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Learning from the classics

Posted on June 16, 2010 in Miscellaneous


On the rare occasion I get the TV to myself at my house, I sometimes like to throw in a classic match DVD and watch tennis from the 1970s and ’80s.

On one such rare occasion, I was watching my copy of Borg vs. Gerulaitis, the Wimbledon 1977 semi-final, and I noticed Vitas Gerulaitis using a short, off pace slice backhand down the line. Being Wimbledon, Gerulaitis was following it into the net, forcing Bjorn Borg to dig out a tough forehand. Gerulaitis would then volley the ball cross court to Borg’s backhand corner. Often, his volley would go for a clean winner or force an error from Borg. In the early stages of the match, to win the point Borg had to come up with something spectacular. Being Borg, he did, of course, come up with a solution. Hey, you don’t win five straight Wimbledon Championships without figuring out a way past the volleyer.

Anywho, it was the slice backhand down the line that was setting up this play so well for Gerulaitis. If this one particular play gave Borg all kinds of issues, what would it do to my fellow TW playtesters? There was only one way to find out and I started to work this shot into my repertoire.

The short, off pace slice down the line has been serving me well for the last few months. Unlike the Gerulaitis vs. Borg match-up, I’m not playing on grass so I don’t always follow this shot to the net.

When staying at the baseline, I’ve found this short slice shot to really open up my opponent’s backhand corner. By bringing them in short, I can follow up with a deep ball to the backhand and force them to hit off the back foot. If I can hit that shot strong enough, I’ve found I can often draw and error then and there to win the point. If not, I usually get a short ball back, which I can attack and follow to the net.

I’ve found that if my opponent tries to approach the net after I’ve hit the short slice to the forehand, he/she has to dig the ball up and over the net, giving me ample opportunity to attack the approach shot with a passing shot or a lob.

Like Gerulaitis, I will follow this shot to the net as well. Most of the time my opponents will try to pass me down the line, allowing me to volley the ball cross court for a winner or to force an error. Because my opponent has to hit the ball up, rarely is the passing shot really tough to handle.

When it comes to the short slice backhand down the line, so far so good. I use this shot here and there during point play and have found it to be a very reliable tactic. When an opponent is really giving me trouble, I will let my demon side take over for a bit and hit two short backhand slices down the line in a row. However, I usually reserve such deviousness for when I’m feeling particularly mean.

Of course, there is a solution to this play. If you can’t figure it out like Borg did, then you’ll have to watch the match and see how he did it. We sell the Borg vs. Gerulaitis 1977 Wimbledon semi-final DVD for $12.99, and in my opinion it’s worth every penny. What a great match between two legendary players and what a great way to pick up a new tactic.

Thanks, Vitas!



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