ETI 013 | Circle of Play


  • ETI 013 Circle of Play
    ETI 013 Circle of Play

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This one is entirely visual.
Draw a full circle with your racquet, visualizing the face of a clock.

At 3 and 9 o’clock, your arm is horizontal, the racquet head is well away from your body.

Down at 5 and 7 o’clock your arm points down, the racquet head falls below your hand, and your reach is not as extended as it was at 9 and 3.

Use this feel to know that when balls are low (5 and 7), you actually want to play them “inside” but when balls are bouncing up (9 and 3) you actually want to play them “up and away.”

The circle of play is a natural way to feel how your arm moves at various heights, and how to position for the low and high shots.

63 Comments

  • Meena Agarwala

    Reply Reply June 27, 2016

    I do get the concept of hitting the lower balls closer to your body and the high balls away from the body.
    I would however like to understand exactly where you were drawing the circle.
    Was the butt cap the center? and where was the face of the clock? was it parallel to the net, perpendicular or??
    sorry, perhaps I am having more trouble than I should, but I watched the video several times and I still did not “see” the circle that you are talking about.
    Thanks!

    Meena

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply June 28, 2016

      Meena – you go the concept – high balls feel better when contact is away, lower balls feel better when concept is more inside – the circle tries to show that
      Jim

  • Kathy

    Reply Reply May 30, 2012

    Jim, would you please explain to me what you mean by “hitting up and away on a high ball”? Many thanks.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply May 30, 2012

      Kathy – take more time with that podcast – if you draw a circle with your hand in front of you and place a racquet in it you will see that shoulder high balls are in fact away (up and away) but lower balls below the waist are inside
      Jim

  • Larry Buhrman

    Reply Reply February 23, 2012

    Brilliant!

  • Josh from Aus

    Reply Reply February 15, 2012

    Your instructional videos are really helpful and intuitive. Seeing that you use the aeroprodrive – Rafa’s racquet – do you use a lot of spin? Which leads to how should I hit the high balls, the drive over the ball or using the reverse forehand?

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 15, 2012

      Josh – not always easy to advise without seeing our game but generally the shoulder high does not have the reverse finish
      Jim

  • John in Irvine

    Reply Reply February 13, 2012

    Jim – your comments re: Fed and the other pros ‘hitting down’ on a lot of these ‘shoulder high’ balls and using them as opportunities to ‘attack’ the ball really got me thinking and I worked on it this weekend with some noticeable results.

    Like commenter ‘Alan’ below – I also have tended to ‘slice’ the ball on high shots. I can sometimes get some pretty good pace on these high slice balls and I am hitting ‘down’ on these shots. Still – as you point out – Fed and Djoker etc. are often hitting ‘down’ on these high balls and hitting them with ‘topsin’ – which is what I worked on this weekend. I happened to be hitting with a high schooler this weekend – who hits with a lot more ‘topspin’ than most of my age group buddies – who tend hit with a lot of pace – but hit a ‘flatter’ ball. Anyway – I noticed that my younger hitting partner’s shots were really jumping off the court and I found that I had a lot less margin for error when trying to hit the ‘high slice’ off of his high bouncing balls. If I didn’t catch it ‘just right’ my balls would really fly and go long. So I tried to implement your ‘tip’ and try hitting ‘down’ with ‘topspin’ on some of his high bouncing balls – and had more success than I thought I’d have.

    One of my problems has been that I always have equated hitting ‘topspin’ with coming from ‘low to high’ and that’s why I think I’ve had a hard time hitting effective topspin drives on high shots. Of course it’s natural (at least in my mind) to hit ‘down’ on slice shots … which is why it was easier for me to get my mind around ‘hitting down’ to slice high balls. Your tip and comments re: Fed’s swing path reminded me that I could also start high and hit ‘down and across’ the ball to hit these high balls with topspin … instead of thinking that I had to start ‘low and then swing up and over the ball to generate top’ .. a very tough shot to time. So this weekend I just got my arm up high and STARTED my swing even with the ball and swung across and down on the ball and had a much easier time in ‘timing the ball’. Importantly – since I was now down and across the ball with topspin, I wasn’t having as many balls ‘pop’ and go long; unlike with the high slice shot – my racquet face was now ‘closed’ so the ball was directed down. Again .. the big difference was me getting comfortable with STARTING with my arm high and getting comfortable with swinging across and down instead of thinking that I had to start low and swing up and over the ball.

    As you point out … it was mainly my ‘mind’ that was the problem; I was thinking that all topsin swings have to go from low to high; forgetting that it the ball is already high I just need to swing across and down. Great tip! I’m still going to use my slice at times on high balls, but I’m going to work more on getting on top of some of these high balls .. especially ones with lots of topspin and they are hard to control if the high slice is not hit ‘just right’.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 13, 2012

      John – thanks for this – your notes are valuable for our community – I appreciate your candor
      Jim

  • William D.

    Reply Reply February 12, 2012

    Jim,

    Funny, but in what feels like a century of playing, I’ve never had this concept either shown or explained to me. Now that you point it out and show it here, it seems logical and straightforward. Thanks for pointing out what now seems obvious… except it wasn’t!

    Best,
    Bill

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 12, 2012

      Bill – thanks, all due to my coaches (I just pass it one) and as for me I believe I have actually hit the half century mark on court (phwew!!)
      Jim

  • Alan Soffer

    Reply Reply February 12, 2012

    I use a kind of overhand slice on balls at shoulder height. Probably not necessary for most of your subscribers, but us older guys have a lot of problem mustering a shot off the hight balls. This approach allows me to really get some good power on the high forehands. High backhands are a whole other animal

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 12, 2012

      Alan – actually that particular stroke works really well on this ball – and that stroke can be hit heavily with a little backspin, or with a wicked chop – either way contact is up and away (I confess to using a version of this on many approach shots)
      Jim

  • ben Lam

    Reply Reply February 12, 2012

    Your explanation of distance in relation to ball height and the body is great. I tend to fall off to one side on high balls because my body is too close to the ball. The way you described it was great.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 12, 2012

      Ben – thank you – watch Fed and others and for this ball their arm is fulling extended and more or less in line with and at shoulder height
      Jim

  • Bryan

    Reply Reply February 12, 2012

    Jim
    You’d be more than welcome to stay with me and my wife in Christchuch anytime.We would love to show you what’s left of Christchurch and our surrounding city.I even have a spare vehicle if you wanted your own transport for your stay.
    As for organising some sort of Tennis coaching convention I would like to think Tennis NZ would be very keen to lap up your services,if they had any sense.Canterbury Tennis is our local regional
    controlling body and like NZ Tennis it would probably be a matter of contacting them directly.
    Anyway let me know what your thoughts are – you might just want to come down for a holiday and a couple of games.
    Bryan

  • John in Irvine

    Reply Reply February 11, 2012

    Jim – keeping with the KISS concept … I try to keep reminding myself that it’s all about BALANCE. Spacing, footwork, moving to the ball, weight transfer, etc. – they are all part of an overall scheme designed to allow your body (to the extent possible) to be ‘in balance’ as you move to or away from the ball, as you hit the ball and as you recover from, or otherwise move to the next shot. If you just take practice swings you’ll ‘feel’ when you are ‘in balance’ … which naturally results in a natural and relaxed swing pattern and spacing on low, medium and high balls …. BTW – a simple, but often overlooked component to all of the foregoing involves keeping your head STILL. Your feet can move, your torso can rotate, your weight can move forward or back, and your swing can be a long or short, but you’ve got to keep your head still to make good contact and stay ‘balanced’.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 12, 2012

      John – thanks, as to balance and keeping your head still – I did a podcast on that – somewhat amusing but might be useful as well
      Jim

  • j mansfield

    Reply Reply February 11, 2012

    The concept(s) here has taken me longer than usual to sink in. Reading all the comments posted has made it clear to me. The balls below 9 & 3 oclock are hit within my circle of reach & the `high` balls are hit reaching out of the circle leaving plenty of room in front & to the side of my body.

  • Jack

    Reply Reply February 11, 2012

    Jim,
    Brilliant! Thank god for Blacky Jones and Tom Stow. I wish I had known them. What you describe makes good sense to me. And such an easy thing to get your head around without getting tied up in overly prescriptive technicalities. Keep that thinking cap on Jim – great work!
    Jack

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 11, 2012

      Jack – thanks – this is a nice way for me to begin the day – I am smiling
      Jim

  • David L

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    Despite years of studying the game, I still always learn from your commentaries.
    This concept of hitting the high balls from farther away and the low balls from closer inside is easy to understand, makes sense, and I look forward to practicing it.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      David – thanks for the note and the encouragement – I am still studying and learning as well (and as hard as I can)
      Jim

  • Peter

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    Bjorn, I think to understand Jim’s terminology you must become familiar with baseball terms regarding where a pitch is in relation to a batter. An inside pitch is “in” close to the batter, an outside pitch is “away” from the batter on the other side of home plate from the batter. So if you think of your contact zone as home plate, low balls you want to hit close to your body, and high balls further out away from your body.
    Jim, Thinking about the golf swing analogy, I’m more comfortable hitting low balls close, and high balls further out in front at a later point in the arc of the same swing path when the racquet face is coming across the ball. So the high ball is not really outside, but is further in front and perhaps even closer to the body. .does this make sense?

