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Last call for the gotta play tennis podcast

Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

May the new year bring you winning forehands, surprising backhands, solid volleys and consistent serves.

Oh...and enjoy all the other things that 2013 may bring! 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

REFLECTIONS: Another Christmas tennis surprise

Beginning page personalized

As originally appeared in NYTimes
Last year during this festive holiday season, I shared my thoughts about a wonderful gift received under the tree. This happened to be an authentic Wimbledon towel from none other than Christy in the U.K. Well, santa must have been doing some serious research this year to find a tennis gift to match, or even top, something as meaningful as that simple piece of cloth with green and purple. And he was successful. Just wait until you hear about this new level of tennis infatuation.

The box was rather heavy, very flat, and about the size of a frying skillet. What emerged amidst the the paper, tape and cardboard wrappings was definitely not for the kitchen however. I carefully slid out what appeared to be an atlas-sized hard back book. The burgany leatherette cover, emblazoned with the words "The New York Times: A History of the Men's US Open Tennis Championships", was exciting and intriguing. Upon closer inspection, as I turned the first few pages, I found a customized sticker that stated, "Presented to Ronald Miller, Christmas 2012." I gulped and moved on. The first three pages that followed listed the men's final combatants from 1925 to present beginning with a win by William T. Tilden and ending with Andy Murray taking his first Grand Slam title. This was history unfolding before my eyes as I viewed names such as Hewitt, Roddick, Stich, Rafter, Connors, Borg, Lendl and Gerulaitis. But in addition, I glanced at Ashe, Rosewall, Edberg, Roche, Kramer, and even Laver. I once again moved on.

Handsome hard-bound cover
What was in front of me was an authentic replication of primary source content from the New York Times. In essence, this beautifully bound book held the actual printed copies (not newsprint) of every U.S. Open Men's final since 1925. I was captivated. While I certainly have not lived long enough to have experienced all of these dates, with over 40 years on a court, I have seen many. The photos are as telling as the writing, and the ads that appear on pages as a part of this time capsule are precious. Who knew for example that in the same year that Fred Perry beat Don Budge for the trophy, one could get their spark plugs cleaned-while you wait-for 5 cents each at a registered AC Cleaning Station. The year was 1936.

US Open Champions at a glance
I have only begun to uncover the gems yet to be found in this compendium of tennis history, and in particular, US Open lore. But I certainly look forward to sitting with a hot cup of coffee, held far away from the book of course, and taking a time-machine trip that will no doubt inspire me for the coming tennis year. Earlier this holiday season, I blogged holiday gift ideas for the tennis player on your list. Guess what I will be including as a part of next years' recommendations.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

NEWS: More Americans (and kids) than ever before are playing tennis

The sport of TENNIS is growing at a rate that would surprise most people and perhaps even enthusiasts of the game. According to an annual participation survey conducted for the USTA and the Tennis Industry Association byTaylor Research and Consulting, tennis participation overall grew 4 percent this year of 2012. For the first time since 2009, there are over 28 million players in the U.S. I'm one of them, and in addition, I can claim my fair share of the increase in youngsters age 6-11 resulting from my very own group tennis programs held in Gloucester Twp, NJ throughout the year. Perhaps most impressive from the study is the 13 percent increase in participation in this age group from just one year ago. The data also showed African Americans and Hispanics have sharply increased in the tennis ranks with the former reflecting a 10 year high and the latter showing its third-highest level in the past decade. A

The data was gathered in a phone-conducted survey which included over 7,500 U.S. residents and claims the top spot for largest group ever surveyed in sport. "We are very gratified that our efforts geared to young players are paying off," said Jon Vegosen, USTA Chairman of the Board and President.  "We want to grow the game and make it look like America, and therefore we find it very encouraging that we are seeing growth among young players and in diverse communities."

On a personal note, I have seen some of this growth reflected in the numbers of students attending my group lesson programs. But I believe now more than ever that a much greater number of kids would benefit from participation in this sport of a lifetime if more parents would give it a try. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the concept that, since tennis is not the same kind of team sport that kids have come to experience in the past, it cannot be as much fun. I can tell you from decades of personal interaction with kids on a court that enjoyment is one of our primary goals. My three rules of the court are: Be SAFE, because without safety, nothing else matters; Have FUN, because without fun, there will always be better things to do; Learn a NEW SKILL, because the better you get at something, the more you enjoy it.

As we move into 2013, and begin the year of the ATP TOUR (Association of Tennis Professionals) tennis calendar with the Australian Open-a tournament that in 2012 witnessed an almost 6-hour battle between the world number 1 and 2 players-may we provide our children the chance to participate in and enjoy an alternate and low-barrier-to-entry sport in which the whole family can enjoy together!

Statistical information and quotations were taken from an article written by E.J. Crawford, USTA.com. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

REFLECTIONS: The last hit of the season

There is a song entitled "The Last Game of the Season" from the 1970s, and the lyrics speak of a boy on the local high school football team whose father diligently listens each week for his son to play. He listens because he is blind, and he will never be able to see his own boy give his all for the team. But not being a star player, the boys options were limited–until the last game of the season. The home town was all but down and out at half-time, and unknown to anyone else, the boy receives the phone call that his father passed away that very evening. In an effort to show his father what he is truly capable of, the son plays his heart out and helps the team come back and win. The boy becomes the star player his father always knew he could be, and the son believes his father saw him on the field for the first time that night. 

