Practice makes Permanent or Perfect – it is up to YOU

The time you spend on court creates habits.  But truly, practice creates habits that are permanent, but not always perfect.  So what follows is a suggestion for practicing your ground game systematically (and hopefully perfectly) using a ball machine or a practice partner that feeds balls in a variety of patterns.

Choose a specific stroke (semi western forehand, two handed backhand, one handed topspin backhand, etc) to practice within the following four successive levels – consistency, control, spin and then power.

Since ours is a game of error management, winners simply make fewer errors than losers (a sad but unfortunate truth).  Systematically practicing within these levels reduce your errors, and improve your tennis, as long as you treat your errors as information rather than as an annoyance.

Place the machine, or feeding practice partner on the baseline in either corner, as though a rally occurred and your opponent were cornered.  Set the machine or partner to shoot balls to varying areas of the court that approximate what you would receive in a normal game.  Nothing faster or slower, just similar to what you normally encounter.

  1. Consistency – warm up, and then at a selected moment count your consistency on 12 consecutive shots.
  2. Control – place a target in the opposite corner from the machine/ball feeder, something like 6’x6’ – approximately 36 square feet, and then at a selected moment count your accuracy on 12 consecutive shots.
  3. Spin – if your task is topspin on the one handed backhand (for example) count your consistency on 12 consecutive shots.
    Then count your control with this same spin on 12 consecutive shots.
  4. Power – finally count your consistency on 12 shots, and then your control to the target area on 12 shots

This method clearly identifies your strengths and weaknesses, and pinpoints precisely where you should work to perfect your strokes.  Monitor errors, initially with reference to consistency, then control, then spin and finally power.

Too often players practice these skills in reverse order by hitting at full power without any mastery of consistency or control.  And these same players generally pay the price when the match begins.

In the meantime, take a moment with the following survey on the ground game – I will post the results in a few days.

 

22 Comments

  • Ann

    Reply Reply May 15, 2011

    I think this is a good practice plan that any player seeking to improve could follow. I also suggest shadow stroking in front of a mirror. If you can see your stroke when you are doing it properly, then you can make sure that your muscle memory is correct. This can really help on court when you must rely solely on reacting to the ball with your muscle memory.

  • Patrick Leroux

    Reply Reply May 17, 2010

    Thank you Jim, great tips.Patrick.

  • Lisa Rubin

    Reply Reply May 14, 2010

    Jim – I agree with ‘drilling’ the strokes for the C<CP factor – and certainly to perfect mobility with great footwork… no flat foot! Tony Palafox and Harry Hopman taught me that well. Now – if I’m in a match & I don’t have the same accuracy, should I ease up? My opponent always gets more aggressive. I don’t feel good about ‘pushing’…. keep at my game or try another tactic, ie: net ?

    • Jim

      Reply Reply May 14, 2010

      Lisa – hard to say with certainty because I cant see your game, but I suspect as your confidence diminishes – there is still the opportunity to take chances and make something happen when returning the opponents second serve – this may be the best opportunity ball you have in the entire rally
      best
      Jim

  • jorge de la fuente

    Reply Reply May 13, 2010

    I agree with you and frecuently go and practice by myself in a sequence that I call MY HOMEWORK,Cross courts,ball hitting from out of the court. near the base line,middle out court and close to the net,cross courts and to same side corners.F:H. and B.H. lobs, some drops, all this in a sequense from both sides of the court and I finish with serving practice,flats,spins,inside out,kick and under arm.This is great and I have to do it by myself.An hour to an hour and a half is enough.No ball machine required. I have a question for you.What is the advantage of ending the serve with your left foot inside the court after jumping while serving(at present seems to be like every one on the circuit does it),opposite to ending on your rigth foot, like every body did for long many years.? Thank you, Jorge

    • Jim

      Reply Reply May 13, 2010

      Jorge
      hard to answer about which foot to land on – depends a little on how you serve, in the old days some serve and volleyers landed on the right foot, now all the baseliners land on their left – not sure how to interpret this
      best
      Jim

  • Tom Bauman

    Reply Reply May 13, 2010

    I always ask my players in my group at camp. “What word can you make out of the letters mapc” once they get it I say that is how we ae going to work this week Consistency, Accuracy, Mobility, and then Power

    • Jim

      Reply Reply May 13, 2010

      Tom – with your permission I may use that as well – I like the inclusion of footwork/mobility into this equation
      best
      Jim

  • DOnald Roberson

    Reply Reply May 13, 2010

    If all points are worth the same, although some are more significant than others, is there ever a justification for taking high risk shots?

