Tennis Tips Volume VII: Diversification


This volume of tennis tips seems like a fairly obvious one but I think it is worth stating anyway.

One of the most important aspects of general tennis strategy (and I’d argue life strategy) is to be unique. Another way to look at it is to diversify your own tennis portfolio with different types of shots and effects on the ball when you hit it.

Too many players play with a generic style of hitting the ball one type of way on the forehand and backhand side while simply staying on the baseline. The upside of this approach to the game is that it helps breed consistency…the downside is that it does the same for your opponent and allows them to get in rhythm while focusing their thoughts more easily.

When you diversify between top-spin, slice, flat, short, deep and angled in a somewhat asymmetric manner you force your opponent to guess and adjust based on YOUR control of the rally. Not only does your opponent have to work more on their footwork to adjust to the effect you put on the ball, but it also forces them to hit shots they do not want to hit and eventually set you up for point winning shots.

portfolio-diversification

Of course, it is not easy for every player to do this in a match (practice hitting shots outside of your initial comfort zone when not playing a match to enhance this in a match)…but I believe the upside of this vastly outweighs the downside. For instance..if you are up 30-love or 40-love and hit shots that keep your opponent off balance but maybe hit an unforced error…it could be viewed as a long-term gain because even though you lost the point, it was YOU losing the point and not your opponent WINNING the point. Very little confidence will have been gained by your opponent and it still prevents them from getting some rhythm in their game.

When you do not diversify your shots, you are essentially just rallying with the opponent and it is likely that your opponent has spent hours upon hours of “just rallying” in practice sessions with friends or with a coach. That is inherently playing into their hands and either leveling the playing field or outright giving them an advantage. Keep them off balance and just like an investment strategy, diversify your portfolio and play winning tennis.

Tennis Tips Volume VI: Good Coaching


After years of playing and coaching tennis, I think I have learned what makes a good coach.

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We here at the Newington Tennis Center have been driven to provide an enjoyable yet comfortable environment for everyone that comes through the door. Each coach that works for the NTC has tried their hardest to meet that standard and then specify with each lesson what needs to be done to make the customer happy. At times, its even odd for me to refer to people as customers. Our customers are our friends.

Anyway, for this volume of Tennis Tips, I am going to simply put in bullet form what I think makes a good coach so everyone that reads this can truly see in our coaches what they work so hard to do.

  • Customization and Improvisation: I think being able to free flow a lesson to best mold a game-plan that suits the needs of the player is one of the most important and overlooked skill a coach can have. In most cases, a player that comes in has a stroke or two that they are not comfortable with and want to work on those strokes specifically to start. Repetition of drills can be useful in improvement but it does not promote active thinking while playing…hence the importance of a coach to be able to improvise on the fly.
    • I’ll give a specific example of what I would do: Player A says they need help on their forehand. I say ok and do a bunch of stand still forehands from the baseline to see the form while constantly walking through both errors and good shots (for Player A’s skill level). Then I make the player move around and say that there will not be a standard location in which I feed the players from the hopper. During this period I do not correct as much and simply watch how and when they make forehand errors and once the hopper is over I talk to the player about what I had seen during the beginning part of the lesson and either continue with more forehand drills or let the player decide what they want to work on next.
  • Communication: This leads me into Communication. It is probably the most important part of coaching. Actually, it is the most important part of coaching. Without proper verbal and visual communication, any gains in form in the short term is likely to be eventually lost. In my experience, it could lead to diminishing returns in all aspects of the game because, well, people have other lives. The tennis coach revolves their whole professional career around their knowledge of the game so oftentimes there is an immense knowledge gap that is hard to bridge properly to the player. This is why some all time greats in any sport simply cannot be good coaches.
    • 9 times out of 10 a tennis coach will also have years and years of playing experience and going back to square one in order to properly teach someone while also coaching high level players can be difficult. This is why many tennis coaches can only coach well in a certain niche lane of age/playing level. Well at the Newington Tennis Center, we try and segment the players as such so that each player has the best fit possible as they try and improve their games. With that said, we are lucky because each of our coaches can coach each playing level while maintain a fun atmosphere.
    • The only true way this can be done is through constant personal communication. This is especially important in group lessons when it is hard or impossible to give everyone the amount of time they truly need to improve. A good coach can address the needs of the individual through both individual and group communication. Doing this the right way can help players lead by their own example which breeds confidence…and no one can play an individual sport like tennis without confidence.
  • Technical Know-How and Knowing One’s Lane: Improvisational and communicative skills can only go so far without the actual technical know-how to actually correct errors. A good coach can both identify AND correct errors. Some coaches are only good at one of the two (usually the former not the latter). The reason why I listed it 3rd is because although one’s playing experience is often the core of the technical know-how, it is quite possible for someone to be a good or great coach without specifically being a tennis guru.
    • Every coach can attest to coaching a player or meeting a parent that knows close to as much or more than you about the sport but simply are unable to be a coach. On the flip side, I’ve also met many coaches that get great results without being an aforementioned guru simply because they are well-rounded, can identify a flaw in someone’s game and then fix it. A good coach doesn’t need to be able to hit a great inside-out cross-court forehand to be able to teach it and, in many cases, a coach doesn’t have to really know the intricacies on how to set up and execute that shot to a be good coach. The difference is that a good coach goes into lessons knowing this and doesn’t try and coach something they don’t really know about. Trust me, that will eventually drive the unfortunate next coach in the line insane because there are more errors to correct. *Sighs*
    • This is why it is good that USTA and PTR give out coaching certificates in tiers. It helps specify the strengths of a coach. I personally think that each coach should introduce themselves to potential clients by explaining to them what they are really good at it. This leads to a better professional relationship that will likely continue for months if not years.
    • Me personally, I often tell people that I do not have a coaching certification because I am not a big fan of simply “teaching by the book”. I, of course, have insurance and passed background checks to coach and that is important, but getting boxed in a corner by curriculum decided by other nameless coaches is not my style. A good coach brings their own flair and style to the game and the players they coach can sense it which eventually leads to a positive contagious atmosphere for everyone involved. I’ve coached both ways and get much better results when I have full creative control over my court. A good head pro can see this in a coach and grants it to him or her. A bad coach doesn’t care and goes vanilla.
    • Results are most important and we get them. Getting a certificate is great but getting a player from the 50’s to the top 10 in USTA in about a year makes me feel fine about my coaching ability and makes others feel fine about it too. I’ll eventually get a certification but I am simply not a good test taker and would probably feel out of my element doing test drills and hitting drills (injured shoulder and wrist currently) to random people with me being evaluated and not the people I am coaching. Chances are my certification level would be in-congruent to my actual technical know how and intangibles as a coach. I’ll keep you updated on that.
  • Giving Credit To The Player: I could go on forever with this issue of Tennis Tips but I’ll end it off right here on this point. This is not something to overlook from a coach’s perspective. Tennis is an individual game and without the player knowing that they are the primary reason for their own success, there will be a problem when they go off and play on their own.
    • If the coach doesn’t properly and consistently communicate that throughout the span of time they spend with a player..well..it is equal to leaving the training wheels on the player. That goes for any and every skill level. Ever wonder why professional players continuously cycle coaches? Chances are those are the same players that have identified a specific flaw in their game through tough losses.
    • A prime example of this is Andy Murray with Ivan Lendl and Amelie Mauresmo. From an outsider’s perspective, Andy needed aggression and competitive fire in his game when he hired Lendl (because he couldn’t clear the hurdles of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic) and there was an immediate positive result in that aspect of his game. Then, it appeared as if he was stressed and lost the love for the game so he switched (in my estimation) to Mauresmo. After the switch, he lost a bit of the fire he had under Lendl but gained some pleasure out of the sport.
      • The reason I think this applies under this section is because sometimes a coach can be so good that the player begins to feel like they cannot achieve a specific goal without them. That is great and can work out but things always change in time and a player cannot realistically think that a specific coach will always be there for them. Coaches have lives too people! The good coach will give credit to the player for learning and improving and that gives them the confidence that they can do it on their own in a match. It could be the difference between a 6-4 6-4 loss and a 6-4 6-4 win.

 

Written by: @Coach_Marshal

Tennis Tips Volume V: Hitting Down the Line


Picture credit to smartertennis.org

While dismissed by many as “easy to do”, being able to go down the line with your shots when you want to do so is crucial in match play and harder to do than it seems.

The first instinct of many is to simply adjust the racquet head and perhaps the grip based on where they want the ball to go. This doesn’t lead to consistent nor great results. Once in a blue moon a fantastic shot can be hit… but it is oftentimes fools gold.

What is more important to change, on a base level, is the footwork in preparation to the shot. Don’t get me wrong, the racquet head angle and grips change depending on which type of shot you are trying to hit (slice, extreme top-spin, flat etc.), but this happens no matter what anyway so it is independent of the subject at hand.