Tonight I thought about this story. You see, this was probably my last hitting chance for 2012, and I wanted to do well. The wind swirled at 12-14 miles per hour, the temperature was about 45 degrees, and only half the lights were switched on at the local public courts. No worries I thought, because I was determined to be at my best. Each and every year at this time, I always wonder if I will be able to once again hit at this level the following year, continue to cover the court like a blanket, and make the quick and correct decisions tennis required from shot to shot while maintaining healthy joints, cartilage and muscle.

After about 1 hour and 15, my partner and I were in another heated and toughly contested rally. The groundstrokes lashed out like a snakes tongue, and the court coverage was nothing short of spilled water. Finally, Freddie hit a drop shot drawing me to the net. Using smart tactics, he followed in behind the shot looking for a weak replay from an expected overly-extended stab at the ball. He of course anticipated an easy volley put-away. But you see, it was the last hit of the season and my father was also watching. Twenty-two years ago, he died early Christmas morning. And even though he never got to see me on the court while alive, now he got to see me dive for the ball, tuck and roll, and hit a chip lob over the head of the net-rusher for a clean winner. 

I will never be the star of any team, and I certainly had nothing on the line tonight. But like any son, I wanted my dad to see my very best. It was the last hit of the season, and think I may have made my dad proud.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

FAVORITE SITES: Timeless Tennis by Gary Bala

Posted: Friday, December 7, 2012
Tennis & The Laws of Nature: Prof. Stephen Hawking Explains

Professor Stephen Hawking, one of the world's greatest scientists, explains how tennis…read more

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

FAVORITE SITES: Timeless Tennis by Gary Bala

Posted: Saturday, December 1, 2012
Body Language vs. Facial Expression: What Gives Away Your True Colors?
In a study published in the journal Science (Nov. 29, 2012), researchers found that body language, more than facial expression, is far more revealing of person's true feelings and emotions...read more

Sunday, November 25, 2012

EPISODE 94 (Podcast): Variety, or not, for successful tennis

Ball Bounce Variable (BBV)

While it may be a great feeling to have a very full tennis toolbelt of shotmaking ability, perhaps the old KISS principle still applies. Is tennis success tied to massive variety or repetitive mediocrity?

Subscribe in iTunes:

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tennis Holiday Gift Giving Guide 2012

Now that the holidays are approaching us as quickly as an Andy Murray serve, it's time to review some ideas of potential tennis gifts for that special player or player-to-be on your shopping list. Whether beginner, intermediate or advanced, there is likely to be a selection that will give you "Game, Set, Match!"

  • Rafa by Rafael Nadal (2011)
  • Open by Andre Agassi (2010)
  • A Champion's Mind by Pete Sampras (2009)
  • You Cannot be Serious by John McEnroe (2003)
  • High Strung: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe (The Rivalry) (2011) by Steve Tignor
  • Tennis Confidential II by Paul Fein and Mary Carillo (2008)
  • Game. Set. Life. by Ed Tseng (2008)
  • Tennis Beyond Big Shots by Greg Moran (2006, revised 2008)
DVDs (some recommendations)
  • 2000 Andre Agassi vs. Patrick Rafter Wimbledon Semifinal
  • 2001 Patrick Rafter vs. Goran Ivanisevic Wimbledon Final
  • 2001 Roger Federer vs. Pete Sampras Wimbledon 4th round
  • 2008 Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer Wimbledon Final
  • 2009 Andy Roddick vs. Roger Federer Wimbledon Final
  • 2001 Peter Sampras vs. Andre Agassi U.S. Open Quarterfinal
  • 2006 Andre Agassi vs. Marcos Baghdatis U.S. Open 2nd round
  • Athletic towel (For the serious player, consider a licensed design from a Grand Slam tournament such as Wimbledon, U.S. Open, French Open or Australian Open)
  • Tennis gear bag - Head, Wilson, etc. (Be aware of how many rackets it needs to hold)
  • Wristbands and/or headband
  • Cap or tennis visor
  • Overgrip wrap Comes in colors (adds 1/16 inch in diameter to racket grip)
  • Tennis balls (available by the case)
  • Gift card For a new racket (since it is too difficult to choose someones' stick)
  • Tennis ball machine (these start at about $200)
  • Tennis pickup basket
  • Portable tennis ball cart (go with the Gamma EZ Travel Cart w/ bag)
  • Cones or colored spots (use these for ball control training)
  • Agility ladder (use this for footwork training)
  • Doorway pullup bar (use this for upper-body strengthening)
  • Medicine ball (use this for core strengthening)
  • Warmup suit
  • Shorts and Shirt combos
  • Tennis sneakers
  • Junior racket
    • 19" (ages 2-3) up to 3' tall
    • 21" (ages 4-5) up to 3'11" tall
    • 23" (ages 6-8) up to 4'5" tall
    • 25" or 26" (ages 9-12) up to 5' tall
  • QuickStart tennis balls
    • Foam (ages 2-4)
    • Red Felt (ages 5-6)
    • Orange Felt (ages 7-8)
    • Green Felt (ages 9-10)
  • Portable net (10' to 18' wide, 30" tall)
  • Refillable water bottle
  • Tennis towel
  • Tennis bag
  • Tennis ball carrier (Gamma EZ Travel Cart bag) (cart optional)
Specialty gifts
  • Tickets to a pro tour tennis match or exhibition
  • Gift certificate for prepaid lessons with a local recreational pro instructor
  • USTA 10 and under junior membership (special FREE offer from the USTA in 2012) (expires 12/31/2012)
If you have any other ideas, thoughts or questions, please feel free to contact me at gottaplaytennis.ron@gmail.com or 856-359-GPTS (4787).

