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Why Tennis


Order of Priority


You can win a lot of points in tennis by simply outlasting your opponent, by making fewer unforced errors. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced player, consistency, control, and placement are the three most important elements for your game.

Consistency comes from a consistent, fluid motion of the racquet. Work on the same starting point and finishing point with your swing. Control comes from being able to move into position with poise and balance to execute the stroke. Try slowing down. You'll be surprised as to how much control you will have. Placement is achieved when you can effectively swing the racquet so that the strings are in the direction you want, time and time again. You should be able to direct all of your shots so that you can exploit the weaknesses of your opponents. By getting your racquet back early, finding an ideal point of contact, and using your follow through to direct the ball, you can now apply pressure to your opponent. Depth is the name of the game. By hitting higher over the net, you will minimize your net errors. You will apply a lot of pressure to your opponent who will be faced with a high forehand or a high backhand.

Once you accomplish the first three priorities then you can add the last priority that everyone is dying to have. Add power through smoothly accelerating the head of the racquet and transferring your weight at the right time. In fact, as you begin to outlast more and more of your opponents, you will notice that you start hitting the ball with more power naturally because you now have so much more confidence. If you try to develop your game around power, it is always at the expense of control, consistency, and depth. However, if you will follow these steps, you will become a controlled, consistent, and deep hard hitting player.

Playing the Percentages


The game score should be taken into consideration in your shot selection. When you are winning 40-love, you can afford to take the risk of attempting a low percentage winning shot. However, when you are losing love-40, it would be wise to hit high percentage shots since the game will be history if you do not win the next rally. The highest percentage shot is the cross court over the middle of the net. Not only is the net six inches lower in the middle, you can also hit the ball a greater distance cross court before it goes long than when hitting down the line. Topspin also increases your margin for error since it is easier to keep it in the court. Improving your perspective by moving closer to the net is another way to increase your margin for error and make fewer unforced errors.

You also have a better chance of winning more rallies if you select shots which are appropriate to the type of ball you are receiving. If we use a color code and classify balls we are receiving as red (fast, hard hit ball), yellow (rally speed), and green (easy ball). We should attack when we can and improvise if we have to. We attack the green balls but have to be defensive when receiving the red balls. You might find it helpful in your shot selection by classifying the balls that you receive as red, yellow, or green and react appropriately to reduce your unforced errors.



Hitting with Topspin


Developing the ability to hit topspin ground strokes will drastically improve your consistency, depth, and pace from the baseline. Topspin will cause a tennis ball to "dip" into the court at a faster rate than a ball with slice or no spin at all. This means that you can hit your shots higher over the net with the confidence that the topspin will bring the ball down onto the court. Just as important, topspin causes the ball to "explode" off the bounce. This means your opponents will have a harder time returning topspin shots. To hit topspin, there are three keys. First, your racquet must start below the ball with the face of the racquet "closed". Closed means that your strings will be facing directly down toward the ground when the racquet is back. Be sure that the palm is also facing down during the backswing to ensure that your grip is correct. Second, swing from low to high through the ball as your weight transfers to your front foot. Third, finish the swing with your racquet over the opposite shoulder (i.e. left shoulder for a right-handed forehand).

The Serve


When you are serving you should always direct your serve to the weaker side until your opponent adjusts to your serve. There is no need to mix it up if you are winning points easily and staying ahead in points and games. If and when your opponent starts to get your serve back into play and win points you may find it necessary to mix up your serves. A hard flat serve to the backhand may be good but you may still need to hit down the middle or slice it wide to keep the opponent honest. The better your opponent, the more you are required to keep him off balance and guessing your next move. Your plan of attack will be different for each player since they likely have different strengths and weaknesses. In order to have an effective plan of attack you must possess the talent to serve to any area of the service box effectively and consistently. If you have a good slice serve and can position it competently, then that will be a starting point and something to build upon.

With a player that returns with a big swing, get the ball to drive into his body on both sides. Do not give him the opportunity to open up and punish your serves. One side will be slightly better than the other so get the ball to come into that weaker side. This type of player will generally be hitting top spin so it is a good idea to be prepared to attack the net off a good body serve and put away the volley. On the deuce court serve into the body with the slice serve landing on his backhand side and move directly into his left side. Even if he can hit it with a long swing he probably will be late and hit it back down the middle protecting you from the angle returns. On the ad court use the same strategy but bring it into him by hitting a bit wide and the spin will bring it straight into him. Don't be afraid to go in after this type of serve as you will find him miss- hitting a lot of balls and unable to get his timing.