    • Jim

      Reply Reply May 13, 2010

      Donald – absolutely, a little like Texas Hold Em – sometimes you have to go “all in” but this depends on the score, the momentum within the match, as well as your opponents anticipation and tendencies. And imagine in a 5 set Wimbledon final between Nadal and Federer they must calculate risk and reward on every single swing – depending on the others court position and more
      best
      Jim

  • Richard Farmer

    Reply Reply May 13, 2010

    Many years ago I met a guy who saw Jimmy Connors play a tournament in Los Angeles when Jimmy was 14 years old. He told me, Jimmy did not hit the ball hard but was consistently hitting the ball two feet from the side lines, never missing. Over the years Jimmy started hitting the ball harder. It appears to me that consistency and accuracy are the first things to learn in tennis. Also foot work and consistency of stroke.
    Many years have passed in an article in Tennis Magazine Andy Roddick talked about hitting some balls with Jimmy Conners and how consistent we was at place the ball in a four foot square in the middle of the court.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply May 13, 2010

      Richard – well said, and I like the reference to Roddick and Connors, though how interesting that Connors could not make a dent in Andy’s mechanics
      best
      Jim

  • DOnald Roberson

    Reply Reply May 13, 2010

    I have heard the statistic that 80% of the points in college level matches are unforced errors. Do you have any sources that support such numbers?

    • Jim

      Reply Reply May 13, 2010

      Don – I dont have access to those numbers, but can find that in the score line of professional matches – I do suspect your college nubmers are accurate
      did we meet some years ago with Fred Earle?
      best
      Jim

  • ray konchalski`

    Reply Reply May 13, 2010

    Jim
    Many,many tennis garu’s have written about getting yourself in a state of mind that will allow you to be in right frame of mind duing a match. Years ago Dr. J. Loehr did a Tournament Tough seminar where his students practiced role playing. Doing the exact same physical and mental routine in between points until you behave that way in the most tense matches. Another expert tells her college players to focus on breathing between points. These two methods are actually “how to” rather than the empty advice “just relax”.

    • Jim

      Reply Reply May 13, 2010

      Ray – if I understand, you are describing role playing, whereas somehow Roger and Rafa simply appear in the moment without artifice – yes or no?
      Jim

  • Aquinby

    Reply Reply May 13, 2010

    While I totally agree with your four objectives, sometimes it’s just fun to hit the hell out of the ball like the “Big Boys” do on TV. (I’m probably not old enough to play this game).

    I think what you’re saying correctly and the question that I have to deal with, is “how hard can I hit the ball today without making unforced errors?”

    That my friend probably changes each time I play.

    Thanks for the continued help!

    Q

    • Jim

      Reply Reply May 13, 2010

      Q – yes it is a challenge for me each time I play as well
      Jim

  • Andre Duhaime

    Reply Reply May 13, 2010

    I will practice my serve full speed ahead and hit 12 to 20 serves in a row with power and in the service block.

    Will play a match the next day and serve tentative, ease up, completely different then when I practice, they go in but are ineffective, no power and no threat to the opponent.

    How do I bring myself to serve as I practice? Been struggling with this issue for 2 years. Any suggestions?

    Thanks,

    Andre Duhaime

    • Jim

      Reply Reply May 13, 2010

      Andre – good question, tricky answer. We play tournaments for “experience” but truly that exoerience can be positive (good performance) or negative (poor performance) and in either case I am not referring to outcome (winning or losing). That said all I can say is that you play as many tournaments as possible until you perfom well, and then somehow try to memorize that feeling. Confidence is truly elusive.
      best
      Jim

  • k tarun

    Reply Reply May 12, 2010

    Excellent tips provided by you ,sir

    • Jim

      Reply Reply May 13, 2010

      K – thanks for the note
      Jim

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