Sunday, November 18, 2012

FAVORITE SITES: Timeless Tennis by Gary Bala

Posted: Tuesday, November 13, 2012
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic Wins 2012 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals

In the year-end finish of the tennis season, Novak Djokovic (No. 1 SER) defeated Roger Federer (No. 2, SUI) in straight sets for the 2012 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals title at the O2 Arena in London, 7-6 (6), 7-5 read more...

Saturday, November 3, 2012

NEWS: November in Paris is a swinging affair

(L) Llodra, (R) Ferrer

Tennis is exciting, and it is a testament to human athleticism, creativity, and endurance. And as we have been treated to some wonderful matches beginning with the thrilling final five-set final that began with the Australian Open in January of 2012, we continue to be treated to some outstanding tennis from surprise competitors. As of this writing, the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Masters is taking place in Paris, France. A regular big-time event this time of year on the ATP World Tour Masters 1000, it was won the last two years in 2010 and 2011 by Robin Soderling and Roger Federer respectively. Soderling finished at world number five that year and Federer at number three

(L) Janowicz, (R) Simon
That is what makes this year's Paris event all the more exciting. Instead of only players in the top 10 making it to the finals, the 2012 event has been an array of surprises. World number 67 121, Michael Llodra of France, consistently played a singles style of tennis–serve and volley–that the tennis fans have not seen since the era of Pete Sampras. Although this was not all that surprising from a player who has been quite successful in doubles, where following a serve to the net is not uncommon, it was refreshing to see it being used in a game that is today dominated by baseline rallies. On the way to the semi-finals, Llodra was was able to take out #10 John Isner, #7 Juan-Martin DelPotro, and Sam Querrey who had defeated #2 Novak Djokovic earlier in the week. 

But this was only half the story. Unseeded wildcard entry Jerzy Janowicz of Poland, #69 in the world, played the best tennis of his life and crushed his way through players several times his senior in experience and even age. In order to reach the semi-finals, he had to defeat no less than five of the world top 20 players including Philipp Kohlschreiber, Marin Cilic, #3 Andy Murray, Janko Tipsarevic, and Gilbert Simon–in that order. 

By the time you read this, the championship match may already have been played between David Ferrer and Jerzy Janowitz–the two players who made it to the finals. What is on the line for these two athletes? For the Pole, it would be an unbelievable win that came out of nowhere, and perhaps it would be the confidence builder bringing him into the mix with top players more often. For the Spaniard, he would be the first from his country to take this prize, this would be his first Masters 1000 trophy of his career, and the win might provide some momentum going into the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London beginning on November 5th. Only the worlds top 8 players get to compete for the singles title in a 3-match round-robin format. The players who have qualified are: Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, David Ferrer, Janko Tipsarevic, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Any way you slice it, there has been plenty to be excited about this fall in men's professional tennis. And this season of leaves, scary costumes and giving-thanks is yet to be completed.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

NEWS: Gotta Play Tennis at the 21st Annual Blackwood Pumpkin Festival

The Gotta Play Tennis table was located in front of the food vendors. Yumm!
On a bright and Beautiful Sunday, October 14, the 21st Annual Blackwood Pumpkin Festival was held on side streets and in parking lots of downtown Blackwood in Gloucester Twp. Although it might seem a little odd to be promoting tennis in the fall, I still find that most parents are not aware of the opportunities kids have to learn this great lifetime sport all throughout the year from Gloucester Twp. Recreation and Gotta Play Tennis™. 

As someone who has worked with youth spring, summer and fall for many years on the court, I am more excited than ever to bring an alternative to the saturated sports of soccer and football where kids can easily get lost in the shuffle under the guise of "team". The reality is, from speaking to many parents, that over-coaching and team politics can sometimes get in the way of the fun, challenge and entertainment that a sport should provide. Since tennis is more about you meeting and then overcoming the limitations of your own athletic ability, there is none of the favoritism exhibited in some sports where only the best players get any significant field time. 

Don't misunderstand me. I am all for kids having the chance to experience every different type of sports activity and then navigate to the ones they enjoy the most. But what I find most disturbing are the parents who won't even consider tennis as a possibility. It's as if they do not understand that it is not only a world-class sport played all over the world, but in addition, it is one of the best cross-training sports available to athletes of all disciplines. At the Gotta Play Tennis table, parents were given a tentative spring schedule for 2013 as well as a flyer explaining the benefits of tennis to adults and kids of all ages.

As you can see, getting the word out was my mission at the festival, and it continues to be my passion as we come to the conclusion of another very successful tennis year.

