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January 2001 Article

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Change the Way You Think

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John Mills, USPTA

As you begin the New Year, rather than continue with the traditional way of thinking about playing the game of tennis, try thinking in a non-traditional way. The first game you play in the New Year try thinking of the game like this:

  • Groundstrokes -- think of keeping the ball in play. The biggest killer in tennis is the unforced error. By keeping the ball in play from the baseline, you will be better off.

  • Approach Shots -- think of making your opponent hit a passing shot. Rather than trying to hit a winner on the approach and making too many errors, you will win more points by making the approach shot and your opponent missing the passing shot.

  • Volleys -- think of slowing the ball down. When at the net, your opponent will generally feel that he is forced to hit a hard passing shot. The key here is to slow his pass down so that you can control it. Do not volley slow, rather, volley to slow his shot down.

  • Overheads, Kill Shots (short high bouncing balls near the net), Bounce Smashes and High Floating Volleys -- group all of these shots as "placements." On these shots let the position of your opponent dictate how hard you hit these shots. Usually your opponent will need to anticipate (intelligent guess) anyway. Let your opponent go where he or she anticipates your shot, then place the ball away from him or her.

When your opponent hits the ball wide and deep to the baseline, think about slowing the point down (preferably with a loop or a lob). You need more time to gain a better position.

When your opponent lobs a ball deep over your head, think about making your opponent hit an overhead from behind the service line (i.e., hit a very high defensive lob).

More errors are made by over hitting the shots I called "placement shots." Making "placement shots" and minimizing your errors are the key to becoming competitive.

In practice, try saying out loud what it is you wish to do with the next shot. You will see how quickly you make your decisions. In a match, mumble (barely audible) to yourself what you wish to do with the next shot. This will help keep your mind in the present. Thinking in the past or the future are generally harmful. You can think about that after the match to learn from the match and help prepare you for your next match. Think in the present during the match and only about the point you are playing.

Start changing the traditional way you are thinking, become more competitive and have more fun.

Good luck on the courts!

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This column is copyrighted by John Mills, all rights reserved.

John Mills' experience includes four years as head pro at the Windemere Racquet & Swim Club, where he was responsible for organization of all tennis activities at the club. John also played college tennis at the University of Houston and has spent 20 years teaching tennis at the Memorial Park Tennis Center, the Pasadena Racquet Club, and as the head pro at the Bay Area Racquet Club.


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