Men's league tennis - are the classic strokes the best for intermediates?

time_fly

Hall of Fame
This is just an observation I've made watching and playing in our 3.5 and 4.0 leagues. It seems like the guys who try to hit big with modern forehands and two-handed backhands struggle to get over the 3.5 hump, whereas many of our strongest 3.5 and 4.0 singles players use relatively compact eastern forehands and slice backhands. I think the relative simplicity of those strokes reduces the amount of physical effort they take and make it easier to be precise and consistent. Of course if you truly master bigger, heavier shots then you can make it to much higher levels. But mastering that style takes a lot of work and conditioning, and there seems to be this "4.0 valley" where the guys who keep it simple are consistently near the top of the league.

It really struck me the other night watching two courts of singles side-by-side. One was a 3.5 court where the guys were ripping the ball and running around like crazy, but they were average 3.5 league players. The other court had two older guys who looked like they were moving less aggressively and hitting the ball lower and slower, but I happen to know both were 4.0 guys with almost no losses. But thinking it over, I think a lot of our players in our leagues would fit this pattern with their technique versus their levels.
 

OnTheLine

Hall of Fame
Definitely following this thread ....

I think if the discussion is framed solely on recreational adult tennis your hypothesis is correct ... adults don't have the time for the reps needed to master a s/w forehand ... it is more likely to break down under match pressure so they get stuck?

I disagree with the 2HBH though .... that seems to be what they are teaching in beginning rec adult classes .... whereas they are teaching a basically eastern fh
 

HBK4life

Semi-Pro
Unless you are a professional I don’t think it matters much. I know strong 4.5s and 5.0s that I play with that have modern and classic strokes. I run into younger guys that have huge wrist lag forhands that if you gently slice deep awhile they will wear themselves out. Or if you flatten out your strokes they panic. On the flip side I know a older strong 5.0 that plays like he was back in 1975 that can beat pretty much anyone.
 

ATX Tennis

New User
My club is littered with the carcasses of players that tried to master classic strokes and serves only to lose regularly at 3.5 USTA. Many of these guys preferred to lose pretty rather than win ugly. While it’s true that they probably had more upside at some point, many of these guys have thrown in the towel and either don’t play any more or stick with their own regular crew.

Some of the best players I know at 3.5 and 4.0 are guys that grew up playing sports other than tennis. They use their grit and match/game sense to win.
 

TennisDawg

Professional
I was able to go from a classic forehand to modern but it was not easy. After decades of hitting with a continental grip and hitting flat with little wrist lag and changing to the modern with semi- western grip I decided to change and it tried my patience. I was able to do it but had to settle on the eastern FH grip. I also struggled for a bit using the eastern BH grip over the classic continental BH grip. I changed because the serve/volley game became too hard in today’s game.
 

badmice2

Semi-Pro
I wouldn't go to length to say that classic stroke wins matches. But more often than not those who are self taught will likely have a modern feel to their technique...mostly IMO because that's the game they're watching today. THey're also being lead to believe the common way to strike the ball is to hit big, generate a ton of spin, in hopes to keep the ball in play. I can't say that approach is wrong per say, but there's a level of foundation with stoke mechanic one must have to hit like that. From my observation, those who are hitting classic stokes tends to be older in age, or have taken lessons.
 

Moveforwardalways

Hall of Fame
Why would the stroke that has less margin for error be more effective at 3.5? If you are playing 3.5, just loop it in. There’s not much more to it.
 

roadto50

New User
Why would the stroke that has less margin for error be more effective at 3.5? If you are playing 3.5, just loop it in. There’s not much more to it.
I don't think he's referring to 3.5 pushers who loops things back in. I think he's talking about 3.5 players who tries to hit the modern FH like he's Nadal. You know, the players at the club who generates more RHS than he can consistently handle. Yea the modern FH has more margin for error. But how much does that matter if the balls are sailing? We aren't talking about 3-4 inches.
 

time_fly

Hall of Fame
I don't think he's referring to 3.5 pushers who loops things back in. I think he's talking about 3.5 players who tries to hit the modern FH like he's Nadal. You know, the players at the club who generates more RHS than he can consistently handle. Yea the modern FH has more margin for error. But how much does that matter if the balls are sailing? We aren't talking about 3-4 inches.
Yes, I am talking about the guys who want to learn the approach they see on TV. There is also a little bias in my sample. USTA leagues are old, especially in my area. So these guys playing the eastern forehand and one-handed backhands are typically older and learned that way — they aren’t young guys who decided to adopt the style.
 