In terms of foot-work and going down the line, a quick and easy solution to your problems is to simply attack the ball coming diagonally forward towards the line of which you are targeting. This will bring your body and momentum naturally in the right direction and won’t tamper with your head causing you to perhaps over-think or incorrectly time your swing to make contact. As per most shots, short and quick steps are better than a couple long strides to the ball so don’t get lazy!

It is vitally important to be able to hit down the line in matches. You’re not going to win matches often by keeping the ball in the middle of the court and thus not making the opponent move…and you’re also not going to win matches if you can just hit cross-court. Hitting down the line is particularly useful if your opponent has a glaring weakness in one of their ground-strokes…and is the best (and I’d argue that it should pretty much be the only…with rare exception) shot to hit as an approach to the net. If you have a strong forehand and your opponent has a weaker backhand, the automatic play is to go down the line, especially when A) you want to put away the point aggressively B) want to force the other player to hit a great shot to beat you if you come to the net or not or C) simply try to get an unforced error.

Caution #1: Don’t focus on a weakness too much because it may become less of a weakness as the match goes on. Practice makes perfect, even in a match. Pay close attention to whether they are improving during the match with said weakness or not and adjust game-plan accordingly.

If you do not know from geometry, you can see by looking at the graphic at the beginning of the article that it is a far shorter distance when you go in a straight line. Perhaps shorter than you would initially expect. 4.5 feet is a lot of distance in tennis. It doesn’t take the most vivid imagination to realize how much less time the other player will have to get to the ball when you hit down the line…unless you have an absolute cannon cross court shot or the player is all the way off the court. Another reason for this is that it gives you as a soon to be net player less of the court to cover in order to get to the spot you want to get to. A shot 75% as hard with good precision down the line is more likely to be effective than a shot cross court as an approach shot.

Caution #2: The net is higher at their ends. You need to be able to adjust to this.

In conclusion, hitting down the line well is a necessary ability to win matches…in singles or in doubles. Whether it is to expose weakness in your opponent, put the ball away, hit an approach shot, tire your opponent out by giving them less time to get to the ball, or to just simply mix it up…you need to be able to hit down the line if you want to win more matches than you lose.

Tennis Tips Volume IV: Be Confident but not Over-Confident and Diagnosing your Opponent


In terms of confidence, there are two terrible things you could do going into a match. The first thing is to go into it thinking you are going to lose and the second is to take your opponent for granted by thinking he/she is not any good.

I wouldn’t quite recommend adhering to the Middle Way of the Buddha Sidhartha Gautama in terms of confidence, but it is definitely best to avoid being at either extreme before a match. I think it is better to come into a match with unwavering confidence that you are able to win the match instead of being directly in the middle and not having any idea or thinking that you have no chance of winning or losing.

If you enter a match believing that you have no chance of losing, chances are you are going to find yourself surprised at some point in the match. Either the other player is going to get off to a hot start and you will find yourself down a break or you will be up early and allow them to sneak back into the match. In any event, it will cause you to perhaps play erratically and lose sense of any semblance of a strategy you have and force you to gather yourself and get your act together…otherwise you will be in a big hole and drop a set or even worse, lose the match.

It is imperative to feel confident in your abilities and also take note of your opponent’s skills and tendencies during the warm-up period if you haven’t yet seen them play.

Regardless of what you see in this period, your confidence shouldn’t change but your preparation and strategy might…as you pick up on things in the other player’s game that you should take advantage of. Warming-up is just as much for your own skills as it is diagnosing your opponent’s skills. Maybe they seem to have a weak backhand, have shotty volleying technique or have trouble with slice. No matter what you see, you should remain confident that you have the ability to expose the player(s) on the other side of the court and be able to play the best match you can against them.

In terms of your own skills during the warm-up…do not get rattled. It shouldn’t matter if you think that you aren’t hitting or serving well before the match. Furthermore, do not find yourself in awe of the other player. They could look like Pete Sampras in warm-ups and end up being more like Tommy Haas (that might be an on-going joke for my writings). Some people simply are practice warriors that look and play unbelievable until the first serve is hit. Just as you shouldn’t worry about your failures in warm-ups, you shouldn’t let the success of your opponent get to you either. It takes two to tango and you should be confident that you can lead the dance regardless of how the warm-ups go.

In conclusion, the only thing that should really change before or during your match should be your strategy. You should always consider different approaches and remain pragmatic and be able to improvise based on what you see…just do not change how you feel. All that can do is put a self-imposed handicap on the match and start an up-hill battle or a slide down a slippery slope. Stay unwavering on the plateau.

Look ahead physically, stay consistent mentally.

