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In a video clip recently aired on Tennis Channel, Logan West balances a tennis ball on the butt cap of his racket. West then drops his racket, and as it makes contact with the court, the ball ricochets straight up. While the ball is in the air, West catches his racket and serves the ball into the diagonally opposite service box for what would’ve likely been an ace. The hosts of the show react in awe.
“This is impressive stuff,” Chanda Rubin, a former professional tennis player who was ranked top ten in the world, tells her fellow virtual panelists. “[West] has just been on fire.”
Former world No. 1 doubles player Mark Knowles echoes Rubin, calling the trick shot “super impressive.”
This is the life of a high school tennis coach during a global pandemic. When the spring sports season was canceled and tennis courts in D.C. were locked for several months, West, the head tennis coach at Sidwell Friends School, started teaching himself new tricks. Literally.
On his Instagram account, in between photos of his family, West, 37, has posted several tennis videos and dived into the niche world of trick tennis shots with increased regularity during the pandemic. He filmed the shot featured on Tennis Channel five years ago, but only recently sent the video in as part of the network’s “Tennis At Home” series. One repost of the shot on his Instagram account has nearly 40,000 views.
“It’s been kind of a fun hobby that I’ve picked up over the summer,” West says.
Trick shots have been a part of the sport’s culture for decades, but the prevalence of them being used in professional matches and the growth of trick shot artists on social media are both relatively new. Videos of the shots have likely been amplified by the fact that matches were postponed or canceled due to the pandemic, and tennis players, from pros to amateurs, have had to find creative ways to entertain themselves.
Without actual competition, this has been as good a time as any to try something new, but it wasn’t long ago that trick shots only made an appearance in the rarest of occasions. In 2010, the Atlantic published an article about Roger Federer’s tweener—a shot hit between the legs while running away from the net—at that year’s U.S. Open. At the time, players rarely treated fans to that shot; tennis coaches have long considered tweeners a low percentage and unnecessarily flashy shot, and cautioned against it.
West, who grew up in Georgetown and now lives in Southeast D.C., started attempting tweeners long before the emergence of social media as a varsity tennis player at Sidwell Friends, and later on at Dartmouth College. There weren’t dozens of online fans urging him on. He still remembers his college coach’s resistance to them.
“He said, ‘If you go for it, you better make it and win the point,’” West says. “He said also, ‘It better be in the right position. Don’t be a hotdog. Don’t be a showboat.’”
But over the years, tennis fans have come to expect the tweener, with pro players like Federer, Nick Kyrgios, Gael Monfils, Dustin Brown, Benoit Paire, and Daria Kasatkina pulling off winners with the shot at an increased rate. Kyrgios often hits multiple between the leg shots during a match, and Kasatkina set a Guinness World Record last year for hitting the most successful tennis tweener shots in one minute (18). In a recent training session—against this reporter—West successfully executed the shot about once every three tries, hitting the winners with pace and accuracy.
Locally, West has garnered attention for shots that most tennis players would not even consider attempting. The rise of trick shot social media influencers has increased the level of technical difficulty—both attempted and achieved—in tennis trick shots.
“I remember people would talk about, ‘Oh my God, did you see that tweener?’ and it would be like a once a year scenario. Now, it almost comes out once a match,” says Pablo Schurig, the head professional instructor at Lafayette Tennis Club in Northern California and the founder of TrickShotTennis.com. “I feel like the tweener, it was the beginning of trick shots, and now it’s the dinosaur and considered like one of the easier ones to do now that everyone has pushed the limits of what’s possible.”
Schurig started his YouTube account Trick Shot Tennis in 2012, and has since racked up more than 14,000 subscribers and nearly 5 million views. He has almost 30,000 followers on his @trickshottennis Instagram account, which is far more than even some professional tennis players ranked top 100 in the world. Another tennis trick shot artist, Stefan Bojic of Serbia, who refers to himself as a “freestyle tennis pioneer,” has more than 145,000 followers on Instagram.
Schurig, 46, was a Virginia boys tennis doubles states champion for Blacksburg High School and competed at Virginia Tech. He says his college coach would yell at him if he attempted a tweener during a match. While living in California, he’s played in competitive local matches against some of the top amateur players in the state.
“People knew that when they played me, there’s going to be some sort of highlight reel, or highlight reel of something they hadn’t seen before,” Schurig says. “I started to be identified as this really tricky, clever guy that was probably going to pull out some things in a match that people have never seen before.”
Friends urged him to start recording his shots. So he did, and uploaded them to YouTube. One day, a fellow teaching pro texted him and said that her friend in Romania saw his video. Then he started receiving calls from Japan to be on a television show, followed by appearances on EuroSport.
“It was just popping up in the strangest places,” Schurig says.
He still remembers watching Yannick Noah, the 1983 French Open champion, hitting a shot between the legs and the capacity crowd going wild. And he admires Mansour Bahrami, an Iran native who had a moderately successful pro tennis career, but has become a popular player around the world for his entertaining trick shots.
In 2016, the U.S. Open invited Schurig to perform a live act in front of an audience—an experience that he says made him realize that trick shot tennis translates better on video than in front of a live audience.
“I think I figured somewhere along the line that if I can’t be the best, that I will be the most entertaining,” he says. “While other people were trying to get better, I was just trying to get better at being entertaining and creating a different kind of game that wasn’t necessarily built on power or whatever; it was built on uniqueness and creativity.”
West noticed what Schurig was doing from afar, and in 2018, he reached out to him to learn about his story. The two have since shared each other’s trick shots on their Instagram stories and have bonded over their similar journeys.
Both at one point had dreams of playing professional tennis before becoming coaches.
“Logan is definitely an incredibly talented tennis player and he has the same mindset that I do,” Schurig says. “He’s drawn to the world of the bizarre, of what’s possible in tennis.”
For West, trick shot tennis brings him back to the simple joy of being out on court; it’s about realizing how much fun tennis can be. In all, he says, he was off the courts for six to eight weeks, and instead of watching pros preparing for and competing at Grand Slams, the tennis ecosystem was filled with clips of recreational players finding creative ways to stay connected to the sport.
“Because there was zero professional tennis going on and the sort of the reopen and the exhibition matches hadn’t started up yet, you looked at Tennis Channel Live each day and it was literally just a stream of social media like pros hitting trick shots, people sending in their ‘Tennis At Home’ submissions,” West says. “And so I just figured, you know what … I’ve got some content, let me send something in.”
Not all of the trick shots are legal in an official tennis match, and most of West’s videos have been inspired by other players. He says he takes about an hour or two to perfect a shot before asking someone to get it on video. There are shots that require only a few takes, but some, like the one he recently posted where he hits a ball tossed in the air at the net with another ball hit with his racket, “took probably 25 tries.”
West has more planned, including one he calls a “Logan original.”
“I think it ups the ante from what I’ve been doing so far,” he says, before going into detail about the shot: West dribbles the ball off the side of his racket frame five times, lets it drop, hits the ball down into the court to shoot up in the air with the other side of the frame, flips his racket, and then “like a hook shot in basketball,” whips the racket around his arm and hits a serve with the handle of the racket.
In times of uncertainty and anxiety, West hopes that these videos can make other tennis fans smile and provide a small respite from the world—one trick shot at a time.