Booger

Hall of Fame
Tennis is just for fun, boyos. No checks. No ATP points. Nada.

Play however you get the most enjoyment. Some guys hack/slice/moonball all the way to 4.5 or even higher because they desperately want to win win win. Consistency will always be king in amateur tennis if winning is your only goal.

I used to play with a 4.5 who went for a winner by the 3rd shot in the rally every single time lol. I'm sure he would give up tennis before becoming a typical USTA hacker.
 

time_fly

Hall of Fame
The strokes don't matter, there are benefits to both styles.
The older guys were likely just more experienced players.
Johnny Mac is way more experienced than Dominic Thiem but I know who I would bet on. If the guys are who are younger, faster, and swinging harder are also regular players, which they are, then I think there’s something going on when they have trouble beating older, slower players. Like they are trying to play a style that is inherently more difficult to master.
 

heninfan99

Talk Tennis Guru
Johnny Mac is way more experienced than Dominic Thiem but I know who I would bet on. If the guys are who are younger, faster, and swinging harder are also regular players, which they are, then I think there’s something going on when they have trouble beating older, slower players. Like they are trying to play a style that is inherently more difficult to master.
no...tennis is a secondary skill sport. youth and speed only matter when the skill levels are close.

Is Gasquet faster than Kyrgios or Thiem? No. He has winning records against both and is of the older generation, he used the skills of a more experienced player to beat them.
 
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OnTheLine

Hall of Fame
no...tennis is a secondary skill sport. youth and speed only matter when the skill levels are close.
That’s what every old guy wishes were true. But 55+ leagues exist for a reason.
Although 55+ leagues do exist for a valid reason .... that is within a basic skill level.

I fully believe that a higher skilled 65 year old would punish a 20 year old with only moderate tennis skills.

Perhaps if we are only talking about skill levels that are 4.5 or higher .... then the factor of age may make more of an impact. (e.g. 6.0 skills may lose due to age against 4.5 skills but with youth, but I am not entirely convinced ... not including those truly infirm due to age)
 

navigator

Hall of Fame
Tennis is just for fun, boyos. No checks. No ATP points. Nada.

Play however you get the most enjoyment. Some guys hack/slice/moonball all the way to 4.5 or even higher because they desperately want to win win win. Consistency will always be king in amateur tennis if winning is your only goal.

I used to play with a 4.5 who went for a winner by the 3rd shot in the rally every single time lol. I'm sure he would give up tennis before becoming a typical USTA hacker.
He's a 4.5... no matter how you slice it (no pun intended) he's just another USTA hacker. Most folks who say/think, "Well, I could push/hack/etc and win too"... can't. They don't have the skill set, speed, fitness, etc. But they are skilled at deceiving themselves, so they've got that going for them. Which is nice. But, I agree that folks should just play to get maximum enjoyment, whatever style that entails.
 

navigator

Hall of Fame
Anyone have a video of a 5.0+ match pitting flat vs modern? It'd be interesting to see.
If you do a search for Brian Suh I think you'll find a couple of videos of him (he has flat old-style strokes) beating two separate younger guys with more modern strokes. I think he was a 5.5 at the time.
 

roadto50

New User
If you do a search for Brian Suh I think you'll find a couple of videos of him (he has flat old-style strokes) beating two separate younger guys with more modern strokes. I think he was a 5.5 at the time.
Hmm. He doesn't have a flat stroke. The ball trajectory isn't flat. See 3:05 to 3:12. It's still a top spin game. Great player regardless.
 
