As a general rule, I do not write what would be considered "tennis tips." Usually, these tips or quick fixes are useful, but do not provide great understanding as to why they work. Well, over the years, I have had so much e-mail from readers requesting a series of tips that I am finally dedicating a column to what I find to be the ten best tips that I know. Hopefully, apart from providing simple dos and donts, I can present to the reader a fairly comprehensive understanding of how and why the suggestion works.
- TRY TO FOLLOW THE BALL WITH YOUR EYES
NOT YOUR HEAD
My very first column some time back was entitled "See the Ball." I began TurboTennis with this topic because I believe it is the single most important thing a player can do to improve her/his game. In this first effort, I described how important it is to not simply watch the ball, but to actually see the ball as it moves and bounces. I encourage the reader to review this article if you are not familiar with its content.
I advise students and players that I coach to try and follow the ball with their eyes rather than turning the head to keep the ball in sight. Now, in some instances, you cannot avoid turning or moving your head. However, in most situations, simply moving the eyes will suffice.
I suggest this action because following the ball with your eyes keeps the head "quiet." When your head is in motion it is more difficult to truly see the ball. In addition, your body lacks the stability to remain balanced and centered as you make contact with the ball.
If there is one thing that you can do to improve the consistency of your strokes, following the ball with the eyes is probably it. As an additional benefit, youll find that your peripheral vision improves when you practice this technique. This added scope of vision means that it will be easier to keep track of where your opponent is on the court and whether of not he/she is moving
without taking your eye off the ball!
- LEARN TO TAKE LITTLE STEPS
Tennis is a game that involves incredible bursts of speed. No matter how accomplished you are as a player, sooner or later you are going to have to scramble to strike a ball.
Many times when players are in a match they sense that they are not moving well and are not getting to the ball quickly. Invariably, when a student relates this feeling to me, I encourage her/him to make a deliberate effort to keep all her/his steps little ones. Big strides are really more counterproductive than helpful in most point situations.
By taking little steps, you are "alerting" your body to the fact that it is being asked to perform in a unique way that is different from simply running. When training players on my college team, I try to spend more time on sprints than on distance running. Why? Tennis is a game of sprints. Whenever I have players sprint, I ask them to do so with little steps.
With little steps, you also can make the minor adjustments necessary to "stalk" and "strike" the ball in its path. If you train paying attention to shortening the length of your stride, you will without conscious effort find yourself taking little steps in a match.
- ALWAYS TRY TO STRIKE THE BALL AS CLOSE TO THE NET AS IS POSSIBLE
We all know that serve and volley oriented players are, by the very nature of their play, being aggressive. The reason for this is clear. The closer you are to the net the more angles you have for your shots. In addition, the closer you are to the net, the less time your opponent has to respond to your shots. For a better understanding of how angles, etc. play a role in tennis, refer to my previously published article "Euclidean Tennis: A Geometry of the Game."
Now, I suspect some baseline players might say that this tip doesnt apply to their game. After all, the only time you come to the net is to shake hands. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Next time you see Andre Agassi playing on TV pay attention to how he moves. He is constantly take a half or full step forward after each groundstroke. Eventually, he finds himself inside the baseline where he can crush a forehand for a clear winner. Try to move a little bit closer to the net after each shot. You may not be able to do this during every point and after every shot, but try whenever possible.
One of the major errors I see baseline players making is going for winners from behind the baseline. Training yourself to move a little closer to the net after each shot will allow you to find more real opportunities for putaway groundstrokes.
- MOVE YOUR HEAD TO THE BALL WHEN HITTING THE VOLLEY
I picked up this tip from Oscar Wegner when I trained with him several years back. I have published it before in other contexts, but it is well worth repeating. This single tip radically transformed my volleying technique. I am not a natural serve and volley player, but I can now play this gameplan if warranted
in major measure as a result of this tip.
I sense some of you more timid players may be saying to yourself
" Is he nuts? I will get hit in the head." Trust me. I have never had anyone get hit by a ball while volleying as a result of this tip.
The reasons this tip is so helpful are: In moving your head toward the oncoming ball as you volley, you will automatically move forward on the volley. In addition, you will automatically get low which is the position you need to effectively volley. Billy Jean King advises to hit every volley with your head at ball height. In a sense, moving your head to the ball accomplishes this and more.
If you ever get a chance, read Oscars book You Can Play Tennis in Two Hours. The title is a little ambitious but the information that is presented within this book is invaluable.
- TRY TO HIT GROUNDSTROKES WITH AN OPEN STANCE
I strongly encourage the reader to refer to my previously published article entitled "Picture Perfect." In this column, I provide the reader with numerous photos that illustrate different grips, contact points, finishes and stances.
If you hit a forehand with a Western, Semi-Western or Eastern Forehand grip, you can open your stance to hit the ball. If you hit a two-handed backhand or a one-handed backhand using a severe Eastern (sometimes called Western) backhand grip, you can open your stance.
Opening your stance will allow you to hit the ball with greater topspin, and consequently with more power. Hitting hard topspin groundstrokes is the bread and butter of the modern backcourt game. Topspin forces the ball to drop more quickly. Thus, there is a greater margin for error in your groundstroke game. This is why you can strike topspin strokes with great power without fear of spraying your shots.
