Wednesday, April 28, 2021

My two hand backhand strength training journey with Bob Ryland and Dr. Elton Strauss. Balance your muscles...increase stroke power

 It was 1985. With our busy teaching schedules Bob Ryland and I were spending hours on the court every week in between our coaching schedules at Midtown Tennis Club and my weekly USTA Men's tournaments. This was during my 18-match losing streak. Bob started thinking that maybe my two handed backhand was affecting my results. He decided to teach me how to hit a one-handed backhand. I spent at least an hour a day hitting on the handball courts around the corner from Midtown.

After a month of no tournaments, I decided to use that new shot in a clay court event at Mt. Vernon Tennis Center. In the warmup everything seemed to feel fine. But then the match began, and my opponent started hitting every ball high to my backhand. It was a quick game as I just simply felt that nothing was going right on that side. Had a ton of trouble with the high topspin balls that were way out of my strike zone on that side. 

So, I decided to switch back immediately to my steady two hander. My slice backhand was still a work in progress so that wasn't an option.

Hadn't hit a ball with my two hander in a month as I was fully committed to what Bob wanted me to do. The match quickly turned into a lobfest as my timing was a bit off on my two fisted shot. We were playing in an indoor tennis bubble at Mt. Vernon and many of my backhands went very close to reaching the top of the bubble. It was I will admit the ugliest win in that I had in my tennis life since I upset Andy Porter to reach the semifinals of the Cincinnati Center Sectional 12U qualifier in 1973. It also made me realize that if I ever wanted to be competitive with players on the Eastern circuit and the satellite tour that something had to change.

Also, that match broke my 18 match losing streak. I had thought all along that my losing streak ended later in the year at Stadium Tennis when I won 3 matches to reach the quarterfinals. But I just looked at my results from 35 years ago. It was the match versus Steven Rosen on October 8th,1985. The 6-3,6-2 win lifted a huge weight off of my shoulders. 

But now it was time to improve. So, Bob and I consulted with our friend Dr. Elton Strauss who was an orthopedic surgeon in Manhattan that had fixed Bob's torn Achilles earlier that year. Dr. Strauss suggested that I go see his team at the physical therapy office that was connected to his office in Gramercy Park. 

Dr. Strauss also worked with Aaron Krickstein when he was battling injuries during his career as an ATP Top 10 player.

I was excited to see what they could do to help me. The first thing that was discovered was that both of my hamstring, calf and quad muscles were weak. The left side was much weaker overall. Using Cybex computerized equipment they measured arm and leg strength. My left arm was also considerably weaker. So, the muscle imbalance was definitely a factor in my inability to hit backhands with any power. They tracked me at every visit over the next few months. As the strength increased over 50% in the workouts the ability to hit with power increased dramatically.

Now 35 years later I am starting to utilize similar strength training methods to add some balance and increase strength on my left side. Also, as a coach now after a very long hiatus from coaching I see that a good number of my players may have an imbalance and weakness in the muscles on their non dominant side.

Here is the question...are they willing to do the work that is necessary to gain strength, and which will I believe ultimately result in harder hit balls and better results? 

It's up to them.

PS Thank You Dr. Strauss and Bob Ryland for taking the time to work with me many years ago to help make me a better tennis player and athlete. Although you are both no longer with us you are always in my thoughts.