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Perhaps on court we all think too much, too often, and as often as not this truly intereferes with just playing the ball.
No judgment, one shot at a time, where the “winning takes care of itself.”
Well in the 1970’s before we ever knew of multitasking or mindfulness – those concepts were developed in a breakthrough book – The Inner Game of Tennis.
The common problem I see at the club, as well as on television, is where the server flexes at the waist at the hit – more or less jackknifing to create a little more ball speed.
And this action creates both forward and downward forces – and is generally associated with netted serves.
Agility = moving quickly and easily. We know when we are gliding, we know when we are moving heavily. Equally, when can see on the adjacent court who moves well and who does not. But often more than strength training or explosive movement, the secret can be in a subtle unweighting where the body leads […]
Pete Sampras, “I won 7 Wimbledon titles because I had the best second serve in the game.”
The second serve is about spin that will make the ball curve down as it crosses the net. Yes it may corner the opponent and either swing them wide and out of court, or kick up into their backhand.
Consider the critical 24 inch hitting zone when creating topspin on a forehand or on a serve – to create this spin the racquet must be swung up from beneath the ball (12 inches) but carry upward after impact (another 12 inches) to create the rolling spin that more and more of us want in […]
Ball control – ours is a game of accuracy, of consistency, but equally it is a game of timing for the opponent will send us shots of varying spin, speed, length and difficulty. Timing describes the relation between the incoming ball and the swinging racquet – and certainly the entire game revolves around the moment […]
https://dg2e30wx7kvei.cloudfront.net/eti_podcast/ETI_042_Measure_Twice_Cut_Once.mp4 The carpenter measures twice to cut once, to make sure the cut is accurate, for if too much is cut off that mistake cannot be undone. In tennis consider measuring as preparing first to the side for the incoming ball, but then to measure precisely the height of the backswing such that the racquet […]
Many interesting parallels have been drawn between the tennis serve and the golf swing. Once the tennis player (or golfer) gets the feel for the mechanical elements of the serve (or golf swing) then rhythm becomes the overriding issue. Does the swing build smoothly and gracefully? Is there economy of effort? Can the server (golfer) swing easily yet hit hard? Are the body parts coordinated so that the force from the legs moves to the hips, and then to the torso, and then to the shoulder, then the arm, then the forearm, then the hand, and finally the fingers?
A few years ago I was encouraged to take a class in improvisational theater. It took me months to find the courage (stage fright and more) but I finally enrolled and then thoroughly enjoyed this class within the Stanford continuing studies program.
The 3 R’s of tennis – ready, read (where the ball is going) react!
As to your reaction – what precisely is your first move? What moves first, what initiates your preparation?
Really an important question.
80% of the points in professional end with an error, 20% with a winner.
As regards unforced errors, if your opponent never misses and is patient as the day is long, would you consider missing a routine forehand in the 12th shot of a rally a forced or unforced error.
I am now believing that errors are simply errors, and the distinction is unnecessary.
Three factors control your tennis shot – not your feet, not your eyes, not your balance (though all of those do help) but the only three elements are; Angle of the racquet face, Swing Path and Tempo.
Swing path, type of spin, power, 3d playback (with Zepp) but perhaps the most interesting as well as the most useful is the data that shows where you make contact on the racquet face.
And before going further, one of the most important (IF NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT) skills in the game of tennis is concentration, focus, and closely and continually watching the ball.
Take a few moments with the following report card – a method to either evaluate your own skills, or use this with your coach or regular practice partner.
The idea is to take a deeper look at your “Use” – the broader issues that influence all you do on court, your awareness, the elements that make you a strong player, but equally perhaps the element that is holding you back.
Consider the elements in a strong and fluid overhand throw – and how the actions of the hand and elbow can be used or even copied in the modern forehand as well as certainly the serve.
Once when racquets were heavy and wooden, we could see (and still see now and then) a type of pendulum swing – back and forth with little whip or acceleration. Interestingly McEnroe still uses such a forehand to truly devastating effect.
