Wilson Launches Ultra Aces Program to Benefit USTA Foundation

Ultra Aces

I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I wanted to let you know about a very cool initiative from Wilson that’s continuing through the US Open Singles events this year.

In conjunction with the 2017 US Open Tournament, Wilson Sporting Goods Co., has partnered with the USTA Foundation to launch the “Ultra Aces” program to help fuel the Foundation’s efforts to grow the game of tennis in the U.S. The program has been created to demonstrate the powerful difference the tennis community can make when it works together to make the sport more accessible.

PROGRAM FACTS:

  • The “Ultra Aces” program will kick off with the first round of the 2017 US Open Tournament and will conclude following the Men’s and Women’s Singles championship matches.
  • For every ace recorded by a Wilson-sponsored Men’s and Women’s Singles player that takes the court with the brand’s new 2017 Ultra high performance tennis racket, Wilson will donate $200 and a new Ultra Racket directly to the USTA Foundation.
  • Wilson and the USTA Foundation will direct all donated funds generated by this program towards rebuilding tennis in the communities affected by Hurricane Harvey.
  • Donated rackets will go towards the Foundation’s Excellence Team Program, which empowers under-resourced youth interested in playing tennis at a high performance level throughout the U.S.
  • Official social hashtag of the program is #TogetherWeArePowerful.
  • The 2017 Ultra performance tennis racket line is designed for singles and doubles players who seek a racket that can provide effortless power on every shot, while enhancing the effectiveness of their play.

You can follow the “Ultra Aces” program on social media through Wilson Tennis and the USTA Foundation profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @WilsonTennis and @usta (on each social media network).

The program is off to a great start, despite the almost-total rainout on Day 2! Wilson is tweeting daily updates, and I saw this yesterday morning:

Ultra Aces

After yesterday’s 87 singles matches (!), I suspect that “50” will be a much bigger number once Wilson reports its update today!

While this current initiative is seated in philanthropy, I would be remiss if I didn’t Ultramention that I’ve been playing with the new Wilson Ultra racquet for the past 6 weeks or so, and I LOVE it!  “Our 2017 Ultra line is by far the most comprehensive and versatile collection we’ve created to date, said Hans-Martin Reh, General Manager of Wilson Racquet Sports. “We have high expectations for this racket as it delivers on what we have heard from a wide range of professional, avid and amateur players – ‘I want more power without losing feel’. Ultra reflects a unique blend of modern design and novel technologies that expand the hottest part of the racket’s sweetspot by 15 percent. This translates into a racket that gives more power and force where and when it is needed while enhancing feel.”

Now, I’m just a 4.5 player – certainly no Madison Keys or Gael Monfils (!) – but I can absolutely feel the difference in the amount of power and control I get with this new stick. And the new paint job is pretty slick, too: navy and bright blue accent colors, matte finishes, and velvety paint make the Ultra look and feel amazing!

In its release on the new racquet, Wilson tells us that the 2017 Ultra line has been designed to enhance the performance of a wide range of players. It consists of six models: the Ultra 100 Countervail® (CV), Ultra 100L, Ultra 100UL, Ultra 105S CV, Ultra 110 and Ultra Tour. Each model has been developed to reflect differences in athlete age, size, and ability, and varying head sizes, weights, technologies and string patterns allow players to select a model that is right for them based on their individual needs and style of play.

The Ultra 100L and Ultra 100UL are two maneuverable, lightweight options ideal for juniors and smaller adults. Each 2017 Ultra model is compatible with the brand’s X2 Ergo handle technology, which is a customizable handle shape for the top hand of two-handed backhands to create optimal feel for the modern two-hander. This provides players with more power, versatility and leverage.

And, even though Roger Federer isn’t using the new Ultra – he uses the Wilson Pro Staff – here’s a little behind-the-scenes look at how his racquets get strung during the US Open, courtesy of ESPN Sports – Enjoy!

An in-depth look at how Federer’s rackets get made – ESPN Video

 

 

What’s Wrong with US Tennis?

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For those of you who read my trip report from my time in France and Spain, you know I had the fabulous opportunity to take a lesson on the red clay in Mallorca at Global Tennis Team Academy, run by well-known coach Jofre Porta who has worked with Carlos Moya and Rafa Nadal among others.  While I didn’t get to work with Jofre himself, I did work with one of his coaches, Vinicius Oliveira, who spent some time talking with me about how juniors train at their academy.  I also had the chance to talk with Jofre’s wife, Afiza, who manages the business-side of the academy, about the day-to-day training regimen the players endure.  It was all very eye-opening, to say the least.

