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Thursday, December 31, 2009

REFLECTIONS...Tennis resolutions for 2010

What do you resolve to accomplish in your tennis game in 2010?
  • What items are available in your current tennis tool belt?
    I have all the shots I need to be a successful recreational tennis player from both the ground and the air. But each shot can and should always be improved. Great shots are those that get the job done with just the right amount of effort produced. Not more, and not any less.
  • Are you being realistic about what needs to be added or adjusted?
    I believe so. There are shots I would like to further develop for the sake of instruction, but my game has evolved over the years and will certainly continue to do so. I realize that more effort must be placed on my overhead swings of the serve and overhead to create better consistency.
  • Have you given yourself credit for your strengths in 2009?
    Yes. I think my backhand swing is freer than it had been, and my court movement has definately been an asset. I'm thrilled to still have my feet mostly follow what my brain tells them.
  • What is your PLAN OF ACTION for 2010?
    More drills. With a more powerful ball machine at my disposal, and armed with my digital video camera, tripod and netbook, I plan to review my movement and stroke production more frequently and use this technology to make adjustments.
    More deep thought. I will be doing more reading and research this year as I take advantage of what others can share.
    Plenty of writing. In addition to my blog, podcast, and forum posts, I plan to put more effort into the tennis book I have been writing.
  • What sacrifices will be necessary to achieve your goals?
    Time. I will need to make more time for myself if I intend to make any significant strides. And I dare not be content with less than my very best on every occasion.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Episode 32: The Clash of Past and Present champions

A review of the 2008 NetJets Showdown match between current #1 Roger Federer and past #1 Pete Sampras at Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York.

LISTEN TO DISCUSSION...How has technology affected your tennis game?

Listen to a lively discussion between Ron Miller and Ian Westermann (of the ESSENTIAL TENNIS podcast) and callers from around the world as they discuss the effects of technology innovation on their tennis games (DEC. 17 episode of Essential Tennis Live accessed thru iTunes)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Q & A: Why is the U.S. in a six-year Grand Slam winner drought?

Tennis styles may be cyclical. The game has been maturing over the last 30 years or so and, thanks partly to technology changes, has grown up quite a bit. But perhaps it is time for the pendulum to swing back a few decades.

Stop by a tennis court today and watch our youth hit nothing but power topspin. They don't consider what kind of shot to hit. They just pound away and expect this cookie-cutter style to be good enough. Lets not dare use skillful control of the ball. Let's instead use tons of spin to make it fall within the court regardless of how bad we hit it. Here is a concept: if we slow the ball down a bit, and work more on better placement and keen strategy, the power might not be so necessary on every shot.
NOTE: from the book "OPEN", an autobiography of Andre Agassi, (Brad Gilbert, Agassi's coach comments) "Quit going for the knockout. Stop swinging for the fences. All you have to be is solid...just keep the ball moving. Back and forth. Nice and easy. Solid. Be like gravity man."

Since serves today are bigger than ever, why don't we see a return to serve and volley tennis? I watched a recent clip of McEnroe and Edberg in a 2008 tournament and marveled at how effective this style can still be even for those past their prime.

Maybe it is time to re-think a return to "style" in tennis instead of ball torture. We push critical thinking skills in school for students, but where is the critical thinking on the court when doing nothing more than hitting every ball in the same, predictable way? What if our up and coming players focused a little more on variety and good shot selection than increasing their topspin? Hey, could it make our American tennis record any worse in Grand Slams than it already is?

Where is the adrenaline-pumping tennis of a Connors? Maybe our US players are bored into mediocrity with the same-old repetitive shot that might be safer to hit but does little to inspire.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Episode 31: The 12 days of Tennis Christmas


A tennis slant on the well-known holiday classic

Friday, December 4, 2009

LISTEN TO DISCUSSION...Should we re-evalute the idolizing of sports stars

Listen to a lively discussion between Ron Miller and Ian Westermann (of the ESSENTIAL TENNIS podcast) and callers from around the US as they discuss the antics of our sports professionals and whether or not we should re-evaluate how we idolize them (DEC. 3 episode of Essential Tennis Live accessed thru iTunes)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Episode 30: Black Friday Tennis

How much alike are Black Friday shoppers and tennis players?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Episode 29: Following the racket path

The racket's round-trip, and different paths to the same destination.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Episode 28: Rating your skills by USTA standards

The NTRP, a rating system for tennis players devised by the USTA, attempts to label how skillful you are.

