Being a hitting partner at the Mubadala Citi Open offered a thrilling glimpse into the world of professional tennis - a truly unique experience to stand on the same court as top-tier athletes and gain firsthand insight into the dedication and determination that drive their success. As an integral part of a player's preparation, our sessions were charged with focus - aiding pros in refining their skills to perform in next match.
During my weeklong stay at the Open, I had the chance to practice specifics with Leylah Fernandez and Frances Tiafoe - here's what we did and how Zero performed on court:
Practicing with Fernandez:
Leylah Fernandez is known for her aggressive baseline play, using powerful groundstrokes and a variety of shots to control rallies. Using her lefthanded game to her advantage, she uses the whole court creatively - mixing in different kinds of spin and playing a lot of angles to challenge her opponents.
What surprised me from the start was her attention to spin and the width of the court she used at all distances from the net. We traded short angles going forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand - really practicing getting under the ball and brushing up to get a lot of rotation. As we settled on the baseline, we spent a lot of time practicing opening the court using angles - a tactic she uses very effectively against her opponents to create space and come into the net.
Zero actually faired really well in this kind of practice for me. I found that I was able to brush the ball and make them dip down on angles with confidence given the excellent snapback potential and shape of the string. The strings would always come back into place after making contact offering a consistent launch angle while the 6 edges of the string allowed for really great bite - gripping the ball to offer a controlled response.
Trading Serves with Big Foe:
Also a very creative player, Tiafoe loves to change up the pace of rallies and dictate the point through an aggressive style often finishing up at the net with his signature touch volleys. Going up against Jerry Shang, an energetic lefty who dictates rallies from the baseline, it was important for Foe to get ahead early on and play balls deep to push Shang on his back foot. His request was for me to use my lefty serve into his backhand so that he could practice his deep returns down the middle. My task with Zero in my racket: hit 40 slice serves to Frances' backhand, mixing in both second serves and some faster first serves.
Being a powerful string, Zero packs a great deal of punch especially when going big on serves. That being said, a slice serve actually requires you to not 'punch' the ball so much but 'cut' or 'slice' it to generate the side spin necessary to get that low bounce that escapes from your opponent. The outstanding snapback quality of Zero really helps enhance these serves by allowing for great spin generation and effect on the ball. The balls leave the string bed with that extra amount of rotation moving away from your opponent as the ball makes contact with the ground.