Pickleball Points: Fundamentally, it is all about the fundamentals

If you watched the recent five-hour Wimbledon finals, you might especially appreciate this week’s article.

Few people could physically withstand an exchange of friendly ground strokes with Djokovic or Federer for five minutes, let alone five competitive hours. Their level of fitness is astounding. But even they both periodically fell prey to the pressure of competition during that match.

When I selected an up-and-coming tennis player for an endorsement contract, I selected the player who was most fundamentally sound. In pressure situations, when everything breaks down, the player with the best fundamentals normally is the victor.

When Kathy Casey recently asked me what kind of clinic I could design for the First State Pickleball Club, I told her it should be about the fundamentals, because I have not been seeing a lot of it on the local pickleball courts. I asked Rick Bell to lead it, because he, better than anyone, understands the importance of fundamentals as a licensed pickleball pro.

In my youth, I really had the best of both worlds. I was a self-taught tennis player, which forced me to question why such and such stroke is best this way, or that way. A teaching professional would certainly have helped speed me along, but the Delmarva Peninsula then did not offer such professions.

On the other side of that coin, I did not become the mirror image of a local teaching pro, and it forced me to understand every aspect of the game. However, periodically, a famous coach would visit for a week in between national tournaments and stay with local tennis personality Bill Riordan, later the manager of Jimmy Connors when he was the top player in the world. Of course, Riordan would ask his guest to take a look at my game.

The first visiting coach I remember was Mercer Beasley, who discovered and taught Ellsworth Vines, who held the title as best player in the world for four years. Beasley also discovered and taught national champion Frankie Parker, who won both the French Open and U.S. Open. Frankie obviously took “Forty Love” a little too seriously, since he married Beasley’s wife.

Beasley would put circled targets on the court and have me knock them over as he called their number. He emphasized that to hit those targets, I could allow no extraneous motion in my ground strokes, and advised me to keep them as simple as possible.

Then came along the great Australian coach Harry Hopman, who again was all about the fundamentals and passed along some tips that would later serve to frequently help me. One of those messages was that when your shots abandoned you in a match, and they would, forget about everything but the basics — check your grip, get into position, bend the knees, hit the ball in front of the body, transfer weight, etc.

When Chris Evert lost Wimbledon to Billie Jean King, her father, a famous coach, analyzed that in that match, Chris was simply not bending her knees.

Of course, if you don’t know the fundamentals, you continue to play until someone advises you that you lost your match and it is time to go home. You can’t heed the advice of great coaches if you don’t understand the fundamentals. And the simple truth is that the more excess motion or body language required to make your shots, the less chance of reproducing them time after time.

If you have a forehand, but no backhand, you’d better be exceptionally fast. If you hit off-balance, you had better be in great shape, because your shots will fail as you begin to fatigue or play better players.

I asked Sea Colony Tennis Director Thomas Johnston, former coach of the nationally ranked University of Virginia tennis team, for a few thoughts about fundamentals in racket sports. Not only do they have a national award-winning tennis program at Sea Colony, Thomas and his crew teach a fair amount of pickleball.

Thomas agreed about the importance of fundamentals, beginning with a continental grip that will continue to be functional as the player improves, and a strong understanding of court positioning.

Now you know the reason I designed a two-part, back-to-back, clinic, focused on fundamentals, for the First State Pickleball Club, and the reason all of you, regardless if you are a weekend player or a tournament maven, should understand the fundamentals.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.


By Vaughn Baker

Special to the Coastal Point