Theories of the Game

Secret Game of Tennis, Part 2:

The Geometry of Tennis and Life

by Jack W. Broudy

This is the second in Jack Broudy's series of five articles featured in TennisONE The series is based on  new book tentatively titled, "The Secret Game of Tennis: The Geometry of Tennis and Life."

"Is everything chaos and chance, or is there order, harmony and proportion in human life, nature and the finest arts? Can one find a natural aesthetics that corresponds to a universal order? If so, what importance can it have to the scientist, artist or layman (or tennis player)?" (1)

"Geometry attempts to recapture the orderly movement from an infinite formlessness to an endless interconnected array of forms." (2)

Understand that 2 + 2 = 4, now and forever. There are truths like this one that apply to all of life and sport (which as we all know is merely a microcosm of life itself.)

There is a literal and figurative geometry that is omnipresent in life. As they say you either "go with the flow" and "get into the groove" or you are "imbalanced" or just plain "off." Personally, I've always enjoyed the former and preferred being "on-line" as opposed to "off-kilter." It is more productive, more fun and a lot less effort.

Before we get started, let's get one thing straight: this program has nothing to do with mind-body hocus-pocus. It is a teaching technique that is unique and involved and takes time to explain and to understand. However with a philosophical commitment and inspired practice, anyone can play this secret game of tennis.

The Endless Stroke

Beyond geometry's static formal relationship there is a potential for an endless interconnected array of forms which we can use to find the perfect tennis stroke.Generally speaking, one takes a typical tennis lesson and hears that there is a "backswing, contact point and a follow-through" to the strokes, and from there both the student and the pro try to figure out the space contained within - usually by hitting countless numbers of balls. However, there is a geometry to the game that can be seen in the great groundstrokers such as Rios, Agassi and Hingis. It all begins with the "Infinity" sign or inverted figure 8 lemniscate. That geometric figure is the basis, or the blueprint for effortless, controlled and balanced (in every sense of the word) groundstrokes. It is the motherform for the entire game.

Leminscate (inverted figure 8)

In the photos below, see how Andre Agassi's forehand imitates the inverted figure 8 motion. In one smooth, continuous motion, Andre takes the racket head back in a semi-looping motion. To get the racket head below the ball, Andre drops the racket head downward in a smooth, semi-circular motion. Before he begins the forward momentum, the racket head goes from its low point (at the furthest point of the backswing) upwards in a smooth, flowing stroke across the mid-point or axis of his body, with the racket head ending up high over his left shoulder. Finally, to return to the ready position, the racket head moves down and back to the mid-point of the body, completing the figure 8.










But it's important to note that the figure 8 represents an internal model of balance and rhythmn as much as it does an external geometric pattern. See how Agassi sucks that ball up into a magical coil and then whips it out into the court, much the same as a wave pulls a surfer into the curl and then spits him out of the blow hole. There is a perfect geometrical explanation for both of these art forms. Start to realize that tennis is a self-expression; it is who you are. Up-tight people generally play up-tight. Aren't there certain players who you'd rather hit with? And rather not hit with?

Now see Agassi's figure 8 motion in this animation by clicking here.

The figure 8 is the key to perfect tennis--from the groundstrokes, to the footwork, the "8" represents the symmetrical and endless flow of the game. Agassi's strokes have a symmetrical "negative" and a "positive space." He doesn't just "go after the ball" or "take it out in front" or "attack it"; those are words of the tennis imposters, not the real tennis afficionados. The stroke must be "balanced" in every sense of the word. It is more a matter of "pulling" the ball in and "sending" it away and not just hitting some two--dimensional "dot" with a mallet.

The figure 8 represents effortless and optimal strokes. I've found in raising nationally-ranked juniors as well as accomplished adult players that the figure 8 technique, regarding positive and negative space, along with other geometric concepts, can transform beginners into champions in the absolute shortest amount of time. Furthermore, they have a game that is superior in every way, especially in achieving the natural control that comes from a seemingly magical and effortless connection, that only certain players possess.

Try the following exercise. It will help you get connected to yourself and the figure 8 motherform as it pertains to your groundstrokes.

Rally short-court, with two hands on both sides (Don't worry too much about which hand is on top.)

  • Relax your arms and let your body turn into the hit.
  • Use your hips only, to take the racket back. Belly-button is coiled toward the back fence and then pushed around toward the net.
  • Equal negative and positive space. The figure 8 is a symmetrical feeling in the back and front of the strokes.
  • Feel the figure 8 internally as well as with the motion of your racket.
  • Keep the movement. The racket never stops moving.

You'll find that the shots you lose control on, are the ones that your arms "come out of yourself" and arbitrarily swing at the ball. (It will feel quite awkward.) Let your hips control the racket speed. If you feel as if the ball is too far in front of you , don't reach clumsily. Just wait for the ball to come into the triangle off your hips.

This exercise will help you to understand that symmetry is control and power, and above all it is "natural" feeling. This will also teach you to be economical with your body mechanics.

Every time you engage in this drill it will have a positive and cumulative effect on your focus and your game. Our junior and adult players start with this two-handed short-court routine before each and every warm up, with amazing results.

This technique will help you, not only create the correct "point and periphery" relationship between your body and the ball, but the most important mathematical point of all--your point of attention.

Techniques as this one, whereby you find your game through geometrical relationships and body symmetry, can change the way you think and the way you play--forever. Positioning and footwork are also a manifestation of proper geometry. For example, you don't just bounce from foot to foot when waiting for the ball to be struck by your opponent. Your feet actually move in small circles, creating a figure 8 between the two feet.

Also, the way you judge the ball and bring it in from the "periphery" of the opposite court to your favorite hitting "point," is by thinking in a non-linear style. You are basically the center point of a moving meditation--if, and only if, you can get your thoughts into this mathematical mode. Once you fully understand the geometry of the game you can play with fluidity and confidence on a consistent basis. Start changing your game by doing the math.

(1) "The Geometry of Art and Life," Matila Ghyka, c1977 Dover Pubs., NY, NY.

(2) "Sacred Geometry," c1982, Robert Lawlor. Crossroads, N.Y., N.Y.

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