Before I hit a single ball in my lesson, Vini asked me to hold up my hands in a specific way to create a small triangle.  He then had me look through the triangle so he could determine which is my dominant eye.  When I asked him why that is important, he explained that it impacts the way they teach players to move and to position themselves around the ball.  He went on to share with me that I am left-handed and right-eyed, just like Rafa!  Federer, on the other hand, is right-handed and left-eyed, but many players are same-side dominant with both their hands and eyes.

Then, Vini had me come up to the net – I figured we would be playing a little mini-tennis to get warmed up, just like I do for my matches at home.  Nope!  We did a drill to “wake up the brain” wherein I had to bobble the ball on my racquet then softly volley it to Vini across the net, alternating between my forehand and backhand side.  Apparently, my brain was still very much asleep as it took me about 10 tries before I could successfully complete the drill!  We continued doing similar drills at the net to work on connecting the brain to the movement before pushing back to the baseline to work on groundstrokes.

But, this wasn’t your typical “let’s hit 10 forehands crosscourt then 10 down the line then switch to backhands” drill.  Vini stood on the same side of the net as me and hand-fed balls to various spots on the court.  He directed me where to hit each ball and how to recover on the slippery clay, forcing me to concentrate very hard on my legs.  Needless to say, my strokes looked a bit funky since it’s getting harder and harder for me to focus on more than one thing at a time!  But, the footwork and recovery were the important things here, NOT where my ball was landing.  Again, this wasn’t a typical drill.  I wasn’t just hitting balls and learning how to move on the clay.  Vini fed the first ball wide to my forehand side, and I had to hit it crosscourt and recover to the center without taking any extra steps.  He fed the next ball wide to my backhand side, and I had to catch it with my right (non-dominant) hand and toss it gently to him before recovering, again taking no extra steps.  While this may sound simple, I can tell you that catching the ball rather than hitting it with your racquet is NOT an intuitive reaction on a tennis court!  The first couple of times we did the drill, I was hitting that ball with my backhand rather than catching then tossing it to Vini.  But, Vini was very patient and kept encouraging me through the process.  The next ball came short to my forehand, and I was to hit it crosscourt again.  Then one short and wide to my backhand for a crosscourt shot followed by a deep ball to my backhand.  The final ball was short to my forehand which I was to finish with a down the line winner.  After 8 balls, I was huffing and puffing like I was 80 years old!  Please remember that I’m a fitness instructor who also does yoga twice a week and plays tennis once or twice a week, so it’s not like I’m totally out of shape (or so I thought)!  This drill was ROUGH!

Here’s a video from Global showing the drill described above:

I asked Vini if I could take a water break before continuing the lesson, and we walked over to the bench on the side of the court.  I sat down to drink and recover a bit, and Vini told me that only those players who are inside the top 100 in the world get to sit during water breaks.  Talk about tough love!  He cut me some slack, though, and let me catch my breath while we talked about some of the juniors and coaches who train at Global.  There is no coddling at this place – it’s hard work on the court, high expectations off the court, and plenty of time for enjoying Mallorca’s beauty once tennis and academic training are completed each day.  The players who come here are here to work, to get better, to find a way to “make it” on the tour.  Or, they’re here to learn how to coach at the highest level because Jofre also offers that type of training for those who realize they can’t (or don’t want to) make a living as a player but want to help others reach their potential.

My lesson continued with more groundstroke work then work on my serve.  Vini helped me learn to use my legs to initiate the kinetic chain of energy and get more “pop” on my serve – it was amazing how quickly I was able to generate additional pace while still managing to get my serve over the net and into the box!

At the end of my lesson, like every player who trains here, I had to drag the court to get it ready for the next person.  This is part of the discipline and respect that they work to instill in their players at Global.  And, yes, even Rafa has to drag his court after a workout!  After I completed my task, my husband and I went inside to speak with Afiza about the inner-workings of the academy.  She shared the price list with us, and we talked about the boarding and schooling aspects of training there.  Afiza is The Momma to all the players, even though she has 4 children of her own, planning and chaperoning them for off-site excursions and acting as the liaison with their families back home.  She is from Malaysia (a former super-model there) but speaks perfect English and was very gracious and forthcoming with information.