Friday, October 12, 2012

FAVORITE SITES: Timeless Tennis by Gary Bala

Posted: Friday, October 5, 2012
Historical Greats: Bjorn Borg–the ice man

Let's take a brief look back at one of the all-time greats, the legendary Bjorn Borg. Borg won eleven (11) Grand Slam titles read more...

Thursday, October 11, 2012


In his famous and well-known book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", Dr. Stephen Covey explains to the reader how much one can learn from actually teaching something they have learned. Although this may sound a little like a non-expert teaching another non-expert, I can personally attest to how effective this is. Case in point: I teach kids to play tennis, and therefore, I must already know how. Granted, I do know much about this game from several decades of involvement. But when working with students, and I'm talking the 10 and under variety, I must always consider how to most effectively explain what takes place between the racquet face and the ball. After hitting hundreds of thousands of bright yellow fuzzy spheres, I can honestly say that I have learned as much about striking a ball from teaching students as I have from my own personal study and experiences.

Cause and effect is a wonderful thing. By striking the ball in a certain way, I CAUSE  the ball to move forward. The EFFECT is generated by what parameters the CAUSE consisted of. In other words, did I drive through the ball or brush its back from low to high or high to low. This sounds so simple, but complexity is always simple at its underpinnings.

As I played tennis last night with my hitting partner, I thought about what I have taught others as it related to what I was doing myself. If I hit a good shot, I pictured my demonstration of a well-hit ball. If I hit a poor shot, I visualized the modeling of a poorly struck ball.  It is almost like I could draw upon my lessons–not taken, but given–as a minds-eye reference of what-to-do or not-to-do on the court.

I was fortunate enough to play very well, and our rallies definitely ended more on winners than on errors. I felt confident, as I approached each ball, that I could dictate or decide how and where the ball would move. This is a sensational feeling on the tennis court, and I almost didn't want to stop for fear of how long it would take to achieve this utopia again. But then I realized something: I get to teach more students this weekend. It will be through these experiences that I will continue to charge-up the positive forces in my game and once again be able to re-apply them. In essence, I will learn by teaching.

Stephen Covey knew how powerful this formula can be. His book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", is one of the most valuable books I have ever read in my life. Interestingly enough, I have heard his philosophies echoed over and over throughout the years by many others as they too drew inspiration from this valuable tool. If you would like to learn the seven most valuable lessons in life that you will ever learn, read the book. I cannot recommend it too highly. And if you want to learn something really well, learn it from another and then teach it to someone else as soon as you can. You may be surprised by the result.

In memory of Dr. Stephen R. Covey (1932-2012)
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

EPISODE 93 (Podcast): Why tennis adults are just big kids

When you get down to the true principles of tennis, kid or adult doesn't matter. At any age, one can learn and display the fundamentals of this game. 

Subscribe in iTunes:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

REFLECTIONS: Great news for EATERS who find exercise boring

We like to eat. And I say why not. Food is the fuel that powers our bodies and minds. It provides us with life-sustaining nourishment that keeps our incredible machines running. But eating typically becomes more about the enjoyment of smells, tastes and textures than the nurturing of our bodily systems. Therefore, we gain weight from the added calories, and the older we are, the more we gain thanks to a slower body metabolism. A study by The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that in the years 2007 and 2008, 68 percent of Americans were either overweight or obese.

Cutting back on food portions and sweets are steps in the right direction, as this reduces caloric intake, but the recommendation from our doctors inevitably includes the scary word "exercise." We all know it is extremely important, and yet we tend to avoid such effort especially as we start to slow down the pace of life in middle age. Boring can literally be defined as an activity associated with lifting weights or doing resistance activities, running around the neighborhood even though we have a car, or using a treadmill and/or elliptical device to get nowhere. Exercise, for the sake of exercise, does not supply enough distraction to redirect our minds from the pain and suffering we endure (thank goodness for iPods) in the interest of better health. Did you ever see a smiling runner? How much joy is on the face of someone lifting weights? Did you ever reach your destination while spinning at the gym? I think you get my point. Therefore, I want to share some interesting and important information with you that might just be the answer to this dilemma.

Recently I received a downloadable copy of the PTR (Professional Tennis Registry) publication entitled, "Practical On-court Applications for Sport Science." While I won't go into the details of how players can train for optimal fitness and athletic success, I would like to point out some details they cited from the 2009 Strength and Conditioning Journal. According to their studies, a typical hard-court rally (hard courts are what you generally find at your local park) lasts between 4 to 6 seconds with players changing directions 3 to 6 times during the rally. Most of the movement was found to be lateral (side-to-side) along the baseline (back of the court) with 80 percent of the movement between strokes being 8 feet or less. When played for points, a tennis match is very stop-and-go leading one to believe that aerobic benefits cannot be derived from this activity. However, thanks to the necessary recovery time between points where one may find themselves filling their lungs to capacity, aerobic capability is developed. I know that I've participated in my fair share of this on-court puppetry thanks to a hitting partner who loves to draw me into the net with a short ball and then lob over my head.

