What exactly is Zen tennis?

Discussion in 'General Pro Player Discussion' started by Golden Retriever, May 2, 2004.

  1. Golden Retriever

    Golden Retriever Hall of Fame

    Apr 3, 2004
    Federer is known as the Zen master of tennis. From my point of view, he blocks his returns, slices his backhand and sometimes goes for the short angle shots on his forehand. I try to incorporate some of his techniques into my games only with poor result. So what exactly is he doing that makes him so good?
  2. Cigo

    Cigo Rookie

    Feb 26, 2004
    It has to do with his state of mind. Agassi is said to be a tennis zen master because of the level of his concentration on court, the guy's there and nowhere else(mentally), he is completely involved with tennis when he's on the court. Same thing with Fereder, I think Lundgren has something to do with this, as Fereder used to be more of a Safin psychologically wise(so I heard).
  3. roundiesee

    roundiesee Hall of Fame

    Feb 20, 2004
    When you watch Fed play, you get the sense that he is just not going to lose despite the situation. He may be down a break, or be serving at 0-40. No matter. He just looks cool and totally confident that he will prevail. The recent Davis Cup matches come to mind, especially the one against Escude. The Frenchman was playing so well, yet lost to Roger in straights. And it all looks so easy and effortless. All the great champions seem to have it at one time or other, but Federer I think is quite exceptional even amongst the greats.
  4. Rabbit

    Rabbit G.O.A.T.

    Feb 11, 2004
    at the bottom of every hill I come to
    Zen tennis was coined by Barbara Striesand, whose knowledge of tennis is roughly equivalent to her knowledge of politics. I believe the exact phrase she used was "Agassi plays tennis like a zen master."
  5. Roforot

    Roforot Professional

    Feb 21, 2004
    I thought the same thing watching the Davis Cup matches, and wrote a post wondering how Federer came to reach this level; only a few years ago, he looked like a fragile (talented) boy. I've noted the same mental toughness in lower level players.
  6. @wright

    @wright Hall of Fame

    Feb 19, 2004
    Zen tennis is a player that is in control of the match, not just winning. Whatever shot the player hits, he has a superior feel for the ball, as well as court sense. Someone who is playing zen tennis is controlling his opponent's shots as well.
  7. Anonymous

    Anonymous Professional

    Jan 21, 2004
    I think you guys are confusing Zen with confidence. The case or Federer is more about him trusting his ability more than he ever did. Now that he has beaten all the top players on their favourite surfaces (you may make an exception for clay) he feels that when he is playing his A game no one in the current crop of players can beat him. This has started to show when he steps on court now, he is not intimidated by any one and never stops going for his shots. Some one wrote a book called Zennis, i.e. Zen Tennis, I am not sure what exactly the subject is but it is supposed to create a high level of concentration, and it changes you perspective towards tennis where winning and loosing become irrelevant and the quality of the actual strokes become what you are striving for.
  8. Free_Martha

    Free_Martha Guest

    She may not know much about tennis or politics but she was spot-on about Agassi.
  9. gofederer

    gofederer Rookie

    Feb 19, 2004
    agree with volklalite saying...

    zen = desireless empty-mindedness
    fed = super calm from self-belief
  10. Golden Retriever

    Golden Retriever Hall of Fame

    Apr 3, 2004
    So Andre Agassi is the Zen master not Federer? So what is Federer, the Tai Chi master?
  11. dander

    dander Rookie

    Mar 15, 2004
    we'll have to ask babs, or some other idiotic non-tennis observer. interestingly enough, i think she made those comments during wimbledon '92, which i still think was the greatest sustained spurt of shotmaking i've ever seen from one player. agassi's returns and passes for the whole two weeks were absolutely unbelievable
  12. The Franchise

    The Franchise Rookie

    Feb 18, 2004
    So what makes an idiotic non-tennis observer. Someone who may or may not know their sh*t, but does not post on message boards can be considered one huh? Just wondering, that's all, since some people on here think they are the be all, end all to elite tennis observers.
  13. Matt Riordan

    Matt Riordan New User

    Feb 28, 2004
    I can't remember where I read this, one of the British dailies I think, but there was an article on this.

