Bjorn Borg's backhand

Discussion in 'General Pro Player Discussion' started by VictorS., Sep 20, 2004.

  1. VictorS.

    VictorS. Professional

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    I was watching some old clips of Bjorn Borg back in the late 70s and early 80s and couldn't help but notice how his backhand style is pretty unique. In today's game, players either hit the one-handed backhand or two-handed backhand (which is essentially a lefty forehand with two hands). Borg's was unique in that he used two hands, but let the left hand go after the point of contact. In addition, he had a backhand grip which would more likely be used with the one-hander. This seems to have allowed him tremendous topspin and variety, which many players lack on the backhand side. Why is it, we don't see any players today hitting with this style?? Could this shot not be effective with a graphite racket or in today's style of play??

    here's an excerpt i found from an old borg autobiography:


    BACKHAND


    "...I have to prepare earlier and bend my knees more on the two-handed shot than on my one-handed forehand...
    I place my right hand on the racquet as if the stroke were a standard one-handed eastern backhand. The left hand is placed above the right in a position in which I could hit a choked-up left-handed western forehand if I took my right hand away. I bring the racquet back slightly below my knees and close to my side with a small loop on the way back and both wrists cocked downward. I actually drop the racquet face below the level of my wrists to exaggerate the racquet head sweep from low to high, which also exaggerates the amount of top spin put on the return.
    Jimmy Connors, on the other hand, brings his racquet straight back with a firm wrist slightly below his waist. Our different style results in a different type of shot. Connors' is flat, hard and deep, clearing the net by a few inches, but mine relies heavily on overspin, clearing the net by a foot or more and with varying depths.
    As I pull the racquet forward, my wrists explode the racquet face under the ball snapping upward to shoot tremendous top spin into the shot.
    My right shoulder, which points toward the net on the backswing is parallel to the net at the end of the stroke, with the racquet head finishing on the right side of my body, two feet above my head on the follow-through. But the follow-through changes a lot on every stroke, depending on where the ball has bounced, where I want to hit it, and how much time I have.
    My backhand is built for my game, patience in the backcourt and top-spin passing shots, while Connors' backhand is an offensive weapon, hit aggressively to draw a short return so Jimmy can attack at net. If I had to compare his backhand and mine in a few words, I'd say mine is efficient, his is flamboyant."
     
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  2. Brian Purdie

    Brian Purdie Semi-Pro

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    it was a really cool shot to watch. It's cumbersome, too. I tried it one afternoon. I would suggest everyone give it a go for 20 minutes. It's interesting
     
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  3. jings

    jings Professional

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    I hit with the great man once for about five minutes and I can attest to the spin and indeed disguise he had. He would appear to almost have the racquet shaft perpendicular to the ground and would drop the racquet head almost under his hands, and then just flip the whole thing over - so quickly you just couldn't read which way he was going as it was all in a "flick of the wrists". I just about remembered to hit the ball back rather than just stare at the guy. Even 7 years ago he moved like a cat - effortless. Without question the greatest tennis moment I've had.
     
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  4. VictorS.

    VictorS. Professional

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    Does anyone know of any other pros to hit the backhand in a similar style? I honestly cannot think of many. It just seems very surprising that no one else would ever think of copying this shot. Of course it's very difficult to learn a new style in the middle of a career, but I wonder if a guy like roddick could improve by perhaps adopting the borg-style backhand in addition to his more predictable normal backhand. Certainly he would become much more of a threat on clay. In addition it would give him the variety on the backhand, which seems to be a real liability against his chief rival, roger federer.
     