Friday, October 23, 2009

LISTEN TO DISCUSSION...Pros and Cons of taking the net

Listen to a lively discussion between Ron Miller and Ian Westermann (of the ESSENTIAL TENNIS podcast) and callers from around the US as they discuss taking the net, being offensive, and determining the advantages or disadvantages of this position (OCT. 22 episode of Essential Tennis Live accessed thru iTunes)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Episode 27: Weather or not, here I go!

When playing outdoors, Mother Nature has her own ideas about playing conditions.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Just a simple THANK YOU

Let me take this opportunity to say THANK YOU to all those who have found some value in this site and podcast. Also, remember that I welcome any comments you may have. You can respond in the comments section of each post, send me an email, or write a Review in iTunes for my podcast.

I truly appreciate you taking some time out of your busy lives to listen or read a post. I've needed to slow down a bit since I am a full-time educator, and back-to-school is a crazy-busy time for all teachers. But I will continue to do my best in providing quality insight and historical references as they relate to this great game.

My site and podcast are still in their infancy as I had only begun this process within the last six months. Any feedback or ideas would be helpful. I want to keep things simple, but I wish to continue making this a place you visit regularly.

Thanks

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

LISTEN TO DISCUSSION...What does it take to be a tennis player?

Listen to a lively discussion between Ron Miller and Ian Westermann (of the ESSENTIAL TENNIS podcast) and callers from around the US as they consider the skills, work ethic, and mental toughness it takes to be a good tennis player. (OCT. 9 episode of Essential Tennis Live accessed thru iTunes)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Episode 26: Why wait? Move forward and take it!

Taking a stand at the net and being a better and smarter player for it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Episode 25: Many ways to win a point

Does the best player always win? It may be that more points can be won without having the best skills on the court.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

LISTEN TO DISCUSSION...US Open Review

Listen to a lively discussion between Ron Miller and Ian Westermann, of the ESSENTIAL TENNIS podcast, about the ups, downs, surprises, and disappointments at the 2009  US Open

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Episode 24: The tennis that never sleeps...in NY

Here’s an Open invitation to relive some of New York’s tennis memories

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Episode Pause

Temporarily, while my house is under various construction projects, I will need to take a pause for a week or so. Stay tuned for upcoming episodes later in August!
For example:
  • Ways to win (or lose) a point
  • Tennis balls falling from the sky...the overhead smash
  • Tennis court etiquette (or, leave the radio at home)
  • Conserving energy on the court...when and why

Monday, August 10, 2009

Episode 21: Kids on the court 2

Summer tennis camp is fun...and kids actually learn something!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Episode 20: Stages of tennis skill development

Here are some ways to gauge a tennis player's level

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tell us what YOU think...Has recreational tennis changed for the better?

Recently I read some comments from another tennis player about how the constants of tennis have not changed in the last 30 years or more such as dimensions of the court, height of net, etc. But some constants of tennis are not as obvious and are a bit harder to quantify and measure.

When did tennis become only a game of competitive play? Can't two (or 4) players just go out to the court and hit without playing a match? Working on groundstrokes and volleys does not require a finite score to contain them. And you cannot tell me that skills are not acquired simply due to a lack of point play. Learning how to play matches is a totally separate item and may or may not be of interest.

When did tennis, on a recreational level, become about outhitting your opponent with power? Sooner or later, the biggest hitter with the most skill will prevail. So if you are not a big hitter, does that mean you should hang up your racket? Or is it possible to learn how to counter such a barrage? With the variety of tennis shots available, I truly believe that a smart and skilled player can find their own level of success without cannons blazing.

When did tennis become so one dimensional with western-gripped topspin? If I understand correctly, this shot allows one to hit hard and keep the ball in the court. In my day, we did this with a flat shot, slice and sidespin and called it "skill". The better you got at it, the more successful you were. Maybe we didn't hit the ball quite as hard, but you didn't need to because you learned how this big court was ripe for controlled placement of the ball.

When did tennis get so snobbish? Try playing on public tennis courts next to some intermediate players and watch how annoyed they get from stray balls landing in their court from a mom and dad out with their kids. Hey, if you want a tennis club atmosphere, THEN PAY FOR ONE! These same people seem to forget how they began playing tennis. Most people who play tennis do so for free on courts located in a public park. And these are the same consumers who buy rackets, balls, grips, strings, headbands & wristbands, baskets, towels, and sports drinks. Thank goodness all these people exist since Grand Slam tournaments are not broadcast for just the club elite.

