Tennis Camps, from Nick Bollettieri's to Harry Hopman's, Turn Games Inside Out in a Couple of Long, Hard Days
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96
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"Bollettieri's program is meant to beat up serious players; it isn't the right place for dilettantes, the guys who are just 'trying on' tennis," says Fritz Nau, who runs his own academy in Boca Raton, Florida. "For only when a player is falling apart, spiritually and physically, can a teacher see his weaknesses and decide what must be fixed. That's why a student has to really love tennis if he shows up at Nick's, or any other reputable school. An effective program is long, tough and painful," says Nau, who previously coached at Bollettieri's school for 10 years.
So be forewarned. Forget leisurely time-outs for even a drink of water or to otherwise recoup your strength between drills. Only one hour into Bollettieri's scorched-ego program, I was already hearing it about my stumbling, lead-footed approaches to backhands. "Shuffle those feet, then square your hips, shoulder and head towards the ball," came the commanding voice on the other side of the net. "Get your body weight moving forward into the shot. Move the racket back faster, then let your arm and racket go towards the target."
Attempting this recommended technique, I was the too-wristy nincompoop, unable to hit balls forcefully over the net. The years of running around my backhand to launch a big forehand finally caught up with me; I was suddenly a tennis Everyman. Just one more guy with a marshmallow backhand.
Bollettieri's spokesmen insist they don't radically overhaul your game, but that they work within the context of individual styles. In desperate need of more backhanded firepower, I quickly benefited from the academy's personalized student-to-teacher ratio. Mark Morrow, an instructor from another court, watched me struggle and came hurtling at me, offering tips on everything from the Continental grip to effective footwork. Taking me aside to provide this extra help, he stayed with me for half an hour, until the private lesson resulted in my whipping backhands deep down the sidelines. My sudden improvement was no big deal to Morrow. Used to giving students one-on-one attention whenever the need arises (in Bradenton, or at minicamps he supervises around the country), he only said to me, "Nice job. Now go back to your group and get to work."
In the next two days I'd see other instructors working individually with students. These upbeat coaches relished their work, committed to helping camp-goers during lunch breaks and after hours. "It's the Nick thing," says Nau. "He's driven to have the best academy in the world, and the instructors feed off that spirit. Nick has a magic for getting everyone--coaches and students--juiced."
Now armed with a decidedly "lethal" backhand, I was bursting with that Bollettieri-fed adrenaline. But while imagining a run at Wimbledon, I made a mistake prospective Bollettieri students should avoid. On the way back to my group, I stared at the Agassi incarnates, the seven- to 18-year-olds hammering balls on surrounding courts. Just watching a pint-sized, seven-year-old Russian girl pummel 80 mph serves brought me down to earth, fast.
Overcoming this jolt of middle-aged reality wasn't easy. Yet I somehow ignored all my aches, plus the fact that lunch was still an hour off, and began working on another gap in my pro-tour arsenal: the Milk-Dud serves I customarily fed to opponents.
"It's all in the toss, rolling the ball off your fingertips and getting the ball to the one o'clock position," insisted Calvin Cole, another young teacher with the patience of Job. "I know you're tired, but suck it up. Get the ball in front of you. Higher...higher...cock that elbow. Pretend you're hammering a nail."
I had heard all this before, from country club tennis instructors who had the misfortune of trying to overhaul my mechanics. But here I faced a more exacting type of pressure to succeed. Cole and his associates are so demanding, they're constantly singling out a student to hit ball after ball, even if that means fewer shots for the players just standing around and watching.
What that adds up to is more than a lot of extra bang for the buck. Under this sort of microscope, where teachers underscore your flaws with stiletto-edged barbs and demands for 10 pushups, you emerge with a new sense of purpose, an on-court toughness. Now ready to kick ass, to hit patented Bollettieri "put aways" in crucial situations, you scarcely care about those pushups. Assuming the horizontal position, the laughter from classmates ringing in your ears, you just do it, and stand up asking for 10 more.
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