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||EXPLORE THE TENNIS NET:
My Most Useful 'Quick Fix' Tips!!!
Ron Waite, USPTR
Here we are in August. Soon the U.S. Open and its related Open Series of tournaments will be entertaining us on television. Most of us have been able to play this great game of ours during the last few months on a regular basis. Equally important, we have probably been able to enjoy this wonderful sport of ours in outdoor venues!
If you are a tournament competitive junior, adult player representing your tennis club in end of interclub matches, a participant in USTA or other sponsored tournaments, or just a recreational player who regularly likes to play sets against favorite opponents, then you will want to end this outdoor season on a positive note. It may be that there are championships and/or ladder rankings involved in your August!
Unfortunately despite all our efforts, practice sessions, and hard fought victories during match play, we sometimes find ourselves in a bind. For reasons that we don't fully understand, we seem to have lost effectiveness with one or more of our strokes. It is as though the stroke(s) has just disappeared!
If this occurs during a match, it is not surprising that a sense of panic or an angry feeling overtakes us. These usually lead to a cascading effect. The negativity of our thoughts tends to self-perpetuate themselves in our strokes. We seem to have lost control of our strokes. This can lead to a loss of self control. We can become frustrated and sometimes lose a set or even a match because we feel powerless.
This is why every serious tennis player needs to understand the "cues" necessary to resurrect a "lost" stroke. I am not a believer in "quick fixes" as a general rule. In truth, I believe that each person has her/his own unique cues that provide a very individualized quick fix. When I coach players, I encourage them to create index cards for each stroke. On these cards, the player puts his/her own list of "cues" or "reminders" that are likely to refresh the software in our non-conscious mind and "correct" any problems associated with a particular stroke.
Over the many years that I have been blessed to be able to play this exciting game of ours, I have realized that there are some "universal" tips that can be helpful in the aforementioned situations. I grant you that not all players strike the ball identically. I admit that there are many subtleties to each person's strokes and no two players are truly identical in their stroke production. Still, there are some tips that often times can and do help get us back on track.
This being said, I am taking this month's column to present some "universal" tips for each of the strokes involved in our game. More often than not, they can help you "bring back" those lost strokes quickly when they have abandoned you in a match. My suggestion is to print out these "tips" and "quick fixes" and carry the printout in your tennis bag. If a particular stroke has truly broken down and you are unable to bring it back, these "suggestions" may be the answer to your problem.
Before I present these, I must remind you that everyone has bad patches in a match... at least now and then. Sometimes a stroke may leave you for a bit and simply by forgetting about why it is not working, the non-conscious mind finds a way to bring it back. Still, there are those situations where a stroke seems to have been "lost forever." If this persists, a player's confidence is diminished. Her/his overall mood in the match can deteriorate. Certainly, the emotion of frustration is likely to emerge. In these dire circumstances, the information to follow may be of use. My point? Use these tips if necessary. Don't be too eager to apply them. Sometimes simply "hanging in there" is enough to bring back the stroke that you own.
In addition, I should state that the more novice player may discover that some of the tips below help develop better strokes.
Lastly, each reader should "test" out the value of each tip before attempting to apply them in a match. There is no "one size fits all" in this game of tennis.
With all of this in mind, let me present for your consideration my best "quick fixes."
GENERAL TIPS RELATED TO ALL STROKES
- Freeze your head at the moment of impact! By this, I mean to simply let your head pause motionless for a fraction of a second after you have made contact with the ball. This quieting of the head is beneficial to any stroke.
- Focus on a proper finish! If there is one instruction that I have heard at every tennis academy that I have visited, it is stressing that each stroke should have its own complete and proper finish. By focusing on the end of the stroke, you are most likely to have the previous components fall into proper place, rhythm and technique.
- Focus upon proper balance! So many strokes are errant because our center of gravity and overall body balance are off. Depending on the stroke and your specific style, there may be different "balances" for different strokes. Learning to know what is the proper "balance" and body motion for each stroke is critically important.
