Originally published on: 19/11/13 00:00
If your coach pulled a chunky baseball bat out of his bag midway through a lesson, few would blame you for quickly scoping the fastest way off court. But – as long as you’ve been behaving – there’s no need to be alarmed. You’re about to be introduced to a new coaching aid that promises to improve your technique, footwork and power.
It’s called the Sweet Spotter, and while it has origins in baseball it is arguably the first training aid designed exclusively for tennis. The brainchild of tennis coach Yann Auzoux, the customised bat is designed to make players focus on their point of contact with the ball and reconnect with the perfect swing – all while working out the muscle movements that are so difficult to replicate away from the court.
Auzoux has designed, tested and honed his invention, which is already causing a stir on the US college scene and pro tours. Now one of the top coaches in the US, Auzoux has documented the Sweet Spotter’s impact on his students’ form, power and results over the past 18 months, from recreational players quickly developing a fuller swing to adding as much as 20mph to his own serve and watching his students iron out issues in their game while rising up the rankings.
The Eureka moment arrived in 2011 after a coaching session at an all-girls school in Washington DC. “It was a stroke of luck, really,” Auzoux admits. “One of the girls left her softball bat behind. I was fooling around with it when someone challenged me to hit a serve, so I did. I was really surprised – not only was I able to strike the ball, but I got a sense of crispness in the way I struck it.
“The next day my shoulder was a little sore – the good kind of sore, the kind you get when you’ve worked out and you’ve really used the right muscles. So I thought, ‘Maybe there is something in this.’”
The bat was the acid test for Auzoux’s technique. It required precision – not only to hit the ball, but to hit it with a curved surface without sending it off in the wrong direction. That tiny sweet spot, he quickly realised, also happens to be the perfect strike point on a tennis racket – every tennis racket. Eureka.
Auzoux set to work adapting the idea to maximise its application on a tennis court – widening the body, shortening the bat and adding a 4 3/8 racket-style handle, as well as trying out different materials, lengths and weights. He now has two Sweet Spotters on the market, both 27.5in long – a half-inch longer than a standard racket – and available in two weights: 11oz and 13oz. A junior version, the Sweetie, is also on sale.
“The most difficult thing to fix when you teach is postural problems,” says Auzoux. “These actually cause most of the issues that people have technically – they don’t have the correct upper body posture.”
When it came to looking for training aids beyond a hopper of balls and a set of cones, however, Auzoux found few devices designed to improve the unique movements specific to tennis, particularly racket head speed on the serve.
“I would go to the gym and work with resistance bands and dumbbells, but it doesn’t really give you the full tennis motion,” Auzoux explains. “It’s very limiting – you’re not working with something that is pure and proper to the form. But if you work with a 13oz Sweet Spotter, which you can also build up to be 15oz or 16oz, you can hit balls with it – so you get ball feedback as well as strengthening the muscles involved in the sequence you need to generate the perfect shot.”
It takes a little getting used to, and you’ll need a coach or practice partner to feed you balls, but those committed to improving will be rewarded for their perseverance – not least by the satisfying ‘ping’ that accompanies a well-struck shot. In future players will be able to adjust the weight and Auzoux hopes to mimic the balance of the leading rackets with a wider range of Sweet Spotters. For now, though, his original version is proving popular in its own right.
“It gives you instant feedback – if you don’t hit the ball perfectly you’re going to get a lot of stray balls,” Auzoux says.
The Sweet Spotter, RRP $199 (each bat comes with instructional videos).