We have all heard it. So why isn’t Agassi doing it here? Truth is, we can not actually watch the ball hit the strings. It happens faster than the human eye can move. The other problem is that the swing pattern has to be established long before the ball hits the strings. Federer is a good example of a player who is almost always looking at the point of contact when the ball is on the strings – and a pretty good example at that. So is this just a one time thing for Andre? Actually, in just about every image I found of Andre where the picture was taken from an angle where you could clearly tell where his head was at the the point of contact, he is looking about 3 yards past the point of contact. There are more examples of players not looking at the ball at contact on this page. In every instance I took the first picture I saw, I didn’t go looking for pictures to prove my point but I did look at other pictures to make sure the first picture was a fair representation of that player’s hitting style. So why is this a good tip and why is it a bad tip?
Watch the ball is a good tip in that it keeps the player’s head relatively still as they hit the ball. It prevents them from lifting their head before contact. “Biomechanical studies have proven that the swing pattern lacks consistency when a player’s head makes a sudden shift during the striking phase. Thus, even though your brain may have sent down a signal for a perfect stroke, it may have also sent a message to shift your head, which will inevitably break down a well- formed stroke pattern.” – Jason Bartlett, Singapore Tennis Academy
Watch the ball is a bad tip if you actually try to track the ball all the way to the strings and back with your head. I have always taught that your head needs to be either still at impact – like Federer’s – or it needs to move with the flow of your shoulders. We can clearly see in the picture of Serena that the ball is on the strings and we can clearly see the difference between her head position, in the picture above, and Roger’s head position. In the picture of Andy Murray, he is clearly looking a few feet past where the point of contact is. This particular picture was taken at the finals of this years U.S. Open, so it was taken at a time when he was at the top of his game. The fact is the amount of time it takes the signal from your brain to reach your hands is about the same as the amount of time it takes for the ball to go from hitting the ground to hitting your strings. If you watch the video of Murray below, it seems that his head stops moving right about where he sees the ball hit the ground. Note that the one forehand return where he moves more laterally and less horizontally his head does move bit towards the hitting zone. When hitting a ball on the run your head will turn with your body, so it will be turned more towards the contact point.