Llodra the Visionary?

Friday, August 13, 2010 /by

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by Pete Bodo

I about fell to my knees and flung my arms skyward, screaming "Thanks, Michael!" when I read the following words in the Associated Press report out of Toronto last night:

In the second set, Llodra tried to put off Federer with a rare underhand serve.

“It’s the first time I got an underarm serve,” Federer said with a laugh. “The third time somebody asked me for the shirt [Llodra asked The Mighty Fed for his shirt after the match, a souvenir to give to his kids].”

Llodra put spin on it, causing the ball to go sideways when it hit the court. Federer seemed ready to swat a forehand winner but instead barely got his racket on the ball, sending it well wide.

“I just wanted to make something special,” Llodra said.

It's funny, but my to-do (I should say "to-write") list contains an item about rekindling my long, lonely crusade on behalf of the underhand serve. Those of you who have read this blog regularly over the years know I've posted on this subject before. The underhand serve is the great, unexploited stroke in tennis. The pros eschew it only out of allegiance to convention, which somehow dictates that serving underhand is unsporting unless you have no other option.

I always thought that an odd, suspiciously Victorian prejudice. If the underhand serve is unsporting, so is the drop shot. They're one and the same thing, and both can or could make the game richer. Imagine Andy Roddick throwing in a sliced underhand serve when his opponent at Wimbledon is lined up to receive serve somewhere in Brighton.

Imagine Roger Federer hitting an exquisite, feathery, underhand serve while set point down against Rafael Nadal. Given that the serve is the only stroke over which the ball striker has complete control (that is, he's not having to react and/or adjust to anything his opponent has done), any pro could develop a deadly underhand serve to compliment his standard delivery with a modest amount of practice.

Part of the prejudice against the underhand serve is that it's perceived as "unmanly." It's a shot for weenies. Well, you know progressive, enlightened me. Not only do I think that's a bunch of hooey, it also represents an opportunity to make the game richer.

And here's another thing. How much longer must we wait before we got a few top players who hit only forehands? Let's face it, there's no shot quite as devastating as the forehand, not even the (highly overrated) Richard Gasquet or David Nalbandian backhand. Monica Seles and former world No. 4 Gene Mayer (that's him in the photo below, alongside Mansour Bahrami) each hit with two hands off both wings. But using two hands cuts down reach, makes retrieving short and/or low balls more awkward, and requires more effort and movement of the torso. Just visualize Nadal, easily slipping the racket from one hand to the other to hit forehands.

2532165 There have been a few players who used two forehands through the years but none recently (can any of you old-schoolers help me out with the names?). There may well be some neurological or bio-mechanical explanation for who there haven't been more double-forehands at the international level, perhaps even psychological reasons. But I'm unaware of them. At the very least, any ambidextrous youngster should be able to develop two forehands.

One impediment to this development might be the age at which players are taught the game. Most of the tour level players begin playing when a lack of strength mandates using two hands on the racket (hence, Seles and Mayer, among others). As I understand it, the extra hand comes off on the forehand side as the player gains strength, even if it remains on the weak (backhand) side.

I do think that if we get a player with two forehands, it might add a new tradition and dimension to the game. Remember, while Chris Evert, Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg were not the first players to use the two-handed backhand, their influence helped make it the dominant backhand (by far) in the new century. And that was indeed a change.

Well, that's it for me for today. Please keep your comments here on topic, and use the previous post for Cincinnati and Toronto match-calling. Plus, Jackie-Oh! will be back soon with a Deuce Club post, live from Toronto. I'll be on vacation next week, and out of touch over the first few days, but I should be back by Thursday. Bobby Chintapalli, who's been working on some stuff for TENNIS magazine in Cincinnati, is also going to return with some further thoughts. So there will be plenty to talk about.

Stick around.

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