Random thoughts for tennis coaches and players

It’s important to practise with opponents of different playing levels, but it’s even more important to practise against different playing styles.

The bane of many recreational players is faulty grips, especially on the serve, volley and overhead. Learning the continental grip will enable you to hit these three critical shots with proficiency and confidence.   -  AP

When asked about his spectacular shooting, basketball superstar Steph Curry recently explained, “It takes fundamentals, muscle memory and creativity, and you balance that with confidence. And good things happen. I feel I can always get better, and that’s what it’s about.”

This attitude and those attributes also apply to tennis, which closely resembles basketball in terms of speed, agility, hand-eye coordination and quick decision-making. In both sports, smart off-court preparation and on-court technical and tactical tweaking can make a world of difference.

I offer you some food for thought to gain that extra edge over your tennis competition.

The bane of many recreational players is faulty grips, especially on the serve, volley and overhead. Learning the continental grip will enable you to hit these three critical shots with proficiency and confidence. As a bonus, the versatile continental grip is also ideal for the slice backhand and slice forehand, the half volley and the drop shot.

If you’re far behind in a game or a set, think positively. One of the best ways to do that is to say to yourself, “He won the first half, and I’m going to win the second half.” Embrace that challenge, and you’ll win a lot of second halves — and more matches.

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Nearly every shot in tennis should be hit with some degree of overspin or underspin. The only exception is the overhead, which should be hit flat almost all the time. Flat serves are the easiest to return because they travel straight and have the least lateral and vertical movement. Flat, medium-speed ground strokes give you the worst of both worlds. Not only are they high risk because of their low net clearance, but they are also low reward because they seldom produce winners or force errors.

For attire, favour function over fashion. Less is better than more, and light is better than heavy. For example, men’s shorts extending almost to the knees have been the style this century. But they may impede your running and add unnecessary weight.

If you don’t suffer from an elbow or wrist injury, you neither need nor want a string vibration dampener. Think of yourself as a violinist. The feel and sound of string vibrations provide vital information about your shots — especially their solidity and the resulting power. You need that information to correct both technique and tactics.

Tennis shoes are literally “where the rubber hits the road.” But there are lots of different roads in tennis, such as highly abrasive and slick hard courts, slow red clay and slippery Har-Tru, and grass, which also varies. Consider wearing different shoes for different surfaces and different conditions.   -  Reuters

 

Beware of — and question — what TV tennis commentators dogmatically repeat as the gospel truth. One such dubious statement is “A service break isn’t a service break unless you hold serve in the next game.” That assertion is especially untrue early in a set. Remember: you deserve plenty of credit for breaking serve, and that will give you the confidence to do it again since you don’t always hold serve.

If you’re a relatively new player, study the rule book. If you’re a veteran player, review the rules once a year to refresh your knowledge. You never know when your knowledge of the rules will lead to a more harmonious and fair match. Also, always abide by the maxim, “Rules are made to observe.”

Don’t talk about your injuries and illnesses. It will give valuable information to your opponents and come across as self-pity to everyone else.

If you’re a serious tournament competitor, don’t cancel practice sessions because it’s too hot, too cold, too windy or too rainy — unless it’s dangerously so. This perseverance will help discipline you to compete successfully when you face adverse conditions in tournaments.

Tennis shoes are literally “where the rubber hits the road.” But there are lots of different roads in tennis, such as highly abrasive and slick hard courts, slow red clay and slippery Har-Tru, and grass, which also varies. Consider wearing different shoes for different surfaces and different conditions.

If you’re a tournament player but not a tennis coach or teaching pro, consider assisting the better ones in your area on occasion. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much you learn from them and from teaching tennis yourself.

When you take a lesson, try to soak up as much information as you can. Remember that the three basic learning styles are visual, auditory and kinesthetic, or watching, listening and doing. Determine your optimal learning style before taking your lesson and use it to get the most out of the session. Speak to the coach or teacher only if you have a question. Afterwards, it’s a good idea to record the main points of the lesson as they applied to your game.

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Never be overconfident or under-confident. If you’re overconfident, you’ll likely be lazy and careless and vulnerable to an upset. If you’re under-confident, your body language and oral comments may reveal it, and that will make your opponent more confident. Underdogs pull major upsets every day. Always keep that in mind whether you’re the favourite or the underdog.

According to experts, strings matter just as much as the racquet when you hit the ball. So if you like to experiment with various racquets, you should also experiment with different strings. And be sure to buy the best strings you can afford.

For fun, exercise and simulating tennis shots and movement, bring a ball from another sport to your practices. For example, throw and catch a baseball, softball, football or basketball while you’re stationary and then while you’re walking and running in different directions.

Be sceptical when a purported “expert” asserts, “You should hit 75 percent of your ground strokes crosscourt” or “You should direct 60 percent of your first serves wide” or any particular percentage for any shot. The actual percentage depends on the opponent, the surface, the score, the importance of a given point, etc., and, especially, what’s working best in a given match.

A properly timed split step is the crucial first move for every stroke except the serve. But all too often tennis players forget to split step or they do it late. The solution is as easy and fun as jumping rope. Besides improving your balance, agility and conditioning, jumping rope will fine-tune your split step. Is there a jump rope in your tennis bag?

According to experts, strings matter just as much as the racquet when you hit the ball. So if you like to experiment with various racquets, you should also experiment with different strings. And be sure to buy the best strings you can afford.   -  Getty Images

 

Talk is cheap. It can also be self-destructive. After a win or a loss, don’t denigrate your opponent’s ability or game. If your remarks get back to your opponent, he’ll use them to fire himself up the next time you face him.

If you haven’t played tennis in a few weeks — and especially if you haven’t exercised — schedule your first practice with someone who has a well-grooved, orthodox game and is interested in rallying and drilling rather than competing. That will get you back in the groove faster and without risking an injury. And don’t forget to stretch before you play.

Make a New Year’s Tennis Resolution every year. For recreational players, it can be anything from playing more often and having more fun to making new tennis friends and taking lessons. For tournament players, it can be adding new practice drills, learning a new shot (which basketball legend Larry Bird did throughout his career), improving your fitness or competing against tougher practice opponents.

It’s important to practise with opponents of different playing levels, but it’s even more important to practise against different playing styles. Can you generate offence against pushers, hit effective passing shots against net rushers, defuse the power of sluggers and match wits with clever tacticians? Embrace these challenges! They’ll make you more skilful and versatile.

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