Girls play differently to boys you know…

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.

9 thoughts on “Girls play differently to boys you know…

  1. Well said Naomi. I think it’s so important that girls and boys alike are taught diverse skills so they have a full arsenal for whatever they might encounter in matches. I think one potential problem is that girls are potentially more afraid of failure than boys, so they may shy away from developing areas that result in multiple failures in the learning stage. This is certainly something I’d like to explore in my PhD, and it would be good to speak to you at some point to get your insights.

    Good luck with your tennis.


  2. It is a source of amazement to me that, for the most part, females on the Tour play like automatons. A visit each year to the Wimbledon qualifying event reveals almost all contestants trying to prevail by whacking the ball from the baseline ever harder.
    Given that (by implication) women who play this way feel uncomfortable at the net and that most women move better side to side than up and back, the short and wide ball played with slice into the service box should embarrass many opponents. Of course the shot has to be played well and is less risky when played from backhand to (especially double-handed) backhand.
    The opponent’s options are limited because the ball remains low and they are vulnerable positionally. The obvious riposte is a glide down the line (countered by a cut-off volley) or a more risky short angle. The short wide slice should therefore be followed by a forward movement inside the baseline to wait to see which option our opponent chooses.
    Many matches are won and lost by a small margin of points,so this ploy can be an effective weapon in the armoury, even if it is only successfully employed 3 or 4 times a set. But why not have the benefit of the weaponry?


  3. My view is that the Williams sisters upped the women’s game turning it into a power game. All the women then tried to hit the fluff off the ball, as it was an effective strategy at the time. Now they are all hitting harder, the next phase is to get back into those clever innovative shots (angled) from all around the court that they used to use.
    Angelique Kerber is currently (as far as I’m aware) the only player who actually angles her shots from the baseline, making her opponents move away from the centre. Except from Radwanska who mixes up her shots and makes her a feared opponent; however she doesn’t have the power required to whip the ball over the net to finish off a rally.
    Returning to the more innovative thinking on the players part might be good. Chasing down a ball and then creating an angled shot (long and short) for a start. During coaching have a session once a month where the person who makes the most inventive winning shot wins a prize? Make them think out of the box again.


  4. Good post and comments. Diana, I believe I’ve seen Simona Halep angle her shots from the baseline when she was playing at Indian Wells, but she doesn’t seem to do it consistently (yet?); it’s probably very hard work.

    I think what you’re starting to see now are younger players such as Belinda Bencic who greatly admire Aga Radwanska and want to play the Radwanska way, but they also have a bit more power to finish the rallies; this I think is the best of both worlds. I’ve even seen Belinda pull off the Aga “crouch shot” very low to the ground which I imagine must be very difficult (and need strong back and stomach muscles) in a match.

    (BTW, it’s Aga’s birthday today).


  5. hm. yes it seems there has been a tendency to coach big-hitting from the back of the court over the last 15 or so years with a disregard to the benefits of net play and developing slice shots from the baseline. but think this has been applied to boys and girls almost equally. it seems its only been the last few years that top players have dared to venture from the comfort of the baseline and try something different by approaching the net. as you say, being a power player isn’t enough anymore….anyone can do that. top players learnt to add more variation to their game and catch opponents off-guard by mixing it up. hopefully this new approach will filter down and (girls and boys) will develop the variety they need in the game to succeed. maybe it was conventional coaching practise 10 years ago to concentrate on baseline game and some coaches didn’t “think outside the box”. don’t think it was particularly intended as a “girls” way of learning. just standard coaching. e: Mon, 29 Feb 2016 13:23:06 +0000 To:


  6. Hi Naomi,

    Replying to your audioblog, as I can’t see a way to reply here…

    I fully agree that the most injured parties are Sharapova’s beaten opponents. My further thoughts are here…

    In brief I think each woman should receive a postdated technical walkover, and receive the points and prize money (repaid by Sharapova) for winning one additional round each.


  7. Yes, it’s not fully fair, because Hibino has still been robbed of the chance to compete in R2.

    But as I see it, Hibino and Sharapova met to contest a tennis match, with the winner to get 70 points and US$70k or so. Only one legal competitor turned up. Hibino should get both.

    What is grotesque is that she, Hibino, will be disciminated against for having a mandatory score of 10 ranking points dragging her ranking down for the rest of 2016.


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