Andy Brandi blog: Building a young player for the future

June 1, 2017 07:13 AM

Andy Brandi served as a partner of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute since 2007 before joining the USTA staff in August 2010. From 2001-06, Brandi was Director of Tennis for IMG at the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, and from 1984-2001, he was the head coach of the University of Florida women’s team. During his career, Brandi has worked with top professionals, including Elena Dementieva, Shahar Peer, Maria Kirilenko, Lisa Raymond, Ryan Sweeting and Jesse Levine. While at the University of Florida, he led the Gators to three NCAA Division I Team titles and coached four NCAA women’s singles champions and four NCAA doubles champions. Brandi has been writing a blog for over the last several weeks. In his final blog, he gives suggestions for things to focus on when developing a young player.

By Andy Brandi

Tennis is constantly evolving. If you compare players from one year ago, tendencies have changed. It seems like tennis is on a path to old-school tennis in many ways. You are seeing more serving and volleying, players coming to net more, chipping returns, defensive lobs and a lot more slice backhands. Tennis today is about power and movement.

Building a player from a young age requires a lot more attention to detail than in the past. If you have a youngster who is 11, 12 or 13 years old, these are the things I would focus on:

  1. Be sure that they are a complete player and have multiple weapons. They must be solid all the way around. No visible holes. A big forehand. The base must be solid and that of an all-court player.
  2. Because of the power in today’s game, players should work every day on absorbing and defense skills. They have to be able to absorb power and be able to neutralize points. Having a good backhand slice is a must.
  3. What used to be long cross-court patterns have evolved to one cross-court and one down-the-line or figure 8s. At a young age, they should be able to maintain the ball in play and have extended rallies. They must be comfortable changing the direction of the ball to take control of the points.
  4. Movement is of utmost importance. Players must be able to move in diagonals to be efficient. Balance is the ability to economize motion and allows players to be able to react and produce efficiently.
  5. They have to be able to be good with intangibles – hitting passing shots, defensive lobs, offensive lobs, drop shots, slice backhands and defensive slice forehands. On returns, they should be able to chip returns back. These are areas that are frequently neglected.
  6. Transition and net play. The game is about moving forward. Players need to be able to be effective from the mid-court and at net closing points. They should know where to hit the approach shots and how to cover them. Volley placement is crucial.
  7. Court position - neutral, offensive, defensive. Being in a neutral position to begin the point is a must. They should be 3-5 feet behind the baseline. Moving up to the baseline after hitting an aggressive shot or giving group to 6-8 feet when the player has to defend. Ball recognition is a very crucial part of making these court adjustments.
  8. Competing - A good competitor is someone who, on a given day, is willing to do whatever it takes to win, even if it is outside their comfort zone. Put them in tough positions in practice to be able to deal with adversity and find the way to win. Get them out of their comfort level in practice. When I play points with my students, I sometimes cheat to see how they react. They must be able to deal with adversity.
  9. Games - Here are a few games to work on the things mentioned before:
  • 1st to 3 points - The first to 40 wins the game. Play a set where the first player to win three points wins the game.
  • 1st point worth 40-0 - Play a set where, if you win the first point, you are up 40-0.
  • Winning 1st 2 points wins the game - Play a set where, if you win the first two points of a game, you win the game.
  • 1st-ball mistakes worth 2 points - Play a set where, if there is a first-ball error, the opponent gets two points.
  • Stan Boster’s game - A baseline game-alternate feeding. Play regular points. If the ball is in the net, it is -1; if it is wide, it is -2. You win points when the balls are long or if a winner is hit. Play the first to 5 or -5.
  • Gully’s game - Play points where the server has two first serves and one second serve. If the server gets one of the first serves in, they have four shots to win the point. If the second serve is hit, the returner has the return plus four shots to win the point.
  • 1st to 5 with volleyball scoring - Regular points with volleyball scoring, where you can only win points when you are serving.
  • Eric Nunez's game - Eight balls down the middle start the point. On the seventh shot, the player hitting the seventh shot says, “7,” and the point begins. You can force errors when the rally is going on down the middle.
  • Lisa Raymond's game - Play regular points to 21. Switch serves every five serves. If you come to the net and hit a volley, overhead or half volley and win the point, you get one point plus all of your opponent's points. If you come to net and your opponent hits a clean passing shot, they get five points. If you come to net and your opponent lobs and it bounces before you hit, you lose the game.
  • Jose Higueras' game - The ball is fed to your opponent’s backhand. He slices cross-court to your backhand. You slice anywhere, and the point begins. You can only hit slice backhands unless the opponent comes to net. You can hit all the forehands you want. Play to 11.
  • Harold Solomon's cross-court game - You play cross-court points forehand to forehand. You can only hit forehands unless your opponent comes to net. No alleys. When playing from Ad court, you can hit forehands or backhands but not two forehands in a row.
  • Approach-pass game - alternate feeds - Approach is down the middle. The first pass is down the middle, and then you play the point out. Play to 11.

I hope this is helpful in developing a young player for the future. Best of luck!