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navigator

Hall of Fame
Hmm. He doesn't have a flat stroke. The ball trajectory isn't flat. See 3:05 to 3:12.
It's all relative... he's using something between a continental and eastern grip on his FH and hitting *relatively* flat compared to folks with more modern technique (like his opponent)... yes, there's a little bit of topspin on his FH. I think he sliced almost every BH. Would you describe his technique as "modern with a lot of topspin"? That's a rhetorical question.
 

roadto50

New User
It's all relative... he's using something between a continental and eastern grip on his FH and hitting *relatively* flat compared to folks with more modern technique (like his opponent)... yes, there's a little bit of topspin on his FH. I think he sliced almost every BH. Would you describe his technique as "modern with a lot of topspin"? That's a rhetorical question.
His technique is not modern. But it's not even old school. It's almost like he is hitting a Nadal type over the head FH with a continental grip. But given the amount of net clearance I see (which is about twice the height of the net), I'd say he is imparting good top spin. Is he going to blow anyone off the court? No. However, he's definitely not hitting the flat shots that clear the net by 2 inches, something I see older players hit, which is what I think of when I hear "classic strokes".
 

heninfan99

Talk Tennis Guru
That’s what every old guy wishes were true. But 55+ leagues exist for a reason.
It's fact, tennis is a secondary skill sport. The speed comes into play when levels are close. So much so in fact that I know a coach that gives lessons to an NBA player and the dood is like a 3.0 player. Any 55 yr 4.5 would crush this elite athlete.
 

ChaelAZ

Legend
It seems like the guys who try to hit big with modern forehands and two-handed backhands struggle to get over the 3.5 hump, whereas many of our strongest 3.5 and 4.0 singles players use relatively compact eastern forehands and slice backhands.
I have noticed it is just more simplicity of play overall and not based on stroke. Consistency in whatever stroke you have produces better results is the key - whether bunting the ball like paddle ball, or stroking it with a beautiful ATP modern semi-western pop.
 
One of those guys has an extra handle on his racquet; that's not legal.
Ya' sure about that? It used to be legal, at least a while ago when it was invented--and, I think there's a tournament player still using it. Where are you getting your facts from--any citations?

How 'bout another Jeopardy question for ya' : How many dampeners can you have on a racket?
 

Dartagnan64

Legend
I think classic strokes are good for old guys starting out. Far gentler on the body. Young guys should learn the modern game.
 
I think classic strokes are good for old guys starting out. Far gentler on the body. Young guys should learn the modern game.
Then they can get injured quicker, become cannon fodder for orthos and PT-- start moving like old guys, and move on to pickleball and croquet faster. It's far more difficult to unlearn unorthodox techniques then learn the fundamentals of technique early on and extending their playing life into the golden(ball) years. Ken Beer was still hitting balls at 102.
 

pcft369

New User
I fully believe that a higher skilled 65 year old would punish a 20 year old with only moderate tennis skills.
This is absolutely true. I know 70 year old guys that rip (especially on kick serves), and they would destroy even an athletic beginner who plays other sports.
 

navigator

Hall of Fame
His technique is not modern. But it's not even old school. It's almost like he is hitting a Nadal type over the head FH with a continental grip. But given the amount of net clearance I see (which is about twice the height of the net), I'd say he is imparting good top spin. Is he going to blow anyone off the court? No. However, he's definitely not hitting the flat shots that clear the net by 2 inches, something I see older players hit, which is what I think of when I hear "classic strokes".
Odd... I actually watched the video again and I'm not seeing what you're seeing. I counted 12 total FHs (kind of surprised it was so low), five of which cleared the net by 2 feet or less, another five cleared by maybe 3 feet, and two cleared by 5+ feet... of the latter two, one was a defensive FH that floated up and across the net. I see moderate topspin, at best, here and there but mostly flat-ish by today's standards. I can't explain the net clearance you're seeing. But I'm not an expert on such things.
 

navigator

Hall of Fame
WTF is the point of that racquet if hes using only one handle?
Good question... I know a rep for this racquet and he would say even if you don't use the other handle for a two-handed BH, the angle of the handles (the handles are angled slightly down) makes it easier to hit FHs. Theoretically, you get the most benefit from these racquets if you have a two-handed BH, play with both hands (that is, two FHs), and/or serve with both hands (right hand to the deuce court, left hand to the ad court). I haven't used one but I know maybe a half dozen folks who do and they love 'em. Go figure.
 

Moveforwardalways

Hall of Fame
There really is no increase in risk of injury with the modern game versus the classic game. Honestly, even the very concept of the classic game is obsolete. The year 1990 was thirty years ago, and even then the topspin game was played, semi-western forehands were common, etc. A player would have had to learn the game in the 1980s or earlier to be exposed to the classic game.
 