 

Tennis Tips Volume III: Playing Tennis Outdoors


You won’t be playing here..but you will be outdoors eventually (if not already)

Sure, one can say that “tennis is tennis”, but that isn’t a very accurate axiom as playing outdoors can be far different than playing indoors (especially in the comfortable confines of our wonderful tennis center).

It is even more important in outdoor settings to pace your energy and stay hydrated, as fatigue can become even more of a factor than it normally would. As the temperature rises, so does the importance of mastering the art of energy reservation and hydration. Even if you do not feel thirsty, get something to drink every opportunity that you have. You do not want to get caught in the middle of a long game (or pair of games) before a turnover being thirsty because it could end up costing you.

Bring all of them

Another essential part of playing outdoors is simply knowing your environment. The court can get hot and there is less uniformity to outdoor courts than there is for indoor courts. Some are going to play far faster than other and some are going to be affected by wind more than others. Be cognizant of this and prepare accordingly. In strong winds you should tailor your game a bit differently in general and especially depending on which direction of the wind you are facing. This could be the difference between victory and defeat in a close match.

 

Tennis Tips Volume II: Come To The Net!


Stefan Edberg where he flourished the most…the net.

A dying phenomenon in the game of tennis is seeing a player come to the net consistently. Over the past 15 years or so, there has been a marked decline in players coming to the net, especially compared to the “old days”, when players used to come to the net very often.

In the 90’s and early 00’s, you still had players such as Stefan Edberg and Richard Krajicek who would come to the net early and often and would continue to do so pretty much regardless of the results. That was just how they played. (Sampras often serve and volleyed, but it can be argued that it wasn’t the primary focus of his game)

Stefan Edberg and Richard Krajicek both had incredibly successful careers. Edberg won all four grand slams as a junior, and was ranked #1 in the world in both singles and doubles on the ATP tour. He finished with a winning percentage near 75% in singles, won 59 tournaments (singles and doubles combined) including 6 singles grand slam tournaments and 3 doubles grand slam tournaments. He also had 4 Davis Cup victories. He is now Roger Federer’s coach.

Krajicek didn’t quite have the success of Edberg, but he was also a serve and volley master. He got all the way up to #4 in the world rankings, had 17 career singles titles and won Wimbledon in 1996. In that tournament, he defeated former champ Michael Stich and had his landmark victory of Pete Sampras, which was in straight sets. This was Sampras’ only loss in singles at Wimbledon from 1993 until his 2001 loss to Roger Federer.

Nowadays, tennis is essentially a baseline, back court game. Players love to rally with massive top-spin and power and rely on supreme conditioning and consistency. This isn’t the best way to play and win in tennis, unless you are truly elite with these attributes of the sport.

The best way to win in tennis is not only through consistency, but also variety in the game that you play. Switching up the spins, the speed and the style of play that you use during your matches can oftentimes trump talent and athleticism and help you win a match that you may not have otherwise won. One of the most important aspects in tennis is rhythm, and switching your style up helps break your opponent’s rhythm and maybe even get in their head, affecting them for the duration of the match.

Aside from simple variety in strokes, serving and volleying, or at least coming to the net every once in a while can make all the difference in the world. Doing this can be especially effective if your opponent hasn’t demonstrated the ability to hit effective shots down the line or with general precision. If your opponent tends to just rally down the middle of the court and wait for you to make a mistake, a way to counteract it is to rush the net behind a good shot and put the pressure on them to actually beat you.

Another advantage to doing this comes when you are trying to hide your own weaknesses. If you can consistently hit decent volleys, but you may not be consistent from the baseline or have good conditioning, then coming to the net can help you overcome your deficiencies. Sure, it puts pressure on your opponent to hit great shots and keeps them off-balance, but it also can end the point quickly, which helps you save energy. This is a crucial aspect of tennis because some matches can go quite a long time and be devastating on the body. Instead of swinging for the fences to end points from the baseline to save energy, it is the better percentage play to come to the net and take your chances there.

One of my unconventional strategies that I use every once in a while is to come to the net directly behind a moon-ball. It is a deep and high bouncing shot that makes it hard for the other player to hit an offensive shot back or even see the court as well as they normally would under regular circumstances. I like to wait until I see them take their eyes off the court completely then rush the net to put the ball away.

Generally speaking though, you want to come to the net after a great serve or approach shot. Not all great shots are great to come to the net to however. Too much topspin may give the opponent enough time to get there and hit a variety of shots back that can give you trouble. Ideally, your approach shot will be hit flat and hard in the deep corner of the court, or sliced to keep the ball very low. Then you have to play the angles and read the ball quickly off their racquet so you can position yourself in the right spot to end the point on your volley. In a perfect world, your first volley should end the point.