A typical summer day of training at Global looks like this:

  • 3 hitting sessions of approx. 1.5-2 hrs Monday-Friday
  • An additional 1.5 hour on Saturday (physical, mental, tactical & match play)
  • Local tournament play on the Island

Like I said, INTENSE!  Jofre and his staff expect the highest level of effort from their players.  I suspect they rarely hear things like “I’m tired!” or “I can’t!” at this place – that type of attitude just wouldn’t be tolerated.  And, that was the startling difference to me between what’s happening at Global and what’s happening here at home.  As much as I love the various coaches my son has worked with over the years, I feel there’s an over-arching attitude of permissiveness on the part of coaches (as well as parents, and I’m as guilty as anyone) and a general lack of accountability on the part of our kids.  Yes, I’m generalizing here, and I know I’ve written about why that’s a bad thing to do, but this was something that really stood out for me in my short time at Global.  There is an expectation here – by Jofre, by his staff, by his wife and business manager, and by the players – that if you are here, you are committed to doing everything within your power (and attempting that which may be beyond your power) to get better as a player or as a coach.  There is no such thing as slacking off.  There is no such thing as half-assed effort (pardon my French).  There is no such thing as quitting when it gets too challenging.

It’s not that Global’s coaches are necessarily any better at teaching tennis than our coaches here in the States or at any other academy around the globe – there are great coaches to be found all over the place.  The difference, at least to me, is in the attitude, in the expectation, in the accountability.  I’m sure there are other academies that enforce that same level of commitment that I saw at Global, but I haven’t seen them personally.  I know plenty of junior players, including my own son, who could really learn and benefit from this difference.  And maybe, just maybe, it’s one of the things our American kids need in order to rejuvenate the tennis culture in our country and produce more top-level players.  What do you think?

Q&A with Coach Lisa Dodson

This next Q&A is with Lisa Dodson.  Lisa currently lives and teaches in Northern California.  She is a certified USPTA Pro 1 and PTR coach with over 30 years of teaching experience.  She was also a ranked player on the WTA tour.  As you will read below, Lisa is a passionate coach who has much to offer in the way of player development.  Enjoy!

ParentingAcesWhat was your junior tennis experience like? Did you go straight from junior to the pros or did you play college tennis?

Lisa Dodson:  My junior tennis experience was pretty unusual in today’s terms of developing players. I was the youngest in a tennis playing family so I don’t really remember the first time I held a racket but I do know that it was heavy and wooden! I played primarily at the club we belonged to in Chappaqua, NY and really had little formal instruction as we know it today. Being the local “tomboy” I played every sport with all of the boys in our neighborhood so tennis was just one of the things I participated in but I loved it.  I played only one tournament in 12 & under and I didn’t like it. I had no idea what I was
getting into, what the people were like and the competition level. My most vivid recollection is of the mothers on the sideline (in the ’60’s Moms went to matches as Dads were at work). To a 12 year old they seemed “mean” and the tension was heavy.  I had a close match which I lost against Stephanie Matthews. Clearly the experience was powerful enough for me to remember her name! I did get revenge later in my tennis life!

After winning high school Sectional tournaments for several years and practicing with a “tournament” group I decided to try a few Eastern 18 & under events. This time I had a lot more experience but substantially less than my opponents. Much to everyone’s surprise I played through to the semis of The Empire State Tournament on Long Island, NY handily beating ranked girls who were “better” than I was. Mary Carillo quickly put me in my place in the semis but my eyes were now open. The best thing was that I had no idea how good I was, I just played tennis and had a great time. I wasn’t groomed to be a great player so just loved the process, felt little pressure and started getting lots of recognition.

I was accepted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and sports did help my entrance there. I was recruited for Volleyball (I played on the Eastern US Team in high school) but ended up becoming a “walk-on” for Tennis and Basketball ( I went to Olympic trials for basketball in high school, too). So, my freshman year was pretty crazy: fall tennis, winter basketball, spring tennis with some practice schedules overlapping with both practices on the same day. Oh yeah, I had school too.

Tennis took over as “the” sport at this point so Sophomore year was all tennis and school. I was in the top 6 for UNC and excelled in doubles. My entrance into the pros didn’t come until 3 years after graduation. That’s another story.

Revenge came during my college years against my first and only 12 & under opponent.  As it turns out, Stephanie played for arch nemesis Duke and we were matched up more than once. One thing that I started to learn: tennis is a small world. Everything comes around. Tennis shapes one’s life and behavior. Be a fierce competitor but always fair, honest and forgiving.

PAWhat is your current role in the tennis world?

