I used to be a pretty decent tennis player and tennis coach. My skill set is still more or less intact, but I am not match tough at present. The desire to get into better shape while sharpening my game led me to purchase two different tennis related products.
1. The Sklz Powerbase Tennis Trainer was on sale at a local sporting goods store. I decided to give it a shot. It is basically a heavy disk with a dead tennis ball tethered to what amounts to a giant rubber band. I used it several times and was impressed with how portable it was. I also thought that if a player was hitting topspin shots off of either wing that a good workout could be had. Slice backhands and volleys did not really elicit much of a response, but a player with good mastery of topspin could have long “rallies” with the tethered ball while working up a decent sweat. So far so good…
The real test came when I next got onto an actual tennis court hitting balls with a human being. At this point, the limited usefulness of the Powerbase Tennis Trainer became painfully evident. It took me over 10 minutes to readjust to a normal bounce as the tether and rubber band certainly alter the physics of the tennis ball’s flight and bounce. If one hits with pace using the Powerbase, the ball springs back in a way that is not realistic for actual tennis. One might think this could help with reflexes since the Powerbase ball shoots back faster and lower than a usual groundstroke, but being early on all of one’s shots can lead to pulling the ball badly wide on a normal crosscourt groundstroke.
Final Rating: Avoid this item. It can help a person get into better shape so as a workout device it is fine, but it is detrimental to one’s tennis swing and timing on the court. I will be selling my Powerbase to a used sporting goods store.
2. Speedminton is a game that meshes aspects of badminton and tennis. The shuttle cock/birdie known as a speeder is heavier and more compact than what is used in badminton. This leads to the speeder being much faster than its badminton counterpart. The basic rackets are made of aluminum and resemble a junior tennis racket. This racket can generate a lot more force than a badminton racket can produce.
I tested this out with a couple of other tennis players I know and the strokes we used seemed to be that of a flat approach shot or reflex volley depending on how hard our opposition had hit the speeder.
Final Rating: Speedminton is fun and is a workout. The mechanics of hitting were not going to lead to bad tennis habits as far as I or my hitting partners could tell. It also cannot hurt one’s reflexes as Speedminton does force a lot of reflex strikes due to the velocity of the speeder. This basic set comes with 2 rackets and 3 speeders. It is not expensive and is quite portable. If a tennis player is looking for some fun cross training, I recommend Speedminton.
U.S. Open Contenders:
I will not do what Tennis Magazine does and predict final outcomes for players weeks before the draw is announced. Still, much can be gleaned from the Summer hard court season. Needless to say the draw will make a huge difference as world rankings are not in perfect alignment with some of the more promising players in the tournament.
1. Rafael Nadal – If Rafa can impose his will on a match and have it played on his terms, he wins. Fast hard courts make it harder for Nadal to impose his style of match on his opponent, but his post-Wimbledon results demonstrate that he is still the man to beat in New York.
2. Novak Djokovic – If I was a betting man, Djokovic would be my pick. His game is really impressive when he gets it going. At present he seems a little behind Nadal in terms of confidence and concentration on hard courts, but I think his two handed backhand up the line and his ability to bully Nadal on a hard court could be the difference if these two meet.
3. Roger Federer – I nearly placed Andy Murray here, but Roger has reached 17 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals and won 4 consecutive U.S. Open titles. There is something to be said for experience. If Roger’s tennis spirits have been recharged by his Olympic Gold Medal in doubles, then we have an interesting triumvirate heading into New York. If he still needs some time to get his groove back, Federer may struggle. Federer will have to take better care of his serve than he did in Toronto and play better in tie-breakers than he did in Cincinnati and Beijing to win a 5th consecutive U.S. Open.
4. Andy Murray – His game seems to be coming of age as the feel and touch he possesses is being complimented by increased power and toughness. Some may still wonder if he is tough enough to win an elite event. 2 weeks of 3 out of 5 set tennis in New York ought to be a good test for Murray’s toughness.
5. Juan Martin del Potro – The Argentine is powerful, 19 years old, and has momentum. Confidence can do many things for a player. Still, if del Potro wins at Flushing Meadows it will be because he transformed into a different player during the event. Sometimes players enter an event at one level and leave at another level. Therefore, the kid has at least a punchers chance.
6 -10. These players deserve watching, but the odds of a champion coming from anyone not in the top 4 listed drop off significantly. James Blake, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (if healthy), David Ferrer, Andy Roddick (if healthy), and Fernando Gonzalez have earned the right to attention in the draw. Finally, Stanislas Wawrinka and Gilles Simon likely lack the fire power to contend for a title, but both possess the steady play that could lead to upsets.
Dinara Safina has shown signs of becoming a dominant force on the women’s tour. I like how she is taking her game to her opponents and beating them into submission. Nevertheless, her serve is still not reliable enough to proclaim her as the clear cut favorite for the title.
Venus and Serena Williams are both likely to be factors if not favorites in Flushing Meadows. Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic both look fragile. Elena Dementieva may ride some Gold Medal momentum to a strong result. I have always liked her fight, athleticism and ground strokes even if her serve looks like a dead duck coming over the net.
Injuries, early retirements, fragile nerves and a few unsound service motions have left the women’s draw quite open-ended. Sadly, parity of this sort is not making for an exciting event. My hope is that Safina can win the U.S. Open and realize the potential of the firepower she has demonstrated for most of the hard court Summer. She is the one player on the rise who could lift the whole tour to higher levels of play.
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