- Hit don't poke! There is nothing wrong with taking pace off of a shot or mixing up the pace associated with successive shots. However, many of us will simply "push" or "poke" at the ball when we are either very nervous or in doubt about a particular stroke. Here the key to hitting properly is to always hit in a relaxed manner. To truly take advantage of this tip, one will need to learn how to relax his/her muscles when tension builds within them. Deep breathing and a conscious "effort" to relax muscles in between points can achieve this for any player. But each player needs to practice his/her own techniques for relaxing.
- Keep your mind within the lines! It is easy to become distracted when competing. Try to avoid looking at anything or anyone that is not within your own court. This is why pros are looking at rearranging their racquet strings in between points. Some players like Maria Sharapova will have rituals where they walk to the rear of the court (their backs to the nets), pause and then move to the baseline to serve or return serve. All these help to keep their focus within the court and the match.
- Breathe!!! It never ceases to amaze me how many players do not really release their breath while hitting a stroke. Some players do this consistently. Many will not realize that they are holding their breath while they make contact with the ball. I am not suggesting that players need to "scream" as is sometimes the case on the WTA tour. But, it is important to let your breath out as you are making the stroke. I always liked the method employed by Aaron Krickstein. He would literally have his cheeks full of air and blow out as he hit his stroke. Many players assure themselves of a proper breath release by "vocalizing a slight AHHHH" when making contact.
- Recover More Quickly! When strokes go awry, we sometimes pause a little and delay our recovery. Once you have completed your full finish (follow through) make certain that you are in "ready position" and moving to the proper court position as quickly as you can. Frustration can slow this process down and cause other strokes to become a bit errant.
- Secure your toss! Quite often, our service problems are related to our toss. Wind, sun or a bit of nervousness can make a player unable to hit her/his proper toss "spot." If the sun or wind is the cause, you may need to adjust your "spot." If you are consistently missing serves by fractions, you want to really focus on tossing to your preferred "spot."
- Don't drop your head! It is easy to want to see where your serve is landing and to get ready to hit your reply if the return of serve is solid. However if you are consistently hitting the net or net cord on your first serve, you are probably dropping your head early to "see" where the serve lands. If this is the case, you need to make a deliberate effort to freeze the head and eye gaze on the moment of impact for a fraction of a second longer.
- Double check your grip! As a match unfolds, grips can get pretty moist. Even the slightest variation in grip can make a huge difference in your service success. Double check the "feel" of your grip when having trouble with your serve. You may need to change an over grip if you use one. If not, you may need to use a grip powder or my personal favorite... sawdust that I carry in my pocket.
- Let the racquet impart the power! Frequently, we are hoping to win the point outright off of our first serve. Usually, power is involved. Of course, placement is even more important. If you are seeking to hit your serve with power, relax your arm. Let the racquet do the work. Maybe lean into your serve a bit more to make it "heavy." Muscling the ball will do little to provide power and frequently makes for more errant serves.
- Spin more! Some days, we just don't have our first serve together. These things will happen to every player at times. If this is the case, try to spin more first serves in and avoid the powerful serve. If you can, try to incorporate a sliced, first serve. For many players, this service motion is not drastically different from their normal first service motions. Of course, the kick or topspin serve makes for a great second serve on most surfaces. Don't be afraid to use this as a first serve. The odds suggest that you will win more points off of a first serve that lands in the service box regardless of the type of serve it may be. One wants to try and avoid having to execute a second serve.
- Visualize before you serve! If nothing else, I hope that each of your reading this column will begin a faithful practice of visualizing where you want your serve to land in the service box before every serve! Taking a moment and pausing before you begin your service motion is important. Using this momentary pause to visualize and actually "see" in your mind's eye the perfect serve and placement is always a helpful practice.
RETURN OF SERVES
- Focus on the potential contact point! When returning serve it is much better to focus your eyes on the area above the server's head which is where he/she will make contact with the ball. By focusing on this area, you are not deceived by your opponent's service motion, and you have the best chance of "seeing" the ball early (as it comes off the racquet strings). This fraction of a second edge can really help when you are returning against a powerful server.