    It was after Pete beat Andre 3, 4 & 5 in the Wimbledon final. When he was asked what was going through his mind when he set up for the second serve ace on match point, he answered, "absolutely nothing." That is Zen tennis...
  14. "Absolutely nothing." Wow! Just hearing that reply sent shivers down my whole body. I'm glad I wasn't Agassi on that day.
  15. Brian Purdie

    Brian Purdie Semi-Pro

    Feb 19, 2004
    Now hold on one second. This is the only the second time I have ever seen the words Zen-master associated with tennis. The first one was way back in the day....Picture it, New York, 1992. A bearded and balding Andre Agassi appears at the US Open in what would be one of his last Gland Slams with shoulder length hair. The USA Network 'man in the stands' Bill Whoever goes over to talk to Barbara Striesand, ithink it was during the QF's. It was noted that Bahb-bra was not romantically linked to Agassi, but had become a close friend of the Agassi camp. She tells Bill how they met over the phone and then proclaims Agassi a "Zen Master" at his craft causing most of us at home to pause in awkwardness as to its meaning.

    My point: Did this term, and thus, this very discussion begin because of what Barbra Striesand once said? or is it a much older term used to describe players? I'm just not comfortable with Barbra introducing vocabulary into my sport.
  16. joe sch

    joe sch Hall of Fame

    Feb 19, 2004
    Hotel CA
    "ZEN tennis" is the title of a book written by Paul Mutimer, published in 1997 in Austrialia. It can be found everywhere. Its an excellent book that I would higly recommend, a sorta revival of "Inner Tennis" from Tim Gallwey. Paul was a touring pro and is an excellent writer and teacher of tennis, psychology and eastern philosophy. I think this quote is a good into : "I began to see a strong connection between Eastern philosophies and their application to tennis. The satori experience, of being fully in the moment, found its experession in watching the ball. The flowing, gentle movements of Tai Chi became possible in tennis. The need for the balance approach of hard and soft techniques of Kung Fu became obvious. The apparently distinct worlds of tennis and meditation started to come together" The book is full of practical excercises that can take place both on and off the courts.
  17. pound cat

    pound cat G.O.A.T.

    Feb 22, 2004
    This is from Tennisone.com. & explains Federer/Zen tennis/well:

    Federer, The New Zen Master

    The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.
    - Bruce Lee in Zen in the Martial Arts, Joe Hyms

    By Kim Shanley

    The TennisOne Community

    Watching Andre Agassi play at the US Open in the mid-90's, Barbara Streisand called him the Zen master. Streisand's remark has been derided over the years as Hollywood mumbo-jumbo or West Coast mysticism. But as I said in my very first newsletter, I think Streisand called it right: Agassi continues to exemplify many remarkable qualities as an athlete and human being, and yeah, some of these are close to my understanding of what Zen is all about.

    So braving the cynics, I'll add a new chapter to the Zen master tales. After watching Roger Federer win all five of his matches in the November Masters Cup in Houston, where he twice defeated the old master Agassi, and his mesmerizing performance at this year's Australian Open, I'm ready to nominate Federer the new Zen master.

    Federer, as all the TV commentators noted, is playing a different game than the rest of the field. In winning the Aussie Open, Federer soundly thrashed two players, Lleyton Hewitt and David Nalbandian, both of whom had dominated him in the past. In the final, he faced Marat Safin, who, over the course of the tournament, had transformed himself from mental midget to mental giant, defeating Roddick and Agassi in clutch five set matches.

