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Dennis Van der Meer – The Game’s Foremost Tennis Instructor Passes Away

Dennis Van der Meer was the game’s foremost tennis instructor. He was charismatic and dynamic. Read about the life of the teaching legend who passed away on July 27th…

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Attempting to explain the impact Dennis Van der Meer had on tennis is next to impossible. He did so much for so long that his accomplishments as an instructor overwhelm definitive record keeping. Not attempting to be cliched, the “Game’s Einstein” passed away on July 27th at the age of 86, in Hilton Head, South Carolina. (He had been in ill health for a lengthy period of time.)

 

It is often said “if you can’t play really well, you should teach.” That is basically what happened with Van der Meer. He was born in Namibia to parents who were South African missionaries and raised in the Capetown area. He became good enough to be invited to try out for South Africa’s Davis Cup team. In his candid fashion, years later he admitted to “choking.”

Self-doubt stalled his high level competitive career, but at the suggestion of a coach he began teaching, in order to restore his self-esteem. Not only did he blossom, he excelled in his new profession. For those in the tennis industry who knew him, the idea that Van der Meer, at any time, lacked confidence is really difficult to grasp.

It seemed that the bigger the stage, the more dynamic he was. He could be boisterous and bossy (and this I know from personal experience). On court, he was “The Boss.” He was strict and could, on occasion, be crusty when offering an opinion regarding an instructor’s teaching skill and/or playing ability.

But, away from the court, he transformed. He became engaging and entertaining, often telling wonderful stories. He was quick witted, humorous and from time to time, self-deprecating. Actually, he was captivating wherever and whenever.

Van der Meer arrived in the US in 1961. He began teaching at the Berkeley Tennis Club in the eclectic City by the Bay. Eric van Dillen and Jeff Borowiak were among the elite juniors he guided. He also worked with Billie Jean King and Margaret Court, too. But, he was truly in his element dealing with youngsters under ten, who were just beginning to play.

He did it with off-the-charts creativity. Because of the court restrictions he often faced, he used ropes to divide a single court into play areas and involved the kids in games in which they realized success.

As a teaching professional who worked for him for ten years said, “He taught kids how to learn tennis…and they had fun doing it.”

He regularly invented methods to develop proper stroke technique. One of his all-time best was a way to help those who opened up too soon, pulling the elbow away from the body, when hitting a backhand. To correct the error, he had the player place the top from a metal tennis ball can, (yes, this was in the old days), under the arm pit. If the player opened up too soon, the top dropped, and clattered on the ground. Keeping the elbow tucked appropriately produced a clean stroke and the top would drop as the ball was struck.

In 1963, he married Linda Vail, a talented player from San Francisco, who is one of only five women to sweep the National Collegiate titles. In 1960, competing for Oakland City College, Vail claimed the singles championship and teamed with Susan Butt of University of British Columbia to take the doubles. The year before (1959), she was a Wimbledon competitor. Over time, she became better known for her relationship with the rising teaching star and the fact that they had a Cheetah named “Drop Shot” that they kept at their home. (They divorced in the 1970s.)

He teamed with King to start Tennis America. Under that banner, the organization held summer Van der Meer-King Tennis Camps at the Incline Village Tennis Club on the shores of Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Always a keen observer he soon realized the instructors who were working for him didn’t use similar approaches. One taught one way, and another went about teaching in a completely different fashion.

This led Van der Meer to launch TennisUniversity. It focused on establishing a Standard Method of Teaching (SMT) the game. In 1976, he founded the US Professional Tennis Registry (USPTR) that has become the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR). It is acclaimed nationally and internationally for certifying teaching professionals who utilize the instruction format he developed.

Around this time (in the ‘70s), he moved his operation to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina and opened Van der Meer Tennis University. He worked constantly to inform the tennis community about the importance of standardized teaching. During one of his presentations in 1980, a clinic attendee caught his eye. In truth, it did more than that since the individual was not only striking, but a former player who had decided to become a certified instructor. That special lady became Pat Van der Meer in 1981.

During his career, he received more accolades than a head of state. He was named Tennis Coach of the Decade in the 1994 Tennis Buyers’ Guide Readers Poll; Development Coach of the Year, US Olympic Committee in 1997; US State Department Exceptional Coaching Performance in the Middle East in 1972. He has receive countless other tributes, but the most meaningful was becoming the first PTR Hall of Fame inductee in 2013.

In 2011, at 78, he suffered a debilitating stroke at Hilton Head. In life and love, what comes around regularly goes around. Pat had been critically ill years before and Dennis nursed her back to health. For the past eight years, she has done her utmost to make his life fulfilling. (She was by his side at the PTR Hall of Fame ceremony.) Together, they worked even harder (because of his incapacities), on ways to make wheelchair tennis more rewarding to play. Until the end, they shared over thirty years of special memories…

While Dennis Van der Meer was bigger than any story that can be told about a tennis educator, Pat played a critical role in making the book a best seller. Her importance should be recognized as the deserved tributes are paid to the individual who defined innovative tennis instruction.

 

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EXCLUSIVE: The Big Business Of Data Analytics In Tennis

Ubitennis speaks with the founder of Tennis Data company Sportiii, whose company is currently working with Stan Wawrinka’s coach Magnus Norman.

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Mike james with doubles player Ante Pavic and Tomislav Brkic at a Challenger tournament.

As tennis players head into their off-season, it is normally the same routine. A couple of days of rest followed by numerous training blocks to get them ready for the following season. They are guided by their coaches, physios and for a growing number with the help of a computer by their side.

 

With technology continuing to rapidly develop, the use of data statistics is becoming big business in the world of tennis. A method where players analyse the numbers behind their performance. Ranging from their service percentages to the average length of rallies they are playing. The idea being that their training is then customised to take into account those figures.

However, how much of a big deal is it?

Mike James is the founder of Sportiii Analytics. A company that provides detailed information on player’s strategies and patterns. They have a partnership with the prestigious Good To Great Academy in the pipeline and supply information to Stan Wawrinka’s coaching team. British-based James has more than a decade of experience in coaching and has previously mentored the likes of former top 20 doubles specialise Ante Pavic. At present Sportiii are working with several ATP and WTA players, but are unable to name them due to a confidentiality agreement.

“We are fortunate enough to be able to use Dartfish. Dartfish created a tagging part of their software package around 10 years ago. It allows us to make customized tagging panels or coding as they say in football or rugby. Essentially, we can tag or code whatever the player, coach or federation wants to look for.” James explained during an interview with Ubitennis.
“We are taking 30 KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) of information which allows us to take the data and move that into a strategy for the players and their teams to know what is working and what isn’t.”

Tennis is far from the only sport to be influenced by the rapid rise of technology. Although, is it really a necessity? During the 1980s with the likes of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, they both managed to achieve highly successful careers without detailed statistical information. Some would argue that they most important aspect is a person’s talent on the court and how they mentally cope with different situations. Not how many rallies they win in under five shots.

Although James points out that without services like his, there is a chance that player’s could be training the wrong areas of their games. Therefore hampering their own development in the sport.

“If we know the 70% of the returns are going back into the court in the men’s game, then we know the first ball after the serve is extremely important. Also, if we know that 70% of the match is between zero and four, the serve and return is vitally important.” He said.
“Players hitting 20, 30, or 40 balls in a row before they have a break. They are not training the game, they might be training the technical aspects of their game but they cannot train tactically playing this many balls without a break.”

A method for the many, not the few

There are still a few stigmas when it comes to companies such as Sportiii. Many would think this service would be something mainly of interest to coaches and nobody else. However, James reveals that this isn’t always the case.

“Of course, some coaches want to know the information, but we have players we deal with without their coaches because they are the ones interested. If it’s going to work best with statistics, numbers and strategy, you’re going to want both the player and coach fully buying in to this way of thinking. That’s going to get the best result for sure.”

Novak Djokovic has previously worked alongside Craig O’Shannessy, who is the founder of Brain Game Tennis and writes numerous statistical articles for atpworldtour.com. Meanwhile, Alexander Zverev once said ‘all the big guys are using data analysis, they just don’t like to talk about it.’ There is clearly a market, but is it only for those who can afford it?

Despite the rise of prize money earnings, the disparity on the tour remains substantial. Rafael Nadal was the highest earner of 2019 on the ATP Tour with $12.8 million in winnings. In contrast, the 300th highest earner, Federico Coria, made just over $81,000. Less than 1% of Nadal’s tally. According to one report from The Telegraph, leading agencies in the tennis data industry are selling their top packages in the region of £80,000 ($103,000) per year.

“We look to do individual tailor made packages depending on a player’s ranking, age, experience, support team, if they are funded by their federation or if they are funded by private sponsors.” James commented on how Sportiii handles the situation.
“But at the end of the day, of course the first part of a player’s budget is for their coach and then maybe the Physio. But I think having an analyst or strategy consultant is becoming higher in the pecking order for players going into 2020.” He added.

The future

James pictured with Magnus Norman (left) and Jonas Arnesen (middle)

Next year Sportii will officially begin their work with Swedish tennis academy Good To Great, which is located to the north of Stockholm. Regarded as one of the top academies in the country, it was founded by Magnus Norman, Nicklas Kulti and Mikael Tillström. Their role will be providing information to those who use the facility.

“We’re really looking to steepen the learning curve and support their academy pro team. But also help develop their junior players they have coming through.” James explained about the collaboration.
“We support their team with educational workshops and I think this is the next phrase for data analytics. That will be going into junior tennis and not just looking at the top of the game.”

The desire to focus more on the younger generation of athletes emulates that of the ATP with their Next Gen Finals in Milan. An end-of-season event that features the eight best players under the age of 21. At the tournament, they use a series of new innovative methods. Including electronic line calling, the use of a handset to speak with coaches during changeovers and wearable technology.

There is no doubt that the new generation of players is more comfortable with the use of technology. But what does that mean for the future of coaching? Would it be possible that one day the profession could be replaced by a computer instead? This could appeal to those looking to save costs, however James isn’t convinced the complete removal of the human element will happen.