I've been playing tennis for over 30 years, and I love some of the innovations in the modern game. But tennis is about having fun, avoiding injury, learning skills and developing them, and becoming more competitive if you so choose. Let's not be too quick to throw out the baby with the bath water.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Episode 19: A little SLICE of backhand life

Slice your way through some tough spots on the tennis court

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Episode 18: Baselines & Alleys & Nets, Oh my!

Discover why tennis courts are one size fits all, and yet provide enough variety for all skill levels

Monday, July 13, 2009

Episode 17: Put the ball in play...serving basics

Let's focus on the serve...what many consider to be the most difficult shot in tennis
(see slideshow on sidebar)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

LISTEN TO INTERVIEW...regarding Slice vs. Topspin

Recently I was interviewed by USPTA teaching professional Ian Westermann of the ESSENTIAL TENNIS podcast. We discussed the merits and pitfalls of learning and using SLICE vs. TOPSPIN on both forehands and backhands. It was retro vs. metro, old vs. new, and classic vs. trendy. Enjoy!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tell us what YOU think...Is Roger Federer the greatest player ever in the game? Why or why not?

Now that Federer has surpassed the Pete Sampras record by winning his 15th Grand Slam title, is he the greatest player that has ever lived? Is it fair to compare tennis players across various eras?
And what defines GREATEST? Most Grand Slams? Most consistent record? Most weeks at number 1 in the world? Longevity in the game? Best win vs. loss record?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Episode 16: The grass is always greener at Wimbledon

Wimbledon brings history, tradition, and a level of excellence to the tennis world each year.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

HOW TO…What challenges does tennis provide

TENNIS requires only two people, tennis courts are publicly available, and the equipment need is limited and low cost. But don’t be fooled by the seemingly casual face of this game. 

Assuming that you want to do your best, it is not a sport for those unwilling to put forth considerable effort. The learning curve is lifetime.

  • Tennis is an individual effort with no substitutions.
Unless you are playing doubles, you alone gain all the glory for great shot making, or take all the grief when things go wrong.

  • Tennis moves fast, with rapid exchanges from the backcourt or net; most times there is little chance to ponder a shot.

One needs to consider all of the following simultaneously: the court boundaries, the type of oncoming shot, and the location of your opponent; you must make decisions within seconds

  • Tennis has a social aspect to the game.

You must use everything in your strategy and skill-sets to take the most points. Your ability to hit the most effective shot might be exactly what makes your friends, relatives, boyfriends/girlfriends or spouses frustrated at themselves, and then in turn, angry at you.

You must make all of THEIR line calls, within fractions of an inch on a swiftly moving ball, on your side of the net. Can you imagine if a batter in baseball could call balls and strikes for himself? And what happens when they disagree with the call?

  • Tennis is also generally an outdoor sport played under very inconsistent and ever-changing conditions. Particularly problematic are:

– Sun glare (especially on the serve and overhead)

– Light and Dark (as one moves from sunlight into shadow, or from daylight  to dusk, or playing under the lights which is again a whole new experience)

– Wind intensity and direction (that blows the ball around making your shots land long, or short, or simply moves the spot where you intended to make contact with the racket)

– Temperature (cooler temperatures harden the rubber inner-ball core and change the bounce)

– Humidity (which makes the outer fuzzy surface of the tennis balls feel heavier)

– Distractions on public courts in community parks (kids squealing on playgrounds, radios blasting, or just a lot of background movement seen through the fence behind your opponent)

  • Tennis has the most arcane scoring system and set of rules known to man.

Points are based on the face of a clock using segments of a quarter hour instead of 1, 2, 3, and 4

Even the quarter-hour segments are not consistent since the score is called as 15, 30, and then 40 instead of the expected 45

Matches last 6 games won, or 7 games won as in 7-5, or 6 games won with a tie-breaker played at 6-6 (which can be to 7 points as sudden death or "lingering death". The score is stated as 7-6. And don't even ask me to explain who serves, when, or where!

  • Tennis matches have no time limit and no time outs. Since the clock is not an issue, a player cannot use it to waste time while his opponent desperately tries to catch up.

You are always only one service break away from the match totally changing hands. If you play just a few loose points, you can find yourself behind by a set in moments.

Pressure stays focused on you non-stop. The amount of hits in a rally (hitting back and forth) are unlimited, and the length of a match can vary from an hour or so to best of 5 set matches that have taken almost 5 hours in professional tennis. Can you think of any other professional sport that comes close to matching this?

TENNIS is a game where you not only battle the opponent, but your inner-self as well. It is one of the true physical activities that are lifetime pursuits, and it can be shared with all members of a family at whatever level you so choose.

So give tennis a try. It might just be what you were looking for.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Episode 15: Kids on the court...getting started with tennis

Teach kids some tennis basics by using several of these youth-friendly lesson strategies

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tell us what YOU think...Is Wimbledon 2009 a sure thing for Federer?

Now that defending Rafael Nadal is sidelined with knee problems for the annual grand slam tournament known simply as Wimbledon, does Roger Federer have a clear path, on these grass courts, to the final as well as the champions cup?

Episode 14: Something is afoot

Footwork is a critical part of even the most recreational tennis.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Episode 13: A challenging sport for many reasons

Tennis has its charm, but are you ready to pay the price to play this demanding sport?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tell us what YOU think...Long-term tennis health of Federer vs. Nadal

Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal are obviously the most talented and competitive professional tennis players of our time. How do you think their very differing styles of play will serve them long-term as the years move forward? Does one have a longevity edge over the other?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Episode 12: Taking tennis for a spin

Dizzy about what spin to use on the court? Let’s break down the basics of ball rotation.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Episode 11: If it's French, then it must be good

The French Open has history, drama, and some spectacular tennis.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

REFLECTIONS...3D vision without the glasses




Sometimes people have revelations in their game while they are playing or just afterwards. My hitting partner Freddie had just such an epiphany after a particularly rocky-to-incredible tennis session this week. I describe it this way because neither of us were hitting the ball particularly well when we began hitting, but we had both reached a plateau later that had us both scratching our heads as to where these shots were coming from. Basic shots were missed early on, and now we were hitting winners from all positions on the court.

Afterwards, Freddie mentioned an observation in his own game. He said that sometimes he only saw the ball, other times only the court, and then only me. But when he felt that he was seeing the bigger picture, and putting all of these things in perspective, his shots reflected the best he could hit. When he said this, it immediately struck me as to how profound these statements were about the game of tennis and our ability to control it in our own personal space. 

Seeing the ball relates to technique and our ability to use our unit turn, shoulders as power and direction generator, and forehand or backhand routine. Seeing the court is tied to movement and our approach to the ball using long strides to get there and short adjustment steps to position ourselves in the right striking zone. And seeing only me–his opponent–in his sights, means that he is mentally aware of strategic shotmaking and ball placement relative to my position on the court.

If your game is firing on all cylinders, then this 3-D vision is working FOR you and AGAINST your challenger. I'm getting a vision now myself. I see these concepts being verbalized in a podcast in the near future.

Thanks out to Freddie for his insight.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Episode 10: Deep in the backcourt and no place to go but forward

High, deep backcourt shots are tough to handle. Here are some ways to fight back.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Episode 9: Be CAREFUL what you watch for...

We can learn great things from watching the pros if we know what to look for.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

HOW TO…single or double-handed backhand

There are some very good reasons to consider a double-handed backhand. It provides more stability on a less-comfortable side of your body, and it also eliminates strength as a factor since two hands, arms and shoulders provide a very solid connection to the body core. Many also believe that the two-hander becomes more of a weapon and thus provides a greater dilemma for the opponent. High balls in the backcourt tend to be easier to handle when hitting flat or with topspin, and some believe that the nature of this shot helps mask the players’ directional intent of cross court or down-the-line. Although these are realistic arguments, one can find both strengths and flaws in both single and double handed shots.

Single vs. two-handed backhand:

Body Mechanics

  • More connections to the body core create a stronger foundation
  • Hitting hard for a one hander is a product of more shoulder rotation and less arm and therefore eliminates strength as an issue
  • The additional support of two arms probably provides more protection from injury
  • A one hander never needs to change his grip in order to grasp the racket with two hands
  • All two-handed players will need to let go with the opposite hand for the very wide balls that just cannot be reached when the second hand holds onto the grip

Shot making

  • The amount of shoulder rotation determines placement on the court on both shots
  • The same preparation for down-the-line or cross-court keeps the opponent guessing on the one hander; similar for the two hander
  • Low balls are more difficult to handle with two-handed shots
  • The slice shot is easy with one hand but challenging with two
  • Topspin is easier to generate with a two-hander, but no better in quality than a good one-handed topspin (just watch Roger Federer)
  • Volleying is usually always done with only one hand on the grip

Positioning

  • Deep, high balls are easier with two hands if you insist on returning the ball flat or with topspin
  • A high ball to a one hander is easily handled by using the slice or underspin, but it carries less  power than flat or topspin (but usually great control)
  • Since the racket is pulled closer to the body while holding with two hands, the reach of the player is shortened

One of the greatest players of all time, Roger Federer, hits one handed. And even better, Federer is chasing the record of six-year world #1 champion who began his career as a two hander but gained prominence only after switching to a one handed backhand in his late teens. His name? Pete Sampras.

But one could counter with the incredible records of two-handed backhand champions Chris Evert, Bjorn Borg, Andre Agassi and todays Raphael Nadal.

You should try both types of shots with all their variations of flat, topspin, underspin and sidespin and see which works best for you.

(Note: I may add more to this at a later date)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Episode 8: A hand, or two, with backhand grips

Debating between a one-handed and two-handed backhand? Lets review some facts and opinions.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

REFLECTIONS...everyone has their moments


My opponent was hitting solid and deep. I could hear the pop from his racket, I could see his strong shoulder rotation and lateral movement and I could feel his confidence building with each shot he made and each one I missed. The balls pooled on my side of the net, and I knew I was in trouble.

This is not an unusual scenario on the tennis court for any intermediate to advanced player. Yet, those of us at any level can have either a good day or bad day on the court. When we begin our warm-up, it sometimes becomes visibly apparent that we might not be at our best. But have no fear. The tide usually turns, and if it does not, there would have been nothing you could do anyway. Personally, I take a while to warm up and usually get better as more balls are struck. So when things look bleak, and your patience with yourself is running thin, keep these principles in mind:

  • Be patient...players get hot and cold, and even the pros are sometimes at their best or worst in any point during a match. Some players are a quick start while others begin more slowly and progress upward more gradually.
  • Be self-aware...check out the fundamentals in your game. Check your racket preparation, unit turn, amount of footwork (more on this later), racket face angle at the contact point, and length and/or direction of follow-through. If you get lazy, it will haunt you on the court.
  • Be positive...remember that a mark in the loss column is likely to be the worst that can result. This happens to even top 10 players on any given day.
  • Be strong of mind...if you continue to push yourself and look for that second wind, you just may find it. Refuse to give in to the normal fatigue of gasping air or feeling heavy-legged after a long rally or challenging point.
  • Be realistic...play within yourself and skill level. Also, be conscious of your cardio and muscular fitness, medical limitations (like asthma), length of play time, hydration regimen (always have something to drink), and temperature/humidity restrictions.

Nothing can guarantee your success at turning a bad hitting day into a stellar one. However, by following these principles, you have tried your best to turn things around. Regardless of the outcome, you have probably enjoyed a wonderful workout and burned tons of calories in the process. So in reality, LOSING on the tennis court can be a good thing after all!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Episode 7: Don't get high strung over racket tension

Trying to understand the basics of racket restringing? Let these tips help you make the right choices.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Episode 6: My turn at...Rotation

Learn how shoulder and trunk rotation affect shot quality and direction, or how one good unit turn deserves another.

HOW TO…Create direction through shoulder rotation


There is no motion used on the tennis court more critical to the success of a shot than the principle of a good unit turn. Tennis is only one of many sports to use shoulder or trunk rotation to provide power. But the use of the shoulders also plays a role in your control of ball direction.

The basic concept is perpendicular preparation to parallel finish. The term perpendicular refers to intersecting lines at right or 90ยบ angles whereas your shoulders represent one line and the net represents the other. Just keep in mind that, as your body and shoulders turn as a unit, you are essentially coiling a spring. When it uncoils, and the racket travels along for the ride, it will provide more than enough force to propel the ball back to your opponent with power to spare. But power without direction is limiting, and you miss out on a wonderful opportunity if you cannot hit the ball to a spot your opponent cannot retrieve.

When you hit a forehand, you need to decide whether your ball should travel cross-court or down the line:

  • Make sure the racket face is parallel the net at contact
  • Uncoil your spring either more or less dependent upon where you want the ball placed
  • Picture a clock face on the court where the number 12 faces the net and you are at center of the face
  • Striking ball at 1-2 o’clock produces a cross-court shot (or, less rotation takes the ball over the higher part of the net to the right-handed players' backhand)
  • Striking ball at 2-3 o’clock produces a down-the-line shot (or, more rotation sends the ball over the lowest part of the net towards an opponents forehand)

This principle can explain why beginners to low-intermediate players hit either wide or down-the-line when late to a ball on both the forehand and backhand side. Late racket preparation results in less choice of rotation and thus limited shot direction capability.

Friday, April 17, 2009

REFLECTIONS…Solid foundations withstand test of TIME and Practice is the TIME to go for crazy shots!


It never ceases to amaze me when fundamental rules that I break on the tennis court end up being my greatest strength. Case in point: my hitting partner Freddie and I took the court for the first time this year last evening. We had not hit against one another for at least 4-5 months, and one would not expect much quality since timing is usually the first thing to go (along with your wind unless you do cardio work on a regular basis).

From many years of beginning tennis seasons in the spring after a long cold winter, I certainly know better than to try too hard as the pipes work to push out the rust. But that knowledge never seems to stop me from going for broke. We hit tennis balls like there was no tomorrow, and I know that I attempted, and in some cases made, shots that I had no right to expect to be in working order this early in the season.

Besides the fact that we both got a great workout and had a good time enjoying the shot-making from both sides, there were two very powerful points to be taken away. First, it is obvious that we both have a solid foundation of tennis fundamentals to work from. Of course we can hit forehands, backhands, volleys, etc. But what I am referring to goes beyond the basics. In order to position oneself on the court against a variety of depths, spins, and angles, one needs to have an existent knowledge and structured response system with the tennis ball, racket, legs and shoulders. Tennis is a series of unknown emergencies taking place from stroke-to-stroke. Every ball is different, and our structured response needs to kick-in relative to what is presented at that moment. It seems to be a little like jazz (another passion of mine) whereas there are basic notes and fingerings at the starting point, but what takes place in the moment–the improvisation–changes and varies instantaneously. That is what the tennis player is really doing out there.

The second point to be made refers to the shots we chase down and other more difficult and high risk shots we attempt. Let’s face it, sometimes the spirit is willing but the legs just don’t want to cooperate. This is the time to push harder with your mind and focus on being light on your feet. It is the old “mind over matter” principle, and it’s definitely something we need to practice and develop. As a former martial artist, I know all too well the importance of focusing mental energies for strength and blocking the onset of physical weakness.

As a part of my tennis practice philosophy, I go for balls, especially in the backcourt, that will obviously miss and go out. Learning exactly where the boundries of the court are, and sensing the height of the net, from any part of the court, is key in tennis. For every ball that you go after, your brain works hard on depth and angle perception. Thanks to this ingredient added to my practice sessions, the ability to hit crazy shots from ridiculous depths or angles provides lasting satisfaction. Keeping in mind that this is hitting practice and not tennis sets, I can attempt low-percentage shots and yet gain knowledge from each experience. This insight is invaluable regardless of whether or not I make the shot. After each attempt, I make a mental record of what worked, what didn’t, and how an adjustment in the future would actually make this a viable shot under pressure.

BOTTOM LINE: run after everything because it will make you stronger and smarter (but don't let this cloud your decision making about what balls to let sail out during point play); attempt crazy shots during practice because they are fun and you might even make a few (but keep in mind that a high-percentage lob is a much safer shot for staying in the point); a solid foundation of tennis groundstrokes and volleys will withstand long layoffs from the court (and if you play all year round, fundamentals are still the key to success).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Backhand Tips