E46luver

Professional
Honestly, even the very concept of the classic game is obsolete.
then why is OP observing obsolete wooden racket eastern slicing 4.0s totally dominating the modern 3.5 topspin slammers?
its because real world adult tennis has zero resemblance to pro tennis
 
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time_fly

Hall of Fame
then why is OP observing obsolete wooden racket eastern slicing 4.0s totally dominating the modern 3.5 topspin slammers?
its because real world adult tennis has zero resemblance to pro tennis
You meant this as a joke, but we saw an old guy with honest-to-God wood rackets show up and win several matches in 3.5 Districts a couple years ago. He won a couple singles matches too, not just doubles.
 

Chalkdust

Rookie
This is just an observation I've made watching and playing in our 3.5 and 4.0 leagues. It seems like the guys who try to hit big with modern forehands and two-handed backhands struggle to get over the 3.5 hump, whereas many of our strongest 3.5 and 4.0 singles players use relatively compact eastern forehands and slice backhands. I think the relative simplicity of those strokes reduces the amount of physical effort they take and make it easier to be precise and consistent. Of course if you truly master bigger, heavier shots then you can make it to much higher levels. But mastering that style takes a lot of work and conditioning, and there seems to be this "4.0 valley" where the guys who keep it simple are consistently near the top of the league.

It really struck me the other night watching two courts of singles side-by-side. One was a 3.5 court where the guys were ripping the ball and running around like crazy, but they were average 3.5 league players. The other court had two older guys who looked like they were moving less aggressively and hitting the ball lower and slower, but I happen to know both were 4.0 guys with almost no losses. But thinking it over, I think a lot of our players in our leagues would fit this pattern with their technique versus their levels.
Isn't this due to selection bias? In that you are watching 3.5 ad 4.0 leagues. The guys who "try to hit big with modern forehands and two-handed backhands" and are successful at it are all at 4.5!

Basically you are comparing less successful "modern" players with the most successful "classic" players.
 

time_fly

Hall of Fame
Isn't this due to selection bias? In that you are watching 3.5 ad 4.0 leagues. The guys who "try to hit big with modern forehands and two-handed backhands" and are successful at it are all at 4.5!

Basically you are comparing less successful "modern" players with the most successful "classic" players.
I agree, the clear evidence from the college and pros is that modern technique is best for young, elite players. That's why I'm talking about adult rec here. True, I would say 4.5 is an interesting level since it's generally the transition point from the best rec players to more formally competitive players.

Maybe the most interesting issue is what to do with teaching rec adults. If someone around, say 40, wants to get into tennis, or back into it after a layoff, do you teach them a big semi-western or western forehand in private lessons or clinics because that's considered the "best" technique across all levels of tennis? Or do you teach them a more conservative style that might suit them better given they will never go beyond rec?
 

sureshs

Bionic Poster
I agree, the clear evidence from the college and pros is that modern technique is best for young, elite players. That's why I'm talking about adult rec here. True, I would say 4.5 is an interesting level since it's generally the transition point from the best rec players to more formally competitive players.

Maybe the most interesting issue is what to do with teaching rec adults. If someone around, say 40, wants to get into tennis, or back into it after a layoff, do you teach them a big semi-western or western forehand in private lessons or clinics because that's considered the "best" technique across all levels of tennis? Or do you teach them a more conservative style that might suit them better given they will never go beyond rec?
Why would you teach a "big" forehand? You would start with mini tennis (service line) and an E or SW grip and teach the unit turn with a short take back, and then how to hit with gentle topspin from there. After that, the student can develop on his own.

What should probably NOT be taught today is the Conti grip for the forehand because it is too limiting.
 

sureshs

Bionic Poster
There really is no increase in risk of injury with the modern game versus the classic game. Honestly, even the very concept of the classic game is obsolete. The year 1990 was thirty years ago, and even then the topspin game was played, semi-western forehands were common, etc. A player would have had to learn the game in the 1980s or earlier to be exposed to the classic game.
Exactly. It is like the "Modern Physics" course in schools and colleges. It was modern in 1920.
 

Doan

Rookie
Maybe the most interesting issue is what to do with teaching rec adults. If someone around, say 40, wants to get into tennis, or back into it after a layoff, do you teach them a big semi-western or western forehand in private lessons or clinics because that's considered the "best" technique across all levels of tennis? Or do you teach them a more conservative style that might suit them better given they will never go beyond rec?
Depends on what you mean by conservative style ? As someone over 40 who first got lessons a few years ago there wasn't much time spent on grips. Conti for serves+volleys was about it. Most of the lessons were drop feeds and trying to get topspin on the shots. It was up to the student whether to use Eastern or SW - the coach was more concerned whether you could get good TS on the ball.
 

