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Hardscrabble Scramble
February 1996 Article

Hardscrabble Scramble Archive

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Consistency - The Simple Solution

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Mike Whittington

In many of my private lessons, my student will approach me with the burning question "How can I get more power on my shots?" I always try to turn the conversation toward the idea of consistency. I do this by asking "Is a lack of power the reason your having problems in your matches?"

The basic concept of winning a tennis point is very simple, get the ball back over the net and in the court one more time than your opponent. So we must look at two aspects now, how do we get the ball over and how do we keep our opponent from returning the ball. In my opinion the first concept is much more important than the second.

Of course, I don't want to underemphasize the importance of hitting shots that force errors from your opponents. It is very important for the amateur player to realize that the number of unforced errors he/she produces over the course of a match far outweighs the winners. But it is the flashing winner that always sticks in our mind. We remember the big ace in the second set but somehow lose track of all the double faults.

One way to become more consistent is simply to put goals for yourself for specific shots in matches. For instance, try getting 10 backhand lobs in while on the run in your lesson. Too easy? How about 20 in a row and between the service line and baseline on the deuce court? You can always change the target number and area to build confidence in specific shots. One of my favorites for students to work on is the serve. Can you get in a high percentage of first serves? Can you get depth on those serves? What about placing the ball to the opponents forehand and backhand at will? These are all things that should be accomplished before even considering power. I apply this to all shots I teach. We would all love to hit the 130 mph ace. And occasionally the big serve does go in the box. But was it worth the three double faults to get that ace. Usually not.

Another way I try to gain consistency from my players is to show the error:winner ratio. Have a match charted if possible. That great match with 7 forehand winners may teach you a lesson when you see that you had 38 unforced forehand errors. Match charting is a big help.

Try to play within your own limits and take note of what your opponent's limits might be. If your opponent hasn't made a volley since September, why try to bounce your shot off his shoes. I certainly don't want to imply that all opponents can be beaten with consistency, but many times I see players put the cart before the horse. Realize what you do well and use it as much as possible. Your opponent might not like a net rusher but if you are a baseliner you might be doing more harm than good.

In closing let me add that you might really be surprised by how consistency could be the part of the game you skipped right over. It's amazing how the player that just gets the ball back can take home the trophy! Work on your consistency, it's the simple solution for many frustrated players.

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This column is copyrighted by Mike Whittington, all rights reserved.

At the time at which he wrote this column, Mike Whittington was a USPTA pro in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he served as director of tennis at the Hardscrabble Country Club.


 

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