- Predetermine where you want to place the return! Predetermining where you want the return of serve to go (regardless of whether you strike a forehand or backhand return) can truly help you win points. Usually, I begin matches with cross court returns from either the deuce or the ad side. As I become acclimated to my opponent's serves, I may have different return "targets." But taking the doubt out of where you want the return to go can help the overall success you enjoy when returning serve.
- Be patient! Many times when we begin a match, we are a bit intimidated by the power and pace of our opponent's first serve. The key is to be patient. Eventually, the pace of her/his serves will diminish perceptually, and you will be able to return with authority.
- Adjust your backswing! If the pace of your opponent's serves continues to present problems and seems overwhelming, try shortening your backswing. This will probably allow for better timing on your returns, and won't really diminish the power of your returns. Your opponent's pace will enable your returns to be powerful.
- Adjust your court position! Sometimes opponents can force us to stretch to return serve. They move us around. For example, lefty opponents can often times really force you out of court with the slice serve to the ad court. The same can be said for righties slicing serves to the deuce court. If you consistently find yourself being stretched to one side... move a bit in this direction from your normal receiving position. In like manner, moving forward or back from you normal receiving position can help you adjust for the speed and pace of your opponent's serves. Almost always, it is wise to take a step forward when receiving a second serve.
- Look for a pattern and perhaps anticipate a bit. Humans are creatures of habits. Whether consciously or without reflection, servers invariably have service patterns. For example, a server may like to serve a first serve down the T on the ad court, and kick serve a wide second serve to the backhand of the right handed receiver. Changeovers can be a great time to reflect upon your opponent's service pattern(s), and make adjustments in your return game. The goal is to be able to anticipate where the serve is likely to be heading. Knowing the pattern can greatly help you gain an edge when returning serve.
THE FOREHAND GROUNDSTROKE
- Move to the ball with your chest! It is almost always a good idea to try and move to hit a groundstroke by pretending that you want the ball to hit your chest. This perceptual exercise automatically helps a player move correctly without having to think about his/her court movement.
- Keep the racquet head below the level of the ball! As you go through your stroke motion, try to keep the racquet head below the ball at all times. I realize that some players prefer the circular, "loop" preparation for the forehand groundstroke. Unless this is your normal delivery, you are best to take the racquet back and move it forward with a racquet head that is low. This simple action will automatically help you produce topspin which will help keep your balls landing within the court. The great thing about topspin is that with it, you can really hit shots with power and be reasonably confident that your shot will land within the lines.
- Point to the ball with your non-dominant hand's index finger! If the forehand is your weaker wing, this tip will go a long way toward making it more consistent. Lou Gloria, the former lefty ATP pro, had a weaker forehand. He improved its consistency tremendously by using his right hand finger (his non-dominant wing) and pointing at the ball as it moved toward him. I believe this simple action helps focus the mind on the ball better, but it also provides a more balanced body stance as you strike your forehand. I have seen many players who have "lost" their forehand groundstroke in a match recover it by utilizing this technique.
- Add a little wrist action at the moment of impact. The modern game is based on power and topspin. This is particularly true with respect to forehand groundstrokes. If you use a semi-western grip, try applying a little upward wrist movement or snap on your forehand groundies. The western grip automatically imparts lots of topspin. The eastern backhand needs a very low to high racquet movement to get topspin. The semi-western which is rapidly becoming the most common forehand grip often times can benefit from this wrist snap. If you use the semi-western forehand grip this tip will really help when your forehand is off.
- Shorten the backswing a bit! I have a simple principle that I believe is true in tennis. The more economical and simple the stroke may be, the less likely something will go wrong! When your forehand abandons you in a match (regardless of your grip) try to shorten the backswing. In all probability, this simple correction will help you better "time" your shots. Of course if you are one who prefers the circular "loop" forehand motion, there is nothing to really shorten.
- Lengthen the follow through a bit! For intermediate and recreational players, this tip will often times be the solution to forehand problems. When these players are tense or uncomfortable, I have noticed over my many years that they often times do not fully finish their forehand groundstroke. This is less common among skilled and certainly professional level players. But regardless of your level of play, lengthening or exaggerating your follow through (stroke finish) will probably help regain control of errant forehands.
THE TWO HANDED BACKHAND GROUNDSTROKE
- Focus on getting your racquet back as early as is possible! One true advantage to the two handed backhand is that you have two hands to hold the racquet as you prepare to strike the ball. This means that there is a greater ability to prepare early while running to get to the ball. With two handed backhands, the problem may frequently be that the player is not getting the racquet back in the ready to strike position as early as she/he should.
- Focus on hitting with your non-dominant hand! In truth, the two handed backhand is really a forehand hit with the non-dominant hand for the most part. I grant you that Bjorn Borg in his prime used to take the non-dominant hand off his racquet handle as he finished his two handed backhand. Thus, many perceived his two handed backhand to be an "assisted" one handed stroke. Still in the modern game, it is often times very useful to try and focus on your non-dominant hand and arm when your two handed backhand abandons you. I have found this tip often times is the solution to many problems with this stroke. Simply give your attention to the non-dominant side components of this stroke and your non-conscious mind will often times make the necessary corrections automatically.
- Use two handed wrist action to impart topspin! There is absolutely no reason why the two handed backhand cannot generate massive topspin. The key is really in the wrists. If you watch Raphael Nadal, he is a master at using his wrists to bend the racquet head down below the ball, and snap his wrists upward at the moment of impact. I think his topspin speaks for itself!
- Finish as though you are throwing a sack of potatoes over your shoulder! As stated earlier, the finish of every stroke is really the single most important component in having consistent stroke production. When two handed backhands break down, I frequently notice that the finish of the stroke is a bit altered. Although Jimmy Connors had a very unusual follow through that is not as the following describes, I would suggest most two handed backhands finish best in a manner similar to that of a golf swing. I often times remind my students that the action should be similar to throwing a sack of potatoes over the shoulder to give them the right idea of the modern, two handed, backhand finish.
- Shorten the backswing a bit! As is advised for any stroke that is consistently errant, a shorter backswing can be of immense help in resurrecting a lost two handed backhand. Shortening the backswing may take a little off in terms of power. However, it will allow the player to better adapt and adjust timing. Quite frequently, the two handed backhand "goes south" because our timing is a bit off.
THE ONE HANDED BACKHAND DRIVE
- Relax your racquet grip and secure support the racquet with your non-dominant hand near the throat. The one handed, backhand drive is one of the most beautiful strokes to watch when it is executed properly. Sometimes, a player who uses this stroke tends to tighten his or her grip on the racquet handle. If this is the case, relax your grip a bit and "carry" the frame with your non-dominant hand (holding the racquet at its throat near the head). Let the non-dominant hand free you to have a very loose grip on the racquet handle. You will discover that the flow of this stroke greatly improves.
- Definitely try to "prepare" the racquet a bit early and in execute in two "steps!" With one handed backhands, taking the racquet back too early can actually present a problem. Normally, a preparation that is too early with the one handed backhand can create fatigue (you are carrying the racquet behind your body longer each stroke) and can upset your timing. However, you can take it back in two steps. Try to get the racquet in the proper grip positions (on the handle with the dominant hand and on the racquet throat with the non-dominant hand) a bit earlier. Then, take the racquet fully back at the right moment to execute proper timing. This two step method is in my mind one of the mysteries to having beautifully consistent one handed backhand drives.
- Try the pull/push technique! If you carefully watch some of the greats as they execute the one handed backhand drive, they seem to explode forward at just the precise moment. To help you achieve this, I would recommend you try pushing forward with your dominant hand as you hold back the racquet's forward movement with your non-dominant hand (on the throat near the head). This creates what I will call a "dynamic tension." When you release the racquet and move forward, there will probably be the aforementioned "explosion" effect.
