Work with the tennis game you’ve got

Returning serve

All of us want to have textbook strokes, and awesome form and power in all our shots, just like the pros. If we did, we would BE pro tennis players. In reality we all have less than perfect strokes, physical limitations, etc. Thus the subject of this post, Working with the tennis game you’ve got. In the next few minutes we will take a quick look at ways you can maximize results and minimize weaknesses in your game.

  • Use your strengths-we know we have weaknesses, but we also have strengths. Find yours and use it as much as possible. This will take some thought on your part. Better still, ask a good tennis friend what they think your strengths are. Have a pretty good lob? Use it to wear down your opponent, keeping them deep in their court and/or running back to retrieve it.
  • Stay positive-yes your strokes may let you down periodically during a match, but letting yourself spiral down the mental rabbit hole of negative thoughts will only make it harder to play your best
  • Play your game– similar to using your strengths, but an important point. Play within your self. Don’t try shots or styles that you don’t have. For example: If I play against someone with heavy topspin, my first instinct is to try hit heavy topspin back. Sort of a macho thing. But that’s not my game/strength. I am going to make an error before they do because I’m playing their game.

So analyze your game, identify your strengths, be positive and confident in yourself, and stick to your game. And remember to have fun out there!

Tennis Fitness Check list

As the weather gets cooler and league tennis slows down, it’s more important than ever to mind your fitness. Use the following check list, your own judgement, and some exercise Googling to keep yourself in shape and injury free.

  • Shoulder “pre-hab” exercises – the shoulder is the most stressed joint in tennis so it needs to be kept as strong and flexible as possible. Lying forearm rotations and medicine ball wall dribbles are a couple of exercises to try.
  • Stretching – stretching before and after play are equally important to maintain flexibility. With no shortage of exercises on the internet, you know which parts of your body need the most attention
  • Movement Drills that mimic on-court movements – agility and balance should be the focus
  • Core Strength – strong abdominal muscles help you maintain proper form and, of course, prevent injury
  • Body Weight Workouts – you don’t need a gym so there’s no excuse for missing them

Put your off court time to good use by getting into better shape and helping to prevent injuries. Use this list as a starting point. You can consult the internet, friends, and your tennis pro to come up with exercises that suit your needs and fitness level. See you on the courts!

Tennis specific workout

Watch your Service toss

 keep your eyes on the ball as you toss for serve  

   Are you having trouble with your toss? Pay attention to where you are looking as you toss the tennis ball. If you are already looking up above your head before the ball gets there, that may be the problem. You’ve heard of hand-eye coordination? Let’s call this the hand-eye connection.

Watch your toss
Watch your service toss from start to finish

   As you start your service motion, watch the ball in your hand all the way through the toss motion and into the air. This simple connection between your eyes, brain and hand will make your toss placement more consistent.

Want more pointers on your service toss? See our other tip The Service Toss

The Drop Shot

Last week we talked about the basic strokes in tennis. This week we examine one of the slightly more advanced strokes…the drop shot.

How’s your drop shot? Are you hitting it too deep and giving your opponent an open invitation to the net? Or are you being too gentle and hitting it into the net?

  The best way to master the drop shot is practice, and here are a few exercises to help. Do these in a progression.

  1. Toss a ball about a foot into the air and hit it lightly, straight up with backspin. Your racket should travel in a semicircular path, like making a smile in the air. Continue to hit the ball in the air with this stroke, almost like your are juggling it with your racket. The idea is to get a feel for “keeping” the ball on the strings for a split second.
  2. Now, toss the ball up, let it bounce, and hit it forward on your side of the court with backspin. The objective is to have the ball bounce and come back toward you.
  3. Lastly, stand near midcourt, drop a ball, and hit it over the net with…say it with me…backspin. You want the shot to land about 3 to 4 feet past the net, and when it bounces it should come back toward you, or at least have very little forward momentum.

You’ll know you’ve got a good drop shot when it dies before it gets out of your opponent’s service box.

Tennis Strokes

Through the years I’ve given lots of tips regarding specific strokes and tactics. I think it’s good, once in a while, to step back, get general, and look at the basics. Below are some basics to the main strokes in tennis. You’ll see a theme in all of them, consistency.

Serve – Starting the point. That is the main purpose of this stroke. It is also the most important thing to remember. Start the point. Players at all levels get caught up trying to do too much with their serve and forget that to win your serve, you’ve got to get it in (preferably on the first serve). So how do you get it in? 1. Take a little off of it. The pros can blast aces, you can blast faults. 2. Reach up and hit the ball at the highest point you can. If you climb a ladder to the point where you contact the ball, you can see more of the service box over the net. The higher you hit the ball, the better your chance of hitting the box. 3. Add topspin to your serve. Use a continental grip (like holding a hammer), swing up with a motion from about 7 to 1 on the clock face.

Forehand – Once again the name of the game is consistency. And once again, one of the best ways to be more consistent is with topspin. With topspin you can hit the ball harder and deeper in the court, and give your opponent a difficult ball to hit. Use a western or semi-western grip (like holding a frying pan) and swing from low to high. Your follow through should go over your opposite shoulder.

Backhand – You guessed it, get it in. This one’s a little trickier. One hand, two hand, slice, drive. Your skill level and type of backhand determine the exact technique, but consistency is still the number one priority. 

Volley – Most people make the volley more difficult than it needs to be. Use a continental grip (like holding a hammer). Keep the racket out in front of you, step forward, and punch or block the ball. There should be little to no back swing.

 Overhead – There are a few important things to remember here… 1. Get the racket up into the ready position (back scratch position)  2. Turn your body sideways to the ball (similar to the serve stance).  3. Point your other hand at the incoming ball. This will force you to turn your shoulders and get the racket arm in the loaded position. Remember to keep your feet moving and use small shuffle steps to adjust to the flight of the ball.