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      Peter
      yes – the high ball further in front may help me – I want to try that tomorrow on court – thanks for your note to Bjorn
      Jim

  • JT

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    Very helpful visual Jim – thank you! It is so frustrating to mess up the short high bouncing ball that should be an easy put away. I’m sure now that my main issue is jamming myself by getting too close. I’m gonna work on that!

    P.S. Blackie sounds like he was an amazing coach! Judging by your teaching methods his example must have been to use the KISS method regularly. Like it!

  • Bryan

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    As usual your explanations make a lot of sense and have been a great help . As a coach in Christchurch NZ one of our major problems is working out the best techniques while the ground is moving around your feet.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      Bryan – thanks for the note – how can I come to visit in NZ and do a coaches convo
      Jim

  • Ron

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    Jim:
    Excellent points.
    Saw recently that one’s grip determines how far out in front one should hit ball…can you comment?
    Hope all is well.
    Ron

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      Ron – absolutely – the further one moves to the semi western or western grip the more in front the contact, for when they boys hit the squash shot from behind them when scrambling they are conti if not eastern backhand on the forehand shot
      Jim

  • Skip Shephard

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    Great way to visualize where to hit various shots as them come to you.

  • Jen

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    Jim,
    This makes all the sense in the world and for me the circle has been taught as three zones. Thanks!

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      Jan – thanks – somehow either this podcast was great or lousy – but definitely not middle of the road
      Jim

  • Noushin Kananian

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    Dear Jim

    Many thanks for your professional explanation.

    Kind regards

    Noushin

  • Robert Hyman

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    Don’t really agree with this at all. On a high ball simply change to more of a western grip, and keep the racket head slightly below the wrist. Other than slice, racket head on a forehand should really NOT be above wrist, unless one wants to slice the ball.

    On a low ball you are correct.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      Robert – I do understand your point, I am working with an idea where Federer and others are inside the baseline hitting through if not down slightly on this ball where the follow thru is at the level of contact – at the end of the day there are many ways to play this game
      Jim

  • jeff s cherry hill, nj

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    Jim,

    Somewhere in MKTS you talked about the need to develop “…a feel…” for what is being done….

    Cramped is a feeling, not something to be seen in one’s stroke and (in my case) was an awareness after missing so many similar shots that I started to become aware that I was not / could not take a full swing because I was cramped.

    Sure would be great if you could do some sessions on other “feelings”.

    Jeff

  • jeff s cherry hill, nj

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    Hey Jim,

    You’ve done it again… after trying to figure out why most of my chest and above high forehands feel “cramped”… your circle of play explains it all. I’m feeling stupid for not realizing the need to stand further away on higher balls, but that’s OK as you’ve helped me debunk another tennis mystery!

    Thanks Coach – Jeff S Cherry Hill, NJ

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      Jeff – I am hoping a few others will see this – not to support me – but rather quite a few found this one unhelpful – and it has to do with this “cramped thing”
      Jim

  • Max

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    Doesn’t make any sense whatsoever

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      Max – many players are trained to let the ball descend, use a pronounced low to high stroke, and because of that position themselves well behind the baseline – and those hits will always be low and inside – but another aspect of the game is to move inside the baseline and take the ball above the level of the net – even shoulder high – you will see all the pros handle the short high bouncing ball with a shoulder high point of contact – and for that shot the circle of play indicates that the ball should be away and not inside – does that help
      Jim

  • Sigurd Vitols

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    Hi Jim,
    your previous interesting mail about Tom Stow and the unit turn. If I recognize the ball is coming 2 meters to the right of me, shall I still make the unit turn with all weight on backfoot and then move in steps of 2 to the correct position trying to stop with all weight on the backfoot before pushing of and pulling the trigger?
    Cheers,
    Sigurd

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      Sigurd – this depends, certainly when the ball is close there is less need for all that footwork – but as a general rule turning to the side is best, and moving in twos will always help with the rhythm – for better or worse we see the pros often hit that with one step from an open stance but I chalk that up to extreme trunk rotational strength and years of practice
      Jim