- Start low and finish high with your body! How you move your body and center of gravity as you execute the one handed backhand drive is critically important. The right movement will provide power, spin and consistency. When your movement is awkward or without the right "flow," things can break down in the stroke. For the one handed drive, you want to get your center of gravity (your core or waist area) below or at the same level as the ball as it approaches. As you make contact with the ball, you want to move forward and upward with your center of gravity. If you watch Roger Federer as he executes the one handed backhand drive, you will see this motion par excellence.
- Spread your wings as you hit! Maintaining balance throughout a stroke is critically important. When executing the one handed backhand drive, you need to move your non-dominant hand away from the motion of your dominant. I call this action "spreading your wings." This automatically helps keep your body in proper balance, and in addition, it helps to keep your head motionless or "frozen" as you make contact with the ball.
- Follow through with the racquet head above your head and in front of your body. There are some variances associated with proper finishes when striking the one handed backhand drive. However, all finishes of this stoke need to have the follow through result in the racquet head being above your head and probably in front of your body (although this latter component may not be profound).
THE ONE HANDED BACKHAND SLICE
- Point the butt of the racquet handle at the ball! One of the best tips to execute a proper one handed sliced backhand is to prepare for executing the shot by pointing the butt or bottom of the racquet handle at the ball as it travels over the net and bounces.
- Try to hit the outside of the ball! Although you may not be trying to place the ball cross court, attempting to hit the outside of the ball almost always results in proper slice. The way you can direct the shot down the line is by your timing. In reality, you can hit the outside of the ball (or seemingly so by attempting to do so) and go down the line by simply being a bit "late" on making contact with the ball.
- Stay low throughout the shot! The one handed backhand slice is a downward movement stroke. In truth to impart backspin, you need to move the racquet head from high to low. To help make certain that you execute this motion properly, it is almost always advised to "stay low" as long as is possible while executing this stroke. Indeed, try to stay low for a fraction of a second after making contact with the ball. You can't hit really effective slice with an erect posture.
- Spread your wings as you hit! As is the case with the one handed backhand drive, it is always advised to "spread your wings" as you execute the one handed backhand slice. The same benefits of balance and less head movement apply.
- Finish with your racquet head below or at the level of your head and in front of your body! The finish in the one handed backhand slice is very different from that associated with the one handed drive. With the slice, you want to finish with the racquet much lower (definitely at or below the level of your body's head) and with the racquet head well in front of your body.
- Lean into the shot as you make contact! Weight transfer when hitting the one handed backhand slice is of major significance. It really determines whether the slice has "weight" or "bite" to it or if the slice will simply bounce a bit lower than would normally be the case. When striking the slice, you want to lean forward (and step into) the shot as you make contact with the ball. When you do, the slice really is difficult for your opponent to handle.
THE FOREHAND VOLLEY
- Use an open or semi-open stance! Traditional tennis teaching would suggest that a more closed stance is advantageous when hitting any volley. It has been my experience that the forehand volley is best hit with a three quarter, semi-open stance. If you are hitting the forehand volley with an eastern forehand grip (rather than a continental grip) the open stance actually is most desirable.
- Prepare early for the volley! When hitting a forehand volley, get your racquet head up and in proper position as early as is possible. The forehand volley is really more of a blocking than swinging stroke. Indeed, you can simply intercept the ball's motion with your racquet face when hitting a forehand volley and execute an acceptable volley (sometimes a drop volley). Add a little forward motion (not dramatic) and your forehand volley can have some significant pace.
- Keep the elbow close to the body if at all possible! This tip is not always viable. If you are running hard and stretching to hit a forehand volley, you will not be able to keep the dominant side's elbow close to the volley. But if you can, you will find that you can control the direction, pace and spin of your forehand volleys with greater authority.
- Think of a stop sign used by a person directing traffic! If you consistently have trouble with forehand volleys, this tip may be of great help. If you watch a crossing guard or road crew member who directs traffic, they may have a sign that says "Stop." When this is the case, you will notice that the sign is held in a vertical manner in front of the individual's body. This is the ideal image to keep in mind as you fashion how to position your racquet as you hit the forehand volley. With this vertical positioning, you need only intercept or block the ball as it travels to execute a volley.