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  5. big ted

    big ted Hall of Fame

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    like borg said he had to prepare earlier for his two hander as oppossed to other normal two handers and with the power game that started when he tried to make a comeback, he did change his backhand esp on the seniors tour i remember esp when somebody was at net he would not let go with the other hand with a big followthrough hed keep both hands on the whole stroke like a normal two hander so he could be ready for the next shot. he did this on return of serve too. and his regular groundstroke backhand was much much more compact
     
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  6. jings

    jings Professional

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    I'm no expert on stroke mechanics, but the whole shoulder turn / unwind swing that the two-fisters have going these days generates a great deal more power than Borg's technique, which would get exposed quickly these days I think. Borg was supremely fit and was about control and minimum errors from the back court, hence the heavier top spin to give him depth and net clearance. I don't recall him ever over powering players, a la Connors for example. Much was made of his wooden racquets and lack of power on his "comeback" but as Big Ted alludes to, it was more than that.
     
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  7. Jim Hendricks

    Jim Hendricks Rookie

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    It was more like a slapshot.
     
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  8. intense2b

    intense2b Banned

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    WOW! I can't get my wrists to peepee in any direction.
     
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  9. NoBadMojo

    NoBadMojo G.O.A.T.

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    connors didnt overpower people especially on his serve. his game was more about service return, hustle, positioning, angles, etc.
     
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  10. Dedans Penthouse

    Dedans Penthouse Hall of Fame

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    Victor S: If you take another look at that tape showing Borg's backhand, you'll notice that (besides the "strong" Eastern backhand grip with his right hand), his LEFT ELBOW position at the end of his backswing in not emulated by any pro I can think of today. At the end of his backswing, Borg's left elbow was accutely bent (chicken wing style) and together with the 12:00 tip of his racquet face, it pointed towards the back fence.

    Though Leyton Hewitt holds the racquet much further from his body than Borg, and that Hewitt has a rigid, stiff-armed look to his backhand (as opposed to Borg's elbow bending backswing), I would suggest his backhand as closest to Borg when you consider the overall SWING PATHS of those two pros. Hewitt, like Borg did not have a looping "circular" motion, nor did he have the "semi-straight" takeback that you see with Moya, Roddick, etc. Hewitt imho has the most pronounced "banana" shaped swing path, i.e. the racquet drops downward at the beginning of the backswing and rises at the end of the backswing; it drops as it starts the foreward swing ('neath the ball for topspin) and finishes high. Think of the swing path (from start to finish) as: "down-up; down-up." Some of the Russians (Kafelnikov and Safin) have a slight "banana" shape in their backhands (esp. when they want to put a little "spinnage" on the ball).

    In summary, Borg's backhand included a very strong Eastern grip with the right hand, a very good/deep knee-bend (e.g. J.C. Ferrero) and that "chicken wing" left elbow at the tail end of the backswing. By the way, check out Borg's followthough (when he had time to set up and "let it go" -- it was actually a double loop over his head, in a circular pattern much like a rodeo star swinging a larriet above his head, preparing to "throw" it. When rushed, Borg's followthrough was an abbreviated "flip" to the right side of his body.
     
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  11. Rabbit

    Rabbit G.O.A.T.

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    jings-you hit with Borg????? That had to have been awesome.

    That's what made tennis so great back then. The great ones were unique. Borg, Lendl, Connors, McEnroe were not cookie cutters of one another. They had unique strokes and games. Sigh.
     
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  12. NoBadMojo

    NoBadMojo G.O.A.T.

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    like Jim hendrix said..more of a slapshot and i if i am not mistaken, borg, like kafel played hockey as youths too. with the steep angle of attack on the standard borg bh, i dont think you have any choice but to let go of the off hand on the follow thru. his bh seems a little like the modern forehand when he would do the wrap move on the follow thru. rabbit you know i agree w. you about there being more diversity back then even with a less deep field.
     
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  13. slack hack

    slack hack Rookie

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    Alberto Berasategui released one hand near the point of contact also.
     
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  14. SC in MA

    SC in MA Semi-Pro

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    I saw Borg play twice on hard courts during one of his later comeback attempts. He seemed very fit. He used a modern, metal racket of some sort (don't know which one) and he tried to play a power baseline game, which was completely different than the way he played in his prime. Much more offensive with moderate topspin and lots more unforced errors. He really went for his forehands, which most often sailed a foot or more long. He was more conservative on his backhand which somewhat resembled his old backhand, but with less knee bend and much less spin and not much pace. It really seemed like a weak stroke. Surprisingly, his serve was very strong, which kept him in one of the matches I saw. Also, his volleys were pretty decent, whenever he came to net. His biggest problem I saw were the unforced sailing forehand errors. He just couldn't keep the ball in the court.
     
