By Tony Severino
Certified Instructor 4A
Professional Tennis Registry
I need a hero! Not an uncommon want, but I need one nevertheless. Not any hero will do so I have chosen one that I think I know well, and that hero is you. Yes you!
I have selected you as my hero!
You, who hits your forehand consistently long.
You, who hits down the line wide of the alley, too often.
You, who fails to keep the third ball in play in a rally.
Yes you, who serves into the net and follows with a double fault long.
And you, who spins in the same serve consistently, without variation.
You, who has trouble returning serve.
You, who fails to use the non-dominant hand to block the sun.
Are you still with me, my hero? Not into denial? Good! Let's talk.
What are we going to do about that forehand that too often goes long?
How about if we develop a top spin stroke and let physics help us out? Or, just get the ball back in play and not try to win the point on every exchange.
What can we do about that down the line shot that too often goes wide? Maybe if we aim to place the ball inside the far sideline, the same distance as we are standing inside ours when we hit the ball, it will help.
You know if you can return the ball at least three times your chances of winning the point escalate. Maybe if we concentrate on getting the ball back the third time it comes over, and go from there it will help.
Master Professional Ken Dehart, PTR and USPTA, notes that when you think "Don't double fault," the term is planted in your mind without the negative. And what happens? It might help if you concentrate on just the contact point of your serve. Then, the outcome is fairly predictable. You shouldn't have to worry about the net or the service box. It all happens up there at the contact point.
What can we do about that serve, always the same, always spinning, always the same pace? First of all, it shows a lack of confidence in your serve. It's very predictable and its main purpose is to just get the point started. But you have to make capital of the advantage the serve gives you. As you know, a good serve starts with the body's rhythm, a smooth transfer of power from the knees thru the torso, shoulder, arm and wrist to the racquet head. It's called the kinetic chain. Take dancing lessons or Tai Chi or go to the local fitness center to get the body flowing rhythmically. Truly, it don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing.
What can we do about the return of serve, which is notoriously mediocre at the recreational level? Until recently it wasn't taught at all and even now only sparingly by too few instructors. What might help first off is to not try to win the point with the return. Controlling the direction of the return is most important, so a full swing is counter productive. Perhaps a blocking swing will work better. Placement! Control!
Even before that, what is happening on the other side of the net?
When you watch the server's racquet contacting the ball, you learn a lot already about the point. Next eye the bounce and mentally think "bounce." That will tell you even more. And next, of course, the way we teach the kids is to say "hit"; we teach grown-ups to breathe out with a healthy "huff." At this point remember control of direction is paramount.
What can we do about the lob up in the sunny sky? Oh my.
You know the old guys are going to do it every chance they get, so get used to it, but show them that ploy won't work. Put up the non-dominant hand to block the sun and casually execute your overhead.
By the way, your non-dominant hand has a role in virtually every tennis shot you can name. Think about that. Or check the January 2000 Wild Cards archives for the article "That Other Hand."
Wow! What a hero! But that you are, because you play this game, maybe not so well, but with such enthusiasm. And that's why this game is so great.
And that's why you are my hero.
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