Saturday, July 19, 2008

Daniela Hantuchova Strategy Lessons

Two things you can take from the smooth-hitting Slovak.

1. Keep it simple. I often see club players try to imitate the wristy ground strokes that many top players use. That’s fine for the pros because they have the time to continually perfect and groove their swings, but it’s not a good idea if you don’t play a lot. Why? The more elements you have in a stroke, the more difficult it will be to produce when the pressure is on. One of the key fundamentals of tennis is creating a solid technical foundation so that when the match gets tight, your strokes don’t fall apart. Daniela Hantuchova, whose ground strokes are some of the cleanest in the game, obviously did a great job of that in her formative years. Hantuchova hits the ball much like Lindsay Davenport, using long, fluid, uncomplicated strokes. Her forehand and backhand have gradual low-to-high sweeps to them, not extreme low-to-high movements, giving her topspin for safety but enabling her to drive through the ball. In fact, her technique is so sound that it’s easy for her to hit penetrating shots even when she’s under pressure.

To get a feel for hitting clean, deep drives, try this in practice. Using a moderately low-to-high stroke, hit the ball 3 feet past the baseline while not allowing it to clear the net by more than 2 or 3 feet. It’s difficult to do because you really have to hit through the ball. If your mechanics are correct, your follow-through won’t be much above shoulder height. Also, make sure you get in good position; if you don’t set up so you can make contact between your knees and rib cage—which Hantuchova does beautifully—you won’t have much success with this drill.

2. Round out your game. Whether she’s blasting forehands and back-hands or hitting volleys, Hantuchova is comfortable in all parts of the court. I think a big reason for this is that she has played so much doubles. (In case you didn’t know, Hantuchova owns a career Grand Slam in mixed doubles.) Balancing your singles game with a regular dose of two-on-two will teach you different ways to win points. When Hantuchova competes in singles, she frequently finishes points with volleys because her ground strokes create opportunities for her to approach the net. This is a skill that doubles has helped her refine. Another thing that doubles has done for Hantuchova’s game—and it should do the same for yours—is force her to have an aggressive mentality on her returns. When returning in doubles, you have to pick a target and go for it in order to avoid the person at net. This has taught Hantuchova to be offensive from the first hit. In today’s game, even at the club level, if you can instill fear in your opponent that you will attack weak second serves, it will pay big dividends. It may not win you the point right away, but it will become a factor later on in the match when the pressure is on.

Article by Paul Annacone -