It’s not for everyone, but even if you are not the best volleyer it definitely suits you well to come to the net every once in a while to throw your opponent off. It gets them out of their rhythm, forces them to hit better shots, saves you energy, can help hide some of your weaknesses and counter-act match-up problems you may have. With the way tennis is primarily being played, chances are you may automatically put yourself at an advantage by coming to the net just because there are so few others that do it that your opponent will probably be frazzled just at the sight of it.

 

Tennis Tip Volume I: Visualization


Every now then, the Tennis Center will put up some tennis tips that could be able to help your mental and physical performance on the courts. Consider this the first installment.

Visualization

Mark McGwire leads the major leagues in home runs, and in blank stares. Visualization, he calls it. Before each at-bat McGwire will imagine the pitcher throwing the baseball. He will imagine how the pitch will move, maybe a fastball or a curveball, and he will imagine smashing the ball with his Paul Bunyan swing.

New York Times, 1998

  • It is more than just a buzz word spoken by motivational speakers across the globe. If done correctly, visualization can help you in pre-match prep as well as before or during any set, game, or point in a match (depending on how much you decide to employ this).
  • Envisioning yourself doing something on the court, while in deep focus for a sustained amount of time before you step foot on the court, helps you to stay calm and feel confident as well as assist the physical aspect of the sport by performing a bit of a reverse direction in the muscle memory phenomenon and help you execute the strategies, tactics and shots that you previously envisioned executing in specific situations.
  • It is also important to keep in mind that you are not playing against yourself, so visualizing some of your opponent’s play beforehand to the degree that you know them as a player will truly make this endeavor successful.
  • Lastly, the key to making this all work is to do this with a clear, stable, mind and emotional state. I’m sure most everybody goes into a match with a base strategy, optimistically seeing every game as a potential a hold of serve or a break, and perhaps every point with some sort of pre-determined general strategy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t…but I can guarantee you that it is more likely to contribute positively to your play if it is well thought out in a peaceful mental state. Going into a point upset about previous happenings and saying to yourself, “I’m going to go for a huge winner down the line off the serve” may work, but thinking the same thing while remaining calm is much more likely to be fruitful because you are likely to not rush the return when the serve comes around. This means you will have better footwork, better technique and are more likely to connect on the sweet spot rather than potentially just reaching for the ball and swinging for the fences out of frustration.
  • Of course, it is easier said than done, but I have had some success over time through the use of visualization, and have also seen a good deal of success of others through visualization. It also translates to many (if not all) sports, and perhaps other facets of your life as well.

Strings and Grips


You know, a lot of players begin to over-think technique and racquet selection at times, but the case could be made that the strings and the grips you use during play just as, or more important.

Strings and Stringing

There are so many different types of strings out there, but oftentimes players just go with what others around them are getting, what is the newest fad, or just what is available and/or recommended at the local pro shop.

Sometimes trial and error is what’s necessary. It can get expensive, but first consider what the company that produced your racquet suggests to use in that racquet, and get it strung based on your playing ability.

If you have already tried that, then take your time and sift through some of the hundreds of reviews out there at your disposal and find a string that would be both good for your racquet and your playing style and then decided what tension would be best to get it strung at.

Tension is also very important…if you can generate your own power consistently, then get it strung very tight and because the racquet naturally will lose a few pounds of tension over time.

Grips

The grips you use on your strokes also have a great deal of impact on your play. Even the slightest modification could mean everything in the world and provide with more power and/or consistency.

Working with this is tricky though, especially if you are playing a lot of matches. Not only is it hard to switch grips pretty much on the fly, but even if you do and get some good results, you may find yourself reverting back to the grip that you used to use out of habit, leading to some in-match problems and inconsistency.

Work hard and take a ton of reps when you are switching the grips used on your swings, and do it in other ways than simply getting balls fed to you and using the new grip all the time. Make sure you practice alternating between forehand and backhand grip so you get used to switching your grip mid-point so you can integrate your new grip usage as best you can in match play.

A different aspect to this is over-gripping. This is not a common problem amongst the more advanced players, but some players may find improvement if they simply built up or reduced the size of the grip on their racquet. If you aren’t sure if you are using the proper size of grip, contact a person in the know or consult with the professionals at Google and maybe you will find some information that you previously weren’t aware of.

Or you can check out the images below: