Thanks to @KrisSoutar for suggesting this topic, I really think it is an interesting one and I would love to hear what you think.
Do girls play with less variety because they aren’t capable or because coaches make the assumption they aren’t?
As a kid I never really got the opportunity to find out if I could master soft hands and touch shots as I was put in to the box of a power player pretty early on. I tried a couple of times but usually got laughed at for having ‘brick hands’, and was told just to smack it instead by most of my coaches. It wasn’t until I was around 16 years old that my coach said “right let’s have a proper look and see what you can do”. He was pretty shocked when I asked which grip I should use for a forehand drop shot, and I can now honestly say that in my entire professional career I have NEVER hit a forehand drop shot in a match. I have hit a few backhand drop shots here and there, and if they were successful would be followed by me looking at my coach and us both laughing at what had just happened. I have seen this sort of approach quite regularly in girls’ tennis but it is very rare with boys. So why is that?
When I was a junior I remember the game being very much dominated by Martina Hingis but we all knew, including Hingis, that times were changing and the power of Davenport was being replicated by the likes of Williams and Williams, and that was where the game was headed. Maybe that is why coaches encouraged me to stick to what I was naturally good at instead of developing other skills. To be honest I don’t know whether I would have used these skills as my game was very much power based, maybe it would have been a waste of time. Although if I could have added one thing to my game it would have been a short low slice, as being on the receiving end of such an onslaught my opponents used to be forced back behind the baseline so a drop shot or short slice would have been useful. I am not being critical of my coaches, that was the game back then so maybe they had the right idea, I am just telling you what happened.
The game has moved on again and power is not enough anymore. I have so much admiration for Serena as she has grown with the game at every stage. She turned up with power, the others got used to it so she improved her movement out of sight, so did they, she then added some touch and feel and now you walk on to court against immense power, extraordinary movement as well as fine hand skills. Yikes!
It is patronising to assume that a girl can’t do things a boy can when it comes to tennis but it happens all the time. It is equally as condescending when I am told that I cannot coach boys because the game is so different. Idiots.
I believe that there is an element of coaches believing that girls are less capable but also just being stuck in the past a bit. The game has moved on and from what I can see the last decade was about power, this one is about power and movement and the next will be about power, movement and variety. This is the natural progression because if you play someone with excellent movement and the ability to absorb and deliver pace then how do you get it past them? You have to take them wider, lower, shorter, higher or anywhere that is out of their strike and might make them uncomfortable.
So my message to any young girls is kick your serve, play touch in the warm up, play touch at the weekend, come to the net, learn some trick shots… don’t forget about your base game but that forehand slice squash shot on the run will be a winner one day.