A player that protects the backhand and slices backhand returns can be very dangerous. A slice return can be tough depending on the players quickness and coordination. The forehand is usually stronger in a player like this so it is best to attack this side but it must be exploited correctly. The best serve to use is to attack with a high kick serve into the backhand corner. It needs to be followed up with an aggressive net game. If you have a good flat serve you may utilize it on this player into the corners. The slice unfortunately will trail off into his strengths and he may be able to hit it back quite well using a natural inside out motion that will drift away from your forehand groundstroke and take you off court or he can hit low balls that force you to hit it back defensively. A good hard flat serve will force this weakness and make it very evident as you come forward and put easy volleys and overheads away. It is always good to mix this player up with a wide serve to the forehand since you can catch him leaning to protect the backhand. Always punish a weakness.

If your opponent is behind the baseline and blocks the shots or stays back or moves back further then he is extremely defensive. Your attitude here is to attack wide first. The best shot to use is a strong slice. He will not be able to cut off the angle under all circumstances. Hit wide shots and pull him off the court until he moves up to cut the angle down. Serving to the center of the court, no matter how hard will allow him time to get the ball back in play however defensively. You do not have to hit hard, in fact hitting hard flat serves would be a disadvantage because your opponent would have time to set up and hit it back harder than you hit it. Work on the angles to either side until he gets the message then go for the flat stuff and body shots to reveal his weak returns.

The player that plays inside the lines generally wants to get to the net. His method is chip and charge. This is also a way to stop a player’s wide shots by taking them early and cutting off the angle. With this type of player, sharp, hard hit angles down the line or wide are effective but only if they are perfect. An excellent player can cut off this angle and put you in a very defensive position. He is hoping you overhit and assumes you can't hit the corners consistently with power. Missing the first serve is a dangerous situation with this type of player because this will feed his confidence and you will lose your momentum. Certainly keep him honest with the hard flat shots to get him to play back on the baseline but also hitting slice into the body will provide you with sufficient opportunity to get miss hits and set up for solid passing shots or get him in no man's land for strong deep ground strokes. The most effective serve for the attacker is to hit kick serves directly at the attacker. With a kick serve the ball will bounce up with spin making it very difficult to control. It is best to be prepared to come in and force the player away from the net. Depending upon your comfort zone this may be challenging but it is the best tactic when you are being pressured by an attacker. This applies to both the deuce court and the ad court.

A player with a two handed backhand return appreciates nice hard flat serves or serves that stay in the strike zone. In hitting to the two handed backhand return try to get the ball to kick up taking the two hander out of his power zone. Another difficult shot for the two hander is a wide ball to the ad court or a low fast ball down the center line on the deuce court.

A player that hits out against every serve will miss enough to give you the game. More shots are missed on return than any other single shot. The percentages are definitely against the returner if the server gets the ball in. When facing a hitter, it is best to go right at them with emphasis on the backhand side of the body if you have a strong enough serve. If your serve is a bit weak then this tactic would be quite dangerous. With a hitter, you are dealing with an opponent who is seeking to end the point immediately. They are seeking to take advantage of your serve and pound a winning return back. There is one side the returner likes better, so you should be aware of which one and avoid that side as much as possible. If you have a slower serve and it is not possible to cause the returner any damage by hitting at them, then you need to learn to use the net to your advantage. The next best way to give problems to a hitter is to hit serves that stay low by using slice or flat serves wide or up the line. You will need to get the returner to move a step or two to avoid disaster.

These are some of the things to think about when dealing with your serve. This concerns the first serve primarily and the second serve will need to keep in line with this strategy yet the overall goal of the second is to get the ball in play. The first service strategy is to win the point by exploiting a weakness in the opponent. Aces are created not by power first but by placement and disquise and then power.

The second serve must be hit on an upward angle. Hitting up is the most important key to having a good second serve. The variations of kick, slice and basic topspin all come from having the strings of the racquet meet the ball below its horizon moving upward to impart spin. This spin causes the ball to eventually dip or pull down into the court with velocity and movement.

The toss must be above the head rather than in front of the body as to swing upwards is the most critical factor of this shot. An important clue to having the ball in the right place is being able to hit up into the ball as it starts to descend towards the racquet. The swing can be slower or faster, depending upon the effect you are seeking to create. Hitting too hard will not allow the action of the spin to take place as the power overcomes the effect of the rotation. Finding a good balance between speed and action of the ball shows a talent of measuring the right effect. Overhitting is an especially important point on the second serve as a double fault is one of the worst ways to lose a point.

When figuring out where to hit the second serve, there should not be a great deal of confusion as you should hit to the weaker side 80% of the time. Unfortunately, hitting at your opponent works only if you have a fairly strong second serve. If you do, jamming the player is very effective. If no side appears weaker, then you must determine where the returns are going and force the returner to hit to your stronger side to win the point on the second shot.

Often the fear of hitting too long causes a second serve to go long. This is because topspin is necessary to bring the ball down into the court. Weaker players will learn how to "take something off" the shot and wind up having a very mediocre second serve. The better the server, the more fluid the swings are on the first and second and the less the differential in speed.

Return of Serve


The return of serve is the second most important shot in tennis, just behind the serve. It can be summarized as either a block or swing but is a most difficult shot to master. A good server will be able to determine what type of shot a returner has most difficulty with and will favor that side or type of serve on big points and take advantage of the returner's problems. Having only half of a return game is a severe limitation, even more so than not having a volley, overhead or strong backhand. The essential elements of the return is being able to see the ball and anticipate where the server is going. The returner must be able to perceive what the server is going to do and of course the server is attempting to disguise the serve. One great tip is to watch the ball from the moment it is tossed to keep the concentration focused on the ball.

The Approach Shot


One of the most important shots in tennis is the approach shot. A good approach shot allows you to get to the net as soon as possible to put the point away. The important thing to remember is that the approach shot is used to set up your volley. Depth and placement are the keys for an effective approach shot. As you get better at depth and placement, then you can think about pace and slice. In singles play here are some tips:

1. Approach: should be hit down the line. This cuts down on your court coverage and your opponents chances to pass you.
2. Depth: this will give you more time to get to the net and your opponent less time to set up for a passing shot.
3. Placement: As close to the corner where the baseline and singles line meet. The further away from the corner you go the easier it will be to get passed.
4. Split step
5. Put away volley

You may get passed and you may make a few errors, but with practice you will be hitting winners left and right by using the approach as a set up shot for your winning volley.

The Volley


To volley effectively you need quickness. The ability to react and not be flat footed is a developed and practiced skill. Since you do not have time to change grips up at the net the best grip to use is the continental for both the forehand and backhand volley. Hit the ball with a very short punching motion and little preparation. The forehand volley in some ways is more difficult than the backhand from a biomechanical perspective. Being in position with footwork and with the feet wider than the shoulders is an important starting point. The right position is always most important. Having the correct grip and racquet position is equally important. Yet the fundamental factor to being able to develop this shot is the movement to and through the ball. Keep it simple, no backswings, try just to block the ball. Always move the racquet first toward the ball and then step in behind the contact. If you step or turn your shoulder first, you will always hit the ball late. Volleys hit in front of your body use very little effort and most of the time are winners. In practice, try hitting all winners, practicing better angles and consistent depth, as well as the classic volley to baseline drill with your partner. Soft hands always win more points. Ball machines are great for practicing volleys.

The Lob


This is a very versatile shot which can be used offensively, defensively, and to change the rhythm of a point. A good lob is a necessary passing shot that needs to be incorporated into the game of all players. It changes the rhythm of the point by forcing the opponent into a vertical game as opposed to a horizontal one. If you are forced out of position, the lob may be the only way you can get back into position and continue the rally.

Hitting a lob from the forehand side with topspin can be achieved by using an open stance, use a loose eastern or semi-western grip and then take the racquet up and extend it over behind your head and shoulders. This will create a very effective lob that will have topspin and run away from the opponent or completely get over his head for a winner.

The backhand lob can be hit with topspin and or a slice backspin lob. It is easiest to hit the slice with a continental grip and lift the ball upwards using touch to place it effectively in the backcourt. With topspin the two handed backhand will not allow the finish of the follow through to be behind the players head but still it is best hit with an open stance and the racquet will extend upward in front of the head. It will have the same characteristics of the forehand lob.

Slice lobs whether they are backhand or forehand are primarily defensive and allow the opponent time to get into position and hit an overhead. The topspin lob is more favorable to the slice, yet under pressure the slice is generally all that can be prepared for.

The Overhead Smash


This is one of the hardest shots in tennis. One of the reasons an overhead is so difficult is because it requires definite athletic skill that is different from the horizontal running game which operates on the baselines. It is also different from the forward attacking sharp movements of a volley game. It is similar to the serve in that the overhead requires vertical extension yet the serve is hit from a stationary position. Get ready quickly by turning sideways, pointing the non hitting arm towards the falling ball, get the racquet back, reach up and out, hitting the ball with continental grip to emulate the serve and hitting with a kick or topspin by snapping the wrist to insure the ball will bounce high and out of reach of the opponents defense. This sounds simple enough, yet in practice and even more in matches the theory of a perfect overhead is faced with the reality of the physics of the vertical game. The biggest obstacle to a good overhead is timing the shot.

Before we go into the timing issue there are two types of overheads just as there are two types of serve. A ball coming down in front of you can be moved into and hit with tremendous power and accuracy being more like a first serve. The more likely situation is where the lob is behind or very high requiring a more defensive or second serve approach where the ball is taken slightly behind your head and hit with topspin.

The most common error in hitting an overhead is preparation, being unable to get into the right position to hit and consequently being unable to swing accurately. The second most common error when hitting an overhead is swinging too fast which is caused much of the time by being rushed or being out of position. This will also cause the head to move as the eyes move off the target. A third difficulty which is rarely given focus is the overhead as stated here is a clash of styles within the game. The type of talent required to hit an overhead is not a requirement in the horizontal game and in fact there are few similarities in forehands, backhands and volleys to the overhead in all categories of footwork, weight transfer and swing patterns.

Even the serve does not measure up or provide all the answers to the problems of an overhead. It certainly is the closest measurement yet the serve is created from a static position. The overhead creates a defensive movement to get setup and then the primary focus is to go into an offensive shot. The type of lob thrown up by your opponent where it has backspin, topspin or is a defensive or offensive lob forces an immediate judgment as to the height and distance expected from the lob. In preparing for the eventual descent of the lob the receiver must get under and preferably behind the overhead so the shot can be hit aggressively down into the court. The depth of the lob is important as the angle that can be hit is lessened by the depth of the shot. If the position cannot be adjusted to get behind the ball then the player must find the closest possible position and jump in a manner called a scissor kick in order to reach up and also swing up using the type of swing that imparts topspin on a kick serve.

The whole process is further made more difficult by the fact that the ball is gaining speed as it utilizes gravity moving down towards the court. The opposite is true for everything on the horizontal game as the ball loses momentum and speed as it goes from one side of the court to the other. This disparity or difference is a huge perceptual change for the player and why the timing issue is so often off by a fraction of a second. In this case a fraction of a second will mean the diffence from hitting the overhead into the net or long.

Timing has to be perfect and so the keys to make this happen is a slower more controlled swing to insure that the ball is struck optimally. The serve uses the same familiar swing patterns of an overhead but it is accomplished in a static format. The overhead occurs under game pressures that require the player to attempt to terminate the point whereas the serve is an initiatory process. Physically, the best way to deal with an overhead is to get prepared early and control the swing in order to avoid being late or over hitting. Mentally the most important advice is to treat the overhead with a sense of urgency as it goes up slow and comes down fast. There is no other shot that does this in tennis. Practice will make you aware of this difference and it is one of the more important shots for an intermediate player to perfect to have confidence to win big points and keep momentum in big matches.

Drop Shot


A drop shot can be a huge weapon. Against opponents who don't run forward well, aren't comfortable at the net, or tire easily, it's devastating.

The key ingredients in a good drop shot are shortness, softness, and backspin. Your goal is to get the ball to bounce twice before your opponent can get to it, so it's the shortness of the second bounce that matters most. Having a short first bounce is a good start, but you also need low ball speed and backspin to keep the second bounce as short as possible. The best drop shots actually bounce back toward the net, making the second bounce shorter than the first.

To create backspin, you must brush down the back of the ball with your strings. Anytime you brush down on the ball, you must also tilt your racquet face upward to compensate and give the ball some lift to go over the net.

For most players, the easiest grip for forehand drop shots is the Eastern forehand, but a Semi-Western grip can work. For backhand drop shots, a one-handed Eastern is usually best. Only a very small minority of two handed backhanders use two hands on the drop shot.

The best way to develop a drop shot is to hit lots of them. Get a friend to feed you balls with each of you at your respective service lines. Your goal should be to get the ball to pass no more than three feet above the net and bounce at least three times before passing the opposite service line. (A higher ball, no matter how short, would give your opponent too much time in a match situation.) Stay at your service line until you hit a drop shot that meets this test. Then, each time you hit a good dropper, take one medium step back. Keep going until you get back 7/8 of the distance from the net to the baseline. (Trying drop shots from any farther back in a match doesn't pay off because the farther your ball has to travel, the harder it is to hit short and the more time your opponent has to run forward.)

Doubles Strategy


Top doubles players spend as little time as possible in the one up, one back formation as possible. Why? Because this formation is viable only if your opponents cooperate. If they choose to come to net together, the one up, one back team is in major trouble. With one player up at net, and one at the baseline, there are several scenarios possible, none of them good. If the baseline player tries to pass the two net players, there is a big hole between him and his partner for the net players to aim at; his partner is also very exposed at the net, and becomes a target for a hard volley or overhead smash. The net person in the one up, one back formation is pretty much a nonfactor, except as a target for his opponents. If your team likes to play defense, great. Play both players back on the baseline. If one player is drawn to the net, his partner should come with him.When your team is serving, try to serve and volley. If that is too uncomfortable, serve and take the first opportunity to approach the net. Try to beat your opponent to the net, it gives your team the advantage. When returning, hit your return, and if at all possible, follow it to the net; if you beat the server to the net, your team has the advantage. Before the match, discuss these tactics with your partner so you are on the same page. Don't be discouraged with failure; you are learning to play better doubles! What is the downside? Only one! You must practice hitting overheads! The only viable answer to a team owning the net is to lob! If you can't deal with the lob, you won't be very successful at the net. Your overhead will not improve by ignoring it, so practice hitting overheads often.



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