by Kent Marley
Good racquet preparation and positioning is the key to good tennis. Be alert and on your toes, ready to run to the ball. Many recreational players wait for the ball instead of moving towards the ball. Don’t let yourself get into this bad habit. Focus on staying on your toes (you’ll react that much faster!) and watch the ball right from your opponent’s racquet – this will aid you in reacting faster to where the ball is going! Once you know you’ll be hitting either a forehand or backhand, get that racquet back. Too many players rush to the ball then miss hit the ball despite being there in plenty of time. Once you have figured out which side the ball is going to, take that racquet back so that you are ready to hit.
You might have heard the phrase “Watch the ball”. How many of us actually do that? Someone who knows exactly where the ball is going has a split second advantage on those who don’t. Also, it means less chance of miss-hitting the shot. One drill to get you focusing on the ball more often is trying to watch the ball spin as it comes over (is it spinning with topspin? sidespin or backspin?) Can you read the number or manufacturer’s name on it? At contact, no-one can actually “see” the ball hit the strings (it occurs in a fraction of a second) but you can get into the habit of trying to see the ball and racquet come together as close as you can. After a while, you realize just how solidly you can hit the ball when you are watching it closely!!
Is your shot hitting the net too often? Have a look at your follow-through – if you are finishing with the racquet around your stomach or below your non-playing arm, then that may be causing it. Try to concentrate on either “catching the racquet” above your non-playing shoulder with your opposite hand or let it flow up and over the same shoulder.
Shot too low? To get a solid topspin shot, you have to concentrate on “lifting up” and letting your racquet aim for the sky. Check where you finish your swing and if it isn’t at or above your shoulder height, then try to focus on lifting up! This will impart topspin on the ball, providing you with more control.
Shots going left and right instead of straight? This is a common problem and can be easily resolved if you focus on swinging the strings in the direction you want the ball to go. Really exaggerate the swing and “push” the strings exactly where you are aiming for as you swing forward and up. Check that follow-through and see if it was in line with your target.
For right-handers – ideally (on not so sunny and windy days) you want to place the ball above and to the right side of your body. A good reminder is that either on the deuce or ad side, line up your left arm with the right net post, then lift the ball up in line with that post. The opposite is true for lefthanders. How high do you place the toss? Toss it as high as you can reach with the racquet plus add about 10-15 cm to allow for gravity as you swing up to the ball.
Follow-through – again, ideally you would want to follow through on the left side of your body (for righties, right side for lefties). The lifting arm (the one that placed the ball for the serve) will cross over your chest and then be covered by your swinging arm. Basically it will look like you are hugging yourself, but this is crucial as it prevents over-rotation of the upper body (which could mean that serve of yours will end up in Hawaii instead of the ace you intended).
Ball goes into the net: You may be placing the ball too low – reach UP and aim those string in the direction you want the ball to go.
Ball goes into the back fence: Check the strings – were you pointing them upwards instead of AT your target? You may have to think about “snapping” your wrist a bit faster to bring the strings downward quicker for contact.
Remember: Tennis is a game that you can play your entire life. You can also learn new things every time you step on the court. Don’t clutter your mind with too many ideas: keep it simple with only one or two ideas in your head. Before you go out on the court, try to have a simple idea to work on. For example, your mission today may be to simply watch the ball as best as you can for an entire set (you’ll be surprised at how hard it is if you aren’t in the habit yet!), or tell yourself that you will always be on your toes instead of flat footed. Pick something every time you play and you will be surprised at how fast you’ll improve!
Each of the following links will provide you with useful information about tennis:
– The main website for information about club tennis in Ontario.
– Everything you need to know about tennis in Canada can be found here.
– This site offers the ultimate in tennis vacations, including accommodations,
– round robins, drill groups, tournaments, and lots of other great activities!
– Official website of TennisOne Magazine.
– Intercollegiate Tennis Association; The Governing Body of Collegiate Tennis.
– The official website of the United States Tennis Association.
– Professional Tennis Registry; Setting the standard for Tennis Teaching Excellence.
– Official website of The Ontario Trillium Foundation