An excellent book, Man”s Search for Meaning, written by Victor Frankl, serves as a useful guidepost in living but equally when playing on court.
When Andy Murray hooked up with Ivan Lendl to capture his two grand slam titles, he was working at the same time with a sports psychologist (the same one who had worked with Lendl years before) to improve his attitude – to improve his emotional responses to the challenges he faced (and still faces) on court.
One of Northern California’s legendary teachers, as well as a dear friend and mentor to me, Fred Earle penned the following 5 keys – that he expected his players to answer with a resounding yes, each and every day at the end of practice or a game.
Squaring up – Hitting the ball true – precise contact on the back of the ball.
We all know about topspin – but have you ever tried to strike the ball with true topspin – where the ball rolls forward – precisely forward?
The following drop hit drill will improve your time spent practicing on court – and help you with your forehand and or your backhand.
Balance, holding your finish, placing your weight precisely against the ball.
Yes there are many ways to hit the ball, and many ways to play this game, but with all the variety of styles and technique – our best professionals are balanced more often than perhaps we readily notice.
Is there more to it than simply watching the ball?
Well, the answer is yes. But the answer is not readily apparent.
Scan and zoom describes two different visual orientations, both of which occur on court.
In your own game, are you better at scanning or zooming? Better yet, are you skilled at both?
Ready Read React – the all important “3 R’s” of tennis.
But the question, once you have been ready and now have read the incoming direction of the ball – how do you react? What is your first move?
The first move is about quickness, it is about simplicity, but equally if not more importantly, it is about committing and reacting to only and simply what you have read.
If you want to be quicker and find more time to hit the ball – improve your first move.
The game has changed from the old wooden racquet era. Next was graphite composite racquets. Then stronger and stronger players. Followed by more and more topspin (unfortunately from further and further behind the baseline).
The next era in our game’s development occurs from the new “copoly” strings – essentially a polymer material, but somehow little or no friction between the strings.
You will note, no longer do the players walk around between points straightening their strings. That is because those strings move back and forth when meeting the ball – imparting much much more spin.
Play the ball to the open court. Run your opponent. Hit it where they “ain’t” (sorry).
Too often we focus on moving the ball east and west, meaning from side to side. Another option, in some instances a better option, is to play the ball deep and short, very deep and very short. Think of this as moving the ball north and south.
Drop shots will do the trick. Backspin, finesse, stroking from high to low with an open racquet face. But, and this is most important, always meet this ball on the rise, from inside the baseline.
Three R’s – ready read and then react.
Ready – feet spread, knees softly bent, weight on the balls of the feet
Read – as quickly as possible read the ball, see clearly is this ball coming to the forehand or backhand side
React – turn your shoulders and hips to the ball as quickly as possible.
Tennis ju-jitsu. Blocking, borrowing, deflecting the ball, playing with angles and change of pace.
The game is not always about power and winners. Just as easily the game can become one of rebounding the ball, using the opponent’s force and incoming shot to create our own.
This style, ju-jitsu if you will, comes from shorter strokes, firmer grips at contact, and a willingness to look for angles, dinks, drops and more.
McEnroe was the unquestioned master of this – try it out for yourself.
Relishing the contest. Appreciating the opponent. Understanding (really) the rules of a contest.
To my mind, some matches are determined before ever hitting the first ball. We have all been in situations where we knew immediately that the opponent had no chance – and equally we have all been in situations where we knew immediately that we had no chance. None at all.
The fun occurs, when we play an evenly matched opponent. And in these contest, both players have an even chance to win.
Look for these opportunities. Keep your cool. You can be ahead and blow this lead, you can play from behind and catch up – but in any event there is chance, there is luck, there are a few balls close to the line.
Time and Angle. Tactics – plain and simple.
If you move the opponent well behind the baseline – you will have more time to respond, and their angle of play becomes smaller.
If that opponent is as deep but in one corner or the other, their angle remains the same but their cross court shot will cross the sideline at a steeper angle.
The famous Jack Kramer was known to play the ball deep and up the middle, whenever he had not gained control of the point with his serve or volley.
The same will work for you.
Ours is a game of managing errors, of keeping the ball in play, and with each and every shot always playing the percentages.
Play the ball close to the line, you encounter the risk of an error. Play the ball close to the line when the opponent is out of position, now the reward may outweigh the risk.
But worse, sometimes it is possible to lose points simply because you are never truly taking any risks.
With this in mind, consider the line of the incoming ball, and whether you return the ball back along that same line – and this play will always minimize errors. You are playing essentially as a wall. But if you change the line, such that you take a cross court and return if up the line, or you take an up the line and return it cross court – in those instances you are changing the line of play.
If the opponent hits the ball much harder (setting up a power line) then your decisions become much more important, said another way certain decisions expose you to much more risk.
I recommend always play back along incoming cross court power lines – minimize risk, let them change the line.
Many elements are combined to produce the serve – and one of the secrets is to have all the elements firing in the appropriate sequence.
Timing – we have all felt the effortless hits and unfortunately we all have at one time or another, felt the effortful hits.
One of the most important sequence during the serve occurs with regard to the racquet drop and the knee bend.
In general, on the serve, one must fire in quick sequence large muscles first leading to smaller and then smaller muscles, culminating in a whip at the top of the swing.
As regards the racquet drop and knee bend, the best one I heard on this was from Vic Braden, who said, “Fire the extensors baby!”
One of the most common phrases in tennis today is ‘hit a heavy ball’. So what is a heavy ball?
The incoming shot “feels heavy” when that shot has a lot of momentum.
Generally heavy shots are produced with a combination of racquet speed as well as body weight “against the ball.”
Tennis – moving and hitting – not really much more to it. Quicker players have an advantage, consistent power hitters have an advantage.
When it comes to improving the moving, the footwork, your getting to the ball and recovering back to center – there are many training methods to chose from. The first and most obvious choice concerns weight training, where stronger muscles may help you “explode” to the ball. Another variation includes actual dance and balance exercises, where the goal becomes moving with more grace and less effort.
Hopefully you have seen and worked through the podcast entitled Weighting and Waiting.
And as a subtle review, baseball batters “wait” on the pitch with their “weight” back. Similarly, pitchers and quarterbacks start their throwing motion with their “weight” back.
In addition to consistency, control, spin and power, much less trying to produce your best tennis when the chips are down, a large part of the game includes your precise awareness of the conditions – meaning the direction of the wind, as well as the location of the sun.
The next time you are on court with the sun high in the sky, but equally when it is at your back, take special notice of your shadow. As the sun moves through the sky the line or alignment of the shadow will change.
Many ways to play this game, many ways to grip the racquet, and truly many ways to hit the ball.
Flat, topspin, slice, sidespin, under spin – just to name a few (if not them all).
We know to hit up on the ball for topspin, to swing slightly down on the ball for slice or under spin, and to swing more or less level for a flat hit. And one proviso, the ball will always leave the racquet with some amount of spin, it is impossible to hit the ball perfectly flat. But for our purposes, flat will mean a ball with relatively little spin.
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.
As Blackie Jones (my first coach) would ask of a student,”If there are two parts to the serve, being the toss and the swing, do you think it is better to swing at the toss, or toss into the swing?”
And as his lessons and demonstrations proceeded, we were schooled in the tempo, the technique, and the benefits for a toss that was low without being overly low, and this produced a motion that was rhythmic and flowing.
At the net put your forearm at net level and parallel to the net strap, with the racquet head at right angles to your forearm.
Now practice quickly turning your hand and wrist such that the racquet head snaps forcefully against the net strap.
Take your time, keep experimenting – and once this feels somewhat natural – toss up a few (rather than tossing down a few) and see how it feels on the serve.
You may be pleasantly surprised!
