The Obvious and Beyond
by GILAD BLOOM
BEAR IN MIND...
There is more than one way to play the game of tennis. Every player may have a different swing, a different grip, a different foot stance, a one handed backhand, a two handed backhand and, in some cases, a two handed forehand.
However, there are some things that all good players have in common. Such characteristics I would recommend as guidelines to all levels; from beginners, through intermediates and all the way up to advanced and professional players. Regardless of your level, then, if you're looking to improve your game but are just not sure how, here are some solid tips.
FIRST AND FORMOST...
WHEN TRAINING, REMEMBER...
- Have you been overlooking the obvious? The first thing you need to know is where to hold the tennis racquet. Holding the racquet as far down the grip as possible enables you to use the full length of the racquet with maximum leverage. And it allows the wrist to be loose, flexible and situation-ready.
- Once you've learned to hold your racquet, you need to know what grip to use. That is critical and, as I've said, there is more than one effective grip for each shot. Most professionals use a total of three grips; a forehand grip, a backhand grip and a grip for the volley, overhead and the serve. Since it is a personal thing, consulting with a teaching pro for specific grips is recommended.
- Ground strokes - Each player should find his/her own natural swing, keeping the following four basic principles in mind:
- Prepare the racquet early by turning your shoulders.
- Meet the ball in front of your body.
- Keep your eyes on the ball at the point of contact.
- Follow through the shot.
- Volley - Keep the racquet in front of your body at all times. Just block the ball with a short and sharp punch, without taking a swing. For most players, swinging is an invitation for a miss-hit. For all players, a swinging volley is a riskier shot.
- Overhead - Turn side ways and prepare the racquet early. Try to extend to the ball.
- The serve - most important, get a consistent toss. Once you get that toss, try to meet the ball at the highest point and jump into the court as you serve, using your knees and hips for power.
Once a player reaches a certain level there is always the next level. The only way to reach that place is practice, practice, practice. If it shocks you to discover that the best way to practice is by repetition... tough luck. Seriously, experiment with a shot till you "get it right." Then, repeat hitting it over and over. You can hit on a hitting wall, with your partner, or with your teaching pro.
When a court is available, I recommend hitting cross-court and down-the-line on half a court for 30 minutes before you start playing a set. That way you get into a good rhythm and are more likely to play a better match. For the more advanced players, I recommend the old cross-court down-the-line drill, where one hits across the court and one hits up the line. That is still the best drill that I know, a drill that works on all aspects of your game--technique, consistency, stamina, speed and concentration.
STRATEGY IN A NUTSHELL...
- Have a game plan. Figure out what type of player you are (attacking baseliner, counter puncher, power player etc.), your strengths and limitations, then, play within your ability. Figure out what wins points for you and learn from it. Also, try to figure out why you are losing and work on identified weaknesses when you practice. That way, improved skills become within your ability in future matches.
- Yet, know thy opponent. Not only in advance, but also, when you warm up before a match, try to figure out and remember weaknesses and strong points. Then, try to integrate such valuable knowledge into your game plan.
- Never change a winning game. Always change a losing game. These were first the words of the great Bill Tilden. Now, they are my words and, hopefully, yours, too. If something works, keep doing it until it stops working, even if it is predictable. If you are getting your behind kicked, however, do something different. When losing, any change is recommended, even if it is against your style. Hey, you are losing anyway, you know?
- Yet, try to mix up your game wisely. Even if, primarily, you are a baseline player, come to the net occasionally--especially when your opponent isn't expecting it. If you are a net rusher (not many of those left), try faking it by staying back for a point or two every few games. If you do that in the right moments, the element of surprise will win you easy points.
- Shot Selection: Tennis, like all ball sports, is a game of errors and, therefore, the best way to play the game is to "play the percentages" (that is, given a particular scenario, play a shot with the greatest likelihood of success, or least likelihood of error). To each situation there is a certain shot (or more than one) that will win the point for you or get you back into the point. More than most people realize, the difficult part of the game is shot selection. Which is, indeed, where most unsuspecting (and, sometimes, even experienced) players fail.
TO BE MORE SPECIFIC...
- When you are in the back court hit many cross-court shots. That way, you will run less and have more time to recover to the middle.
- When you are forced out of the court you should hit a high ark cross-court shot so you have even more time to get back to the middle. There is no shame in hitting a Moonball.
- When you come to the net, hit your approach shot up the line. In most cases, that will enable you to cover the net most effectively.
- Most points are won on errors. Sometimes, it is wiser to place the ball and force an miss-hit than to go for a clean winner and risk committing an error. Remember, you don't get extra points for a winner.
- Keep a positive attitude! Tennis can be a very frustrating game, because there are so many aspects to it and no one ever fully "owns the game." It is very natural to get upset at yourself when things go wrong (and they usually do). Remember, nobody can play great tennis for a whole match. There will always be ups and downs. The most important thing, therefore, is to stay cool and composed through the bad patches. Mainly, you've got to stay in the match! Remember, to win, you don't have to play great tennis the whole match. All you need is to play the big points well (and to win the last point).