“If players are more certain and confident in knowing what they need to do, in my opinion the level goes up.” He states. “Then, if the level goes up, maybe we are not at the pinnacle of the sport seeing Rafa, Roger, Stan and Novak playing video game tennis. I think we are still going to get another level of tennis in 5-10 years, which is very exciting for the sport.”

It is inevitable that technology will have a greater presence in tennis over the coming years in some shape or form. The only question is where do you draw a line?

To find out more information about Sportiii you can visit www.sportiiianalytics.com or check out their social media pages.

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Vasek Pospisil and Denis Shapovalov secure Canada the spot in Davis Cup semifinal

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Canada reach their third Davis Cup semifinals after Vasek Pospisil and Denis Shapovalov won the decisive doubles match.

 

Vasek Pospisil opened the quarter final clash between Canada and Australia with a 7-6 (9-7) 6-4 over John Millman.

Millman broke his serve in the second game of the match. Pospisil broke back to draw level to 4-4 and saved two set points to force the first set to a tie-break. Pospisil won a tight tie-break at 9-7. The second set went on serve until the 10th game when Pospisil broke serve at 5-4 to close out the match.

“I have been playing really well this week and trying to keep the momentum going. I am playing pretty relaxed, which is good. I am enjoying my time on the court after being injured, which has changed my perspective a bit, and maybe that’s helped me for the last couple of months”, said Pospisil.

Alex De Minaur rallied from a set down to beat Denis Shapovalov 3-6 6-3 7-5 drawing the tie level to 1-1.  Shapovalov converted his second break point in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead and held on his next service games to win the first set 6-3. De Minaur earned the only break point in the second game to win the second set 6-3 forcing the match to the decider. De Minaur broke Shapovalov to take a 6-5 lead and sealed the match on his second match point.

Pospisil won both his second match of the day when he teamed up with Shapovalov in the doubles match. The Canadian team beat John Peers and Jordan Thompson 6-4 6-4.

“This is unbelievable. We have a great team and we had the potential to get this far, but the guys put their hearts on the line this week. They are playing unbelievable tennis, and they wanted so bad to play unbelievable tennis. I am so proud of them”, said Canadian captain Frank Dancevic.

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Andy Murray’s Presence In Davis Cup Quarter-Final Clash Undecided

Will the former world No.1 be chosen to play or not?

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MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 16: Andy Murray of Great Britain during a training session of Davis Cup by Rakuten Madrid Finals 2019 at Caja Magica on November 16, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Mateo Villalba / Kosmos Tennis)

Great Britain’s bid to reach the last four of the Davis Cup could take place without three-time grand slam champion Andy Murray amid his current fitness on the court.

 

Murray, who is the only British man in the Open Era to reach world No.1, was absent from his team’s clash with Kazakhstan on Thursday. Instead the duty was down to Kyle Edmund and Dan Evans. Edmund was in impressive form as he downed Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3, 6-3, but Evans was edged out in three sets by Alexander Bublik. Leaving it down to the doubles pairing of Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski to clinch the crucial win to claim the overall 2-1 victory.

“I had every confidence in Kyle, saw firsthand what he was playing like indoors in Paris and what he’s been doing in practice. I thought he was going to play well, and he did play well, he played really well.” Team captain Leon Smith told reporters in Madrid.
“Then Evo (Evans) again was totally in the match, a bit like yesterday, bar a couple of points.’
“And then Jamie and Neal got into a great head space again. And the doubles players expressed themselves. And I think that’s where, you know, it is an advantage for us in these situations.”

The Brits have topped their group with two out of two wins after beating the Netherlands earlier in the week. Their reward is a quarter-final meeting with Germany, who has three top 100 singles players and two top 20 players in doubles. However, it is uncertain if Murray will be present in the tie after recently admitting that he is not in his best form. Saying he had ‘lots of cake and junk’ following the recent birth of his third child Teddy.

“I told you guys I wasn’t feeling in the best shape coming in, and it showed a little bit in the match,” Murray said earlier in the week.
“The weight and things like that, that’s my fault. I won’t put myself in that position again.
“If you’re weighing four or five kilos more than you’re used to, that is probably going to affect how you feel moving around the court.”

The frank admission has placed Smith in a predicament concerning who to play in the quarter-final clash, which only features a total of three matches. The tie will not take place until tomorrow afternoon. Meaning a final decision on Murray will likely occur tomorrow instead of this evening.

“It’s important after five weeks of not playing any competitive tennis that you play a match. It wasn’t his ideal match at all, but it was a match nonetheless, and that gets you going again, it gets you going.” Smith said of Murray.

Meanwhile, Germany is keeping quietly confident over their chances of ending British hopes. They have already scored wins over Argentina and Chile in the group stages. It has been 26 years since they last won the Davis Cup trophy.

“I think this new format is a little bit closer, the nations are a little bit closer together. So we have actually a very, very good doubles team, and I think every other nation knows that. So they are a little bit tight also against us to win both singles.” German captain Michael Kohlmann said.
“We are going to prepare the best and hopefully our singles guys and everybody’s fit and ready to play tomorrow.”

The upcoming tie will be the first meeting between the two countries since 1973.

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