In addition, hitting with an open stance will allow you to recover and return to an advantageous court position when you are on the run and/or drawn out of court.
It should be noted that serves, volleys, overheads and slice backhands require a closed stance.
If your grips or past training make the open stance too severe, try using a three-quarter stance.
It will be better than a closed stance in most situations.
To better understand how stance has had an impact on the modern game, please refer to my previously published article, "New Fangled Tennis."
- ESTABLISH CONTROL BEFORE ASSERTING POWER
This tip is profoundly simple, but so many players forget how important it can be. Before you attempt to defeat your opponent by overpowering her/him, you must first establish control of the ball. Ivan Lendl (who had some pretty powerful groundstrokes) made certain that he worked his way into a match. He wanted to groove his strokes before he turned on the heat.
Your stroke priorities should be as follows:
- Get the ball over the net.
- Get the ball deep
- Establish an ability to control the direction of the ball.
- Establish the ability to control spin.
- Hit with power.
Your "control" priorities should be as follows:
- Control yourself!
- Control the ball
- Control your half of the court.
- Control the point
- Control your opponent
I think it worthwhile to print out these priorities and review them before every practice and match!
- NEVER CHANGE THE DIRECTION OF A DIFFICULT BALL
It never ceases to amaze me how often a player will change the direction of a ball. Granted, there are times when this should occur. For example, your opponent is wide in his/her deuce court and hits crosscourt. You easily approach this shot and change its direction by hitting it down the line. Well, here it is probably better to go down the line (changing the direction of the ball) than to reply by hitting crosscourt and back to your opponent.
Whenever you are faced with a difficult ball (e.g., you are scrambling to get to the ball, the ball is hit with significant pace, the ball is hit with a spin that you find problematic, the ball bounces at a height that is above or below your ideal contact point, etc.) do not attempt to change its direction. Rather return the ball in the direction from which it came.
If there is one strategic move that can significantly help your game, this is it. By following this rule, you will be hitting most of your balls crosscourt (percentage tennis!) and will only be going for winners when you are in position or able to set up effectively.
- SLOW DOWN A LOSING GAME AND KEEP THE PACE OF A WINNING GAME
Often, I will observe a match and watch a player who is literally rushing to lose. He or she is down in score and allows anger and/or frustration to dominate the pace of his/her play. This simply makes a bad situation worse.
If you are losing by more than one break, it should be a definite signal to you
time to slow down! Relax your muscles as much as is possible, slow down your breathing and taking a longer amount of time between points (within the allowed limits, of course). Try to imagine yourself on a movie screen. You should be moving in what is known as slow motion in between points. No one mastered this part of the game better than Brad Gilbert. When he found himself losing, he literally took strolls about the court between points. In addition, he would always be the last of the two players to come of the chair during game changeovers.
This change of pace can be a significant way in which you can change the rhythm and flow of the match. It may be just enough to allow you a chance to get back into the match. In any event, why hurry up just to lose?
Conversely, when you are winning, you do not want to change anything. But, if you sense that your opponent is very frustrated, you might want to speed things up a bit. Steffi Graf is a pro player who rarely is behind in the score. Consequently, we see her scurrying in between points. It is as though she is running late for an appointment. I sense that this is not accidental. She realizes that by speeding the game up when she is up, the opponent is more likely to lose composure and to become frustrated. Trust me. If you put a clock on Steffi, when she is significantly behind in a match, she clearly slows down.
- DONT THINK DURING POINTS
Yogi Berra put forth the statement; "You cant think and play baseball at the same time." In most situations and for most players, I feel this statement is also true for tennis. The time to think about what is going on in a match is either between points or during game changeovers. Once the point is started, you need to go on automatic pilot
concentrating on moving, executing your strokes and following a predetermined strategy.
Now, there are some "heady" players who do play better when they are thinking their way through a point, and in fact, you may be one of these. But, most players do not benefit from cerebral analysis during a point.
If you have practiced well, you will automatically react to point situations. This process is even better when you have specific strategies and tactics that you have determined before the match has started. Thinking is best done between points and during game changeovers. This is when you re-evaluate your initial gameplan or approach given the realities of the match.
- KEEP YOURSELF DRY
This piece of advice may seem a bit odd. But, I find that the fresher your tennis apparel during a match, the fresher you feel on the court. Matches played indoors during the winter months probably do not raise the same level of perspiration that one experiences during the heat of the summer. However, you never want to be wearing a wet, heavy shirt during a point. In like manner, if your shoes are full of perspiration, they can be significantly heavier.
Whenever you find that your shirt is very damp or your shoes are wet, change them. The pros do this all the time. Thats why you need to carry extra shirts and shoes in your tennis bag.
You simply dont move or feel as well with wet clothing as you do with fresh, dry clothing. So, dont hesitate to change your shirts and shoes.
Well, there you have it
my ten most favorite tips. When I coach my college players, I constantly remind them of these important precepts. I have no doubt that if you, too, adopt these that in no time you will become a tennis overdog!