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

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

Joined at the Hip

When you are playing doubles, you and your partner need to move in unison to cover the court properly.

Imaginary rope joining doubles partners

To accomplish this, pretend you are “joined at the hip” by a rope eight to ten feet long. If you move to one side of the court, obviously, your partner has to move that way too, or risk “breaking” the rope. Breaking the rope creates an opening between you. This is especially important when you are both at the net. Good spacing will make your opponents try risky down the line shots or lobs and that can create opportunities for you.

So get attached to your partner and cover the court!

“Master” Match Pressure

Tiger Woods

Many of you are watching the golf Masters tournament in Augusta, Ga. One of the things that strike me about golf is the tremendous mental pressure on the professional golfers as they calculate the next shot, gauge their competitors, and deal with the logistics of spectators, sponsors, etc. Through it all they must keep mental focus on their shots and strategy, while forcing out the doubts and stress that can break down their game.

Tennis is also very much about “mastering” the mental pressures in a match. Shots that flow in practice, or “fun” matches with friends, break down under the pressure of a “real” match.

One way to help you learn to deal with match pressure in tennis is to mentally make every point in practice important. Here are a couple of ideas to help you work on your mental focus in practice.

  •    Play a set or a whole match with a friend, starting each game at 30-30 and use no ad scoring. This helps you treat every point as a big point.
  •   If you have trouble closing out games, try a game called Back to Love…Whenever you have a game point that you don’t convert, your score goes back to love. So if you’re ahead 40-30 and lose the next point, the score becomes 0-40. 

Using these techniques and purposefully using practice matches to strengthen your mental game, can make you a tennis master.

Play tennis like a dog

happy dog
play tennis with joy just like a dog

Last week we mentioned focusing on the ball like a dog to help you move your feet. I’d like to use the dog analogy a little more this week to help you see how to live in the moment on the court.

  What do I mean by “live in the moment” and why is that important? I’m glad you asked.

  • “Living in the moment” means not worrying about past or future mistakes or outcomes and playing each point confidently and fluidly
  • Why is this important? Because you play your best tennis when your mind is unhampered by negative thoughts or expectations

  Back to the dog analogy. Have you ever seen a dog chase a squirrel? Sure. Have you ever seen a dog catch a squirrel? Probably not. But every time they chase a squirrel, you can tell they fully expect to catch him this time. And they do it with free abandon. It’s obvious that they aren’t thinking “I’m so slow!..He always beats me to the tree!..What do I do if I catch him?”..etc..All that dog is thinking is, “That squirrel is mine!!”

  Now compare that to what goes on in the average tennis player’s mind…”My backhand sucks (today)!..Her serve is too much for me..I always choke!..I can’t hit anything in today!..I’m letting my partner down.”..etc. There are a million negative things that go through your mind. I’m sure you can recall some of your own.

 So now you see what it means to play like a dog. Doesn’t it sound like fun? Believe me, it is. So how do you push the negative thoughts out and “live in the moment?” For starters, see our previous tip Mental Focus for Tennis. You can also check out our page on the mental game of tennis for some more on the subject. Have fun and I hope you play like a dog from now on!

Move those Feet!

One of the most important aspects of your tennis stroke is foot movement. Every shot you hit will suffer if you fail to get into proper position. How do you get into position? Move those feet! There are two types of foot movement:

  1. Moving to the ball- obviously you have to get to the ball
  2. Adjusting to the ball- small adjustment steps to help track the ball

  Unfortunately, foot movement is one of the first things to go when you are playing badly or tentatively. I’m sure you’ve had this feeling during a match….You can’t react fast enough to get to the ball or the ball gets to you too fast for you to hit the shot properly. That’s because your footwork has stopped.

To keep those feet moving, focus on the ball like a dog does. Have you ever seen a dog waiting for it’s master to throw the ball? They can’t wait! And they are totally focused on the ball. If you could hear what they were thinking, I’m sure it would be ball!, ball!, ball!

Adopt that mindset and active waiting style. Bounce on the balls of your feet, focus on the ball and be ready to go after and adjust to it as soon as it comes off your opponent’s racket. This mindset will give you the fast start to get to the ball.

golden retriever running after a ball
golden retriever running after a ball

Once you get to the ball, channel that same anticipation to your feet as small adjustment steps. This will keep you balanced and allow you to adjust your hitting position up until the ball arrives.

Returns against Net Rushers

 In doubles, attacking the net is a good strategy. When your opponents are serving and volleying and/or poaching, it can make it hard for you to get to the net. You want to make aggressive net rushers think twice about coming forward or poaching. Here’s how. (It’s a good idea to do this early, like in your first return game)

  •  Hit a lob return down the line (over the net man). The server will have to get this and can’t serve and volley.
  •  Hit a hard return right at the net man or down his alley. He’ll remember that and think twice about poaching.
  • Hit low and cross court at the net-rushing server’s feet

  When one of these tactics works, keep using it and keep moving forward. Use these tactics to throw off your opponents’ attacking style, put your team on the offensive, and take control of the net first.    

Riding the Wave in tennis

Riding a wave

Letting your momentum carry you through your tennis match is like riding a wave.

Ride your wave in a match

   Australia is renowned as one of the world’s premier surfing destinations. Right now you can watch players in the Australian Open surfing their own waves. In a tennis match each player has waves of good and bad play. You may run off a string of good games and then have a string of error filled games. The trick is to get through the bad wave quicker and be ready to ride the good wave. Here is some help on how to do that:

  1. recognize the wave (in your game and your opponent’s) and realize it won’t last forever
  2. stay positive and up-beat during the bad wave, keep your head up and your feet moving
  3.  stay loose and keep going for shots during your good and bad wave
  4. above all else, have fun out there and enjoy the process not just the outcome

That last one can make your good wave in tennis last the rest of your life.

The Overhead part 2

Last week we talked about footwork and preparation for the overhead. This week we exam the options based on what type of lob you’re given. 

  1. A high and short lob that drops straight down – let the ball bounce and use your quick feet to get in position to hit an angled overhead put away
  2. A looping/topspin lob that’s also short – take this ball out of the air, if it bounces you may not catch it
  3. A well hit lob going over your head – just try to get under it enough to tap the ball back deep and stay in the point, or if you are athletic – jump and hit the overhead a la Pete Sampras
  4. A very deep, high lob – let the ball bounce, move into position and hit a slice overhead similar to a serve, or even hit an aggressive ground stroke to gain control of the point

 Fast feet, early preparation, and proper shot selection will improve your overhead. As a matter of fact, those 3 things will improve pretty much every shot in tennis.