Here are some tips to consider when beginning to hit a one-handed backhand:
  • Accept the fact that the backhand is on the non-dominant side of your body and therefore will feel less comfortable.
  • The muscular strength that can help compensate for bad contact or late rotation (on your forehand side) is not as readily available on the backhand. The mechanics of the stroke, that place your shoulder in front instead of in the rear, changes your strength-to-hit ratio.
  • Never let the racket head trail the elbow on the backhand. Do not thrust the elbow forward and flip your wrist to bring around the racket head.
  • Rotate your trunk so that your shoulders are at least perpendicular to the net and you are sighting-up the ball over your lead shoulder.
  • When drawing your racket back with the opposite hand, begin with the racket high and the racket head pointing upward. The swing will proceed downward as you rotate your shoulders and contact the ball at waist to thigh level.
  • Upon beginning your shoulder rotation towards the contact zone, never plant your front foot (right foot) on the right (right-handers) while your back foot (left foot) trails to the left. Feet should be aligned for a solidly closed stance.
  • Be certain to rotate your thumb downward on the grip (from the forehand grip position) in order to move your hand into the backhand grip position.
  • Hit the ball in front of your body on contact, but do not over-extend. This leads a “pushing” of the ball instead of solid contact.
  • Rotate your shoulders through the ball path and notice the angle of your arm-to-racket. This angle should be the same on the finish as you strike the ball from low to high to bring the ball over the net.
  • After hitting your shot, immediately begin to move towards the area of the court that is now vulnerable. In singles, begin the return to the middle area behind the baseline.
  • Keep moving at all times since a smart opponent will sense a resting moment and take advantage of it.
  • Be prepared to hit lots of backhands since this is what most players will attack. If players consistently attack your forehand instead of your backhand, there is a reason.
  • IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A BETTER BACKHAND, PRACTICE IT MORE THAN YOUR FOREHAND.
  • NOTE: see sidebar for slideshow of crosscourt backhand drive

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Episode 5: The Basic Backhand

The backhand can be your nemesis or your friend. Here are my basic principles that make it work.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How do you measure up as a player?

Summary of NTRP (National Tennis Rating Program) categories: (based on the U.S. Tennis Association 
definitions set in 1979)

1.0 – Beginning tennis
1.5 – Working on getting the ball into play
2.0 – Weak stroke production; understanding of positioning on court for singles and doubles
2.5 – Limited court coverage while learning to follow ball; Rallies (balls back and forth) are limited to a few shots; most successful with others of  same ability
3.0 – Medium-power shots are moderately successful; limited ball-placement control; basic doubles strategy of net and baseline positions used
3.5 – Greater control and consistency with medium paced shots; ball-placement and shot selection limited; better communication as a doubles team
4.0 – Better variety on shot selection from forehand and backhand including groundstrokes, volleys, and overheads; moderately consistent depth and direction; stronger doubles teamwork and more forceful play
4.5 – Can evaluate opponents games and has a moderate-to-high level of control in the use of spin for more variety, pace and depth; serving has become a weapon on first serves and consistent on second; more aggressive in taking the play to the opponent
5.0 – Good shot anticipation; structure of game provides solid performance through either consistency or shot making ability; Can regularly hit winners or force errors off of short balls and can put away volleys, can successfully execute lobs, drop shots, half volleys and overhead smashes and has good depth and spin on most second serves
5.5 – Developed power and/or consistency as a major weapon; Varies strategies and styles of play in a competitive situation and hits dependable shots under pressure
6.0 – Sectional and/or national ranking
6.5 – Extensive satellite tournament experience
7.0 – Tournament prize money provides main income

Sunday, March 15, 2009

HOW TO...Choose the proper racket for kids


One of the problems that parents deal with is a lack of tennis knowledge or guidance to help them in making a proper purchase. What is the correct racket to buy? In any sporting goods store these days, you will find a section of rackets labeled Junior rackets. These rackets are usually very reasonably priced, and the selection might go from two or three to almost a dozen in differing lengths and grip sizes. There are THREE main concerns with the purchase of any racket:

  • LENGTH - junior rackets come in various lengths from 25" to 17" measured from top of head to butt of racket

As your child stands up straight, place the racket next to their leg, racket head down, and let them reach toward the grip. Their fingers should touch the end of the racket handle called the butt. If their hand reaches down further onto the grip itself, then the racket is too long.

  • GRIP SIZE - junior rackets have limited grip selections somewhere in the 3 to 4 " range

With your hand held flat, palm up and fingers along side one another, measure with a ruler beginning at the lowest crease in your palm. Stretch the ruler towards your ring finger. The measurement you see at the tip of your ring finger will be somewhere in the range that I have already mentioned.

  • COMPOSITION - most kids rackets are made of aluminum providing light weight, stability, and an inexpensive price

Using an improperly sized racket can limit your child's progress, cause injury or make kids develop bad habits in their attempt to overcome bad equipment.

Episode 4: Child-sized Tennis

Learn how to make a better racket choice for kids, and discover what grip sizes really mean.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Episode 3: The Basic Forehand

Probably the first shot you ever hit on a court. Learn the basics of how it works.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Episode 2: A Gripping Tale

Holding a racket seems very basic, but a few variations will help you "get a grip."