If you want to hit the ball with less effort and more power, take a page from the baseball batter or the boxer – both wait with their body weight on the back foot before swinging the bat or delivering a punch.
Too often players pay too much attention to grips, swings, and spin without ever mastering their balance. And truly even the pitcher puts their back foot on the pitching rubber before hurling the pitch.
“You are only as good as your second serve.”
I know, I do write about this quite a lot, but I believe it – and in nearly every instance the statistics of the professional matches support the idea.
The match winner always wins more points on their second serve, and the match loser will always lose more points on their second serve.
Watch the professional players who are adept at moving inside the baseline to finish the point. They will invariably make contact when the ball is well above the net, if not the absolute apex of the bounce.
And at this height (which is nearly always above the level of the net) the net is less an obstacle. In fact, in many instances it appears the stroke and follow through are almost level if not slightly down, that is they are driving the ball over the net but down and into the court.
Tennis is a game of “UP.”
Suzanne Lenglen, French world champion in the 1920’s, was trained by her father. And the story goes that they would have a tennis outing to a park in Paris, but, and this is an important but – they would play as long as she did not hit a single ball into the net. And the practice stopped (dead in its tracks) with her first netted error. Long, or wide and they continued, but the net was the obstacle to be avoided at all costs.
Holding your finish for just a moment clarifies your balance as well as the quality of your stroke and follow thru.
Further, this method has been used by so many famous coaches – Tom Stow, Robert Lansdorp and more. It will help you as well.
Stow remarked that if the stroke started correctly (balanced on the back foot with a compact but loose preparation) and finished correctly (weight shifted forward and arm well extended toward the target) then everything between the start and finish – meaning contact – would be just fine.
Many years ago, in my training with Tom Stow (I was in my early 20’s and had already played 4 years of college tennis) he totally remade my game with constant reference to balance, to posture, to playing with less effort and more “conk.”
Watching our very best players, you can see a similar poise, balance if you will. Federer is the acknowledged master of all this. But you too can start by working on how you carry your head.
As amusing (hopefully) as the drill in the video appears, see if you can see if you can perform your swings with a “ball on the hat.”.
Push on the ground and the ground pushes back. This is somewhat a common phrase from mechanics and physics, but it dos take some explaining. Meaning if you were on thin ice and pushed on the ground, it would not push back but rather you would break through the ice.
Said another way, if you are on a bathroom scale and you drop and suddenly land you will be lighter when dropping but heavier when you land. And this down and up action adds to the power of the upward drive.
So when using the ground to create more topspin and more power, the key is how you push on the ground, and whether you can create an upward rotational movement.
The Modern Game – Rotational vs the Linear Old School Model
Once upon a time strokes were long and deliberate, and remember the racquets were heavy. And the sweet spots were small. Now the racquets are lighter, the sweet spots larger, and the loosely strung co-poly strings are like magic – and the all combine to make our modern model more about acceleration rather than deliberation.
Learn how to loosen up, shorten your backswings, lag the racquet head, and accelerate thru the ball. More topspin and more power will be at your command.
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Customer Reviews on iTunes
- Instruction that makes sense, by Coach F.
Each lesson is simple to the point and informative, they are excellent instruction videos that address lots of different parts of the game. Good videos for players or coaches.
- Simplicity, by Tennisman93546326
Thanks for the simple essential tips. I can remember this when I feel lost in a match, and forget the fundamentals. You should make more videos.
- WOW, by Buzztank
This is really different. I'm playing tennis after a ten-year hiatus and this is a wonderful podcast for teaching an old dog new tricks.
- Great instruction, by jkpatter
Jim covers great topics, and his teaching style simplifies, and makes easy to understand and put int practice.
- Great insight on aligning the racquet handle, by CrazyJosh
As always Jim, your videos are very instructive and pertinent in helping me improve nuances of my game.
- Great new tip, by Baseb01
When I thought that I had not much to learn, you show us an interesting new tip. Now I have to work on my elbow. Thanks Jim.