All tennis pros have a method, a style of teaching the game which they feel will allow their students to develop to the best of their potential. I see many teaching pros (and parents) today advocating the "go for broke" method of play where they have their players hit every ball as hard as they can. As ball after ball hits the net, fence, or players on the next court, the pro smiles and keeps repeating his mantra, "Don't worry, this is how the pros do it. Eventually they'll go in."
Well, you all know how I feel about the "this is how the pros do it" approach to the game. The vast majority of us have neither the talent, time or many of the other factors that go into making a professional tennis player. To try to play "like the pros" only provides you with a short trip to frustration. Plus, even the pros don't approach the game with this "go for broke" mentality.
I've had the greatest coaches in the world tell me that the foundation of a good tennis player is not power, but rather consistency. Do the pros hit it hard? Sure they do, but they're elite athletes who've learned, after hitting thousands, maybe millions of balls, to hit it hard on a consistent basis and that's why they're where they are and you and I are in front of our computers.
As one who has been playing, and studying, tennis for nearly 35 years, and teaching it for well over 20, I feel very strongly that there are five major areas that a player needs to develop with all of their shots and they are, in order of their importance:
And last, and for most players least,
To properly develop into a solid tennis player you must first become consistent with all of your shots. This means being able to keep the ball down the center of the court with as much ease as you unzip your racket bag.
We all know players who, after the first or second shot of a rally, lose their patience and tee off, either hitting a miraculous winner or, much more frequently, a silly, unnecessary error
If you know that you can keep the ball in play for as long as it takes, it will give you a tremendous sense of confidence which will allow you to then go about developing a point properly.
Consistency is the foundation from which the rest of your game will be built and, to put it bluntly, if you can't keep the ball in play, you're never going to be a very good tennis player.
After you've developed consistency, and I mean true consistency, then you next goal is to work on placement.
Chuck Kriese, the men's Head Tennis coach at Clemson University in his fabulous book "Coaching Tennis," says that "power thrills but placement kills" and I couldn't agree more.
Placement means being able to move the ball from side to side on command, while still maintaining your level of consistency. This will allow you to move your opponent around the court to eventually create an opening for you to attack.
Next comes depth. Depth is simply "the ability to keep your opponent deep in the court," says Kriese. By keeping your opponent deep in the court it increases the likelihood of them hitting a weaker, shorter shot which you can then take advantage of. Kriese adds that "controlling depth may also refer to the player's ability to hit short balls and bring the opponent purposely to the net from time to time."
Spin. The ability to add topspin, slice and, sometimes side-spin, gives you a much greater level of finesse and control which, combined with your consistency, placement and depth, will enable you to keep your opponent off-balance.
The last skill you should concern yourself with is power, and I say this for a very specific reason. Power has ruined the games of many a player who has not yet learned the other facets that I just outlined. For the recreational player, power is the easy way out and is often a cover-up for a lack of skill. Take any person off the street, put a racket in their hand, and I guarantee you that they can hit a tennis ball hard. It takes very little skill to hit a ball hard, but it takes a tremendous amount of expertise to be a consistent player who can control the depth, placement and spin of their shots. All good players have developed this expertise.
Is "my" method an innovative breakthrough? Of course not, I can't even claim it as "my" method although I wish I could. It is a very standard approach used for years by pros around the world. In fact, Chuck Kriese, in "Coaching Tennis" goes into great depth about this method of teaching and I would strongly suggest that, whether you are playing or teaching the game, you pick it up.
Unfortunately, with the technological innovations that allow today's players to get a "taste of greatness" by hitting the very occasional world class, powerful shot, most players don't have the patience to work at developing these skills, and they remain stuck in a rut of tennis mediocrity. If you're serious about your tennis, climb out of the rut, put the time in and learn the game properly. You'll be very glad that you did. I promise!