Ok this isn't so much a coaching tip and more of a bit of advice for your well being. Over the years I have seen many cases of tennis elbow. And it doesn't just affect your tennis - it affects your routine daily life from knocking in a nail to ironing your clothes. So what is tennis elbow. Well if you hold you playing arm out with your palm facing downwards and then put your on playing hand on top of your elbow, then clench and un-clench your fist you should be able to feel the muscles on your elbow tensing and un-tensing. This is the area where tennis elbow occurs. So if you are playing and you feel a pain or an ache in that area of your elbow STOP. Seek advice. It can be caused by poor technique especially on the backhand, or maybe a racket grip that is too small, or simply holding the racket too tightly. But whatever, don't wait till its too late because once you get it, it is a devil to get rid of.
It is really important that you can control what spin you put on the ball whether it be slice or topspin. I hear you ask 'Who cares which way the ball is spinning as long I get the damn thing in'. Controlling the spin will allow you to dictate the point better and give you more purpose behind the shot. So why topspin? Well topspin will allow you to hit the ball harder and still get it in. Not wishing this to be a physics lesson (I was useless at physics - just thought I'd throw that in) the spin will make the ball arc over the net giving you more clearance over the net and make it dip quickly the other side. Also it will make the ball kick the other side making it more difficult for your opponent. So how do you produce it? It is important to drop the racket below the intended contact point. Then, and this is the important bit, with the racket face facing the net you need to brush up the back of the ball and finish you swing up over your shoulder. Contact point should be no higher than waist high. Now have a look at the rotation of the ball as it goes over the net. Is it going end over end. Yes? Perfect! No? Try again. Once you master it, it will change your game.
So when you get a new racket, once you have decided on head size, weight, balance, should you really worry about something as trivial as the grip size? Also what do the different grip sizes mean. Well yes you should worry about the grip size. Too small a grip could lead you to gripping the racket too tightly which can lead to tennis elbow - and believe me you don't want that. Too big and you won't be able to grip it properly. So what do the grip sizes mean and which is right for you? Often you will see the grip size referred to as anything from 0 to 6. The number refers to the number of eights of an inch over 4 inches. So a grip size 1 is 4 1/8 inch, a grip size 2 is 4 1/4 inch - this being the circumference of the grip. There are a couple of ways to get the right grip size. First you can measure from the bottom lateral crease to the top of you ring finger. Secondly if you grip a racket you should be able to get your finger between the index finger and your palm (see photo above). So don't just go for any grip size - it really is important.
Here is one of the biggest questions in tennis - should I play my backhands with one or two hands on the racket? Well if one of the best players ever to play the game, Roger Federer, has a one handed backhand then it has to be one handed - right? But if one of the best players ever to play the game, Novak Djokovic, plays with two hands then it has to be a two handed backhand - right? The fact is that there are pros and cons to both. For young children just starting out I would always recommend the double-hander. For adults it may be slightly different. Good points for a single-hander are that it give you greater reach and you are more able to do both topspin and slice one handed. However it lacks the strength and control that you have with a double-hander. So the choice is yours. If you are just starting the game try both and you will soon find the one that suits you best.
My very tenuous claim to fame is that I used to play doubles with an Olympic gold medal sprinter. Anyway, one day, in the middle of a match, we were both at the back of the court and our opponents played a drop shot which was an equal distance between us ... and I got to it before he did. Obviously not because I was quicker but having played a bit more tennis than him I was able to anticipate the the shot earlier. Good anticipation will allow you more time to get to the ball and prepare for the shot. Watch you opponent's swing - is it a short swing or long swing? A short swing will often result in a short shot. What about the angle of the racket? You opponent's stance? If you are out of position is you opponent going to put it in the space. All these things will give you clues and often give you the extra bit of time you need to play a good shot.
We've all done it many times. We play a really good point and then when we get the opportunity to finish the point, what happens? A wild swing and klonk - off the frame and into the bottom of the net. "It's always the easy ones" as my old mate Len used to say. So why does this happen? Well when we see what is perceived to be an easy shot all the basics go out of the window. So what to do. Well close the window for a start. The easy ones aren't easy - you still have to play the shot with the correct footwork, balance, racket control and above all watching the ball. So next time you have an "easy" put-away don't do an impression of Mr Tickles on steroids but be calm and clinical - and remember the basics.
When you play your shots have a think about what happens after you have made contact. Are you completely balanced or do you have to take a couple of steps to regain you balance after the shot? If it's the former then well done. Otherwise read on. Balance is vital to any good tennis shot. So how do we get good balance? Firstly good footwork to get ourselves in the correct position to hit the ball. Hit the ball too close to your body or too late and you are liable to fall backwards. Too far in front or to the side and you are liable to fall forwards. We also need a solid base to hit from. Don't have you feet too close together. Bending you knees will also help. Apply these and see you shots improve!
We've all come across them - the big hitter, the all-or-nothing player. BOOM! It either flashes past you for a winner or it has everyone ducking for cover. So how do we play them. A lot of players make the mistake of trying to outhit them even through it isn't their natural game. So it is important to be yourself - play your own game. If the ball is coming fast at you, don't panic. Keep your balance, watch the ball carefully and maybe abbreviate your back swing. Don't give them any pace to work with. Try to break their rhythm by varying you shots using different spins, different angles. Get the ball back one more time and often they will make the mistake first.
The serve is unique. Not only is it the most important shot in the game but it is the only shot where our opponent has no influence and so we are in complete control - which makes us happy. Right?! So why is it that, in my lessons when I announce we will be doing serving practice, do some people screw their face up like they have just eaten a lemon. The problem often lies with the most important part of the serve - the toss. You could have the best serve in the world but if the toss is 2 metres away from you you won't have a very good serve. Similarly if you toss the ball in 10 different places you will end up with 10 different serves. So how do you make the toss better? Firstly by not thinking of it as a toss - it's a deliberate placement like placing something on a high shelf. Take your time over this bit of the serve to get it right. Keep your arm straight and don't cock you wrist on the placement. Let the ball go at the highest possible point - probably about eye level. Practice in front of a fence or wall. Stand a metre from the fence/wall place the ball in the air and it should drop between you and the fence/wall. Keep practising!
The title of the post is 'Know where the lines are". Bit obvious really - they are on the sides of the court. Unfortunately too many players are happy to play it safe and just push the ball down the middle. So next time you practice see if you can put the ball nearer the side line and/or baseline. Don't aim at the lines - aim inside the lines. This will give you a margin for error. How far you aim inside the lines will depend on your ability. Try it. Now watch your opponent move.....