Remember, consistency only comes through practice, focused practice. So get out there and practice the basics!

Tennis question/answer

This week’s tip is in response to a reader’s question.

“…why is it that I can play against 3.5 guys and beat them and even hold my own against a 4.0 guy….but when I play league play against women I play like crap and lose?  (I’m rated 3.0 woman…..probably should be a 3.5)… When I play women, their serves are so easy I stand way inside to receive and this seems to throw the whole thing off.  And I’m sure lots of it is mental.  For some reason I just have a ton more confidence playing against a guy.”

Winning in tennis is very Mental
putting the pieces together for mental preparation in tennis

 I think I know the problem and yes it is a little mental. Two things are happening.

  1.        When you play women you are putting more pressure on yourself.  You feel that you should win and since they are league matches that puts even more pressure on you. Pressure and expectations do bad things to your brain and, therefore, your strokes.
  2.        The other thing that I think is happening is that the lesser pace women give you is throwing off your timing and making you think about your shots instead of just hitting them. You may also be taking your eye off the ball(see last week’s tennis tip) to glance where you are going to hit it. Also, their balls are probably bouncing more straight up and down, making you change your stroke and think a lot more about it. When you are playing against the guys’ pace you can just react, and your strokes flow.

 Answer: You just need to keep your eye on the ball, your feet moving and try not to over hit. Keep the ball in play and expect long points. Once you get into the match and get used to the slower pace, you can start to hit out a little more and go for more winners. Check out these previous tips for more help…One More Ball, Mental Focus, Move Your Feet, and Play Like a Dog

Track it to Whack it

Do you ever miss-hit easy/slow balls? Notice how, many times, you miss hit a ball that you were about to hit into the open court for a winner. Do you know why? The answer is, you were  probably glancing where you wanted to hit the ball and didn’t track it all the way to your racket.

To remedy this problem just focus on the ball from your opponent’s strings all the way to your racket. Try to read the letters on the ball as it is coming toward you.

Two handed backhand
Keep your eye on the ball

Condition yourself to track the ball all the way to your strings and you’ll hit many more winners than errors.

Spin Class for Tennis

Spin Class
Take a different spin class in tennis

A one-dimensional ground stroke style allows opponents to adjust to your game. To keep them on the defensive (an you on the offensive), learn a variety of spins and when to use them. Let’s take a look at some useful spin variations.

   1. High-looping topspin – almost like a lob with topspin, this style pushes your opponent back and keeps them from being able to hurt you, because their contact point is above their strike zone and behind the baseline. It has the added benefit of producing errors or short balls you can attack.

2. Heavy Penetrating topspin – sometimes described as a “heavy ball”, this style generates huge topspin that jumps off the court at your opponent and makes it difficult for them to control. This takes a lot of racket head speed and practice to hit and hit consistently.

    3. Underspin – this style covers slices and drop shots. There are lots of options here…forehand slice, backhand slice, forehand or backhand drop shots, short angle slices, slice approach shots. Deep slice shots during a rally can throw your opponent’s rhythm off. Short slices and drop shots can win the point outright or draw your opponent to the net on your terms (playing the ball up from their feet).

   A very important point to keep in mind is that no matter what shot you hit, it does no good if you can’t hit it consistently. You must practice these different spins religiously to make them consistent. Choosing which spin to hit takes a lot of trial and error, but here are a few basic rules. If you are well behind the baseline, hit with topspin to bring the point back to neutral and give yourself time to improve your court position. From inside the baseline, you can try slices and drop shots. By using spin and not giving your opponent the same shot every time, you put them at a disadvantage and give yourself more opportunities to win points.

Put a better Forehand on your “Bucket List”

Want to make your forehand faster, more powerful, and fluid? Want to have all that and still maintain balance and control? Then sit on a bucket!

   Sit on a 5 gallon bucket or an exercise ball(advanced) inside the baseline, facing the net a semi-open forehand stance. Have a partner feed balls slowly to your forehand and hit them back deep and with topspin. What will this do, besides get you some funny looks at the park?

  1.  you’ll see how important it is for your shoulders to stay level at all times
  2. you’ll see the importance of hitting through the ball and following through with a good shoulder turn
  3. you’ll see how good posture helps you maintain balance, essential for racket-head speed (an exercise ball REALLY works on your balance)

  Improve your forehand sitting down…sit on a bucket for power and control. 

Turn the Return Inside out

This week we look at how to combat a serve to your backhand return on the deuce side (ad side for lefties).

Any serve to most people’s backhand is tough, but a serve down the middle to your backhand presents extra problems. Mainly, it is very difficult to hit a backhand crosscourt (away from the net man in doubles). This kind of return is called an “inside out” backhand.

The main reason the inside out return is difficult is that the natural direction of your swing pulls the ball straight out in front of you, right at the net man. While this is not always a bad play, you want to be able to choose this shot, not have it be the only option. An aggressive net man will put this away, especially if he knows you can’t hit anything else off the backhand return.

So what do you do? Learn the inside out backhand return. Let’s look at some pointers:

  • Move your feet (most important). You’ve got to get set up properly to hit inside out. 
Crosscourt Foot Placement

If the ball is coming at you, you’ve got to move away from it to give yourself room to setup for the shot. You want your feet pointed cross court to get a good shoulder turn.

  • Turn the shoulder drive/slice the ball depending on your skill, preference, and ball height.

 Assuming you are playing doubles, you may have an aggressive server that serves and charges the net. This puts extra pressure on your inside out backhand return. Your crosscourt shot can be a short angled block to combat this scenario. Short angle tennis return