- Move to the ball with your head. I learned of this tip from Oscar Wegner and it is probably one of the best I have ever learned. When you are as Oscar would say "stalking" the ball to hit any volley (forehand or backhand), try to pretend that you want the ball to hit your head. I assure you that I have never known of any player who was actually hit in the head by taking this approach. However, this simply action will automatically keep your movement to the ball proper and keep your body position at the right height to execute a good volley. It really works!
- Stop your follow through and keep it short! Volleys are not strokes in the traditional sense... particularly the forehand volley. Many teachers suggest that you want to "punch" the ball not swing at it when hitting the forehand volley. Oscar Wegner pointed out to me that if you observe John McEnroe (This player still has some of the absolutely best volleys ever.) He kind of throws his racquet at the ball, and after making contact, he doesn't really follow through. In a sense, he brings the racquet head back toward his body after making contact with the ball. Well maybe, not all of us should be this severe in our quest to minimize a finish or follow through when volleying. However with the forehand volley, a short or abbreviated follow through almost always results in a crisper and successful volley.
- Pause your body movement as you execute the volley! When volleying on either side, it is almost always well advised to slow down your forward movement when actually making contact with the ball. One doesn't need to fully stop, but the pause allows for the volley to be executed with greater consistency.
- Use the continental grip or an eastern forehand grip if you feel unable to keep your wrist firm. Traditional and modern tennis teaching suggests that the continental grip be used for both forehand and backhand volleys. This is not always a viable grip for players who find that their wrist is "weak" (easily bent) at the moment of impact. The advantage to using a continental grip for both forehand and backhand volleys is that you never have to change grips. In rapid volley exchanges (particularly the case when playing doubles), one grip for all volleys is great. But sometimes, players find their wrists are a bit weak on the forehand volley. It is difficult for them to maintain a solid racquet posture with the continental grip. If this is the case for you, use the eastern forehand grip for your forehand volleys. This eastern forehand grip will automatically give you the "firm" wrist you want. You would be amazed how quickly you can learn to change grips when volleying!
- Use a little light bulb wrist twist as you make contact! All volleys can benefit from a bit of backspin or slice. To impart this slice to the forehand volley, simply rotate your wrist slightly and with a quick snap as you make contact with the ball. This motion should be similar to what a right handed player would experience when screwing in a light bulb. For the lefty, the opposite is the case... she/he should use a motion similar to unscrewing a light bulb.
- Move forward after you hit the volley! Never assume that your volley is a winner. Always be prepared for a reply by your opponent. I always recommend a "recovery" from hitting a volley that moves you a bit closer to the net. If you can finish the volley with a little forward movement and remain on your toes (perhaps bouncing up and down a bit), you are ready for whatever your opponent may throw back at you.
THE BACKHAND VOLLEY
- Keep the racquet head and both hands high as you take the racquet back! There are many similarities between the backhand volley and the one handed backhand slice. In both of these strokes keeping the racquet parallel to the ground surface and keeping the racquet elevated to about shoulder height is desirable.
- Use a closed or semi-closed stance! You may not always be able to use a closed (sideways) stance when volleying, but whenever you can, it is desirable.
- Point the butt of the racquet handle at the ball! As is the case with the one handed slice, pointing the racquet handle's butt or bottom at the ball as it comes to you truly can help you setup and execute a backhand volley effectively.
- Use a continental grip or an eastern backhand grip if your wrist does not feel firm. Most of the time, players do not have much "weakness" when hitting backhand volleys using the continental grip. Still, I have known some players who do have a difficult time keeping the wrist "solid" at the moment of impact when using the "connie" grip. If this is the case for you, try using the eastern backhand grip when hitting the backhand volley. You may find that the eastern backhand grip volley is better executed when your open (facing the net) your stance a bit.
