My Tennis Notes
- There are 4 major factors in serving; placement, depth, spin and speed
- Once you've developed a sound service motion, it's important that you toss the ball into the same spot each and every time. When I was first learning to serve, I was told: 'You should be able to serve with your eyes closed, because the ball should be in the same spot every time.' So when I was a kid, I used to practice hitting serves with my eyes closed. I really didn't care where it went, but if the ball made contact with the racquet strings, that meant the toss was in the right spot.
- The key to having a powerful serve is in creating a loop in your backswing and letting your racquet head drop behind you as you toss the ball. This lengthens the swing, and more length means increased power. If you're a beginner and don't feel comfortable with the loop concept, try tapping your back twice during your service motion. It may feel awkward at first, but by practicing your serve and tapping your back twice, you'll see just how much time you have to make that loop. Then, once you begin to serve without tapping your back, adding the loop to your backswing and dropping your racquet into the back-scratch position will be a breeze.
- If you're a right-hander, toss the ball to one o'clock (slightly to your right). Lefties should toss the ball to the 11 o'clock position (slightly to your left).
- I have the player stand on the baseline and throw a few balls over the net and into the service box. It's important for developing players to know that a serve is a throw. Once they can throw the ball into the box, I have them pick up their racquets and use the same motion. I'm not as concerned with where the ball goes as I am with them making a good toss and swinging the racquet like they're going to throw it out of their hands.
- When snapping your wrist, it's important to get your racquet head through the impact point quickly. If your wrist leads the way, the frame will be late coming through and the ball is sure to go long. So remember to let the racquet head accelerate and overtake the hand and the wrist.
- Stay relaxed. When trying to hit the ball hard, club players tend to tighten up. Try to keep both your arm and your hand loose.
- Don't be afraid to use your entire body. Turning your hips and shoulders and getting more leg drive into your motion will add power to your serve. The one thing you can't afford to do is only use your arm. The whole body needs to be part of the service chain.
- Todd Martin stands closer to the sidelines than most pros when he serves, for three very good reasons:
1. A sharper angle to go wide. 'By standing farther out, you have a better angle to hit the ball wide off the court -- yet still maintain a significant amount of power,' Martin says.
2. Better return coverage. 'Since most returns go crosscourt, you're usually in good position for the next shot. Down-the-line winners off the service return are rare, so you're playing the percentages.'
3. A higher margin for error. 'Standing out wide lets you hit over the lower part of the net and gives you more court to serve into.'
- Players trying to get more drive out of their legs when they serve should pretend they're sitting down as they toss the ball. (Don't worry -- you won't have enough time to go too low.) Then, just as you're ready to swing, explode up and into the ball.
- Developing a topspin serve, also known as a kick serve, is a smart way to make your second ball more consistent and less vulnerable to attack. Instead of a slice (most players' natural spin) that swings to the side, a serve that's struck with topspin not only gives your ball added net clearance, but it also makes it kick up after it bounces, thus taking the ball out of the returner's strike zone. Patrick Rafter is adept at using his kick serve to elicit awkward returns from his opponents. And because the ball moves more slowly through the air, it also gives Rafter more time to get into good volleying position.
- How to hit a topspin serve: Using an Eastern backhand grip, toss the ball more in front of your body than off to your dominant side. Arch your back and bend your knees. As you reach forward, make contact on the back side of the ball. (If the ball were a clock, hit it at 6 o'clock and brush up to 12 o'clock.).
- Control, disguise, and variation are more important than sheer pace when it comes to your serve. Using your serve to move an opponent off the court and set up the point is a basic tenet of tennis.
- A loose wrist can salvage a lot of bad ball tosses and make your serve more effective. A wrist that's locked and firm will make it difficult for a player -- at any level -- to get spin on the ball, and it's the spin on your serve that will help you control the ball and maintain consistency. Additionally, a locked wrist will put you at risk of doing serious harm to your elbow. To make sure your wrist isn't too tight when you serve, always keep the pinkie finger, ring finger, and middle finger of your racquet hand relaxed. When these fingers tighten, your wrist locks automatically.
- Do not throw the ball in the air, place it. Imagine that you are trying to place the ball on a high book shelf, exactly where your point of contact is. Keep your tossing arm straight as you are lifting the ball toward the imaginary shelf. Hit the ball when it stops in the air, not on its way up or down.
- Keep your head up as you hit the ball. The best way to accomplish this is to watch the ball at the point of contact. The best way to accomplish this is to watch the ball at the point of contact.
- Make your motion as smooth as possible: Relax. Start your swing slowly and then gradually speed up as you approach the point of contact. Body weight should be transferred from the front leg to the back leg as you begin the swing, and then to the front leg again as you hit the ball.
- Your whole body weight should be "behind" the ball at the time of contact.
- You've got no more than half a second to react to an opponent's first serve, so you'd better think -- and move -- fast! During warm-ups, if your opponent plunks a serve into the net, notice where your racquet is at that moment. If it's still in the ready position, chances are you would not have been ready for the shot. By the time the serve crosses the plane of the net, you've got to have the racquet back and on the proper side of your body.
- On the return of serve, your goal should always be to neutralize your opponent. The higher the level of game, the more the server has the advantage, so try to keep the ball low or hit it deep. When you're facing a player who likes to serve and volley, a low return will force him to play a tough shot. If your opponent prefers to stay back, a deep return will drive him behind the baseline, and his chances of hurting you with ground strokes will be minimized. So when you have an opportunity to return a second serve, or if you're playing someone whose delivery lacks pace, focus on where you want your low or deep return to go; pinpoint placement is a bonus
- Once you're able to get your opponent's serve back consistently, the next step is to gain directional control and see if you can keep the ball out of the middle of the court. Pressure the other guy's first serve, and more than likely his first-serve percentage will drop. Then you can bear down on the second serve and go for a few winners, which will compound the pressure your opponent is feeling.
- If you're a beginner, the other beginners you'll be playing will rarely serve and volley, so do what you can to hit a deep return. Stay down and get your shoulders turned quickly. Keeping the shot deep will trap your opponent at the baseline and allow you to come in and attack the net.
- When you're returning serve, practice running around your backhand. Stay in control of your body and try to get your momentum moving into the court, not toward the sideline. When done correctly, this move will devastate just about any opponent.
- Don't stand too deep in the court. Whenever possible, force yourself to return serve from the baseline area or, if you can, from just inside the baseline. That way, you'll pick up the ball earlier and react with a purpose.
- The best returners devise a plan for how they're going to handle each return ahead of time. It may be something as simple as 'deep in my opponent's court' or something more sophisticated, like 'down the line if it's a backhand and crosscourt if the serve is out wide to my forehand.'
- For a powerful forehand, load your weight onto your back leg. Then, after you get into the proper position, transfer your weight onto your left side as you start your swing, if you're a right-handed player, or transfer your weight onto your right side, if you're left-handed. By rotating your trunk, hips, and shoulders, you can play any type of forehand that you want -- a rally-paced shot, a powerful drive, or a stroke with heavy topspin.
- Having trouble hitting that topspin forehand? If you are, try 'crowding' the ball (getting a little closer to it), which will shorten your reach and allow you to rotate your trunk. Rod Laver says he did this in pressure-filled situations. He would actually swing harder and at a more vertical angle, creating topspin to keep the ball in the court.
- Club players who hit from an open stance often fail to turn their shoulders, making it too easy to swing across the body. If you hit from an open stance, your directional control should not be coming from your hand, wrist, or elbow, but from your shoulder. The first step is to make a good upper-body turn, and then, when you uncoil your shoulders, swing out toward the target. That's where your control will come from.
- Keep the ball deep. I don't care how hard you hit it, just keep it deep! Power without depth is no good. Power with depth and consistency is the ultimate goal.
- Never stand completely sideways to the net when you hit your forehand. What you want is a slightly open stance, one that allows your hips to turn and release into the shot. This will help you generate more power using big muscles like your legs, hips, and shoulders, not just your arm.