Now let's talk heart rate. During a match, beats can reach 190 per minute while lowering to 110 between games. Even with this drop, however, the body continues to be keyed-up while in the midst of performing both psychological and physical functions. In other words, tennis is working the mind as well as the body both during and after performances. As a matter of fact, this study suggests that a typical player might burn anywhere from 300 to 2,000 calories during a match with the numbers varying based upon the quality and length of rallies, levels of skill both at the baseline and net, age, gender, and body weight. The caloric intake of the average adult male is 2,507 calories per day. Adult women fall into a lower range of 1,766 calories. Both statistics are the result of a 2007-08 survey known as NHANES, or the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

But the best part is this: Tennis is fun! Yes, it can be challenging. Yes, it makes you sweat. And, yes, it does require effort on your part to in order to play. Even so, running around hitting balls, especially the slower, easier-to-hit ones commonplace in the QuickStart tennis programs, provides loads of enjoyment, inexpensive entertainment, and apparently good health as well.

So let's eat. Why not, I say. Just watch your portions and let the lifetime sport of tennis take care of a generous slice of your caloric intake. Do it for the health of it!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

FAVORITE SITES: Timeless Tennis by Gary Bala

Posted: Monday, September 12, 2102
US OPEN Summary
Flushing Meadows, NY USA

The ghost of Fred Perry smiled at the end of a special day at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York...read more

Friday, August 24, 2012

REFLECTIONS: Federer as the martial arts master

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to train in the martial arts of Goju Karate and Aikido. These two disciplines were not only very different physically, but their philosophies were also far from united. The structural foundation of Okinowan-based Goju (American Goju is fathered by Peter Urban) is a hard and soft style that uses a soft blocking technique to block or deflect hard strikes rather than meet force with force. However, it also employs hard striking technique against softer targets. Aikido does not contain bone-shattering blows nor head-high kicks in any way. It's master, Morihei Ueshiba, set forth the goal to create a defensive style that would not only protect the potential victim but also cause no serious harm to the attacker. While it requires calmness, relaxation, and inner peace to be most effective, pursuing this art helps develop these very qualities.

Now let's consider Roger Federer and how this relates. Flash back with me to his 2001 win over then 29-year-old defending champion Pete Sampras in the fourth round of the Wimbledon championships at the All-England Club. The two men battled fiercely as they served and attacked the net at every opportunity. As the sets progressed, there was little doubt that this contest was going to alter the course of future tennis history. And history-making it was as the 19-year-old Federer gave us a glimpse of greatness to come.

Throughout his career, the swiss maestro has used his powerful and swift ground-stroking ability to go through opponents like corn stalks to the plow. He found that damage could be inflicted on other players from both wings and he inevitably mostly abandoned the serve-volley charge that brought down the giant Sampras. 

But something has changed again. All we need do is look at the recent thrashing "the Fed" gave world number two Novak Djokovic at the 2012 Western and Southern Open championships. This was not the hard-charging 19-year-old who broke past the aging champion. On the contrary, this was the old master who had adjusted his game to more carefully pick his spots of attack and defend. He did not use his forcefulness to obliterate his opponent, and yet he took set one by a score of 6-0. No boards were broken or bricks smashed in the process. And during set two, when Djokovic made his own adjustments and kept it tight, we got to see the relaxed control and internal belief that has become almost as much a trademark as the RF logo itself. 

Now I'm not saying that Roger Federer has discovered the remnants of some ancient martial art,  nor am I saying that he is channeling the energy or "chi" of Morihei Ueshiba...or am I?

Friday, August 10, 2012

FAVORITE SITES: Timeless Tennis by Gary Bala

Posted: Sunday, August 5, 2012
The Gold Zone: Tennis at the London Summer Olympics 2012

The Gold Medalists in tennis have been decided at the XXX Olympic Games in London...read more

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

REFLECTIONS: Your tennis game as part of a plan and not the result of happenstance

While teaching a tennis lessons the other night to a 16-year-old junior preparing for her upcoming tennis season, I explained how the concept of gaining an understanding of how both technique and tactics are built can help her game in ways she could not even imagine.
    Let me begin with the notion of a "blueprint of strokes". Imagine for a moment that you are constructing a house, and even though you can envision it in your mind's eye, you have no blueprints or building plans to reference. With enough experience, you might do some things correctly and be successful. But I don't expect that the overall construction job will be well done. Then consider, that if something goes wrong with the electricity in the home, how difficult it would be to trace the wiring, junction boxes, circuit breakers, etc. without a visual roadmap of what was installed. Can the problem be fixed without the reference? Absolutely! Things can always be reverse engineered and figured out. But what is the cost in money, time and convenience? Knowing how something is constructed is the key to efficient troubleshooting and eventual repair. 
    Now let's apply this to a tennis court. Many players hit the ball by "feel" without any formal training or understanding of how racquets, balls and the court surface work together. When having a good day, players may have no idea "why". It doesn't seem all that important until they have a bad day. Then the "why" becomes very important. If one gains an understanding of how things are constructed, and they develop a visual blueprint in their brain of the components and how they fit together, tracking down a problem becomes much less of an inefficient and frustrating venture. Groundstrokes and volleys are fashioned, serves and overheads are built, strategies and tactics used in point play are constructed. The more we leave things to chance, feel, or plain old luck, the less chance we have of controlling our own destiny on the court.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

FAVORITE SITES: Timeless Tennis by Gary Bala

Posted: Saturday, July 21, 2012
Coming Soon! The London Summer Olympics 2012 - and Tennis Gold!