    Safin fought gallantly in the first set to bludgeon his way through Federer's magic web of soft and hard, underspin and topspin. But when Federer's web held firm in the tie-breaker and into the second set, Safin started to bellow like the giant Gulliver held fast by a thousand tiny but unbreakable Lilliputian ropes. "I'm trying!" Safin roared belligerently at the crowd trying to bolster his flagging spirits. But it was obvious by the beginning of the third set that Federer would win, and all Safin could do was grumble and make self-deprecating jokes, like a Russian field-hand sent to feed the pigs after a long day's work. Still, it was good to see Safin keep his perspective and sense of humor, and it will serve him in good stead as he continues his remarkable turn-around.

    Federer's mastery, beyond being able to hit all shots and angles, combines a number of intangible factors, including fluid strokes with little mental interference, genius in constructing points, seamless transitions between defense to offense, an intuitive understanding of his opponent's options and likely response, and a clear, calm mind that executes instantly. In short, all the attributes of a Zen master playing tennis. (As in previous newsletters, I have to say I'm not advocating any one religion or ethical philosophy. I return to the theme of Zen because I believe it provides a conceptual structure and vocabulary to discuss the paradoxical striving and letting-go required in superior athletic performance. Zen is based on the philosophy of Tao ("Way"). But it's not the only way of talking about this subject, just one way.)

    Naturalness and Spontaneity
    Wu-hsin, literally "no-mind," which is to say un-self-consciousness. It is the state of wholeness in which the mind functions freely and easily.

    - Zen in Ten, Simpkins & Simpkins.

    In the press conference after his victory over Safin, Federer comments on his style: "But just for me, my game feels natural. I feel like I'm living the game when I'm out there." In this respect, Federer follows in the Wu-hsin approach of Pete Sampras, who was criticized throughout his career for not trying hard enough, for not showing enough emotion. Sampras would wearily explain that he was trying, but his game was not about trying or showing that he was trying. Over and over again he repeated his mantra about keeping the game simple, but few people seem to understand what he meant. The legendary martial artist Bruce Lee was more articulate than Sampras on the "effortless-effort" mode of the Zen athlete: "The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be." Federer has the same modest, natural, unaffected Sampras-like personality, and lets his game flow from a passionate competitiveness that only shows itself in quick flashes of brilliance.

    Focused Awareness

    Mushin, the mental quality of emptiness," sometimes translated "no-mind." No-mind is the way to be open-minded and react to each situation with a new response, or even the same one if that is appropriate. There is no pre-patterning the state of readiness or anticipation of what to be ready for: just be ready. Mushin is focused awareness. - The Way of Zen, Allan Watts

    Having mushin doesn't mean that Federer doesn't have a game plan or strategy. Having mushin means being focused and aware, ready to anticipate and to create in every situation. As Federer noted after the Safin match, "I feel when a guy is going to hit the ball, I know exactly with the angles and the spins, I just feel that I've got that figured out. And that is just a huge advantage." Indeed, while Safin aced Agassi 33 times, he had only 3 aces against Federer. Federer's phenomenal anticipation was also evident in last year's Wimbledon semifinals and finals matches, where Federer had more aces than either Roddick or Philippoussis, two of the game's most dominant servers.

    In the all-time best selling book on tennis, The Inner Game of Tennis, Tim Gallwey describes the Zen state of mind that leads to lightening quick reactions. "But time is a relative thing, and it really is possible to slow it down. Consider: there are 1000 milliseconds in every second. That's a lot of milliseconds. Alertness is a measure of how many nows you are aware of in a given period, and everyone's alertness can be heightened with the practice of concentration." Agassi's reputation as the Zen master is based partly on his amazing ability to pick up 130 mile an hour serves and return them. Federer doesn't punish service returns like Agassi, preferring a steadier slice shot that neutralizes the server's advantage, but his anticipation and ability to read the return appears equal to or superior to Agassi's. For Roger Federer, the new Zen master, every second seems to contain many "nows." Certainly too many for his opponents in the last three months.

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