Chalkdust

Rookie
I agree, the clear evidence from the college and pros is that modern technique is best for young, elite players. That's why I'm talking about adult rec here. True, I would say 4.5 is an interesting level since it's generally the transition point from the best rec players to more formally competitive players.

Maybe the most interesting issue is what to do with teaching rec adults. If someone around, say 40, wants to get into tennis, or back into it after a layoff, do you teach them a big semi-western or western forehand in private lessons or clinics because that's considered the "best" technique across all levels of tennis? Or do you teach them a more conservative style that might suit them better given they will never go beyond rec?
I play with a group of 4.5s ranging in age from 35 - 60, and I can assure you we are very much adult rec and nothing more! A few in the group played low-level college (DIII or Juco) but most did not.

The more conservative style works at 3.5 / 4.0 because at these levels, consistency > power. Matches are decided by who makes the least errors, and many (most?) errors are unforced.

So yeah, if the goal is to win at 3.5 / 4.0 then playing a conservative style is a good strategy. However I also believe that many people are capable of playing at 4.5 level assuming good level level of athleticism and hand-eye coordination, even if picking the game up as an adult. But that would be much harder to achieve without at least some weaponry.
 

time_fly

Hall of Fame
Depends on what you mean by conservative style ? As someone over 40 who first got lessons a few years ago there wasn't much time spent on grips. Conti for serves+volleys was about it. Most of the lessons were drop feeds and trying to get topspin on the shots. It was up to the student whether to use Eastern or SW - the coach was more concerned whether you could get good TS on the ball.
Generating substantial topspin requires racquet head speed. Racquet head speed requires a more aggressive swing, increasing the amount of effort required. With a fast swing, low to high, the timing and contact point need to be more precise, increasing the chance of an error. Now very few people, even with traditional strokes, hit a 100% flat ball. But hitting an eastern forehand with a shorter, more linear swing will put modest topspin on the ball as long as the strings are kept slightly closed off at contact. On the backhand side, you could go either way with a compact, Connors-style 2HBH or a 1 handed slice, and either of those is much easier to master than the Djokovic-style looped 2HBH or Thiem-style aggressive 1HBH.

So my point is that if you don't plan to realistically get beyond a certain level, you could probably simplify your strokes rather than trying to pattern yourself after the guys on TV and master your shots more easily. In my case, I learned as a junior so I was encouraged to keep making my shots bigger and heavier and I play with a S/W forehand with a full loop, good leg load, etc. Now playing rec and closing in on 48 years old, I see lots of guys putting in a lot less physical effort and having shots that, although not nearly as heavy, are very precise and consistent. Kind of makes me wonder "what am I doing here?"
 

Injured Again

Hall of Fame
Now playing rec and closing in on 48 years old, I see lots of guys putting in a lot less physical effort and having shots that, although not nearly as heavy, are very precise and consistent. Kind of makes me wonder "what am I doing here?"
Just wait ten years when you are my age and asking the same question!

I've posed quite a few messages about my observations of players at the national 60 indoors event in our area, as well as my recent match against the current #2 tournament player in the men's 55's. They are all very classic players with smooth strokes and excellent control. On the other hand, I hit the ball, on average, probably 30% harder and with 30% more spin, and I'm trying to increase both of those. A lot of it is because I work hard on my physicality and so I still can, but also because as I move up in age group (I can play the 60's next year) my game becomes more unique.

I am currently dealing with a wrist injury I developed from trying to increase ball velocity and spin on my forehand using more wrist layback. Even if I do become good with the technique, I know I won't be able to sustain it forever, and I'm way closer to that cliff than you are. But to not do it feels like an admission that I've given up on fighting father time. I know it will eventually win, and I know that it will be an ugly and probably emotionally devastating process for me when time does overtake me, but I feel I have to commit to giving it everything I have now. It's really the thing that keeps me going to the gym and fighting as hard as I do to get better, even at my age.
 

Moveforwardalways

Hall of Fame
Why is the underlying assumption that modern strokes are more difficult to execute or more physically taxing? Why would an older player lose the ability to hit modern strokes but still be able to hit classic strokes?
 
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