Since the days of ancient Greece, every four years, the finest athletes in the world gather to compete at the fabled Olympic Games.

In 2012, London boasts the honor of hosting this summer's Olympic Games - and showcasing the glory of sport and the heart of human competition.

And the globe's top tennis players prepare and wait for their chance at Olympic gold.

Let the Games begin on July 27...see more

Sunday, July 8, 2012

NEWS: The master of grass courts takes a record 7th Wimbledon title

Two competitors–one victor: Federer

Records were to be made at the 2012 Wimbledon Championships. Roger Federer was to win his 7th Wimbledon final–unprecedented in the history of this sport–or Andy Murray was to be the first British male to even make the men’s title at the All England Club since Bunny Austin took the court and lost against American Don Budge seventy-four years ago. Murray has been playing his best tennis in a Grand Slam since turning pro in 2004, and on his way to the men’s final he had to overcome both number 5 David Ferrer and number 1 Novak Djokovic–the defending Wimbledon champion.

For Roger Federer, a man on a mission to not only take the title but regain the number one ranking in the world, played his unique brand of brilliant tennis we have come to expect over the years from this court maestro. His opponent was up to the task in the first set however and took the match opening by 6 games to 4. Never one to be counted out, and even though he will be turning 31 next month, Federer fought back with a vengeance and took the sea-saw second set 7-5.  Early in the third set, the typical English rains made their appearance, and the match was delayed while the roof was closed. This break in action, and the resumption of play–now indoors–seemed to rejuvenate Federer as he started to find his champion’s gear while taking the set 6-3. The momentum had definitely shifted, and Roger showed the shot-making talent that had already earned him six former titles at this venue. 

The fourth set was another hard-fought battle, but Roger was again up to the task. In the end, Roger Federer disappointed the pro-British crowd by defeating one of their own, Andy Murray the Scot, by 6-4 in the final set. Be even though they still wait for a countrymen to take back the title, the spectators roared with applause for the efforts of someone they have come to admire and respect from his previous ventures onto Centre Court. Andy Murray fought back the tears as he addressed the crowd and his camp–thanking them all for their unending support. And although Murray walked out of the All England Club the second of two, he can carry his head up high as he showed just how close he could come to victory for himself, his fans, and an entire country with the name “Andy” on their lips during a summer tournament at Wimbledon, England 2012.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

EPISODE 92 (Podcast): Let's talk SCORING

Whether or not you want to count the points in tennis as a way to gauge either enjoyment or accomplishment, scoring is always an optional part of the experience. But there are more ways to keep score than you might think. Here we'll take a look at some of the various ways players put points on the board.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

REFLECTIONS: BELIEVE...and anything can happen!

Most might agree that what's ahead for all of us is virtually unknown. We can speculate and predict by viewing past history or statistics, but it is impossible to forsee what simple BELIEF can accomplish. 
    This past week at the Wimbledon Championships, the number two seed, current French Open champion, former Wimbledon Champion and world number two, Rafael Nadal, was ousted in five sets by the number 100 player in the world, Lukas Rosol. This giant killer lost in the very next round, but perhaps his effort has rippled through the halls of the All-England club and ignited the spirt of those willing to find a little bit extra in their games. 
    No challenger can ever be underestimated in this golden age of tennis. We have been witness to some of the best athletes, shot-makers, and overall natural talents to ever hold a racquet in the last decade of play. All you need do is look at Roger Federer's 16 Grand Slam titles breaking the all-time record set by Pete Sampras in 2002, Rafael Nadal's 11 Slams including a record 7 French Open titles, and the incredible 2011 year of Novak Djokovic winning the Australian, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open titles during one of the longest winning streaks in tennis history at 43 match wins.
    Given the magnitude of these statistics, if one were ranked #100 or even in the 20s to 30s, they would realistically consider their chances of making the quarterfinal round at Wimbledon pretty slim. And yet, that is just what BELIEF can do. From the list of eight men remaining in the quarterfinal round, we have Mikhail Youzhny at number 25, Philip Kohlschreiber at 27, and Florian Mayer at 31 in the world respectively. This is quite the contrast from some other Grand Slam tournaments that found much higher ranked players in the last eight.
    We may sometimes justify a set of circumstances in our head that can limit our success–thinking that results are solely dictated by the actions of our opponent. Even worse, we can approach a match with a defeatist attitude based on what the challenger has done yesterday instead of what they have yet to prove today.
    What does this mean for our games? BELIEVE. It costs you nothing, and it is right around the corner if you follow the signs. When you arrive, anything can happen.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

FAVORITE SITES: Timeless Tennis by Gary Bala

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2012
The Spirit of Wimbledon 2012

The 126th Edition of the All-England Championships at Wimbledon has started!

Gary Bala has sought out this very substantive and brilliant retrospective of this prestigious Grand Slam tournament. If you are a fan of tennis, and especially a fan of Wimbledon, you will not want to miss this.

By Gary Bala
Enjoy this extensive Video Documentary Tribute to the Spirit of Wimbledon, by World of Rolex!

Parts One Through Four
(Each Video is about 28 minutes with an Intermission at about 12 minute mark)
View videos...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

REFLECTIONS: Maybe it's time to enjoy the Gotta Play Tennis podcast

If you are currently a podcast listener, thank you very much. I truly appreciate you taking the time to listen to my show, and I hope it has been helpful.

