Featured Post

Last call for the gotta play tennis podcast

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.
  • 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