Tennis has all variables in the spectrum of skills, tactics and strategies. In the rainbow of possibilities the attack stands out as one of the most interesting ones to me. After long years of playing the game myself, observing others play and teaching, I am lead to believe that you can not teach the attack nor be an attacker if your personality does not match it. We could go into a long argument about this and it would take plenty of our time and energy (you can always email me with your prespective on this). At the end, we would conclude that personality, inborn special skills, abilities and environment are the most important factors inherent to the development of a good all round attacking player. Therefore I will start with what I think is the general mosaic of the all around attacking player.
- Risk takers (all or nothing types)
- Creative and imaginative
- Fierce competitors
Examples of all time great attackers:
Pancho Gonzalez “Although his high-speed serve, so effortlessly delivered, was a trademark, Gonzalez, a 6-foot-2, 180-pounder, was a splendid athlete and tactician who excelled at defense, too. “My legs, retrieving, lobs and change-of-pace service returns meant as much or more to me than my power, " he once said, “but people overlooked that because of the reputation of my serve. "
Althea Gibson “Gibson was a big hitter with an awesome serve. She liked to attack, but developed consistency at the baseline"
Margareth Court “Court was primarily an attacker, basing her game on a heavy serve and volley, and relying on athleticism and endurance. She could conquer with groundstrokes, though. . "
Maria Ester Bueno " As the São Paulo Swallow, she was slim, tall (5-foot-7) and quick, swooping to the net to conquer with piercing volleys. She was a blend of power and touch, a woman of superb movement and rhythms. "
Billie Jean King “An aggressive, emotional player who has often said, “You have to love to guts it out to win, " Billie Jean specialized in serve-and-volley tactics, aided by quickness and a highly competitive nature. "
Evone Goolagong “She was a natural, a free-flowing right-hander blessed with speed, lightning reflexes and a carefree temperament. "
Martina Navratilova “Despite her upbringing on slow clay in the small town of Revnice, outside of Prague, she has always been a tornado-like attacker, a net-rusher"
Lew Hoad " Hoad, a strapping 5-foot-8, 175-pounder with a gorilla chest and iron wrists, may have been the strongest man to play tennis in the world class. He blistered the ball and became impatient with rallying, preferring to hit for winners. It was a flamboyant style, and made for some bad errors when he wasn't in tune. But when his power was focused along with his concentration, Hoad came on like a tidal wave. He was strong enough to use topspin as an offensive drive. He was assault minded, but had enough control to win the French title on slow clay in 1956. "
Roy Emerson " Fitness was his hallmark. He trained hard and was always ready for strenuous matches and tournaments. Although primarily a serve-and volleyer, he could adapt to the rigors of slow courts"
Rod Laver “Few champions have been as devastating and dominant as Laver was as amateur and pro during the 1960s. An incessant attacker, he was nevertheless a complete player who glowed in backcourt and at the net. Laver's 5-foot-81/2, 145 pound body seemed to dangle from a massive left arm that belonged to a gorilla, an arm with which he bludgeoned the ball and was able to impart ferocious topspin. Although others had used topspin, Laver may have inspired a wave of heavy-hitting topspin practitioners of the 1970s such as Bjorn Borg and Guillermo Vilas. The stroke became basic after Laver. “
John Newcombe " Newcombe's serve, forehand and volley were the backbone of his attacking game, was at its best on grass. His heavy serve was possibly the best of his era. Grass was the setting for his foremost singles wins, the three Wimbledon plus two U. S. Championships at Forest Hi 1967 and 1973. “You're only as good as: second serve and first volley, " was the motto of this intelligent, fun-loving Aussie, and he lived up to it. “
Arthur Ashe “Although Ashe was always a winner, a man of strong character, poised and able to overcome racial blocks, it took him a while to harness his power, groove, his groundstrokes and become a thoughtful player, comfortable on all surfaces. "
John McEnroe “A 5-foot-11, 170-pound left-hander, McEnroe stands as perhaps the most skilled-and controversial-of all players. Brilliant in doubles and singles, he was distinguished by shotmaking artistry, competitive fire and a volatile temper. . . . . A magnificent volleyer with a feathery touch, he was an attacker whose fast court style netted four U. S. Open and three Wimbledon singles. But he had the baselining strength to have done well on clay at the French, a title he might have won at his zenith in 1984. In the final he led Ivan Lendl, 2-0 in sets only to be distracted by temperamental outbursts, and was beaten, 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5. "
Boris Becker “Becker's game featured a big serve, heavy groundstrokes and penetrating volleys. A crowd favorite at Wimbledon, he reached the finals seven times in 10 years" . . . . and Pat Cash, Stefan Edberg, Patrick Rafter, Pete Sampras, Tim Henman and Roger Federer to name a few.
*You can find these biographies at http://www.tennisfame.com/enshrinees_atoz.html
What makes the pure attackers such a rare breed? I could argue that they have to develop the whole spectrum of skills in the tennis game, while others limit themselves to just using a small part of it. In addition they have to be faster, jump higher, react faster at all times, need more intensity, concentration and produce a lot more bursts of high energy and speed when they play. Finally, they have to be more resistant, stronger, train harder, more intense, more explosive with more demanding programs and play a more precise game. All in all they are simply better developed athletes and players.
Let us look at some situations we commonly see at the pro level:
While a baseliner can afford to patiently hit cross court balls 6 to 8 feet from the side lines in order to get the openings needed, an attacker has to take a much higher degree of risk and precision by playing a lot closer to the same lines and many times by just a few inches.
While a baseliner will comfortably place his powerful kick second serves 2 feet or even 5 feet from the service box lines, a serve and volley player will have to go for the line or the minimal margin possible plus he will have to play a forcing service that often is as powerful as a 1st service with more spin.
How many times do we see baseliners ramming the ball cross court as hard as they can at the attacker to obtain an easy volley with no consideration on placement? As in contrast the attacker will have to play his volley with pin point accuracy, thus if he wants to get a chance at a second volley or win the point.
To prepare his attacks the all round player needs to develop a baseline game that often matches and surpasses the quality of the baseline players game specialists. In many cases this plus the fact that they need more physical maturity, is the reason why many attacking players tend to be late “bloomers” on the ATP/WTA circuit.
In addition to the many other facets of the all round serve and volley attacking game this is why it is such a pleasure to watch a serve and volley attacking player, because we are watching ultimate tennis, win or loose by inches, risk and excitement at all instances!
All of these demands, physical, mental and psychological are not for the faint at heart, so the great majority of tennis players go the easy way, the baseline game! Nevertheless by doing so they forego the most exciting part of the game of tennis, sometimes the most rewarding as well, which is the attack!
Now, if you are not an attacker yet, I hope I may have gotten you interested in it. In my next article, I will elaborate on each trait of the all round player plus I will give you some tips on how to develop a solid attacking game.
For comments or ideas about this article please email the author Sergio Cruz
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Sérgio Cruz is an ex # 1 National Champion, Davis Cup Player from Portugal and former Coach Jim Courier ATP World Ranking # 1