- As you learn to hit your forehand, you also need to understand the relationship between your grip and your stance. In the days of wood racquets, players had to step forward toward their target in order to generate power on their forehand. To do this, they used the traditional Eastern forehand grip and a flat swing. But with the development of oversize heads and lighter racquets, players today can easily brush up the back of the ball to create topspin. Because of this, semi-Western and Western grips are now more popular. These grips require you to hit from a relatively open stance, with your nondominant foot stepping to the side. The more extreme your grip (the more the base knuckle of your index finger goes under the handle), the more open your stance will be. Pete Sampras, who uses a semi-Western grip, steps ever-so-slightly forward, while a player like Jim Courier, who hits with a full Western grip, steps to the side and is more open to the court. Then there's clay-court expert Alberto Berasategui, who has one of the most extreme forehand grips in history; his hips and shoulders are completely open to the court.
- Whip it good: Compare Steffi Graf's forehand with Andre Agassi's and Jim Courier's and you'll notice that they have their own grips and stances, but all three generate tremendous racquet-head speed and power. By cocking their wrists and getting their racquet heads up during their backswings, the three champions create a whip-like action as they rotate their shoulders and make their swings. Similarly, the faster you can swing -- or whip -- your racquet through the hitting zone, the more power you'll get on the forehand
- The inside-out forehand, a shot that a right-hander hits crosscourt from the ad court and lefties hit crosscourt from the deuce court, was popularized by Steffi Graf and Jim Courier. It's been a key to success in the power game of the 1990s. When your opponent's shot lands in the middle of the court, run around your backhand and hit a forehand to his ad court (assuming you're both right-handed). This will pull him off the court and force him to hit a defensive backhand, which will probably go down the line or toward the center of the court. From there, you should have a clear crosscourt forehand for your next shot.
- Whenever possible, prepare to hit your forehand while your opponent's shot is in the air. Why? Because by the time his shot hits the ground on your side of the net, your racquet will be back all the way, your shoulders locked and loaded. Also, remember to move your body at an angle that permits you to make a play on the ball before it gets too wide and pulls you off the court entirely.
- On TV, players seem to whip their racquets around their body on the forehand side. Why is this? Because their opponents hit with so much pace, pros can afford to use lots of topspin and not drive all the way through their shots. But at the club level, you'll rarely face anyone who'll supply this kind of power. Try to emulate this wrap-around move and your forehand will probably land short. To get the ball deep in the court, you have to drive it. This means staying with your forehand through the hitting zone, which is 12 to 18 inches in front of your contact point.
- The next time your opponent lobs, you could run it down and hit a garden-variety ground stroke. Or you could take a page out of Andre Agassi's playbook and whip the ball back over your shoulder. Here's how: As soon as the lob goes up, turn around (so that you're facing the back fence) and run. Let the ball bounce, and position yourself so that it will come up over the shoulder of your nondominant side. With your back to the net, swing across your chest from low to high. With your back to the net, swing across your chest from low to high.
- make sure that you are not cutting short your follow through. Your racquet is supposed to go as far in front of you as you can reach. As far as the height of the follow through, the racquet should be above your shoulder line after the shot.
- While playing, imagine that instead of one ball you have to hit three or four balls that are lined up one after another in a straight line. Hit straight through the imaginary line making sure that you "hit" all three or four balls. By hitting through the imaginary balls you are ensuring that your point of contact with the ball is longer and that you are not brushing too much on the ball.
- pay attention to the body position as you are hitting the ball. Your body weight should be moving forward at the time of impact. Once you have your body moving in the right direction you should have less trouble controling the racquet head position. Make sure that you keep your racquet head closed throughout the shot.
- Try hitting more "through" the ball. Remember, the end point of your follow through should be lower than when hitting a top spin. Pointing your racquet toward the spot on the court where you want the ball to bounce may help you accomplish this.
- Going down the line? One-handers shouldn't open their hips up too early. This will pull the shot too far inside the court.