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  15. Grimjack

    Grimjack Banned

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  16. Kevin Patrick

    Kevin Patrick Hall of Fame

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    Youzhny lets his left hand go at point of contact on his 2 hander as well.
     
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  17. chad shaver

    chad shaver Semi-Pro

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    He actually has 2 types of 2-hander. One with his left hand on the handle, and the weird one where he has his left hand on the face of the strings.
     
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  18. Max G.

    Max G. Hall of Fame

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    Youzhny hits a one-hander, I'm pretty sure.
     
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  19. VictorS.

    VictorS. Professional

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    I don't see why this backhand couldn't work in today's game. In many ways, it's like Federer's backhand, only with the guidance of the second hand. Both backhands really get a lot of spin on the ball and you can really direct the ball well. Obviously, the power on the shot is not quite what the typical flatter backhand offers. However, I think the advantages are definitely there.

    I think what really separates federer from the rest of the crowd is the variety of his game. Roddick's backhand, for example, is very predictable, as is Agassi's. I think being able to not only slice the ball, but also giving it heavy spin on the bh side obviously makes a player much more versitile.
     
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  20. Gary Britt

    Gary Britt Guest

    I saw Borg himself describe it like a slapshot. Never played hockey so I still don't know what he meant <g>

    Gary
     
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  21. Gary Britt

    Gary Britt Guest

    You're right about Connors serve, but wrong about connors not overpowering people. Connors was the beginning of power tennis. At his peak in 1974, 1975, 1976 he over powered many many players, virtually all of them, Borg included. Many pros from Laver to Villas always commented about how powerful and especially how consistently deep Connors kept the ball.

    Lendly was the next player in the power progression of tennis. Connors beat Lendl the first 5 times they played. Once Lendl's power game came on and he developed that great topspin backhand, he began beating Connors and never looked back. Conners by then was well past his prime, but still great.

    I do agree however, despite what I've said above, that Connors greatest strength was his heart. There was no quit in Connors. Certainly not before age 35. He won more slams than McEnroe, and won more ATP matches and titles than anyone, I believe. I don't think? Pete or anyone came close to his number of titles. Pete did break his 5 years in a row at number 1, which remains one of Pete's major accomplishments and part of why Pete has the best lifetime overal record in tennis history. Even Agassi says when it comes to whose the greatest ever there are only three answers Pete, Pete, Pete. Before Pete, for me it was Connors, maybe because we are the same age, but before Pete he was my favorite.

    Gary
     
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  22. jings

    jings Professional

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    Saw Youzhny in Beijing beat Hrbaty and he was definitely hitting it one handed - sensible looking player and we could well hear more of him than we might expect.

    VictorS I know what you're saying about Borg's b/h as he was able to find angles and cross court passes at Wimbledon (mostly the coverage I saw growing up but where the need to pass a man at the net is greatest, or was then anyway) that were hard to understand for someone with one of those new fangled cumbersome two hand grips. He had great variety not unlike Federer. The way he played then though and what I saw of him on his comeback was that he didn't have enough out there to hurt people these days. Guess we'll never know in a different time how he might have fared.

    NBM, I have to go with Gary on this. Sure Connors hussled and harried and got in people's faces and never gave up, but he did it trying to belt the bejesus out of the ball. He is the founding father of the two fist top spin game I thought - even if he did hit it a bit flat.
     
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  23. NoBadMojo

    NoBadMojo G.O.A.T.

