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.
- Consistency – warm up, and then at a selected moment count your consistency on 12 consecutive shots.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.