- Move to the ball with your head! As is the case with the forehand volley, this tip is invaluable and yields almost immediate benefits.
- Hit forward but downward to impart a little slice to the volley! To impart a bit of backspin or slice to your backhand volley, move the racquet head both forward and a little bit downward as you make contact with the ball. Volleys hit with a little slice are always a bit more difficult for you opponents to handle well.
- Move forward after you hit the volley. As is the case with the forehand volley, you always want to finish your backhand volley with a little forward motion toward the net. Closing the net after hitting a volley is almost always desirable. In addition, don't forget to stay on your toes after volleying (maybe moving up and down). This "on-toes" aspect allows for a player to move quickly and effectively in any direction that your opponent's reply may go. Remember, you are at the net. It takes less time for the ball to reach you or pass you. You need to be quick and nimble.
THE OVERHEAD SMASH
- Point at the ball with your non-dominant hand's finger. It never ceases to amaze me how lackadaisical players can be when it comes to "ball focus." This is very often the case when moving backward to hit an overhead smash. To help you really see the ball, point your finger at the ball (lobbed) as it travels and you move to make your smash.
- Try to keep the ball a little in front of you as you move back! Unless you can hit the famous Jimmy Connors' "sky hook" overhead, you need to keep the ball in front of you as you move back. If you sense you can't keep it in front, I advise you to run backwards at full speed and hope to hit your overhead after the ball has bounced. The disadvantage to letting the lob bounce is that you never know with certainty how the ball will bounce.
- Pretend you want to catch the ball with your non-dominant hand! This tip almost always helps immediately and pays big dividends. If you watch baseball, and notice how outfielders will catch the pop fly (high ball), you will see the benefit to this tip. Pretend that you want to catch the lob with your non-dominant hand... just the way outfielders do. This action will automatically govern your backward movement properly and make your contact point when hitting the smash ideal.
- Hit forward and/or upward! The temptation when hitting overheads is to believe that you need to hit down on the ball. This belief leads to many smashes that are netted or that land too short in the opponent's court. Ideally, you want to hit upward and forward as you execute the overhead smash. But...
- Snap your wrist as you make contact! A good downward wrist snap at the moment of impact will give your smash more pace, keep the smash from going long or wide, and will often times yield a bounce that is too high for the opponent to execute a strong reply.
- Go for placement not power! I have seen many overhead smashes go awry because the player seeks to hit too powerfully. The goal in the smash should be more on placement than power. If you can achieve both, it is wonderful. But, most players cannot.
- Don't drop your head! For reasons that are similar to what we discussed when serving, try not to drop your head when hitting the overhead smash. The temptation is great to see where your smash is landing. Fight this urge. Rather, let your head remain paused and focused upon the contact spot for a fraction of a second after you have hit the smash.
Hopefully, you will try out some of these tips during practice sessions and find that they are indeed applicable to your individual strokes and are useful. Of course, each reader should definitely begin to keep a personal itinerary of "cues" that seem to work for her/him. Some of my tips may be included in this "notebook."
When your strokes are truly falling apart, and you are beginning to experience the nightmare of "paralysis by analysis," breakout your "cues notebook." Simply having such a notebook with you when you compete provides a sense of security.
If you can learn to correct stroke production during matches when a stroke or strokes have seemingly abandoned you, you will be ready to become a true
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Ron Waite is a certified USPTR tennis instructor who took up the game
of tennis at the age of 39. Frustrated with conventional tennis methods
of instruction and the confusing data available on how to learn the
game, Ron has sought to sift fact from fiction. In his seven years of
tennis, Ron has received USTA sectional ranking four years, has successfully
coached several NCAA Division III men's and women's tennis teams to
post season competition, and has competed in USTA National singles tournaments.
Ron has trained at a number of tennis academies and with many of the
game's leading instructors.
In addition to his full-time work as a professor at Albertus Magnus
College, Ron photographs ATP tour events for a variety of organizations
and publications. The name of his column, TurboTennis, stems from his
methods to decrease the amount of time it takes to learn and master
the game of tennis.