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.....
I recently did a lesson where the player asked why his forehand was so inconsistent. After feeding him 6 balls the answer was obvious. He played a different shot with each ball. Not that he was trying to play a different shot. But each shot was different because the contact point was wildly different. So imagine there is a bubble just to the side of you, slightly in front and around waist high. Now see if you can make contact with the ball within that imaginary bubble. This means moving your feet and getting in the position. The size of the bubble will largely depend on your ability but the smaller you can make it the better.
Imagine, if you will, you are about to play in a singles tournament and the tournament referee calls your name and introduces you to your opponent who is .... YOU. Same player, same ability. Now imagine one of the players looks at the other and thinks "Look at that schmuck. I'm gonna whip his ass. And when I've beaten his donkey I'm gonna beat him too". "He'll never be able to return my first serve and I'll crucify him with my forehand. I'll murder that pathetic second serve and make mincemeat of his ridiculously poor backhand". Now imagine the other player thinking "OMG my poor donkey. And he's gonna thrash me too. I'll never be able to return that first serve and he'll crucify me with his forehand. He'll murder my pathetic second serve and make mincemeat of my ridiculously poor backhand". Who do you reckon would win? Answers on a postcard (remember them?). The positive player would not only win but win comfortably. So be positive. Don't be your own opponent.
At my club I am known as a technophobe. They say I don't know my ibox from my xpad. That's as maybe but at least I know how to use a spel cheker. Anyway the reason for this drivel is that the technical side of tennis isn't the be all and end all. You may want to get a superhero's forehand but if you keep playing to your opponent's strength then you will be giving away points. Play to their weakness (backhand?), make your opponent move, try to give them less time by taking the ball early. If they don't like being at the net - try to bring them to the net. Yes practice those shots but don't ignore the tactics. Now back to my smell chequer.
As this has a worldwide audience and millions across the globe are hanging on my every word the next bit may need a little more explanation. In England there was a footballer (soccer player to our American cousins) called Peter Crouch. Now Crouchy was was a good striker (the one who scores the goals) who played at the highest level. In the latter stages of his career he developed a goal celebration for which he became famous. It was a sort of robotic dance. It would make me think of how some people play their forehands and backhands with lots of jerky movements. So don't be a robot - try to iron out your shots by preparing earlier. Develop a loop on your back swing. You could think of it as a 'C' shape. This will help give you one smooth path through the whole shot. And remember to hit through the point of contact to give you a smoother follow through.