Saturday, May 23, 2009

Thinking of Amanda Coetzer

I woke up this morning thinking of Amanda Coetzer and wishing she was still playing and that I could see her bring her brand of fire to the French.

I know what caused it too. Yesterday afternoon, I was working with my coach on swinging volleys. He’s been trying to get me to accept that at 5 feet 3 inches short, I cannot reliably count on baseline aggression and net play to help me win games. I have to develop other shots -- such as the swinging volley and the disguised drop shot. So in the middle of the lesson he turned and asked me, “Do you remember that player, Amanda Coetzer?” Of course I did. “Well, I want you to learn to do what she did”. Message received.

It always annoys me when folks with no sense of tennis history give credit to Venus Williams for having first utilized the swinging volley. This is not true. This shot was invented by one of the most brilliant coaches in tennis -- Dennis Van Der Meer -- working with one of his most talented students -- the South Africa born Amanda Coetzer.

Amanda had apparently been becoming increasingly frustrated with an experience that short players everywhere can relate to -- after moving in to net behind a ferocious ground shot, she would find herself either passed at the net (because her wing span was limited), or lobbed overhead (because she was short). Van Der Meer instructed her to follow up the penetrating approach shot with a swinging volley response. The combination was lethal. Just ask Steffi Graf.

With the swinging volley, you move into the court behind a piercing approach shot, but not all the way up to the net. You remain in no-man’s-land and play the return shot before it bounces. But you hit it exactly the way you would hit a topspin forehand or backhand -- which is why it is called a swinging volley.

And if you did not know this before, you know now that it was invented in the late 1990’s by Coach Van Der Meer and his student, Amanda Coetzer.

Amanda Coetzer was always a counterpuncher. She credited this to the wall that her lawyer father built in their backyard for her to hit against. He also apparently made a game of paying her to hit certain targets, an incentive that worked too well as her pockets soon became filled up with his money. The result though was that she could hit a target like few others. Her father has gone on record as saying that he did not over coach Amanda as he had done with her two older sisters. This may be why she never lost her love for the game.

Amanda’s nickname on the tour was “The Little Assassin”. I always preferred the French version; it seemed so much more scary. She got this nickname because of her legacy of having beaten some of the best players at the top of their game. She remains the only player ever to defeat Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis, and Lindsay Davenport while they were ranked No. 1. She also memorably spanked Graf three times in 1997.

Among her many accomplishments, she teamed up with fellow countryman, Wayne Ferreira, to win the Hopman Cup in 2000. Her win at Hilton Head in 1998 was probably a most emotionally gratifying achievement as she had trained at this facility for years. Her loss to Dinara Safina in the second round of the 2004 Australian Open signaled a passing of the torch, from one of the one most petite players to one of the more statuesque, from a gutsy volleyer to a baseline bomber, from a slower pace of play to BBT style power tennis, from one generation to another. As it should be.

I woke up thinking of Amanda Coetzer. She was an inspiration for short tennis chicks everywhere. Including one who should presently be packing for a trip but just had to squeeze that last word in.

1 comment:

Jace said...

Great article! I would love to see her "fire ballin" around the French Open also :) Loved her spirit - I even did a painting of her back in 1998 when she won the Family Circle Cup on Hilton Head Island. You can veiw the painting by visiting www.mctierart.com or go straight to to http://www.mctierart.com/Sports.html

Play the game with passion!

Jace