- When I teach clinics and tell people they need to get lower and bend their knees if they want to hit a solid topspin backhand, they bend about an inch and think that's getting down. Then, when the low ball comes, they're forced to scoop at it, which opens the racquet face and sends the shot long. To hit an effective topspin backhand, you have to get your body down and, with a closed racquet face, swing from low to high.
- As you prepare to hit a backhand, pretend that your name is written on your back. Then, as you prepare to hit, rotate enough so that your opponent is able to read it.
- On your backhand, instead of thinking about taking your racquet back, turn your body sideways instead. This will automatically put your racquet in the right spot.
- Too many club-level players worry about their backhand. Relax! Instead of bemoaning the fact that you can't cream your backhand like you can your forehand, learn to hit a good, neutralizing backhand (either a high or low shot that stays out of the opponent's power zone). If all you can hit is a slice backhand, that's fine. Just develop a low slice that forces your opponent to reach outside his strike zone. Lack power on your topspin backhand? Come up with a shot that loops high and forces your opponent to move back and hit from an awkward position. These kinds of strokes won't generate many winners, but they won't be crushed by the other guy either. And that's all you really need from a backhand.
- It's OK for players who have extreme one-handed backhand grips to follow through in nontraditional positions. Gustavo Kuerten and Conchita Martinez, for example, go past the standard Eastern grip (base knuckle of the index finger on the top panel of the racquet) and place it farther behind the handle. Thus, their racquet face points slightly downward. Only after making an exaggerated low-to-high swing do these players open their shoulders to the court. This shot takes great timing, but the rewards are in the results.
- Coaches have widely differing opinions regarding hand placement on a two-handed backhand. Personally, I think that players who hit with two hands should use a Continental grip with the dominant hand and an Eastern forehand or semi-Western forehand grip with their nondominant hand. While your nondominant hand drives forward and gives your shot its power, your dominant hand helps put spin on the ball. Warning: Don't slide your nondominant hand toward a Continental grip; this will cause the racquet face to open up and keep you from getting enough spin on the ball to bring it down into the court.
- Have trouble playing shoulder-high backhands? It's all in the spacing. Get too close to a high ball and you'll have to bend your arm to make contact, resulting in a crippled shot. The farther away from the ball you are, the more relaxed your swing will be -- and the better you'll hit.
- A slice backhand should be hit like a volley --punching or driving out and through the ball with a slightly open racquet face. No chopping down is allowed.
- On a two-handed backhand, don't drive the racquet with your hands. This can cause excessive wrist action and loss of control. Instead, think of driving the ball with your shoulders.
- When hitting down-the-line backhands, keep in mind two things: Your contact point should be just a bit farther back in your stance than it would be if you were going crosscourt. Hitting around the outside edge of the ball will help you bring the shot back into the court.
- If you hit your backhand with one hand, think of your front shoulder (the right shoulder for a right-handed player, the left shoulder for a left-hander) as your directional pointer. Pretend there's a line between your two shoulders; as your body shifts around, fix the front shoulder so that it's pointing in the direction of the intended stroke, and then accelerate the racquet arm toward impact.
- For players who hit a two-handed backhand from the baseline, turning sideways and hitting a one-handed backhand volley can feel exceedingly awkward. But just like when they hit a down-the-line approach shot or a slice backhand ground stroke, players have to focus on turning completely sideways when they hit a two-handed backhand volley. If not, they won't expose a large enough hitting area to the ball, their wrists will be in a weakened position, and nearly every shot will pull to their dominant side, making their strokes extremely predictable.
- To generate pace and power on your volley, avoid the temptation to take a big swing at the ball. Instead, turn the pace of your opponent's shot against him. Also, you'll get more pop on your volley if you utilize the muscles in your legs and hips as you step into the ball. And your racquet should not move very much.
- The key to hitting good half-volleys (shots you pick up at mid-court) is bending your back knee. That way, you'll be able to get down to the ball without doubling over at your waist. Plus, keeping your back straight and transferring your weight forward will make it easier to get the return deep in your opponent's court. Pete Sampras is an excellent role model for this shot.
