A more net oriented game with no reaction to lobs would have been foolish.
I think Rafter won on fighting hard, court positioning, fitness, and athleticism. I can do at least 3 of those 4 things with some effort. I do not think Rafter, with the exception of his backhand volley, won on hitting nearly perfect strokes. He hit the ball well, but won with discipline and positioning.