But if you have never listened, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

  • Podcasts are FREE
  • Gotta Play Tennis podcast typically lasts a but 15 -20 minutes
  • Many different tennis topics are covered
  • The insights shared are from both current and past experiences from over three decades
  • I personally guarantee you will learn something you did not know about tennis
What others are saying:

"He mixes technique with tennis history.
He gives a good macro-type overview of the game in an entertaining way"
Leftie Bill

"Fast-paced and pointed ideas and insights to help club and rec. players at all levels"


"His background in education comes through almost as much as his love for, 
and teaching of, the sport"

Thinking About Tennis

"Please continue–all my friends in my club tennis league are now hooked"


"Ron delivers a lot in a brief time–yet one is not overwhelmed. He is practical, yet has a 
dry wit that lighten's one day"


Real comments, by real people, taken from the iTunes COMMENTS section.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

FAVORITE SITES: Timeless Tennis by Gary Bala

Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2012
The Making of a Tennis Logo: Novak Djokovic

See the video at www.timelesstennis.net

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

FAVORITE SITES: Timeless Tennis by Gary Bala

Posted: Monday, June 11, 2012
Making History: The 2012 Roland Garros French Open

Paris - Roland Garros - Single's Championships

Rafael Nadal (Spain, No. 2) defeated Novak Djokovic (Serbia, No. 1) in four rain-soaked sets over two days...read more

Saturday, June 9, 2012

NEWS: Technology comes to tennis with Babolat's Play & Connect

When is a tennis racquet not just a tennis racquet? When it is a digital information gathering device as well. Enter the Babolat Play & Connect racquet being introduced at this year's 2012 French Open. Imagine comparing data about how you hit the ball with your tennis buddies, evaluating how you fared against a particular opponent, or reviewing an analysis of your strokes - from the on-board computer – and seeing how they match up to the pros.

The concept is a smart one (pun intended): gather "objective" data instead of "subjective." As tennis players, we depend very much on feel or perception of our strokes. Take the personality and pride out of the equation and we have hard facts that can help us determine the idiosyncrasies of our playing style and how they affect our strike of the ball based on the impact zone. This data can, for example, help players determine the weight distribution of the racquet that suits their game – notably head light, head heavy, or evenly balanced.

Not slated for release until 2013, players including Rafael Nadal, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga , Kim Clijsters and Li Na gave it a whirl for an audience that watched the action as live game statistics (on the big screen, tablet computer or smartphone) that included shot type, power, and consistency.

As somewhat of a tech geek, I applaud this effort and look forward to how this can help connect my love of technology with my love of tennis. But as a traditionalist, I'm a little worried about how sterile data can be. By the very nature of this game and it's subjectivity, we all get our own strain of passion, inspiration and awe from watching or playing a match. Let's hope we don't remove those factors thanks to silicon and microprocessors.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Look at a photograph that lacks enough contrast and you will see a mediocre and washed-out photo. Our eyes need to be visually stimulated in order to enjoy what is before us. When everything blends together, our brain has a harder time differentiating between various images and shapes. Our taste buds are very much the same. What makes a meal great is the variety of flavors and textures we get to experience. 
    Tennis is another item in this category–at least from where I sit. Recently at the French Open, I got to watch – on video streaming – Roger Federer vs. Juan Martin Del Potro and then Rafael Nadal vs. Nicolas Almagro. What do these two matches have in common? Besides both matches being in the quarterfinal round, each featured a one-handed backhand vs. a two-fisted shot. Somehow, this makes the match even more entertaining since there is still something special about the one handed backhand wing. It just so happens that Federer has one of the best single-handers ever in the game, and at age 30, he still holds the number 3 ranking in the world. But as we look at the rest of the top ten, double fists rule the roost. Looking down the list a little further, we see Almagro at 13, Richard Gasquet at 20, and Federer's compatriot, Stanislas Wawrinka at number 21 in the world with a world-reknown one-handed topspin backhand.
    So let me be the first (well, maybe not the actual first) to raise my voice for "Save the One-handed Backhand." We seem to be a people obsessed with saving things that have a chance of going extinct. The one-handed backhand is a perfect candidate for this category. For years, only the one hander was taught as the "correct" way to hit. Using the other hand on the racquet was nothing more than a crutch for those having difficulty developing the strength or coordination on the non-dominant side of the body as we used  the lead shoulder instead of the rear one to facilitate the shot. 
    I, myself, have been guilty of pushing forward this classic stroke as my belief was that, when taught and then hit correctly, neither extra strength or extra agility was necessary. But I have changed my tune with the advent of the 10andundertennis initiative by the USTA and ITF.  I not only encourage the two-hander as the primary stroke on that wing, but I actively discourage a child from not using both hands for better gripping and stability. There is a negative cost however, when kids are just starting to learn, since they sometimes get themselves confused and start to use two hands on the racquet when hitting a forehand on the opposite side. 
    So if this is what I'm doing as an instructor, a traditional one-handed player pushing the two-handed shot, then what are others providing for our youth? If they are doing the same, we are essentially hastening the disappearance of the single hand backhand for all future players.  This may eventually become so prevalent that the contrast that I still get to enjoy today, the little that is left it, will go away permanently. Two hands on the backhand side will be the accepted norm, and the elegant beauty facilitated by the eastern backhand grip and straight arm extended forward–bringing the racquet into the ball path well in front of the body–will go the way of the rotary phone. Sad indeed! 
(not so much for the rotary phone however)

FAVORITE SITES: Essential Tennis by Ian Westermann

Recently, I submitted a question to tennis teaching pro Ian Westermann of Essentialtennis.com and the Essential Tennis podcast on iTunes. My question to Ian was regarding the imitation of pro styles based upon one's own strengths and weaknesses in their game. 
He was nice enough to use my question as the basis for podcast episode #204 entitled "Copying the Pros." I would encourage you to take a listen to this episode as well as the other 203 shows that Ian Westermann has available at Essential Tennis on iTunes or from his website

Thanks to Ian for his insight on this topic and also for his recommendation of my show to his listeners. We truly provide different formats as we pursue similar but alternate paths–the ultimate goal being to help others with their tennis knowledge and skills.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

FAVORITE SITES: Timeless Tennis by Gary Bala

Can Tennis History Improve Your Game? Yes!
And here's how...
Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2012

- By learning from the styles and attributes of the great stars of the past, says Peter Burwash in his latest piece for Tennis Magazine, "Learning from the Past", pp. 38-43 (June 2012)

In this masterful article, Burwash readily admits that there's a lot to admire in the games of today's top pros…read more

Sunday, June 3, 2012

EPISODE 91 (Podcast): The dusty road to Roland Garros

We take a look at the clay court swing as an indication of those with opportunities at Roland Garros. This podcast is an audio presentation of blogs written over the last two months as players took to the dirt in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

REFLECTIONS: Opening oneself up to EVALUATION is valuable feedback

People are a constant form of instantaneous feedback. They clap for appreciation, boo to show dislike, whistle over questionable decisions, and even downright yell in protest about things they believe in. Yet when it comes time for their voices to be heard on a survey, they will usually avoid any and all that come their way.  
    Knowing this, what did I do? I asked parents of students in my group lesson programs to fill out a survey. Well, it really is more of an evaluation of services performed by myself, for them and their kids, during the six-week tennis sessions I provide through the local recreation center. Does the township require it? No, not at all. But I realize that the only way to know what works, what doesn't, and what needs adjustment, is through honest, constructive feedback. 
So here is the criterion I use for my survey:

  1. How well did the ACTIVITIES of the session align with the DESCRIPTION?
  2. Were the OBJECTIVES of the session(s) accomplished?
  3. How KNOWLEDGEABLE was the instructor in his area of expertise?
  4. Did your child acquire any NEW SKILLS as a result of participation?
  5. To what extent did the instructor present the lessons in an FUN way?
  6. Did you gain any KNOWLEDGE that is relevant to you helping your kids on the court? 
  7. Did the instructor MOTIVATE and instill the love of tennis in the kids?
  8. Was there sufficient time spent on the majority of the activities?
  9. Did the instructor keep you informed of time/date changes and/or provide avenues for you to stay informed by either phone, email, or internet?  
  10. Would you RECOMMEND these lessons to other parents for their kids?

Each of these points are rated with a scoring system of 1-4 with 4 being the highest.Generally speaking, a healthy mix of 3 and 4's are reasonable and the best one can hope for. When someone marks all fours (or all threes for that  matter), and leaves no additional comments in that section, then it raises the red flag in my mind as to whether a parent really took the time to think it through. Feedback should not always indicate perfection, and I would never expect the highest rating in every category. Yes, I admit it. I am human and prone to less-than-perfect results each and every time.
    When I go to Starbucks, I expect the drink I ordered as requested. If it is sub-par, then it is my duty to let someone know. My experience is that they will happily fix the issue. That is called service, and one should expect nothing less. When I teach tennis, my job is three fold: make sure kids are safe, they have fun, and they learn something about tennis. If I've accomplished all three, then I've done a pretty good job. But teaching kids is not quite as easy as mixing a latte. I'm watching the activities based on my initial plan, adjusting to the dynamics of the group, taking heed of the remaining time of the session, and providing additional personal attention where needed. When I take the court, the parents have expectations for their dollar, the kids have needs and wants, and I personally have standards of my own to meet. We never have a bad class, but some classes go better than others. In 70 minutes, I try to provide a mix of fun games, footwork skills, tennis technique, and some overall general tennis knowledge. But in addition, I have worked diligently toward parent engagement. If parents are active participants in their child's activity during my sessions, they may be active with their kids on their own–acting as an extension of my lessons that helps solidify their child's growth and enjoyment of this sport. This has been and always will be my mission.  
    How did I do? Well, pretty good as I've just finished my 6-week Spring session. But there are a few points I want to consider based on parent feedback. The day for me to become satisfied with where I am, with no additional growth needed, will never come. Growth is life, learning is endless, and I will continually strive to provide the best programs possible as we continue our tennis programs throughout this year.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

EPISODE 90 (Podcast): Are you smarter than a beginning player?

Looking back on your humble beginnings, perhaps it is time to appreciate all that you now take for granted on the tennis court. We all had to start somewhere, and there continue to be critical elements from where we began that may be worth revisiting.