- Even some of the experienced players I see at my club have poor ready positions, and because of that, they can't react quickly to many volleys. They allow their hands and racquet to hang low and they stand flat-footed at the net. Maybe they think the ready position isn't a big deal, but it is. You've got to be prepared to pounce, with your hands at chest level in front of your body and your weight slightly forward. Patrick Rafter and Jana Novotna are great players to emulate. To bring home the importance of getting into a solid ready position, stand along your service line and face your partner as he stands on his service line. Start volleying to each other, and try to keep the rally going. After each hit, take a small step forward and assume the ready position. You'll have to react quickly, and as the two of you close in on the net, it will become more difficult to volley if you let your racquet sag to waist level.
- Many teachers believe that beginners should alter their grips on forehand and backhand volleys to make the shots more solid. But when it comes to the volley, the Continental grip, where the base knuckle of your index finger goes along the top right bevel (if you're a right-hander) or top left bevel (if you're a lefty), is the best for players of all levels. The Continental grip is the only one that lets you set your wrist firmly and hit with a slightly open racquet face off both forehand and backhand. And switching your grip once you're used to other grips on the volley can be a frustrating experience.
- At volley practice, keep two variations in mind: a deep, penetrating volley and a short, angled volley. They're all you'll ever need.
- If you hit an excellent serve or a perfect approach shot and see your opponent beginning to lunge at the ball, there's no need to split-step. Their reply is likely to be a weak one. Just rush in and finish off the point.
- When you volley -- both forehand and backhand -- your first move should be to set your hand in the correct position to hit. So even if there's no time to make a textbook shot, you'll still have a play on the ball
- It's the essence of tennis cool, a move so sweet, you probably thought only a pro could pull it off. But no! Now you, too, can catch the ball with your racquet strings. Here's how: As the ball approaches, extend your arm fully so that the face of the racquet is perpendicular to the ground and your hand is in a Continental grip. Let the ball sail right beside your strings, near the tip of the frame. Then, as the ball slides down the face toward the handle, swing your arm back in a smooth arc and quickly close the racquet face, cradling the ball. The key? Match the speed of your backward arc with the speed of the ball.
- Try to get down to the level of the ball.
- One of the keys to hitting effective volleys is controlling your racquet head and keeping your dominant hand relaxed. Master these two things and you'll have a greater sense of feel and precision around the net. To practice keeping your hand relaxed, have a coach or feeder hit you a series of volleys. Just before you make contact, have the feeder call out where he wants you to volley: "deep" for a ball near the baseline, or "drop" for a drop volley. Given enough practice, you'll approach all volleys with a more relaxed hand and become a more versatile, well-rounded volleyer with a better sense of touch.
- When you're at the net and need to make a stab at a passing shot, it's a good idea to cut the ball off by moving slightly forward. This will give you a bit of momentum, and you won't have to swing as forcefully to hit the shot. Also, be sure to keep your upper body under control as you start to volley
- When hitting overheads, some players drop their head and their eyes. This is a nasty habit to get into because it can start a chain reaction: First the head comes down, then you stop watching the ball, then your shoulders automatically come down, and finally, your overhead ends up in the net. Too many club players are concerned with clobbering their overheads. The bottom line is, you've got to play within your abilities. To hit an effective overhead, keep your head and eyes up and strive for full extension as you reach for the ball. Let your racquet head generate the speed. And remember: If you're forced to hit from an awkward position, take some pace off the shot and concentrate on getting the ball deep
- There's only one strategy that really matters in singles: Control the center of the court. By hitting aggressive shots that give you enough time to recover into the middle of the court (or pretty close to it), you won't let your opponent win points with easy shots. Work on your crosscourt patterns, develop your consistency and movement skills, and attack the net after hitting down the line. By understanding the geometry of the court and playing the percentages, you'll force the other guy to hit tough shots in order to beat you. And at the club level, that's not going to happen very often.
- You have to respect the surface you're playing on. Think about what the court gives your game (in other words, what it amplifies) and what it takes away. Yes, some surfaces may be more kind to you than others, but baseliners can win on fast surfaces and serve-and-volleyers can be successful on clay. With a few minor adjustments and some forethought, you can make your best shots work for you. Bjorn Borg proved this by using his solid baseline game to win the French Open on red clay and Wimbledon on green grass back-to-back . . . three times.
- Shot selection -- knowing when to hit a shot -- can be a tricky business. But a philosophy that has worked well for Pete Sampras, the player I coach, is: Try to make your opponent's court seem very big and your own court very small. Here's how:
1. The farther behind the baseline you are, the more net clearance your shot should have in order to ensure that the ball goes deep. Lower-trajectory shots may be glamorous and exciting, but they often land short, and remember, your main objective is to pin the opponent as far back on the court as possible, where he can't do much damage.
2. The closer you are to the baseline during a rally, the harder you can hit the ball.
3. The more you move forward on the court, the more you should think about finishing off the point, either by hitting a big, aggressive ground stroke or by seizing an opportunity to come to the net.
4. The closer to the baseline and the more aggressive you are, the less margin for error your opponent will have. As a result, the likelihood of him hitting a weak shot goes up. Learn where you need to be to finish points off. Sure, pros like Sampras, Andre Agassi, and Steffi Graf can hit winners from 3 or 4 feet behind the baseline. You, on the other hand, probably need to be inside the baseline to pound a ball past an opponent.
- Assess your strengths and weaknesses regularly. Then, based on what you know you can do, play a style that puts you in position to hit your best shots and also minimizes your weak points. If you have a strong forehand but a poor net game, pressure your opponent from the baseline and come forward only to hit easy volleys. If you have a good lob and solid passing shots, lure your opponent into net --then take advantage of your strengths.
- It's so basic, but so few players do it. What is it? Think tactically. The first few games of a match should be spent picking out your opponent's weaknesses. Notice if he likes to run around his backhand and hit forehands -- a tip that he may have a weak backhand. If he nets a lot of overheads in the warm-up, remember to lob. Playing doubles? Talk to your partner, compare what the two of you have observed, and formulate a strategy. When I watch friends play their league matches, they often serve to the same spot on the court because they like to serve there, regardless of who they're playing. They toss the ball up without thinking, OK, she's missed two forehands in a row, let's try making it three, or, I'm going to hit with a little slice because that seems to bother her. Champions don't feed their opponents the shots they like to hit.
- Knowing when to play it safe and when to go for it is a secret to playing well. So says Pete Sampras, the six-time Wimbledon champion: 'The key is finding the right opportunity to break and applying constant pressure. At 3-3 or 4-4 in a match is the time you need to raise your game a level. It's recognizing the opportunity and, hopefully, converting.' Sampras takes many factors into account when deciding how aggressively he needs to play: 'I look at the score; I look at where he's serving; I look at how he's winning his points and how I'm winning my points.' It should go without saying: Stick with what's working for you, even though it may not be your favorite play.
- During a rally, nearly all of your shots should go crosscourt (the exception: approach shots). You no doubt know that the net is lower over the middle and the court is longer. What you may not realize is that going crosscourt allows you to recover to the ideal position on the court faster. Imagine you're rallying, and your opponent hits a ball deep to your forehand. If you return down the line, you'll need to recover --not just to the center of the court, but a few feet past center (because your opponent's easiest shot is crosscourt to your backhand). If, in that same situation, you go crosscourt, you need only recover to within a few feet of the center mark, hedging just a bit to your forehand side. Again, your opponent's highest-percentage shot is crosscourt, but you'll already be in the right spot. Remember: The player who hits down the line first in a rally usually has to do more of the running.
- From the center mark along your baseline, it'll take about three or four steps to reach most of your opponent's ground strokes. But it'll take you nine or 10 steps to reach the ball if your opponent hits a drop shot. So instead of just hitting the ball back and forth, every stroke you make should have a purpose and take advantage of the entire court. Make sure your opponent is forced to cover every inch of territory, not just the baseline.
- Players -- on the pro tour as well as the local club circuit -- will often judge how they've performed based solely on whether they've won or lost a particular match. You have to get past this and look at the quality of your play, not the outcome. If you set a goal of playing at a certain level, then achieve it and still lose, your opponent was simply too good. Focus on how well you're executing your game plan. And instead of thinking, I can't believe I'm losing love-4, ask yourself, OK, it's love-4, am I making him hit lots of backhands, like I wanted to going into the match? Probably not. Therein lies the problem -- and the solution.
- If a player who's been lobbed over can't retreat and have a reasonable shot at a smash, he should switch to the other side of the court and let his partner cross behind him to play the ball. 'Switching,' as this maneuver is called, is important because the player who's running back to retrieve the lob at an angle has a better chance at making a good hit than the player who's back-pedaling. A player who's running at an angle might also be able to sneak a peek at what the other team is doing, and thus have a feel for the kind of shot he needs to hit.
- You're the receiver's partner. That puts you in the hot seat, the toughest position on a doubles court. And while it's true that you're going to miss some reflex volleys, you can easily redeem yourself: By saving just one shot, you can make a big difference in a match. To quicken your reactions and sharpen your instincts, have a practice partner stand at the net and hit shots to you along the service line. No one will get to all of them, but by staying low, keeping your racquet in front of your body, and remaining alert, you'll be surprised at how many more shots you'll be able to save.
- Unpredictability adds drama to a doubles match. Plant a seed early in your opponents' minds that you won't do the same things over and over. Poach on a few of the opening points, hit a lob return, go down the alley, alter your service positions. Show a bit of variety in the first couple of games and your opponents won't know what to expect as the match progresses.
- Fifteen years ago, there was no such thing on the professional tour as a swinging volley. But thanks to baseline bashers like Andre Agassi and Monica Seles, itís become a viable option for players who don't particularly enjoy coming to the net. . . . And it's not as tough as you think: Off the forehand side, holding your racquet with a semi-Western or Western forehand grip, try to play the ball at shoulder level. Take a full swing, brushing up the back of the ball to get enough topspin to bring it down and keep it in play. It's the same on the backhand side (only use two hands, not one). For the best results, this shot should be struck a foot or two inside the service line.
- The power that today's bionic racquets generate is useless without accuracy. This cooperative drill is great for teaching control, timing, and proper technique to developing players. Stand in a doubles alley along your baseline, drop a ball, and hit a forehand the length of the alley to your practice partner. Your partner should hit a forehand in return, again keeping the ball in the alley. Continue to play out the point, hitting nothing but forehands that stay in the doubles alley. This drill is about consistency, concentration, and control. With practice, you should develop a steady forehand that can become the foundation of your baseline game.
- In today's power game, you have to be aggressive, take the ball early, and unload big forehands whenever you get the chance. This drill is designed to improve your on-the-rise forehand. Rally with your practice partner, hitting nothing but forehands crosscourt (him) and down the line (you). To make the drill more challenging, you must stand inside the baseline at all times. After a few minutes, switch, with you going crosscourt and your partner practicing his down-the-line shots. This drill will help you to recognize opportunities for attack, and it will also show you how to control the middle of the court while you hone the
two most common forehand shots.
- The forehand gets all the glory, but the higher you move up the club ladder, the more you'll want to attack and defend using your forehand and backhand. This drill will improve your backhand approach shots and putaways, while also teaching you how to play defensively and recover by using your backhand. With two players standing on the baseline across the net, start by dropping a ball and hitting a backhand. The players on the other side should keep pounding the ball to your backhand side. When they hit a short ball, respond with an angled backhand, a slice backhand approach, or a down-the-line backhand, and then rush the net. Try to finish the point off with a volley; as soon as the point is over, a baseline player should throw up a high ball to your backhand side. Recover toward the baseline, let it bounce, and start the next rally. After three minutes, switch positions.