  • Robert A

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    I played a lot of golf while growing up before I ever picked up a tennis racket. There I learned the importance of having a very sound core swing that was central to pitching wedges and drivers and everything in between. When learning tennis I was dazzled by the array of shots to be learned, each with their own little set of techniques, as taught by the experts. This approach takes me back to that idea of a core swing, which happens according to where the ball is when you hit it.
    That is going to change a lot of things for me.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      Robert – thanks for that, the Tom Stow method was about a core swing – similar actually to what he called a 3/4 9 iron – and unfortunately too many teachers (and teaching resources) emphasize the array of shots without addressing the importance of a foundation
      Jim

  • peter prendergast

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    A back view of the circle of play might have been useful. And,yes,I find I’m afraid of arching my back too much on the top spin serve ( I’m 67) in case I lose my balance. Any tips ?
    Many thanks.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      Peter – rather than arching the back – you must get that from the knees – must be from the knees
      Jim

  • Adan

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    I think I get it but it took me a few times to watch. Yes, it is an advanced technique, which is what I need.

    I agree on the forehand but on the backhand (one hand) in practice it is very difficult to hit a topspin on a low ball, for these I’m better off hitting a slice.

  • Lance

    Reply Reply February 10, 2012

    So…

    Inside, low balls are easier to put top spin on and cross court…?

    Outside, high balls are easier putting inside out/ straight…?

    I completely get the “more natural swing” aspect in terms of arm movement.

  • Krista Andry

    Reply Reply February 9, 2012

    Very interesting!!! Love it!!

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      Krista – thanks, this was a tricky one for me (as well as shown in the comment stream)
      Jim

  • Don McDonald

    Reply Reply February 9, 2012

    I think I agree with the problem, but not the logic. It seems to me the center of the stroke is not the shoulder but somewhere around the navel. I always try to hit the ball the same distance from my eyes rather than from the shoulders. When a ball is hit low, I usually duck down so the entire body lengthens in the direction of the ball. If anything my reach is longer down low than up high. I think you get jammed up high because there are fewer joints you can twitch to move away from the ball.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      Don – somehow your comment is what I tried to address – at our club most players are better at positioning for the low one but seem to always get jammed on the high one – but on tv you see Fed and the rest play the high one well “up and away”
      Jim

  • Mestengo Hidalgo

    Reply Reply February 9, 2012

    Watched three times
    20+ years of experience
    I have no idea how to find any use for this video

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      Mestengo – no worries, this was an attempt to show that when moving forward, inside the baseline, there is a tactical and mechanical aspect for taking the ball at shoulder height (watch the pros to believe me) and for that situation one wants and needs the ball up and away – for at least at our club and elsewhere many many people become “jammed” on that particular shot – are you any good at moving inside the baseline to stroke a ball heavily from shoulder height? – that may help explain – if not I am sorry
      Jim

  • Mickey

    Reply Reply February 9, 2012

    Deer in the headlights.

    Actually, your explanation to bjorn below was very helpful. The “inside” and “away” are talking about your distance from the ball when you make contact. Inside means closer, and away means further away.

    I will try to pay attention to this the next time I’m playing.

    Thanks for a another interesting video, Jim.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      Mickey – thanks, this was as seen, difficult to present – but I got it from the first coach and he was (as they say) “the man.”
      Jim

  • Cathie

    Reply Reply February 9, 2012

    Hi Jim,
    I enjoyed your circle theory Could we take this further to see where best to hit these shots
    out in front closer to the body 45 degrees out from us etc. Also I have listened to J McCraw talking about inside out swings or outside in does this have relavence here.
    Cheers Cathie

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 10, 2012

      Cathie – it seems many players are a little more comfortable with cross courts when low and inside, and up the line when up and away – but really players could and should be able to do both – that said in my game I enjoy hooking the low and inside ball crosscourt but still work on hitting the shoulder high ball cleanly
      Jim

  • bjorn

    Reply Reply February 9, 2012

    very confusing–I have no idea what the point of this was. I get the “visual”, that you’ve got to get your body closer to a 5 o’clock shot that for a 3 o’clock . . . but what does “inside” mean? “up and away”? If these concepts were explained I missed it.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply February 9, 2012

      Bjorn – sorry, this was meant to be visual and conceptual – concept meaning if the ball is low at contact it feels best when inside and not away, but when contact is above the waist if not at shoulder height then contact feels much better when the ball is away or further outside the hitting zone – too often players crowd the high one (they are too close) and reach for the low one (they are too far away) – does that help?
      Jim

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