HOW TO...Basic Grip for forehand and backhand


Finding the best way to hold a racket can be a difficult task. But here is a way to simplify the selection of gripping techniques that have such names as Eastern, Western, Semi-Western or Continental. 

  • Placing the palm of your hand on the strings, slide it down the handle onto the grip
  • Stop sliding when the heal of your hand hits the wide bottom of the racket called the butt
  • Close your hand around the grip as if you were shaking hands. 
This is the most classic and common forehand grip used on the dominant side of your body (right side for righties and left side for lefties).

Take a good look at the bottom BUTT portion of your grip and you will notice it's the shape of an octagon and displays 8-beveled sides. We can use the bevels as points of reference as I describe their relationship to your hand. Keep in mind that both the size of your hand and the size of your grip affect what you see. When holding the forehand grip as already mentioned, there is a natural shape of the letter "V" created. For what I am terming the classic forehand, the "V" shape should fall somewhere on the right bevel of the grip.

The groundstroke hit on the non-dominant side of your body is called the backhand. To hold the racket for this shot, we can once again use the sliding technique but in a different way. 

  • Take your dominant hand and clamp it over the edge of the racket head with the thumb now facing the fingers
  • Slide your hand down onto the grip until hitting the racket butt
  • Close your hand and you will find that the natural "V" shape falls on the left bevel
This is the classic grip commonly used for the one-handed backhand. For a two-handed backhand, place the non-dominant hand above the dominant one and hold a forehand grip. I would suggest trying both styles since even two-handed players hit a one-handed groundstroke due to the occasional length-of-reach issue.

IMPORTANT BACKHAND TIP: On the one-handed backhand, be sure to support the racket weight by keeping your opposite hand under the throat area of the racket before you begin your swing (more on this later).

Holding the proper grip can make all the difference in your stroke. And don’t forget to change grips between hitting a forehand and backhand groundstroke. Picture this in your mind: when a different side of the racket face (strings) strikes the ball, the grip should change. 

Your wrist and elbow will thank you for many years to come.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Episode 1: Beginnings

With over 20 years experience as tennis player and instructor, this podcast might be just what's needed to help you better understand tennis and improve your game.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Return to the burn

It occurred to me this past weekend–my first trip to the court since the frigid winter of Southern New Jersey took a rest with some warmer weather–that returning to the forehands, backhands, and volleys of tennis after a layoff are not the scary venture they were in my earlier years. Foundations that are built in the Spring, Summer, and Fall do not disappear. They do hibernate, and my timing was not quite as sharp as it will be in the coming months. But the strokes themselves are still solid. My understanding of the court is still available in my mind like a heads-up display. And my movement around the baseline and the net are still natural and seemingly unrehearsed.

I will say that the big difference lies in the cardio fitness level. When my hitting was poor, it was usually due to lazy legs or feet and fatigue. The mind was on it, but the lower extremities were burning with defiance. So let me give you some advice if you find yourself just returning to the court:
  • Stretch, stretch, and stretch. Do this in front of the TV or computer screen when off the court, and do a little warm-up stretching before playing. Make these slow, static stretches and not bouncing ones which can rip muscles.

  • Upper body weight training and abdominal work, again off the court, will help speed up your transition to better play.

  • Any "wind-building" work you can do before the season would be beneficial. Take more steps during the day and stay longer on your feet, walk further in the parking lot, ride your bike, or get really serious and run slowly with quicker sprints mixed in.

  • Be realistic. Everything will not come back immediately, but it will come back eventually.

With enough tennis foundation built beneath you, there is no reason to lose all you worked for last season. Be safe, be smart, don't overdo it all at the beginning of the season, and choose wisely between those shots worthy to run down and those you should let go until you can reach them more easily.

And for those of you who play all year round, I'm truly jealous! Actually, I use this off season for my body to repair itself. I think this time off each year has helped me to continue my pursuit of this sport for over three decades.

Friday, February 20, 2009

the best is yet to come

Hello. This is Ron Miller for Gotta Play Tennis. If you have come across this page by searching for tennis related sites, then I apologize for the delay. I will be getting it together hopefully soon. Spring is rapidly approaching, and I look forward to being back out in the fresh air and sunshine. Instructional podcasts are on the way that will help you improve your knowledge, skill, and thought process on the tennis court. Stay tuned.