- When you hit a volley, your legs --and your thigh muscles, in particular have to be involved. This drill, which we do with top juniors, aspiring tour players, and adult campers, teaches you to hit low volleys by bending your knees (instead of your waist) and reinforces the idea of moving forward to cut down your opponent's passing-shot angles. It'll also have your thighs screaming. Begin by making two small piles of tennis balls about 5 feet back from the net and 5 feet away from the center service line. Starting from the convergence of service lines (otherwise known as the T), have a feeder hit alternating low forehand and backhand volleys to you. As you move forward and hit the shots, keep your back straight and bend with your knees. As soon as you've completed the shot, reach down, grab a ball from the pile, and quickly bring it back to the T. Remember to continue volleying until all the piles are cleared away. Again: Don't bend at the waist. Use your legs and thighs to get down to each volley. Beginners may want to start out with three- or four-ball piles, while experienced players should feel free to put up to 12 balls in each pile. Don't get careless and reach for a ball before you make contact. Watch the shot come to you, make the hit, and then grab for the ball.
- The modern game is all about movement, power, and using your best shots as often as you can. For most players, that means hitting lots of forehands. This drill will get you to practice the footwork patterns you'll need to crack one forehand after another: Start from the center of your baseline. Have a feeder hit a loopy shot to your backhand. Run around the backhand and hit an inside-out forehand crosscourt. As you recover, the feeder should hit another shot, this time to your natural forehand side. Return this ball crosscourt as well. Continue the drill, with the feeder mixing up the location of the feeds. You should run around your backhand every chance you get and hit nothing but crosscourt forehands. Beginners may want to set a personal goal of making five to seven shots in a row. Intermediates should try to make as many shots out of 20 as they can. Advanced players ought to hit as many good shots as possible in 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds, and then start over again. If you complete four or five sets of this forehand drill three times a week, I think you'll see an immense improvement in your game.
- Learning how to recover and play sound defensive doubles is as important as learning how to play aggressive, in-your-face, finish-the-point doubles. Place five tennis balls against each side of the net. With your team starting at the baseline and the other assuming positions at net, drop a ball and let the baseliner begin a rally. If the team that starts at net wins the rally, one point is added to their score. Then, that team quickly grabs another ball and gets the next rally going. If the team at the baseline wins, its players need to sprint to the net, grab a ball, and start a point as the other team retreats to its baseline. To earn a point, you must win a rally starting from the net. The first team to 15 points wins.
- Playing against the wall is a good way to improve your timing. Start about 4 feet away from wall and concentrate on pushing the ball straight ahead off of the bounce. After you get consistent, switch from side to side.
- Always keep your eye on a ball. If u practise on a wall, you get more speed.
- A wall never makes mistakes! Your best shot always comes back. Within the same time period, you get to hit, or attempt to hit, far more balls than on a tennis court.
- Walls are fast. The faster you hit, the faster the ball comes back. You are forced to prepare quickly
- A backboard or wall off the side of a building can often serve as an ideal practice partner. "Live" drills can be done to simulate a real tennis game. Make a 3 feet by 3 feet target square set 4 feet above the ground. Take 13 steps back (about 39 feet), which is the exact dis-tance between the baseline and the net. Practice hitting groundstrokes, serves, volleys and over-heads at the target. By hitting the target, you are just about hitting perfect tennis strokes. Practice hitting from all distances alternating between forehands and backhands, performing grip changes and also making sure that your contact is way out in front of you. Vary the pace of your hits and don't hit the ball so hard against the wall that you end up hitting the ball "late". One of my favorite exercises is the overhead drill where I hit the ball down hard against the ground in front of the wall and let it bounce off the wall and try to hit an overhead smash and chasing it down when it goes over my head. Also practice topspin, slices and drop shots.
- SHADOW PRACTICE: I must give attribution to Dennis Ralston for developing this form of solo practice. Like a boxer who shadow boxes...you play shadow tennis. You go on court (although any open space is fine) and pretend to hit a ball with your racquet. You serve, hit groundies, volley, go for smashes, etc...all without a ball. Now, I know that some of you will say..."won't I look ridiculous?" Well, maybe a little, but I assure you that this helps your form. If you can really imagine points as you go through all of this feinting, you will be amazed at the benefits to your game. You will greatly improve footwork and court awareness. Please don't discount this form of solo practice. Frequently, before a match, I will spend 15 minutes or so doing shadow tennis as a warm-up. For me, it really gets me ready to play.