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    suggest to you that borg was actually the precursor to the modern game with the topspin and western forehand and two hand backhand. even though connors also had kind of a western forehand he hit it pretty flat. dont know how you can say connors was the founder of the two fisted topspin game when he hit it flat and there was borg from the same era but you may certainbly have your opinions. also dont think connors was really about power as i saoid before but thats ok too..he was about fight and return of serve and working points and angles and coming into the net and chipping and charging and mixing it all up and being an athletic all courter rather than a power player..now lendl...he was the power player.
     
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  24. chad shaver

    chad shaver Semi-Pro

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    I always thought that Connors used a continental. Seems like he even said that in his book. Maybe I'm just sleep deprived.
     
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  25. NoBadMojo

    NoBadMojo G.O.A.T.

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    actually chad if you would have watched him closely, he had a very unusual forehand..he wouldnt break his wrist on the follow through..it was locked and his hand was in at least a semi western position kinda tucked underneath. you may also remember he forever had probs w. low slices to his forehand wing and western grippers really dont like to deal w. the ball down low like that. i know it goes against convention especially since his forehand wasnt loaded up w. top..check it out for yourself sometime if you are interested. and i really dont think you could call it a power forehand, but thats just my opinion and is very subjective. goes to show you there are several ways to be effective out there tho..his footwork was amazing i thought. ed
     
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  26. jings

    jings Professional

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    Fair enough NBM. I think of Connors as founding father in terms of big baseline game, two hander and really hitting out from there, not so much the top spin, which as you rightly say was where Borg steps in. Didn't come out right the first time. The modern back court big power top spin came after them / as a result of them. Connors of course played more than just a baseline game, but that's largely how I remember him. I never saw him live so maybe my power impression was the grunts and groans which was sort of new too, but at his prime he was an overwhelming force on court, which again I think is where the impression comes from. No quibbling with Lendl!
     
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  27. NoBadMojo

    NoBadMojo G.O.A.T.

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    ya man jings.....you could tell it was lendl on court from several courts away....his shots made such a huge pop compared to everyone else out there..sure not saying connors was a pusher or anything..far from it..no worries. i loved all the diff styles of play from back then.
     
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  28. jings

    jings Professional

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    All sorts of styles and it was fun, you're right. It's why the arrival of any new good player is always so interesting I think. You think you've seen the way a power forehand is hit because you watched Lendl and then along comes Sampras , and then Roddick and so on and you just know that there's another down the road. You thought the Roscoe Tanner / Kevin Curren whirlwind service action would never be bettered and then along comes a Boris or a Goran that can serve up a storm .... JPM at the net and then Edberg. All different, all unique styles, all fun to watch. There is a lot of cookie cutter out there now, but there's a fair degree of diversity too within the confines that player mechanics are so strong nowadays that your basics have to be a certain way otherwise you'll just make too many errors. The game has changed, for better mostly but sometimes the worse.
     
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  29. Morpheus

    Morpheus Professional

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    For a great discussion on this very topic, check out the following link...BigBoyDan was a little confused on that day. (scroll up to read the interesting posts)

    http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/viewtopic.php?p=51811&highlight=grip#51811
     
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  30. Gary Britt

    Gary Britt Guest

    I agree with you regarding the use of topspin. Borg was the precursor of current modern game for topspin. Connors was on the scene before Borg however. Connors was the first really top player of the last 50 years with a great two handed backhand. Connors was the beginning of the aggressive power game, hit it as hard as you can all the time. Player that came on the scene in late 80's and 90's, not Borg. Connors was a pre-cursor for Agassi in a lot of ways.


    I agree with you that Connors used angles extremely well to open up the court, and that he was an aggressive all courter. He used these kinds of things and his heart to win matches for a decade or so past his prime. In his prime however, at that point in time, Connors was the first blow them off the court power player.

    I would say that the modern power player blends the hit it as hard as you can all the time school, that Connors is the first modern example of with his new technology power racquet the T-2000, combined with Borg's excessive topspin on both sides. Borg was not a power player in the way Connors was in 1974, and McEnroe was much less so.

    Note: Its funny talking about a T-2000 as a new technology power racquet these days, but that is exactly what it was in 1972 and 1973 when Connors was breaking onto the scene. Far more powerful than wood racquets of that day, and with a sweet spot the exact size of a tennis ball. Good luck getting anything out of it, if you didn't hit the sweet spot.

    I'm not sure on Connors grips, but they would have been eastern or close to continental. Connors hit with slice as much as he hit flat really. He had the somewhat unique ability to slice through the ball all the time while it was just on the rise from the bounce, generating a lot of speed and a laser beam like trajectory that left no room for error. In his prime he could keep the ball on the strings of that trampoline racquet longer than anyone.

    Gary
     
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  31. intense2b

    intense2b Banned

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    connors used a western. But why the hell did he hit flat balls using a western????
     
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  32. Gary Britt

    Gary Britt Guest

    Excellent point about Connors footwork. An important subtlty not often appreciated.

    Many years ago, Borg in his prime, discussion among commentators was about how Borg's topspin stroke mechanics were so different. The supposed conventional wisdom was you couldn't or wouldn't want to teach kids to hit like Borg. One not so bright commentator spoke up and asked "is there anything you would tell kids to do like Borg", implying by the way he said it that the answer was no. A much more youthful than today Bud Collins jumped in to say "run like Borg". Borg's heart rate at rest in his prime was 35 beats per minute, and he did run like the wind out there while almost never looking tired. Of course with the advent of modern power graphite racquets everyone had to learn to hit with topspin like Borg to keep the ball in the court. Funny how things work out sometime.

    Gary
     
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  33. galain

    galain Hall of Fame

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    Jings

    If you're still on this thread, how did you manage to get court-time with all these legends? Didn't you say once you'd also hit with Rosewall at some stage?

    I'm more than envious!
     
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  34. NoBadMojo

    NoBadMojo G.O.A.T.

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    as i said he really didnt break his wrist on the follow thru w. his forehand and he kind up cupped his wrist underneath and it was kinda western and not really a powerful move and thats how he hit it flattish w. a western. it was easily the consistent depth of his groundies that caused players the most trouble and his ability to create angles rather than power, but i guess thats subjective. i do know that lendl was the first tour guy i know of who hit it significantly harder than anyone else on tour at that time and you could easily tell that it was him just by the sound compared to the other pros hitting on other courts..connors kind of had more of a slapping kind of stroke on his forehand and his backhand was much better produced IMO. quickly about borg, i would like to see these modern dayer western grippers hit their forehands w. a 60" head like borg was able to do..even borg would hit quite a few frame balls and no wonder w. that steep angle of attack and a small racquet head. anywho its all in fun and everyones got opinions. ed
     
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  35. Gary Britt

    Gary Britt Guest

    I think you describe Connors forehand mechanics fairly accurately. However, in 1974, 1975, 1976 when Connors was at his peak, he definitely hit the ball harder than other players, and he was a power player in the sense that he hit the ball almost as hard as he could every single time he hit the ball.

    If you read Lendl's tennis book, you will note that Lendl describes connors as hitting a ball that traveled from one end of the court to the other faster than even Lendl's own shots. Lendl describes that he felt Connors didn't hit any harder than he did, but because of his topspin trajectory versus Connors very flat trajectory, Lendl describes Connors balls traveling faster from one end to the other than even Lendl's own shots.

    Connors certainly used that speed and depth of his shots to over power people, especially in his prime years, and this is what made Connors the first baseliner/all courter power player of the current modern era.

    You are correct that his forehand was not as good, and not as powerful as his backhand after his prime years, and that he relied more on angles and guts and returns, etc. after his prime years.

    Gary
     
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  36. jings

    jings Professional

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    Galain and Rabbit, as you ask ... It was all at the Legends / Senior event in HK in late 96 (maybe early 97 can't quite remember) at the HK Country Club. I was working for Barclays then and we had taken a corporate sponsor package, entitling us to a slot in the pro-am the day before the tournament started. Amazingly no client took up the offer so I grabbed it at 5pm that day, raced home, changed into the Nikes and hit the court. I partnered Peter McNamara, and we played doubles against Rosewall, Okka (sp?), Stan Smith (still in his Adidas shoes), John Lloyd and Mansour Bahrami (sp?). All just disgustingly talented even then and all in neutral the entire time we played, as that was the only gear they seemed to need against some pretty decent club players. I can remember having a sit up on my forehand at one point and completely nailing it at Rosewall at the net who calm as you like dropped the volley for the winner - scary.
    Borg was in the other group and I was disappointed not to play against him. As he came off court though I asked if I could hit with him. He said he wanted to chill out for a bit but would be happy to warm up with me before the second round of group play that evening. An hour later I graced the court with B Borg and hit 8 or 9 balls with him, just as nervous as anything and concentrating so hard not to make a fool of myself, nor make a mistake as he'd indicated we'd just hit a few balls. We got to the last ball and he pretty much offered up a mid court forehand to me as he ambled into half court. I couldn't resist it and am proud to say I can tell my 2 boys and countless grand children of the time I passed Borg cross court with a topspin forehand, marginally on the run! I had a smile on me the size of Africa for a while after it was all over. I'll see if I can scan a couple of the photos and post them. For the record he was utterly charming, very modest and totally unassuming around the public and the other players. Impossible to describe the feeling of hitting a ball with a man you idolised as a ten year old winning Wimbledon, but I'll never forget it.
     
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  37. NoBadMojo

    NoBadMojo G.O.A.T.

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    stan 'still' wears his adidas shoes i think ;) what a great guy and i got to hit with him too. he would come up to strangers and say hello to them rather than the other way around..a really class guy.so was it tom okker the small dutchman you got to play with too?
     
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  38. Rabbit

    Rabbit G.O.A.T.

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    Jings - great story, thanks.

    Tom Okker.....speaking of shoes does anyone else remember the Okker Signatures? They were great shoes, the red and blue stripes. I went through several pair of those, and my fair share of Stan Smiths too. Do they still make Smiths?
     
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  39. jings

    jings Professional

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    Okker - that's the chap! I've seen Stan Smiths here recently and almost did a double take. They're a little more modern in the sole design, but otherwise the plain classic white with punched holes as we remember. Stan has HUGE feet may I add, and the pair he was wearing looked as though they had had some serious court time.
     
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  40. VictorS.

    VictorS. Professional

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    Does anyone know what type of backhand grip Donald Young uses? I know some of you guys have actually seen him play in person. I've seen a few highlights and it seems like he gets a similar type of spin on the ball of a bjorn borg.

    Note: I'm not trying to compare this kid to bjorn borg...I just remember hearing that the kid really gets a lot of spin on his shots.
     
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  41. galain

    galain Hall of Fame

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    Now I'm even more envious!

    Thanks for that Jings - sounds magic.
     
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  42. Morpheus

    Morpheus Professional

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    Picture is worth a thousand words...

    [​IMG]



    [​IMG]
     
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  43. jings

    jings Professional

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    Great shots - now was Borg going cross court or up the line do you reckon?!
     
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  44. Rabbit

    Rabbit G.O.A.T.

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    I don't know where he was going, but I guarantee you he was going well, where ever it was.
     
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  45. Redflea

    Redflea Hall of Fame

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    Got to see Jimmy, Mac, & Borg here in San Diego at a what my wife referred to as a "Old Fart's Tournament" :) at the RB Inn some years ago...a real treat. What I enjoyed most was that they were having so much fun playing together...it was so great to see them obviously enjoying the fun of the game and sparring (both verbally and w/shots) with each other.

    Didn't get to hit with any of them, but for me it was probably more enjoyable than any sports event, tennis or otherwise, that I've ever been to...

    And I always felt that Connor's forehand was "side-spin"...it could have elements of top-spin and slice, but he hit a lot of shots that appeared to go sideways off his strings towards his right...I played w/a T2000 for a few months in the 70's. Horrible racquet for me, I had little control with it, but Connors was my hero, so what could I do? :)
     
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