The teenage sensation from Canada, Denis Shapovalov, has been one of the biggest hypes amongst the nextgen superstars. His epic upsets over Tsonga and Nadal in the Canadian Open last year at the age of 18 is spectacular, even on an historical scale. I mean, Federer was turning 20 when he famously upset Pete Sampras at the 2001 Wimbledon championships, and Andy Murray was 19 when he pulled off the upset against Federer at the 2006 Cincinatti Masters, ages (when professional tennis is concerend) way more advanced than the age of 18, thus signifying the tremendous potential that Shapovalov has. What would be a more significant takeaway from Shapovalov's recent rise onto the tennis scene is not his spectacular wins and the possibilities that such suggest about his future greatness, but how the main reason for his successes (in our opinion) overturns a conventional nugget of tennis advice, which due to its very universal embededment in tennis lessons globally, has repressed and continues to repress a huge amount of unsharped natural potential of countless tennis players across the globe.
So, what is the key to Shapovalov' proficiency in the tennis game? It is his big groundstrokes
Shapovalov's game is based on a level of power and precision that most players (we are referring to players of a professional level) can only envy. A great example of when these traits were utilised to deadly effect was the Nadal-Shapovalov match last year in the Canadian Open as mentioned above. The high-bouncing top spins of Nadal leave him naturally vulnerable to power-hitters who are able to make use of the extra time allowed by these upward spinning shots to muster the power for threatening penetrative groundstrokes. This natural weakness is especially glaring in the earlier stages of his career (think 2006 to 2009) when he had not acquired the sufficient defensive capabilites against such onslaughts. Think, his (supposedly bizarre) loss to Soderling at the 2009 French Open. Shapovalov played the gameplay during the match, pummeling Nadal in breathless fashion. How was this lean not-so-muscular teenager able to pull off such feat of strength. The answer lies not with the strength of his muscles, but his ability to generate a unique kind of smooth momentum, faciliated by the long whoopy strokes of his (very particularly his forehand.) His precision is also mainly a function of such long groundstrokes. It must be put in mind when considering this though, that such mentioned precision is not the laser-sharp and straight precision of the likes of Federer or even Berdych, but a loopy spinny curve that though travels much slower than the later, typically lands accurately in an endangering or critical spot (for his opponent). We cannot profess to know the exact physics behind the reason for such, but the longer the backswing, but we believe a longer backswing would mean a naturally longer extension to the front, thus giving more time for the ball to be in the section of the swing that is meant for directing the ball, which is the extension of the swing to the front.
But, do you remember your coaches telling you to use mainly your lower body?
Your coach is not wrong exactly, but most coaches teach in a way that makes it seem that the main accent lies on the lower body movement. Many players would no doubt that this to mean that the backswing should be given minimal care. This is highly erroneous, as the example of Shapovalov shows. The lower body is a source of stability and power as the energy transfer of the tennis ball flows from low to high, but the swing also a potential tool for greater power and accuracy. There is a major caveat of course: a bigger backswing would mean that you would need a longer preparation time to hit the ball, a significant diadvantage especially when one plays at the highest levels of the game when the mini-seconds count. Thus, a larger amount of energy would need to be devoted to being constantly much more alert and ready than the typical player. But who cares, opportunity costs are everywhere, so just have a longer backswing if you think that suits you!
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