LD:  Currently I’m specializing in teaching the serve, the most difficult, misunderstood and under practiced stroke in the game. I’m attempting to reach all players and pros possible to help make the serve a dominant force in the women’s and junior’s game in particular. I was a serve and volleyer which is non-existent in these days for a variety of reasons. One reason is that women just don’t spend the time on learning the techniques properly. They need to learn to throw (ball/football). Throwing better will quickly give them more efficiency and power on the service and overhead motions.  Throwing a football for 15 minutes a day will do tons more than hitting the same old
serve daily with no new elements for success.  I have become the “inventor” of the teaching tool The Total Serve and I have been traveling for the past year attempting to spread the word. Women’s and junior tennis have become so one dimensional. Yes, they all need great groundstrokes but what if someone had a SERVE to set them apart by creating “cheap points”, lesser returns and hopefully the ability to serve and volley on occasion. Sam Stosur got smart. How about that serve? She gets cheap points and dismantles the best return in the game (Serena Williams). Stosur and Williams are the only 2 in the women’s game that has a serve that can damage. Certainly others are capable.  Before skipping directly to the top players in the world we need to give girls at beginning stages a good “throwing” foundation. Without that their serves will just fall into the masses of inefficient and attackable serves in the women’s game.  I’m on a mission to get pros to understand how easy it really can be to form great serve technique at all levels. More time needs to be spent on the various components of the serve and it needs to be broken down and addressed not put to the side and neglected.  Unfortunately this falls on a lot of deaf ears. Pros just don’t expect much of a women’s serve which is a major part of the problem.

PAWhat made you invent The Total Serve? What benefits have you seen from the product?

LD:  Like a lot of pros I taught with a tube sock with 3 balls in it to help people “feel” the serve. It helped so many people because players only do what they do. They don’t really “feel” anything they just go through the motions automatically. Unfortunately most of us do it automatically incorrectly. We’re looking for efficiency.  Tennis is a kinesthetic sport so our best learning tools and “AhHa” moments come from FEELING, copying and reproducing a stroke. Pros, including myself, all use the show and tell method. Everyone learns differently but FEELING is by far the most powerful tool that we can give our students.  One day a lifelong 3.5 woman student (with a really funky service motion) used the sock and started seeing immediate results. She said “you should do something with this and make a product”. I took it seriously and set about making a prototype in my garage out of all sorts of balls, stockings, cords, handles and weights. This was really fun! To make a very long story short I did focus groups, found a manufacturer and did the hundreds of other things needed to create a viable product.  What I knew for sure was this: If a sock and some balls can create fast and positive change on the serve then a well thought out and tested product with all components was really needed!  Lots of pros and players don’t get it (this really makes me wonder about the pro). It’s a simple tool that reinforces the correct GRIP to form great throwing technique and enable players to incorporate all movements of the service motion. The main reasons for developing this tool?
1. Grip is essential but players “cheat” and pros let it slip. Women and children in particular can’t get the ball to go forward because their body doesn’t understand what it is supposed to be doing. Using The Total Serve initially as a tool to get the shoulder, arm and wrist to unconsciously understand HOW to act in combination with other body movements (tossing arm, legs, etc)
2. Take the ball out of the equation. Making change takes time and progress can be slow. Changes happen by taking components of a stroke, breaking them down and repeating. Take the ball out of the equation and you have no negative feedback. The biggest deterrent to someone trying to make serve changes are bad results: the ball goes into the ground, the net and into the side fence as the grip is corrected. These results are GREAT! They are on the right track but since the feedback is negative the person quits. I see it every day.
3. Practice time: The Total Serve allows practice anywhere, anytime. The biggest deterrent to improving the serve in the general tennis pool of recreational, league and tournament players is practice time. Everyone loves to get out and hit groundstrokes but they don’t make time for the serve. Even when it is practiced the player is typically just reinforcing flawed technique. Using The Total Serve corrects, develops and reinforces great technique that can be practiced as much as desired.
4. Pros: it’s so simple to teach with. Your students will love you. It’s new, fun, easy and gets results. Send all of your students home with one in their bag and have them practice what you have taught them. You’ll see results. By the way, you can make money on it too.

In the last year The Total Serve has demonstrated to me an thousands of others that fast and easy progress can be made on the serve. I have had so many AhHa! moments! The consistent incredulous response is “that’s what it’s supposed to feel like? Yes, that’s what it’s supposed to feel like so do it again and if you’re really good I’ll let you actually hit a ball.

PAIf you could tell tennis parents one thing what would it be?

LD:  Encourage your kids to play other sports. Cross training in team sports is fantastic for physical, emotional and mental development. Playing big court or field sports (soccer, basketball, baseball) develops the brain to “see the whole picture” of what’s going on at all times and develop the geometry skills needed for tennis. When transitioning to a smaller tennis court a kid has already developed some major mental skills. Throwing, running, jumping and fast feet are developed in varying sports. Let them learn to work together with a team and have that fun and excitement as a way to get better results on the tennis court. Don’t pigeon hole them or they are likely to be unhappy and unfulfilled
youngsters which carries over into the rest of their lives. Worried that they may love another sport more than tennis? It’s about them not you. Let them choose otherwise it’s a no win for both child and parent.

Again, a big thank you to Lisa!  If you have any additional questions for her, please put them in the Comments box below – I will be happy to forward them.