Navin - Looping and Smashing
I had a nice session with Navin Kumar last night. He's about 1500 level now, a blocker with long pips on the backhand (no sponge). I've been working with him for about two years now. During that time he's gone from 856 to 1426, and is poised to make the jump to about 1600. Some of you might recognize him as "The Bionic Man," who's had a lot of news coverage because of his artificial heart and Parkinson's. (Google "bionic man Navin Kumar.") He often plays in paralympic events.
Yesterday we started serious work on looping for the first time. I've been holding back on this so we could focus on his regular forehand (which he really didn't have at the start), backhand blocking, and receive. Now that that the forehand is getting better - at least in practice! - it was time. We might have done this last year but he was preparing for the Nationals in December, and we decided to hold back until afterwards. Then he came down sick for a while, so we're just getting to this now.
He picked it up pretty fast in multiball, looping against backspin. At first he had a little trouble distinguishing between looping and driving with topspin, which are both on the spectrum from flat hits to spinny loops. I thought this was going to be a long session as I tried to get the stroke right, but to my surprise and happiness, he picked it up very quickly, and soon was ripping big loops all over the place. It's his new toy now!
Then I told him I was going to feed him backspin then topspin, alternating, and he was to loop the backspin, smash the topspin. I also told him his first smash would go off the end - and of course it did, as it does for everyone at this point. (After dropping the shoulder and lifting against the backspin, they do a slight amount of this on the smash, and that's all it takes for the ball to go sailing long.) After smashing, there's also a tendency to shorten the backswing on the loop, so the two main areas of focus on this drill are full backswing on the loop, shoulder up on smash. The different contacts are also key - sinking into the sponge (but not into the wood) for the loop, right into the wood for the smash (but still with topspin - sort of a glancing upward blow at contact).
We're going to keep working on this with multiball to really ingrain the stroke. Then we'll move to doing it in real rallies. The difficult part here is he tends to stand in a backhand position for his blocking. Against backspin, he'll need to pull his right foot back to loop. Then we'll work on following up the loop with a smash. If he loops to the opponent's forehand, probably 90% of returns will come back to his forehand, where he can smash.
Navin reported muscle soreness a few hours later - to be expected since he's using muscles he didn't use much before. We'll get them in shape!
So the focus in the near future will be on looping, smashing, foot positioning, and perhaps also on serves.
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