Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Vertically Challenged Player

Here's the Long and the Short of it…
Not everyone is John Isner (right), the 6’9” player who for the past few years has been the darling American player on the ATP tour. Or Ivo Karlovic (left), who is an astounding 6'10"! On the other hand, not everyone in the Tennis League Network is at the height of their game, or really really tall. And for sure there are many of you out there who have to deal with the issue of height on the tennis court.  (Amy? Jean? Are you listening?)But there are two schools of thought regarding player height on the tennis court. At first glance it seems that taller is better, mainly because of the serve. Taller players can usually get a strong, fast serve over with what seems minimal effort. Frequently, as seen with Venus Williams, taller players have an extensive reach and grab those angled shots. Also, when a taller player faces a shorter opponent they typically use the top spin lob. This shot pushes the tiny player deep into the court and more times than not over Shorty’s head. It would seem that the taller player has the court advantage.

The search for playing techniques and advantages to assist shorter female players, 5’4” and under, is tireless. (The focus here will be on female players since typically they are shorter players;but read on to see photos of the "big babes" on the women's tour.)

Research shows that height is helpful but not everything. (Scroll down for a list of the tallest and shortest players among the top 50 players on the WTA tour. Most of the women in the top 50 seem to fall in the range of 5'8" - 5'11".) Speed, agility, endurance, hand-eye coordination, and simply ability all play a huge part in the sport. Simply stated, a taller player is not usually as good at moving quickly on the court. Tip to Shorty: keep them moving. Push your lanky opponent into the back corner and then be diligent with your volley or hit an unexpected drop shot. Ideally, get the ball back and get them out of position.

Changing direction is more difficult with height, so keep your shots varied and not down the middle. Another thing that works on most tall players is to keep the ball low because it's more difficult for them to get to it. Certainly, when they are volleying, keep that ball low by their feet, it makes it very difficult for them to return. Try your best to prevent the giant from getting a high ball to smash back at you.

Characteristically, a shorter player can rely on speed and agility. Keep this in mind. You can beat them with your SPEED!

Additionally, you must add mental agility (don’t be intimidated by the giant), accuracy and a solid return of serve. Ideally, when you get that tall person’s terrific serve keep the return low making it harder for the tall person to get to since they typically have to lean so far down to hit it. Also, remember add the low volley and slice shots to your arsenal. In a nut shell I discovered that height isn't everything, well maybe in the modeling field. However, ability, agility, heart and mentality are what add inches to your game and ultimately neutralize a height handicap.

Players lacking in height, but not HEART:
Belgian female player Justine Henin (left) who is also lacking in height—she is 5’6”––but not in heart. She enjoyed being world #1 in singles with a record of 492-106, 41 career singles titles and has won all Grand Slams 2 more than once except for Wimbledon where she was only a finalist. As you know, she’s out of retirement and still one of the smallest players on the women’s tour, with the exception of …
Melanie Oudin (left) (born September 23, 1991) is an American tennis player and former World Junior No. 2. Her career high rank is World No. 41, which she achieved on February 22, 2010. Career prize money: $450,335 .

Do smaller players have to work harder? Maybe. But what is better than working hard at something you love and challenging yourself, testing your abilities, reaching your pinnacle?

I keep this in mind as I walk on the court and assess my opponent, “It’s my game, and I bring on the court me, my racquet and my arsenal, leaving any notions of height restrictions or handicaps outside on the curb.” So be a warrior no matter the opponent and keep playing with HEART!!!

There are many women of basketball height on the women’s tour. But height is a challenge, not just for us recreational players, but for several of the pros, too. Among the top 50 female players, here’s the long and short of it:

Maria Sharapova (Russia) 6-2

Ana Ivanovic (Serbia) 6-1

Venus Williams (USA) 6-1

Dinara Safina –(Russia) 6.0

Yanina Wickmayer-(Belgium) 6.0


Jie Zheng (China) 5-4-1/2

Patty Schnyder (Switzerland) 5-6

Justine Henin (Belgium) 5-5

Melanie Oudin (USA) 5-6

Tamarine Tanasugarn (Thailand) 5-5

Alexandra Dulgheru (Romania) 5-5

Maria Kirilenko (Russia ) 5-6

Dominika Cibulkova (Slovakia) 5-2

No comments: