So you want to be amazing with your net play? Here is what you need to do…

  1. You need to be able to generate pace. You actually need to hit both hard and soft but to decisively finish the point in your favor (which is the aim whenever you approach the net) it does benefit to be able to “stick” the volley away and out of the reach of your opponent. Generating pace with the volley is not accomplished with a big swing pattern and racquet head acceleration but with momentum, weight transfer and timing.
  2. You need to absorb and manage pace. You must be able to handle balls coming at you more quickly and with more pace. This requires the ability to take pace off the ball to drop balls short, pop balls up and back, create angles and sometimes to simply get the ball back in play. 
  3. You need to have touch and feel. Volleying at the highest level requires hand skills to absorb pace (as mentioned earlier), subtly change direction, hit acute angles, create underspin to keep the ball low and/or create sidespin to keep the ball away from your opponent. Net play requires soft hands when the need is to finesse the volley and firm hands in rapid, up-tempo volley exchanges.
  4. You must be relentless. You need to be fully committed whenever you approach the net. In executing an attacking strategy or style of play, you need to look for every opportunity to close into the net. And you need to keep on coming in regardless of periodic setbacks (where you get passed or make an error). The goal is not necessarily to win every point but most the points.
  5. You need to be precise. Net play requires precision, precision with your shot location, precision with motor control of your body through the shot sequence and recovery and precision with your balance and footwork. There can be no exaggerated movement and swing patterns. Volleys require a sharp, concise and compact stroke pattern and synchronized, tight coordination of body segments. The arm and racquet need to work to together as a unit with less elbow flexion and rotation than the groundstrokes.
  6. You need to be able to close and feel comfortable playing tight to the net. The goal for every successful volleyer is to finish the point with a shot right on top of the net.
  7. You need to be smart and know the percentages. You must be smart on how and when you approach the net. You can play the odds and come in on everything (off the serve and serve return) but that is tough to pull off. Singles players on the ATP tour come to the net on average seven times per set (more on faster playing surfaces and less on slower playing surfaces). Maxine Cressy who seemingly comes to the net on every point actually closes the net on average 20 times per set. How successful should you be when approaching the net? The best players on the ATP tour pick the right time and opportunity to come in and as a result, win the point (by finishing the point with a winner or forcing a mistake by their opponent) 70% to 75% of the time when approaching the net. The players on the ATP tour with the best conversion ratios selectively come in behind balls which they can aggressively attack. They consistently hit their targets with the approach shot. They follow the line of the ball in approaching the net and with each subsequent volley to close off down-the-line passing lanes. They are quick to move in to pounce on weak replies when recognizing they have pulled their opponent off the court. They are good at identifying and exploiting opponent weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The top players also realize that things cannot always be efficient and clean when approaching the net. Take for example a situation where you are winning on average 45% of the points when you stay back and struggling but persistently winning 55% of the points when you come in. You cannot worry that you are not converting 70% or more of the points at the net, you need to get in. The top players recognize what is necessary to win matches and more often than not make the smart decision.
  8. You need to have a complimentary arsenal of shots and shot options. In addition to the volley, you need to have a strong overhead. A strong overhead allows you to be confident closing tight to the net. You need to be able to execute a half-volley and swinging volley. You need to be able to improvise and adjust your hand position (grip) and angle of your racquet face when out of position in an emergency response to get the ball back in play. There are times where you will need to step back or adjust your footing to take the ball on the bounce to hit a groundstroke (which can be difficult when you have less court to work with).
  9. You need quick reflexes. You need to be able to respond to balls hit at you at 90 plus miles per hour (mph) and react in less than one second in quick volley exchanges at the net.
  10. You need quick feet, dynamic balance and a strong, wide and solid base of support. Footwork requires quick, efficient, and decisive multidirectional movement up, back left and right. This necessitates a strong lower body and core. Court coverage and positioning is not just about closing when at the net. There are times when you will need to move back to defend from a better vantage position or to cover the court in anticipation of a lob.

So you want “amazing” groundstrokes? Here is what you have to do…

  1. You have to hit it hard (and sometimes not so hard) – You will need to hit hard to hit to get balls past your opponent and/or force your opponent into making errors. On the men’s ATP tour, you will need to average forehand speeds at or around 80 miles per hour (mph) and backhand speeds at or around 75 mph and be able to crank groundstrokes over 100 mph when necessary. The numbers are not that far off on the women’s WTA tour. Female players on the tour average 75 mph with the forehand and 70 mph with the backhand. Of course, there is more to just hitting hard. The effectiveness of your groundstrokes is more of a function of pace combined with spin (rpm’s, revolutions per minute). A groundstroke hit hard and flat (with relatively little spin) is going to have a entirely different impression on your opponent than a ball hit hard with excessive spin (rpm’s) whether hit with topspin or slice. Other equally important factors to be discussed later include the depth, direction, location, and trajectory of your shots. You will also need to hit softly (take pace off the ball) to disrupt the rhythm of your opponent, vary the pace of your shots and if you really want to be effective, vary your pace (and the other factors mentioned above) with disguise and in combination so that your opponent has difficulty reading or anticipating your shots and intentions.
  2. You need to hit with spin – To become an accomplished player, you need to manipulate (or control) the bounce, net clearance, and depth with spin. You need to be able to hit topspin to get the ball up and outside the strike zone of your opponent, to hit sharper angles, to hit with consistency and higher margin (high net clearance) when hitting with pace (and racquet head acceleration) and to dip the ball at the feet of an opponent positioned at the net. You need to be able to hit underspin with and without sidespin to get a ball to sit up and not project or carry into the court. You will need to hit slice (with a low angle of incidence) to get the ball to stay down. You need to be able to take pace off the ball with slice and use slice in conjunction with sidespin to get the ball to spin away or in at the body of your opponent. To compete at the highest level, you will also need to strategically vary and interchange the type and level of spin during each point and over the course of a match to expose weaknesses and disrupt the rhythm of your opponent. How much spin do you need at the highest level? As mentioned earlier, it is not just a matter of how much spin but how much spin in conjunction with pace (or lack of pace). The top ATP players regularly hit forehand groundstrokes at 80 mph combined with spins averaging 3,300 revolutions per minute (rpm) and backhand groundstrokes at 75 mph combined with spins averaging 2,700 rpm. It creates a heavy, penetrating ball (that is tough to respond to particularly if you are not used to or exposed to this kind of sustained pace, spin, and pressure). Watch a professional men’s or women’s match on TV or in person from a north-south alignment and you may be misguided to thinking the pace is manageable but look at the rallies from courtside in an east-west alignment and you will get a true sense of how big and heavy the players are hitting the ball.
  3. You need to hit it in. Sounds simple and can be simple if you maintain direction (versus change or redirect the shot you are receiving), hit over the low part of the net, hit cross-court (particularly to start the point), hit to big target areas, maintain high net clearance, accelerate with spin to get the ball to clear the net with high margin and still drop in, actively move your feet not only to the ball but in recovery after the shot, prepare early and create proper spacing with adjustments steps, maintain balance and stability, establish and maintain an efficient stroke pattern effectively incorporating all body segments in the kinetic chain and elastic energy in the stretch-shortening cycle, hit with length (extension and control of the racquet face through the hitting zone), establish rhythm and timing of the swing in relation to the bounce, take pace off the ball when the rally is at a pace too hard to manage, maintain focus and concentration with no lapses no matter how long the rally, and are physically fit enough to be able to consistently execute at a high level through the duration of a long match. Consistency, the ability to keep the ball in play is the first cornerstone of development for any aspiring high-performance player. The top players have a high shot tolerance (the ability and willingness to hit as many balls in play as necessary to win a point). Getting the ball back in play is not easy as you progress in level. At a high-performance level, you will need to defend in response to balls hit heavy, hard, and deep, to balls hit low and above your strike zone, to balls hit wide right and left and directly at your body and to balls hit short with little bounce requiring you to run up and to balls hit deep with a high bounce requiring you to run back. Good things happen when you work to extend the rally making your opponent hit one more shot. You draw errors through attrition. You draw errors by forcing your opponent to impatiently go for too much too soon. You draw errors by physically wearing down your opponent. All of which can be demoralizing to your opponent. Small caveat though, you may not always want to extend the rally and play out long rallies. You may face an opponent better skilled at staying in the point and prolonging the rally. If this is case, you need the skills to be more aggressive and opportunistic in transition from defense to offense.
  4. You need to hit it where you want to hit it (or better stated, hit it where your opponent does not want you to hit it). In singles, the best players work or set up the point by hitting to one of four target zones (to the outside of the court either deep just inside the baseline or short (and angled) just short of the service line. You will need to hit progressively smaller and more narrowly defined targets in competition particularly in the later stages of matches to be successful at the highest level. For example, a passing shot requires almost pinpoint accuracy (with little margin of error) to get past a skilled player at the net. Execution requires hitting targets in response to shots hit with varying pace, spins, depth, trajectories, angles of incidence, directional angles, and bounce heights. You will need to be accurate hitting from different positions on the court and be accurate under the pressure of competition.
  5. You have to hit it the right way. There is no one way to hit groundstrokes with different grip and spin options, one or two hands on the backhand, straight arm versus bent arm orientation for the forehand, compact versus long take backs and swing patterns, etc. There are important commonalties with the best players. The top players fully incorporate and coordinate all body segments through the kinetic chain and stretch-shortening cycle with neuromuscular synchronization, show tremendous balance and controlled weight distribution, consistently drop the hand(s) to an optimum loaded and leveraged hitting slot position, exhibit ultimate control of the racquet face through the hitting window to direct the ball to their intended target, achieve maximum racquet head acceleration, maintain their fundamental swing pattern when taking the ball outside of their normal strike zone, and in general, have sound, efficient biomechanics. The top ATP and WTA players consistently sustain and repeat their swing patterns and stroke components through extended rallies and through the course of long and intense matches. You seldom see the elite players experience a breakdown in mechanics. The top players also exhibit good hand skills to be able to adjust the angle and direction of the racquet face to get balls back in play when hitting from a disadvantaged court position or a disadvantaged position in relation to the ball and bounce.
  6. You need to be able to finish. Very often you can win points by getting one more ball back in play. More likely as you progress in level, you will need to do more to conclude the point in your favor. When establishing a positional advantage and/or opening, you will need to drive through the court, hit with redirection, hit sharper angles, etc. (essentially do more with the ball) to win the point. It may also not be enough to finish an attacking sequence with just your groundstrokes. When pressuring your opponent off the court, often the most effective and perhaps only way to finish the point and ensure your opponent is not able to get back into the court to neutralize the point is to move in to take the ball out of the air with a volley or overhead.
  7. You need to get to the ball. To be technical, the game of tennis requires a considerable amount of dynamic court coverage with explosive starting and stopping, linear and multi-directional footwork patterns, acceleration, deceleration, and repeated short sprints up to an extreme distance of approximately 80 feet. Tennis includes an average of three to five changes of direction per point. With an average of 60 points per set, that amounts to 360 to 600 changes of direction per two-set match. On average, 70% of court movement is in a lateral direction, 20% in a forward direction and 10% in a backward direction. In an analysis of 2016 ATP singles playing data, the average court distance covered per point was 65 feet. The average court distance covered for points with rallies of five or more shots was 138 feet and the average court distance covered per match was 2.8 miles. On average the serve returner had to cover 10% more court distance per point (12% more if the first serve was put in play and 7% more for second-serve points). Efficient movement in tennis requires hitting from open and closed positions and technical mastery of many different footwork patterns and steps including split, adjustment, shuffle, crossover, skip, gravity, drop, scissors kick, carioca, and backpedal steps.
  8. You have to be physically fit. Tennis requires complex coordination and movement, dynamic balance, linear/multi-directional speed, strength, endurance, stamina, flexibility, core and shoulder stability and explosive and reactive power. Force production begins in the legs and is transferred throughout the body to the finer control muscles of the hand and wrist. Force is transferred through a kinetic chain involving many different body segments. Power is transferred in sequence from the feet in pushing off the ground to the lower legs, upper legs, hips, trunk, shoulders, upper arms, forearms, and hand(s). More body segments are engaged in an extended kinetic chain for the groundstrokes where the requirement is to generate high racquet head acceleration at the point of impact. A reduced number of body segments operate more as a unit where more precision (and less racquet head acceleration) is required for strokes such as the volley. All tennis strokes and movement patterns follow a strength curve with descent (eccentric), amortization and ascent (concentric) phases of energy distribution. Tennis force production includes a stretch-shortening cycle of eccentric and concentric contractions, loading and unloading of weight distribution, horizontal and vertical linear momentum, and angular momentum. Footwork requires an explosive first step and an efficient, quick, and agile step pattern to the ball to facilitate the shot and in recovery after execution of the shot. It requires dynamic balance with a quiet upper body, head positioned within the shoulder triangle and centered over the hips, controlled center of gravity and a wide and low base of support. Multidirectional movement in tennis requires concentric strength (particularly in the propulsion or push-off phase), eccentric strength (most exemplified in deceleration) and stabilization strength (strength to stabilize the musculature of the trunk and lower extremities). Tennis operates in multiple anatomical planes. In the sagittal plan, actions include flexion, extension and foot dorsiflexion and plantarflexion. Actions in the frontal plane include abduction, adduction, scapula elevation and depression and foot inversion and eversion. In the transverse plane, actions include rotation, hand pronation and supination and horizontal flexion and extension. Other multiplane actions include hand ulnar and radial deviation, thumb opposition and reposition and circumduction. Tennis requires execution of all five movement patterns – bending and lifting (e.g., squatting), single-leg movements (e.g., single-leg stance and lunging), pushing movements, pulling movement and rotational (spiral) movements. The top professionals and the players with the most dynamic, powerful, and versatile groundstrokes train with strength and conditioning coaches in tennis-specific periodized training blocks to develop maximize strength and fitness. There are no shortcuts. You need to put in the time one and off the court to be successful at a high-performance level.
  9. You have to be intense. You need to stay focused and purposeful with your shot selection, movement to the ball, preparation, execution, and recovery each shot and point. You need to control your emotions, be confident in your ability to execute and compete and embrace the challenge of competition. You need to be resilient, particularly when things are not going so well and not overly exuberant when things are going well.
  10. You need to do your homework and have a plan. You need to assess your strengths and weaknesses and put yourself in a position to hit your strongest shots in the most favorable court positions and situations. You also need to assess what your opponents do well, what they do not do well and their tendencies when hitting in different court positions and situations and when ahead and when behind in the score (which requires some advance research). As a consistent theme, the approach should be comprehensive and thorough.

When They Go Low, We Go High

How and when to effectively hit high and deep

Players most susceptible to high balls

  1. Players with straight takebacks and players who hit relatively flat tend to be more vulnerable to high and deep bouncing balls. The same players also tend to more vulnerable to a tactic of mixing the height of net clearance, trajectory, and bounce.
  2. Players who lack variety in their game and the ability to hit with different spins and degrees of spin tend also to be more vulnerable to high and low variations.
  3. Players who have trouble taking high bouncing balls on the rise or stepping up to take high arcing balls out of the air with a volley or swinging volley have difficulty adjusting to a high ball tactic and often as a result get pinned back well behind the baseline.
  4. Players with extreme grips can be attacked with high and low balls. A player with a western grip will have trouble with low balls. A player with a continental grip off either side will have trouble with balls higher in the strike zone. The response to high balls from a player with a continental grip (who cannot close off the grip as necessary) is almost always a slice (which makes things more predictable) and provides an opportunity to exploit (such as coming in behind your shot).

How to respond to high balls

  1. Responding effectively to high arcing and bouncing balls requires getting the tip of the racquet up in the unit turn and takeback to the set position. The best way to track the ball is to frame the ball with the face of the racquet as you turn to set the racquet to the set position. This allows you to effectively take the ball above your strike zone without compromising too much court position or to drop the racquet head to take the ball on the rise in a more advantageous hitting zone and court position. In both cases, it is preferable to hit from a more open stance with your forehand and from a more neutral or slightly open stance with your backhand.
  2. Hit with more spin when taking the ball above or below your strike zone. For example, hit with heavy spin when pressed back well behind the baseline to take a ball at shoulder height or even higher. To generate the necessary ground force and racquet head acceleration, load and kick back using a corkscrew footwork pattern. For added leverage, relax the hand, and utilize ulnar deviation to first drop the racquet head in relation to the ball and then radial deviation to drive the racquet head vertically up and horizontally across the ball for the desired heavy spin. Look to hit crosscourt with high net clearance and depth.
  3. Although potentially vulnerable to attack, slice is a good option when hitting above your strike zone particularly if you are a one-handed player responding to high balls hit to your backhand side. Slice is a good choice in response to low balls and slice with sidespin is effective when digging out low and short balls.

How to raise the height and depth of your shots

  1. Hitting high and deep with heavy topspin is the best way to get the ball up above the strike zone of your opponent. It can be a difficult shot since it is much easier to match trajectory (hitting a low flat shot back low and flat) than to change trajectory (hitting a low flat shot back high with topspin). There are two different ways to approach the shot. If you have time to get underneath the ball, you can hit the shot with a more extended, elongated finish. With less time, the shot may require a more abrupt and sharper follow through or finish (often with a finish on the same side as the start of your swing). Hitting a semi-lob or lob with little to no spin also works to get the ball up and back.

When best to hit the ball up and raise the trajectory arc of your shots

  1. One of the best times to hit high and deep is when you are having trouble with the pace and tempo of the rally. Getting the ball up helps to slow down the rally and buy more time to recover and respond to each shot. Hitting high and deep is a smart response when pushed off the court. The height and depth of your ball will give you time to recover back into the court. an effective means to disrupt rhythm regardless of the situation. It can test the patience of any opponent but particularly an opponent who tends to be more impatient. The goal in this case is to frustrate your opponent and bait your opponent into going for too much to draw unforced errors.

Conclusion

  1. A strategy of mixing spins as well as the height of the ball can be extremely disruptive to any player regardless of level and stye of play. Adding variety to your game and the ability to mix heights, depths and spins takes skill and a substantial amount of time and effort on the court to acquire this skill but once acquired the game becomes more fun and multi-dimensional.

Tennis Conditioning (Part 3)

Tennis Fitness Conditioning Plan

Acknowledging the difficulty of access to weight equipment, a good starting point for a tennis-specific program is to focus on bodyweight exercises and exercises utilizing (more easily attainable and affordable) resistance bands and loops, dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls pull-up bars, plyometric boxes, and suspension trainers. With that in mind, I have laid out below the components of a basic program.

  1. Dynamic stretching
    Unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching requires the use of continuous movement patterns that mimic the exercise or sport to be performed (in this case tennis). The purpose of dynamic stretching is to improve flexibility for a given sport or activity and to warm and activate the body in preparation for more strenuous effort. An example of dynamic stretching would be a sprinter doing long, exaggerated strides to prepare for a race. For tennis, I like to incorporate the following:
    • Small Arm Circles Fingers Up
    • Small Arm Circles Fingers Down
    • Left and Right Arm and Back Arm Swings
    • Alternating Arm Crossover Swings
    • Bow Draw Torso Twist (Transverse Plane) Rotations
    • Bow Draw Torso Twist Variation with Released Arm
    • Alternating Toe Touches
    • Jumping Jacks
    • Crossover Jacks
    • Walking Leg Kicks (Feet to Hands)
    • Walking Knees to Armpits
    • Walking High Knee Pulls (Hugs)
    • Walking Quad Pulls
    • Side Shuffles (Low Profile)
    • Walking Lunges
    • Walking Lunges with Elbow Knee Pushouts
    • Walking High Knee Hug Lunges
    • Skipping
    • High Knee Skipping
    • Carioca
    • High Knee Carioca
    • Butt Kicks
    • Butt Kick Pulls
    • Inchworms
    • Bear Crawl
  2. Planks and Push-Ups
    Begin by learning how to properly execute a low and high plank and push-up and then work on volume (multiple reps). If you can do one, you can two, if you can do two, you can do three… The proper technique for the plank is:
    • Feet and ankles dorsiflexed
    • Knees aligned with hips, ankles, and feet
    • Knees horizontally aligned
    • Ankles, knees, and shoulders aligned
    • Torso neutral and aligned with hips
    • Braced torso centered over base of support
    • Neutral lumbar spine
    • Shoulders Level and horizontally aligned
    • Neutral head position
    • Neutral scapula
    • Stable shoulders with torque generated through hands (spread floor apart with hands
    Additionally, for push-ups …
    • Maintain a neutral scapula with fluid-controlled movement against rib cage
    • Extend arms with palms directly under shoulders and arms tucked to sides in up position
    • Flex arms with upper arms parallel, or slightly below parallel to ground, tuck elbows to sides and face cubital fossa (inside of elbow) forward in down position
    There are many plank variations (such as plank jacks, spiderman planks, T planks, renegade planks, etc.) to increase difficulty, intensity and to make things fun and challenging. Similarly, there are a countless number of progressions and options for push-ups (building from the basic plank position). For the fun of it, I have compiled a list below of different push-up options.
    • Incline Push-Ups
    • Wall and Wall Bounce (Fascial) Push-Ups
    • Hands Free Push-Ups
    • Standard Push-Ups
    • Decline (Elevated Feet) Push-Ups
    • Single-Leg Push-Ups
    • Dive Bomber Push-Ups
    • Pike Push-Ups
    • Close Grip Push-Ups
    • Wide Grip Push-Ups
    • Diamond Push-Ups
    • Scapula Push-Up with Protraction and Retraction
    • Loop Band Push-Ups
    • Weighted Push-Ups
    • Plyometric Push-Up (Hands off Ground, Clap Hands)
    • Plank Jack Push-Ups
    • T Plank Push-Ups
    • Dumbbell T Plank Push-Ups
    • Spider-Man Push-Ups
    • Shoulder Tap Push-Ups
    • Dumbbell Renegade Push-Ups
    • Alligator Walk Push-Ups
    • Bear Crawl Push-Ups
    • Medicine Ball Pass (One-Arm) Push-Ups
    • Around the World Push-Ups
    • Pseudo Planche Push-Ups
    • Staggered Hand Push-Ups
    • Rotational Push-Ups
    • Star Push-Ups
    • X Push-Ups
    One of things I like to do with players is to build in challenges and push-ups and push-up variations offer a range of different options (since push-up-based challenges are easy to explain and set up, do not require special equipment, and can be conducted with limited space).
  3. Squats and squat-based exercises
    Start by learning proper execution and technique (stability, posture, and body alignment).
    • Feet neutral with no more than 12% turn-out
    • Feet flat and stable heels (driving up and down through weight of heels)
    • Knees aligned with hips.
    • Knees over feet
    • Knees push out with depth
    • Hips flexed and horizontally aligned
    • Torso and tibia are parallel (with tibia and torso as vertical as possible)
    • Lumbar spine remains neutral and centered over base of support
    • Head neutral (with eyes fixed forward)
    With success start building volume (repetitions and sets) and then work on increasing intensity and complexity. You can increase intensity by the positioning of your arms (e.g., hands behind your head, arms pointing forward at 90° shoulder flexion, arms overhead, arms overhead supporting PVC bar) and by adding weight (such as a goblet squat where you cup your hands to support a dumbbell, kettlebell or even a racquet bag at your chest). You can increase both intensity and complexity by integrating other components. One example is a squat press in which you squat down and then drive up to press a weight (e.g., dumbbell) overhead. You can support weight in each hand or preferable for tennis in only one hand (which adds an anti-rotation torsional buttressing benefit). A second example is medicine ball wall balls. You can also increase intensity by adding a plyometric element (e.g., squat jumps or squat tuck jumps).
  4. Split squats or lunges and split squat (lunge) based exercises
    Begin by establishing the proper execution of a basic lunge or split squat pattern and then work on volume (multiple reps). The proper technique (stability, posture, and body alignment) is:
    • Front foot flat and stable
    • Back foot on the ball of foot with toes flexed
    • Knees Aligned with hip and feet
    • Front knee directly over the lead ankle (some allowances depending on body structure)
    • Hips flexed and horizontally aligned
    • Torso vertical with shoulders directly above hips
    • Lumbar spine remains neutral
    • Torso remains centered over base of support
    As with all exercise patterns, the objective is to increase intensity and complexity incrementally over time. For the split squat as well as for squats, there are many different components you can add to increase difficulty. You can raise the back foot (Bulgarian squat). You can add a dynamic walking element (walking lunges). You can incorporate a lifting component (e.g., walking lunges with a dumbbell hammer curl and overhead press) or a transverse plane component (walking lunges with trunk rotations). You can also make walking lunges more tennis specific by adding a tennis swing. The objective is to challenge your system with progressive overload and muscle confusion.
  5. Shoulder and upper extremity strengthening and stabilization
    I like to work with resistance bands – single bands (free standing, anchored at one end or anchored in the middle to work with each end of the band simultaneously or independently). The focus for all shoulder and upper extremity strength exercises is to address all types of movement of the shoulder and shoulder girdle in the three different planes of motion – sagittal (forward and back movements), frontal (side to side movements) and transverse (twisting or rotational movements). This includes adduction, abduction, flexion, extension, internal rotation, external rotation, medial rotation, lateral rotation, and 360° circumduction, horizontal abduction and adduction, scapular depression, elevation, protraction, and retraction (all of which come into play in tennis). The exercises I most often use for tennis are band pull aparts, straight arm pulldowns, single arm/offset rows and presses, high rows with external rotations, diagonal D2 flexions, internal and external rotations, flies and reverse flies, trunk rotations, side, front and diagonal raises, upright rows, and shoulder shrugs. Resistance band anchor points can be raised or lowered to target different muscle groups for many of these exercises. Grips can be varied to change the emphasis. For example, band pull aparts with a pronated grip combines horizontal abductions with medial shoulder rotations and band pull aparts with a supinated grip combine horizontal abductions with lateral shoulder rotations. You can progressively increase tension by using different weighted bands and/or doubling or tripling up bands. To add complexity, you can integrate movement patterns such as squat rows and split squat rows and presses and squat diagonal D2 flexions. Finally, try to maintain constant tension with the bands by adjusting your hand positioning or body positioning in reference to the anchor point.
  6. Core training
    The function of core muscles is to:
    • Control center of gravity
    • Establish and control balance, stability, alignment, posture and center of gravity
    • Stabilize and support midsection to provide a platform of support for jumping, throwing, and changing directions rapidly
    • Transmit forces between the upper and lower body
    • Protect the spine and back
    The requirement of core training is to strengthen and stabilize the core muscles (to create torso stiffness). Best core exercises maintain a neutral spine with movement originating from the hips and not the back. Planks and pushups as well as squats and split squats contribute to building core stability and strength. There are other floor-based exercises that can be included in a workout program. I approach floor exercises from four different positions – prone (lying face down) position, supine (lying face up), quadruped or tabletop (on hands and knees) and bridge (lying face up with knees bent and hips off of floor in alignment with the torso) plus front, reverse and side plank positions as referenced before. Prone position exercises include supermans, swimmers and snow angels. Examples of supine position exercises are McGill curls, leg raises and windshield wipers. I like to have players work up to hollow holds (a more difficult supine position to master). In the hollow hold position your back is pressed into the ground and your legs, shoulders and arms are raised off the ground. Exercises include a standard hollow hold for time, hollow hold rocks and hollow hold presses, pullovers and flies with dumbbells or a medicine ball. Quadruped or tabletop exercises include leg raises, donkey kicks, bird dogs and cat/camels. Quadruped exercises can be made more difficult by raising your knees off the ground and by integrating other components (such as resistance band rows). Bridge (or glute bridge) exercises include holds, leg raises, leg marches and hip dips. You can elevate your legs to increase intensity. As with the hollow hold, I like to work with dumbbells or kettlebells to perform glute bridge dumbbell presses, flies, and pullovers. Anti-rotation exercises (particularly vertical-based anti-rotation exercises) also serve to strengthen and stabilize the core muscles. Anti-rotation exercises work to build core stability and strength by training the primary core muscles to resist force and prevent rotation and torque. Anti-rotation exercises include torsional buttressing, unilateral, unilateral loaded and force resistance moves. Examples include single-arm resistance band chest presses, rows and flies, shoulder tap/dumbbell renegade planks, kettlebell or dumbbell single-arm swings, and single-arm suitcase, rack and waiter carries.
  7. Agility, footwork, speedwork and explosive power
    Time should be dedicated to working on agility, quickness, complex coordination, tennis specific footwork patterns, dynamic balance and at a more advanced level, explosive power through plyometrics.
    • I like to incorporate sprinting drills such as A skips (high knee hopping and skipping action), B skips (A skips with a kick, snap down and negative foot strike) and C skips (A skips with hip rotations), bounds, and sprints from a crossover, high plank and mountain climber start. I work with 5 – 30 second sprints at submaximal or maximal intensity (depending on the goals) with 1:3 – 1:5 work to recovery ratios. An example would be a 10 second sprint at high intensity followed by a 30 second slow jog or walk repeated 12 times for total time of eight minutes or a 20 second sprint at high intensity followed by a one-minute slow jog or walk repeated six times for total time of eight minutes of work. To integrate patterns, one option is to do repeated medicine ball overhead throws (reverse overhead heaves, rotational side throws) and sprints to run down and retrieve the medicine ball or catch the medicine ball on the bounce (if working on a firm surface).
    • Jumping rope (with progressively more complex patterns and cadences) can be included in this segment or in the introduction as part of the dynamic warm-up.
    • There are many agility patterns using ladders, small hurdles, Bosu balls and plyometric boxes. Standard ladder drills or patterns include one in the hole, two in the hole, Ickey shuffle, hopscotch, and slalom. Almost all the patterns (using ladders, hurdles, etc.) can include hitting or shadow hitting. For example, a player can move using a crossover step up and over a Bosu ball to then hit a forehand followed by the same pattern in the opposite direction to hit a backhand. The focus is short, bursts of intense effort for 10 to 30 seconds followed by 20 to 25 seconds of recovery between efforts.
    • The lines on the court can be used for many different agility patterns such as forward and backward line hops, single leg forward and backward line hops, lateral line hops, single Leg lateral line hops, scissors, line jacks and Heisman high knees.
    • Cones are particularly effective in working on complex footwork patterns, acceleration/deceleration, dynamic balance, and multi-directional speed work. Cone-to-cone patterns include traditional pro agility, Illinois agility and letter Z, X, L and M courses. Cones can also be set up for various weave/slalom courses. As with all footwork and agility options, cone patterns can include shadow swinging or hitting of hand-fed balls.
    • Plyometrics engage the muscles through the stretch shortening cycle. The stretch-shortenings cycle is an active stretch of eccentric contraction of a muscle or muscle group followed by an immediate shortening or concentric in of the same muscle or muscle group. In this process of rapid stretch and eccentric contraction, the muscles and accompanying tendons experience an increase in their elastic energy. This elastic energy is released when the eccentric contraction is followed by an immediate concentric contraction leading to an increase in force production. It is the process that defines many plyometric moves such as the squat jump, squat tuck jump, alternating lunge jump, drop jump and bounds (all of which could be included in a tennis-specific fitness conditioning program). I also like to include box jumps and step ups.
  8. Pull-Ups
    The pull-up is a compound exercise which strengthens muscles in the upper back, shoulder, and arms. The primary muscles worked are the lats (latissimus dorsi). The secondary muscles worked are the biceps, rear deltoids, forearm flexors and rotator cuffs. The pull-up also helps build grip strength essential for tennis. The pull-up can be varied with different grips (pronated, supinated, mixed supinated and pronated and neutral), grip widths (narrow to wide) and thumb positions (over, under or no thumbs). The motion can also be varied. Generally, you want to achieve full range of motion (fully extending up and down) but this can be achieved with constant tension or with a “dead hang” in which you fully relax and pause at the bottom of the exercise. Pull-ups can also be achieved with a gymnastic hip snap to create momentum and swing (“kipping” or “butterfly” pull-ups). If unable to do pull-ups, start at chin level and hold this position for as long as you can and then after slowly dropping down continue to hang onto the bar with arms fully suspended for as long as possible. Scapular pull-ups also provide a good starting platform. Beginning from a passive, fully extended hanging position, work on depressing and retracting your shoulder blades (almost like a reverse shrug). Keep your arms extended and pull your head away from the bar as you draw your shoulder blades together. Hold for one second and then repeat. This scapular depression/retraction is the key motion necessary to initiate a complete pull-up. Just like push-ups, if you can do one pull-up, you can do two and if you can two, you can do three, etc.
  9. Stretching and flexibility
    The most common type of stretching, static stretching, is executed by extending the targeted muscle group to its maximal point and holding it for 30 seconds or more.
    There are two types of static stretches:
    • Active: Added force is applied by the individual for greater intensity
    • Passive: Added force is applied by an external force (e.g., partner or assistive device) to increase intensity.
    Using a foam roller or similar device, myofascial release relieves tension and improves flexibility in the fascia (a densely woven specialized system of connective tissue that covers and unites all the body’s compartments), and underlying muscle. Perform small, continuous back-and-forth movements over a targeted area of two to six inches for 30 to 60 seconds.
  10. How to tie everything together
    What to include and how to program? Normally the focus is to start with more complex, muti-joint compound exercises before single-joint, isolation exercises. Other options include alternating push and pull exercises and alternating lower body with upper body exercises (or focusing on lower body exercises first before upper body exercises). In sequencing the components of this largely body-weight program, I would recommend beginning with a dynamic warm-up and then in this order squats/squat-based exercises, split-squats/split squat-based exercises, planks/pushups, shoulder strength and stabilization, pull-ups, footwork, speed and agility patterns and/or plyometrics and core floor-based and anti-rotational exercises followed by stretching and myofascial release. Not everything has be included in one session. It is possible (and quite reasonable) to break out components into different days (such as separate the footwork, speed, agility and/or plyometrics into a different day).
    Repetitions, sets and time commitments – The general premise for repetitions when working with weight loads is a lower number of repetitions for more intense strength-based exercises (when working with 80 – 90% of one repetition max weight loads) and a larger number of repetitions for less intense muscular endurance-based exercises (when working with 60 – 70% of one repetition max weight loads). For this program (which utilizes mostly body weight-based exercises), I would suggest eight – 15 repetitions or repetitions to fatigue and two to three sets for squats and split squats. I normally set up a circuit for shoulder strength and stabilization (grouping exercises by the different resistance band anchor points). Descending pyramids (progressively lower number of repetitions) and ascending pyramids (progressively higher number of repetitions) work well with pull-ups and push-ups. Agility, footwork, and speed patterns should be timed based. Everything can be modified based on your time commitment. To achieve the best results, I would recommend 20 -60 minutes of purposeful exercise two to three days per week combined with time on the court hitting tennis balls.
    Rest and recovery – As per the General Adaptation System (GAS) principle, it is imperative to build in time for rest and recovery. Work to rest ratios between sets or timed sequences/circuits should range from 1:2 to 1:5 (as per the standard work to rest ratios for competitive tennis) with the intensity of your effort and the goals of your workout dictating actual times for rest and recovery. The program should have days between workouts for active recovery. Active recovery as the name suggests does not mean no activity. It could include cross training and other sporting activities and should include tennis.

This is a lot but there is a lot more that could be included in setting up a tennis-specific conditioning program. What I could have included but did not reference are kettlebell swings (particularly alternating arm kettlebell swings). Kettlebell swings and other applications using kettlebells can be extremely beneficial for tennis. Exercises using a suspension trainer can be incorporated into a tennis-specific program. Suspension trainers are portable and can be easily connected to tennis fencing. I would recommend using the components outlined above as a basis to get started and then experiment and make modifications to determine what works best for you and your goals and what you are most likely going stick with over the long term.

Tennis Conditioning (Part 2)

Physical training to prepare for the complexity and variability of the game of tennis needs to include the following components.

  1. Exercises to stabilize and strengthen the shoulder and the glide and ball-and-socket functions of the shoulder
  2. Extended kinetic chain (whole body movement), integrated compound exercises
  3. Exercises to stabilize and strengthen the core
  4. Exercises to build foundational leg (lower body) strength
  5. Exercises to build explosive power in the legs to enhance ground force (push-off) in the first kinetic chain link
  6. Movement patterns to improve dynamic balance, coordination, agility, speed, and quickness (particularly in the first step to the ball), acceleration and deceleration plus adaptive and reactive movement patterns to simulate variability of play
  7. Exercises to improve flexibility and range of motion
  8. Unilateral (both contralateral and ipsilateral)/offset patterns and exercises to correct strength imbalances and increase core stability, strength and dynamic balance through anti-rotation, torsional buttressing of the core muscles to support offset weight loads and to maintain position, posture, and balance plus other applicable exercises to address imbalances in muscle length tension relationship (inherent in the nature of the game with one-arm dominance and the requirement for a lower center of gravity)
  9. Steady-state and interval-based cardio training to improve stamina and endurance
  10. Dynamic stretching exercises (mimicking the movements patterns of tennis) to warm and prepare the body for more strenuous effort prior to the start of workouts and static, myofascial (with foam roller or ball), proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) hold-relax, contract-relax and/or hold-relax with agonist contraction) and/or active isolated stretching (AIS) stretch-based exercises to be performed at the conclusion of workouts

There should be an emphasis on vertical-based exercises from both universal athletic and split-stance positions and compound (multi-joint) exercises (versus isolation exercises). A tennis conditioning program should encompass the five movement patterns – bending and lifting (e.g., squatting), single-leg movements (e.g., single-leg stance and lunging), pushing movements, pulling movement and rotational (spiral) movements and should be progressive with a linear and/or undulating progression in frequency, volume, load, repetitions, intensity and/or difficulty. Exercises should simulate specific tennis work intervals and work-to-rest ratios. The program should include scheduled days (times) for rest and recovery (active recovery) but not extended gaps in training with the risk for loss of gains (as per the theory of use and disuse).  Ideally, the program should include a periodization schedule with a preparation phase, pre-competition phase and a competition phase. In general, the workouts should begin in the preparation phase with a high-volume workload and a low level of intensity and complexity and end prior to competition with a high level of intensity and complexity and a low-volume workload.

What does this all mean?

  1. Tennis is a complex sport with many variables.
  2. Tennis players should train for all contingencies.
  3. Tennis is an anaerobic sport requiring a series of intermittent short explosive sprints.
  4. Tennis players need a strong foundational level of strength to execute stroke and movement patterns.
  5. Tennis players need an aerobic base to help with recovery and to sustain effort.

Tennis Conditioning (Part 1)

Factors to Consider in Developing a Tennis-Specific Tennis Conditioning Program

  1. Tennis is unpredictable with variability of point length and length of match times. While points last on average from three to 15 seconds depending on styles of play, court surfaces and playing conditions, players must prepare to play points that last for as little as one second to points that last well over one minute. The longest men’s point on record at a grand slam event between Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon (won incidentally by Simon) lasted one minute and 40 seconds and included a rally of 71 shots. Match duration also varies based on scoring formats, player matchups and competitive balance, playing styles, court surface, playing conditions, etc. with matches lasting less than one hour and matches lasting four or more hours. The longest match in tennis history between John Isner and Nicholas Mahut (won by Isner) lasted 11 hours, five minutes. Tennis is a game of intermittent play with periods of activity followed by breaks for recovery, collection of balls, change sides for service and return and change of ends during odd games and sets. Factoring in time between points, games, and sets (20 seconds between points, 90 seconds during changeovers and two minutes between sets), average work to rest ratios range from 1:2 to 1:5.
  2. In addition to a variability in point length and match duration, tennis is also unpredictable with variability in shot selection and tactics, court coverage, strategy, and choice of playing style, match tempo and duration, weather (climate), court surface and opponent playing style, strategy, shot selection and tactics. Players must respond to varying levels or degrees of pace, spin, and trajectory. There is a requirement to hit from different court positions, respond to balls hit from different angles and lines of direction, maintain or redirect ball path direction, hit balls in the air with volleys or after the bounce as the ball is rising, at peak height or dropping, hit balls at varying heights and distances (spacing) from the body, generate pace or take pace off the ball and maintain, change, increase and/or decrease spin and the type of spin.
  3. The game of tennis requires a considerable amount of dynamic court coverage with explosive starting and stopping, linear and multi-directional footwork patterns, acceleration, deceleration, and repeated short sprints up to an extreme distance of approximately 80 feet. Tennis includes an average of three to five changes of direction per point. With an average of 60 points per set, that amounts to 360 to 600 changes of direction per two-set match. On average, 70% of court movement is in a lateral direction, 20% in a forward direction and 10% in a backward direction. In an analysis of 2016 ATP singles playing data, the average court distance covered per point was 65 feet. The average court distance covered for points with rallies of five or more shots was 138 feet and the average court distance covered per match was 2.8 miles. On average the serve returner had to cover 10% more court distance per point (12% more if the first serve was put in play and 7% more for second-serve points). Although not always a correlation due to different playing styles and match ups, on average players covering more court distance lost 58% of points played.
  4. With periods of low and high periods of intensity, stop/start requirements of play and repeated short explosive bursts of energy in sprinting to the ball, stroke execution and recovery after the shot, tennis can be categorized as primarily an anaerobic sport. Tennis predominantly taps the ATP-PCr (phosphocreatine) system (the first and most immediate source for energy) and the anaerobic glycolysis system (the second source for short-term energy utilized as stores of phosphocreatine are depleted). There is also an aerobic component to the sport in recovery (and replenishment of energy resources) between points and after play and to maintain stamina (and the ability to repeatedly generate explosive actions) through the duration of match play. The mean maximum heart rate for competitive match play ranges from 60 to 80% (with heart rates reaching 95% of maximum heart rate during long and intense rallies). Elite male tennis players have VO2max levels above 60 milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight (mL/kg/min) with mean maximum VO2 levels ranging from 60 to 70% during competitive match play. Average blood lactate concentration levels range from 1.7 to 3.8 mmol and can increase to 8.6 mmol during high intensity play.  In terms of ventilatory zones, elite players generally spend 77% of match time at or below VT1 (aerobic threshold), 20% at a moderate to high level of exertion between VT1 and VT2 (anaerobic threshold) and 3% at a high level of intensity above anaerobic threshold.
  5. Tennis requires complex coordination and movement, dynamic balance, linear/multi-directional speed, strength, endurance or stamina, flexibility, core and shoulder stability and explosive and reactive power. Success in tennis requires keen hand-eye coordination (particularly in the relationship between the hand and racquet face). A slight deviation in the angle and position of the racquet face at the point of contact can be the difference between hitting a shot two inches inside the line or two inches outside the line.
  6. Force production begins in the legs and is transferred throughout the body to the finer control muscles of the hand and wrist. Force is transferred through a kinetic chain involving many different body segments. Power is transferred in sequence from the feet in pushing off the ground to the lower legs, upper legs, hips, trunk, shoulders, upper arms, forearms, and hand(s). More body segments are engaged in an extended kinetic chain when the requirement is to generate high racquet head acceleration at the point of impact such as with the serve and groundstrokes. A reduced number of body segments operate more as a unit where more precision (and less racquet head acceleration) is required for strokes such as the volley. All tennis strokes and movement patterns follow a strength curve with descent (eccentric), amortization and ascent (concentric) phases of energy distribution. Tennis force production includes a stretch-shortening cycle of eccentric and concentric contractions, loading and unloading of weight distribution, horizontal and vertical linear momentum, and angular momentum.
  7. Footwork requires an explosive first step and an efficient, quick, and agile step pattern to the ball to facilitate the shot and in recovery after execution of the shot. It requires dynamic balance with a quiet upper body, head positioned within the shoulder triangle and centered over the hips, controlled center of gravity and a wide and low base of support.
  8. Multidirectional movement in tennis requires concentric strength (particularly in the propulsion or push-off phase), eccentric strength (most exemplified in deceleration) and stabilization strength (strength to stabilize the musculature of the trunk and lower extremities). Efficient movement in tennis requires hitting from open and closed positions and technical mastery of many different footwork patterns and steps including split, adjustment, shuffle, crossover, skip, gravity, drop, scissors kick, carioca, and backpedal steps.
  9. Tennis operates in multiple anatomical planes. In the sagittal plan, actions include flexion, extension and foot dorsiflexion and plantarflexion. Actions in the frontal plane include abduction, adduction, scapula elevation and depression and foot inversion and eversion. In the transverse plane, actions include rotation, hand pronation and supination and horizontal flexion and extension. Other multiplane actions include hand ulnar and radial deviation, thumb opposition and reposition and circumduction. Tennis requires execution of all five movement patterns – bending and lifting (e.g., squatting), single-leg movements (e.g., single-leg stance and lunging), pushing movements, pulling movement and rotational (spiral) movements.
  10. Muscles engaged in the first link of the kinetic chain include the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles -of the lower legs. Power and energy are next transmitted utilizing the hamstring and quadricep muscle groups of the upper legs and then transferred to the core muscles via the glute and other hip extensor and flexor muscles through hip flexion, extension, and rotation. The abdominals, obliques, latissimus dorsi and erector spinae are the main core or trunk muscles engaged in the next link of the kinetic chain. The abdominal muscles consist of the rectus abdominis transverse abdominis muscles. The kinetic chain then extends to the upper body.  The upper-body kinetic links include the major muscles of the chest, shoulders, upper back, and arms.  The main chest muscles are the pectorals. The shoulder muscles include the deltoids and rotator cuff muscles, and a group of four muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis) supporting the shoulder joint.  The main upper back muscles are the rhomboid and trapezius muscles.  The major muscles are the biceps and triceps in the upper arm and the flexor and extensor muscles in the lower arm or forearm. The fascial system (fibrous myofascial web) and other connective tissues (such as tendons and ligaments) also play an important role in the kinetic chain with proprioception (ability to sense and respond to stimuli arising within the body regarding position, motion, and equilibrium) and the distribution and transfer of elastic energy.

Why Do We Do The Things We Do?

Why do we do the things we do. Or why do all of us at times do things detrimental to our performance on the court? Why do we sometimes lack patience, try to do too much, lose focus, think negative thoughts, dwell on past mistakes, and lose our composure?

  1. Why do we get impatient during extended rallies and go for too much too soon (such as an impossible angle to end the point) rather than patiently wait for the right opportunity to attack with a higher percentage groundstroke or volley? Why are we not willing to stay in the point and hit as many balls as necessary to win the point? Why do we do the things we do?
  2. Why do we continue to go for big serves despite getting very few in play instead of taking a little bit off the serve to get a higher percentage of first serves in play? Is it the exhilaration of that one big serve (when it does go in), stubbornness or just a lack of thought process? (Ouch, that hurts.) Why do we do the things we do?
  3. Why do we discontinue moving at the net after botching a poach volley? Why do we often dwell on mistakes? Why do we hold back when we know it is important to be aggressive and to take every ball we can when at the net in doubles? Why do we do the things we do?
  4. Why do we have difficulty acknowledging the strengths of our opponents particularly for opponents who have a different playing style from our own? Why do we fail to recognize how these strengths pose match-up challenges to our ability to do the things we want to do with the ball? Why do we not instead note and appreciate what gave us problems and then look for ways to improve our game to better respond the next time we compete against the same opponent or an opponent with a similar playing style? Why do we do the things we do?
  5. Why do we try to try to outhit a big hitter even though we know it is not sustainable (and most likely will lead to a mistake) instead of taking pace off the ball and raising the height of net clearance and trajectory with spin? Conversely why do we become tentative, passive, and flat-footed when playing a steady, consistent player who hits with little to no pace rather than actively working the feet, hitting with racquet head acceleration, and taking advantage of opportunities to attack when presented with a short ball, open court and/or a court positioning advantage? Why do we play to the tempo, and pace of our opponent rather than to our strengths and playing style? Why do we do the things we do?
  6. Why do we press and try to do too much with the ball when opponents approach the net (often hitting our passing shots into the net or wide)? Why do we not instead “work the point” by first keeping the ball low to set up a better look or opening for a passing shot, hit a lob or at the very least put the ball in play to make our opponents have to beat us with the volley? Why do we do the things we do?
  7. Why do we focus our thoughts on not double faulting prior to hitting the second serve knowing fully well that dwelling on making a mistake or the consequence of making a mistake is negative and often leads to a negative outcome (and very often in this case, a double fault)? Why do we fall trap to the Law of Attraction which states that if your conscious mind is full of negative thoughts, you will end up attracting more negative thoughts and eventually start attracting a highly negative reality? Why do we not instead focus on process and purpose rather than outcome and result? Why do we do the things we do?
  8. Why do we have difficulty closing out a match when ahead and nearing the “finish line”. Why do we when faced with the anticipation of a win (particularly against a respected, formidable opponent) often divert our attention and focus away from the process and task orientation that enabled us to get the lead and instead redirect our focus to the outcome and what would happen should we win. Why do we not stay in the present and approach one point at a time? Why do we do the things we do?
  9. Why do we get upset and lose our temper when we make a costly mistake? Is it based on a fear of losing, a lack of confidence, general insecurity or possibly a concern for how others may judge our ability and talent based on the outcome of the match? Does this anger serve as an internal excuse for a poor performance? Would it not be better to harness adrenaline and the emotional response to conflict for inspiration, motivation, and determination? Would it not be better to view competition as a challenge where the goal is to achieve success rather than as a threat where the goal is to avoid failure? Why do we focus on the outcome (which can lead to frustration and anger when things do not go our way) rather than the process (how we hit the ball and the purpose of each shot)? Why do we do the things we do?
  10. Why do we experience lapses in our attention and focus? Why do we get distracted by outside interference, feel rushed and unsettled with the pace of play (between and during points), preoccupy our thoughts with previous points, missed opportunities and potential future calamities lying in wait or simply let our mind wander to other things affecting our lives rather than focusing our attention on one point at a time and the immediate task at hand? And why do we ignore our training and not utilize tools available to us to control our emotions and keep us on track such as a set ritual prior to the start of each point to reinforce our sense of purpose, establish a plan of attack, get emotionally charged and invigorated and control the tempo and pace of play? Why do we do the things we do?

Every tennis player has experienced setbacks, made mistakes, and has had difficulty coping. The question is how to best respond when things are not going as well as planned.

So, what to do?

Recognize attitude is a choice. You always have a choice on how to respond to conflict. We all have a choice to be happy, sad, positive, or negative, composed or agitated, resilient or resigned, etc.

Put things in perspective. Whatever happens on the court, no matter how disappointing, is rarely a life threatening or life altering occurrence. You can care, even passionately care but at the same time you do not want to care too much.

Acknowledge what is fun about tennis and tennis competition, the variety of things you can do with the ball, the dynamic nature of the game, the rhythm and tempo of exchanges, the tactics in constructing a point and more. Tennis is fun, engaging and yes at times frustrating because the outcome is always in doubt. What fun would tennis be if it was easy, and the outcome was never in question?

Focus on the things you have control over and not the things for which you have no control. Stay actively engaged in the present and focus on the process and not on the potential outcome or the consequence of a potential outcome.

Approach all conflicts and difficulties as challenges and opportunities for growth and development.

Utilize measures to stay on task such as an established ritual prior to the start of each point and positive self-talk.

“When something bad happens, you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.” Dr. Seuss

Seize the Moment

How to recognize and take advantage of opportunities to dictate play, establish momentum and control the tempo and flow of a match.

  1. A good starting point is to identify weaknesses in your opponent’s game. Look for opportunities to expose these weaknesses. Create situations requiring your opponent to have to hit off his/her weak side under pressure, such as a passing shot or a return of serve at game point. Hit to the strength of your opponent to open the court. Then hit with redirection to the weak side of your opponent. If your opponent has a low shot tolerance, work to get one more ball back in play. If your opponent is hesitant or ineffective at the net or in approaching the net, draw him/her into the net (on your terms) with drop shots and short angles. Raise the trajectory of your shots if your opponent has difficulty handling higher bouncing balls hit high or above his/her strike zone. Mix up pace and spin if your opponent has difficulty responding to variety. The objective is to make your opponent(s) uncomfortable and unsure of what to expect. The strategy is to provide your opponent with no rhythm and no balls in the strike zone. To the extent your intent can be disguised, all the better. With all tactics designed to disrupt and expose weaknesses, it is important to capitalize (and seize the moment) when you do elicit a weak reply. Attack anything siting up and left short in the middle of the court.
  2. Some of the best opportunities to dictate play are with first strike serving patterns. Success is generally predicated on your ability to hit one of three service targets and then your ability to recognize and hit to one of four targets for your subsequent groundstrokes and/or volleys. The patterns start with a purpose and a plan formulated prior to hitting the serve. An example is a serve hit out wide followed by a groundstroke hit to the opposite side of the court (either deep or angled) depending on the return. The idea is to map out two or three shots starting with the serve to a specific target prior to each service point. Your plan could entail serving and staying back as the earlier example, closing into the net immediately following the serve (serve and volley) or serving followed by a delayed response into the net. It could include hitting to the open court or hitting behind the receiver, hitting down-the-line (with redirection) or crosscourt (with angles or depth). The plan could purposely look to finish the point with an inside-in or inside-out patterned groundstroke. The objective is to take command by aggressively seizing control of the point with the serve (and your first one or two shots following the serve).
  3. The serve return provides opportunities as well not just to neutralize the point but to gain a distinct advantage over your opponent. Vary your positioning to return serve. Play further back and look to take a full swing with the return. Play closer in to take time away from your opponent. Move in with the serve (or even move back with the serve) to give your opponent different looks. Move with the serve to favor your forehand (or backhand). Stand noticeably over to one side to favor your forehand (or backhand) prior to the serve being hit to force the server to try to hit a narrow target or go out wide to your strength. If the server cannot hit (or consistently hit) the wide serve, continue to press your advantage by continuing to drift over in favor of your strength. Close in after the serve return (serve return and volley) or stay back after hitting the return. Attack short serves to apply more pressure on the server. Similar to the serve, have a plan to start each serve return point.
  4. Looking at opportunities from a doubles perspective, you can seize momentum and exert tremendous influence on the outcome of a doubles match when positioned at the net when your partner is serving and receiving. Look to be aggressive. Drift to the middle of the court when your partner hits an effective serve down the T and move to cut off (poach) the serve return with a punishing volley. Hit your volley down the middle or directly at the feet of the opponent who is closest to the net (and has the least amount of time to respond). Poach off the serve return whenever the receiver is jammed, stretched, or hitting from a compromised position. Similarly, cross and attack when your partner hits an effective serve return. Look for predictable patterns, “tells” and weaknesses (such as a tendency to float backhand returns) to better anticipate opportunities to move and poach. Poaching is not a delicate art particularly when spontaneous and not preplanned in communication with your partner (which is an option). The objective is to be aggressive and decisive which can lead to mistakes. The objective is also to disguise your intention by not jumping too early but there will be times when you will get burned by a down-the-line return. It often comes down to a numbers game in determining effectiveness in a risk-reward calculation. The expectation is not necessarily to win the point every time you move and poach but to win the point most of the time.
  5. Seize momentum by winning the battle over court position. Push your opponent back by hitting with depth. Play tight to the baseline. Quickly recover to the baseline after being pushed back. Take balls on the rise to better maintain your court position. Close in with the serve to hit your serve returns. Pounce on short balls. The objectives through aggressive baseline positioning are to take time away from your opponent, reduce your angles of coverage while at the same time maximizing the court and angles your opponent must cover and pressure your opponent into making mistakes (trying to do much from an unfavorable court position).
  6. Seize momentum through consistency and high percentage shot patterns. It is a long-battle approach in which dividends are not always recognized immediately. The objective is to extend the rally and wear your opponent down physically and mentally. It begins with sound stroke mechanics and an ability to repeat basic stroke patterns and shot combinations. It demands discipline, a high shot tolerance and a singular focus. To be successful, it necessitates hitting within high margins (high net clearance, hitting over the middle of the net, maintaining shot direction, and hitting to the middle two-thirds of the court) and minimizing your unforced errors (no mistakes in the net or out wide). Consistency as a strategy requires a philosophy of one more shot in play (or making your opponent hit more shot).
  7. You can gain advantage through your conditioning. When your opponent is fatigued, press your advantage (and seize the moment) by controlling the tempo of the match. Play up-tempo pace of play when serving (careful not to rush your serve or service ritual). Without abandoning what earned your advantage, look to extend the point (lengthen the rally). Work your opponent with up and back (short and deep) and cross court angle patterns. Stress the mobility and footwork agility of your opponent. Hit behind your opponent to force your opponent to make quick changes of direction. Maintain a confident and resolute demeanor. Fake it if you are also beginning to struggle with fatigue. Give your opponent no indication of your vulnerability. Most importantly, focus on the things you can control and do not dwell on the condition of your opponent.
  8. It is very often your follow-up after hitting an effective shot that ensures the successful conclusion of a point. Look to cover all contingencies should your opponent get the ball back in play. A relentless commitment to retain your advantage after hitting an effective shot providing your opponent no outlet to escape is what is necessary to establish control and momentum. The point is never over until it is over and your quest to stay disciplined and focused to the end of each point is what defines you as a player. For example, after hitting a lob over the reach of your opponent(s), take these steps to seize the moment and assure a successful conclusion of the point. For singles, close into the net to about the service line. This puts you in a position to respond to just about any reply with a volley or overhead. Get too close to the net and you become vulnerable to a reply lob. Hang back at the baseline and you risk having to restart the point on more neutral terms if your opponent if able to successfully run down your lob and hit a lob back to your backcourt. For doubles, both you and your partner should close to about the service line. If you are at the net and your partner hangs back, move to a more center position on or just inside the service line. Your goal then is to jump on any return shot within your reach with a volley or overhead. Your role is to be the aggressor and finisher of the point. Similarly, after hitting a drop shot move into the net to a position just on or inside the service line to pick off the next shot with a volley or overhead and to ensure you are not caught flatfooted at the baseline should your opponent respond with another drop shot (his/her best option should you stay back). The trick in both these two examples is what you do after hitting an effective shot to take advantage of your opportunity to successfully complete a pattern and conclude the point.
  9. Just as it is your recognition of what to do after hitting an effective shot that effectuates a positive outcome, it is also your recognition of how to attack in response to different shots hit by your opponent that will allow you to seize momentum and exert pressure on your opponent. Every shot hit by your opponent requires a response from you. Your response can be defensive or offensive. The trick is to know how and when to be defensive and how and when to be offensive. For every shot you receive from your opponent, there are different options for you to reply in response ranging from high margin/less risk to low margin/high risk. For example, if your opponent has just hit a relatively weak, moderately deep shot to your backhand, you could attack with your backhand either with a cross court angle or a down-the-line redirection or you could respond more conservatively with a rally ball, crosscourt backhand hit with higher net clearance and depth. A still more aggressive option would be to run around your backhand to hit an inside out angled forehand or if confident of your ability to hit through the court an inside in forehand drive. Your ability and confidence to execute this more aggressive pattern in competition is acquired by practice and repetition (particularly in this case to master the complex footwork, spacing and loading/unloading requirements). For another case example, what is the best response when confronted with an opponent who is hitting high and deep (moonball depth and height)? To counter, you can fall back and attempt to take the ball in your strike zone. Likewise, you can adjust your point of contact and take the ball higher on the bounce. In both these options the result is usually defensive. To change the tempo of the rally and take a more aggressive stance with the intent of seizing control of the point, you can hold or close your position and take the ball on the rise or you can move in to take the ball out of the air with a swinging volley. Both these options require precise timing, soft hands and a fluid, quick stroke pattern. For a third option, you can close and take the ball out of the air (before the bounce) with an approach volley. Your choice of shots requires a risk/reward calculation. Do I simply defend, or do I seize the moment to respond with a more aggressive shot option?
  10. Every situation presents opportunities for success. It is important first to have situational critical awareness, a recognition of what is happening point to point and game to game over the course of the match. Why am I winning points? Why am I losing points? What is working and what is not working? What are the tendencies and patterns of my opponent? It is important next through this critical awareness to analyze how to take advantage of the situation, how best to transition from a neutral or defensive position to an offensive position, how to dictate play from the start with the serve and return of serve, etc. Success and is also predicated on your attention to detail, discipline, and work ethic in practice (before and after match play). Use your practice time to rehearse and hone your ability to successfully execute these transitional and offensive patterns and point situations.

Grip Overview

There are five defined basic grips – the Eastern Forehand, Eastern Backhand, Continental, Semi-Western and Western grips. Included below is an overview of important things to know about grips.

  1. Grips are best referenced with two checkpoints on the hand, the base of the index knuckle and the heel pad of the hand. More specifically, the heel pad is the hypothenar eminence (the prominent, fleshy lower section of the palm directly under the base of the fifth digit or little finger). The base of the index knuckle is the section of the palm directly under the interphalangeal digital proximal crease of the index finger. If you want a more arcane/occult (palm reading) reference (which now becomes needless information), the two checkpoints are the Mount of Moon and the Mount of Jupiter. The reference points on the racquet handle are the racquet bevels numbered 1 through 8 (working clockwise for right-handed players and counter clockwise for left-handed players). In referencing the grips and numbering the racquet handle bevels, the racquet should be positioned with the racquet edge up (which aligns the racquet perpendicular to the court surface). With this alignment, the number 1 bevel or top bevel is pointing up. A common mistake with grip alignment is to “club” the grip which forces the heel of the hand to ride up on the grip in relation to the base of the index knuckle. With proper alignment (regardless of the grip), the index or “trigger” finger should be up in relation to the thumb.
  2. It is important to maintain soft hands (particularly in the ready and set positions). This relieves tension in the arm, allows for an easy transition from one grip alignment to another and promotes stroke fluidity and elasticity through the stretch-shortening cycle. Support the racquet with the third and fourth fingers and thumb (relaxing the top two fingers) for the groundstrokes and volleys. Loosen your hold with your third and fourth fingers (creating a gap between the racquet handle and palm of your hand) as you drop your racquet to the power position for the serve.
  3. The traditional starting grip for the forehand groundstroke is an Eastern Forehand grip. This grip aligns the two hand checkpoints (the base of the index knuckle and heel of the hand) on the number 3 bevel. The grip aligns the palm with the racquet face which facilitates hand-eye coordination and awareness of the position of the racquet face at the point of contact. It is a versatile grip allowing for contact below and above the strike zone. It affords players the ability to hit with varying degrees of topspin. Although not the recommended grip for hitting with other types of spin, the grip does allow players to hit with varying degrees of underspin and sidespin. The grip also promotes extension of the racquet face through the hitting zone.
  4. The Continental grip (which places the two hand checkpoints on bevel number 2) is the preferred and ideal grip when hitting groundstrokes (off both sides) with underspin and sidespin, when hitting forehand and backhand volleys and when hitting overheads and serves (which will be explained in more detail later). The grip opens the racquet face to the ball for the groundstrokes and volleys facilitating execution of the high-to-low, outside-in stroke pattern necessary for impartation of underspin and sidespin. The Continental grip is also the preferred grip for the two-handed backhand placement of the dominant hand (also to be explained later).
  5. A Semi-Western grip places the two hand checkpoints on the number 4 bevel for the forehand groundstroke or the number 6 bevel for placement of the left hand for a two-handed backhand groundstroke (right-hand dominant players). This is now the preferred grip for most professional players for the forehand groundstroke and the non-dominant hand for the two-handed backhand when hitting with topspin. As the Continental grip opens the racquet face in relation to the ball, the Semi-Western grip closes the racquet face to the ball. The grip generally promotes a higher strike zone contact in relation to your body in comparison to the Eastern and Continental grips. A more extreme extension of this grip is the Western grip which places the two hand checkpoints on the number 5 bevel. The Western grip promotes more topspin and raises the strike zone in comparison to the Semi-Western, Eastern Forehand and Eastern Backhand grips. Disadvantages are difficulty in hitting low balls and quick adjustment to the Continental and Eastern backhand grips.
  6. The preferred hand placement for the two-handed backhand is to set the non-dominant hand in a Semi-Western grip position and the dominant hand in a Continental grip position. This grip combination is ideal for hitting with a low to high, topspin swing pattern but is not ideal (not a good choice for hitting with underspin or sidespin. To hit with underspin and/or sidespin, it is best to drop the second hand and to hit a one-handed backhand using a Continental grip.
  7. The Eastern Backhand grip places the two hand checkpoints (the base of the index knuckle and the heel of the hand) on the top or number 1 bevel. This is the ideal grip for the one-handed backhand when hitting relatively flat shots or shots with topspin.
  8. The Continental grip is the grip of choice for hitting serves. The Continental grip promotes shoulder rotation and acceleration of the racquet head. The grip also promotes hitting both slice and topspin. The grip with minor adjustment to the swing pattern is also effective in hitting serves flat (with relatively little to no spin). Because of the grip versatility, the Continental grip is used almost exclusively by high-performance professionals. The trick in learning how to hit a serve with the Continental grip for players new to tennis is to master the shoulder rotation, extension of the elbow and pronation of the forearm to properly align the racquet face as the racquet head travels up and out to the point of contact.
  9. The non-dominant hand (left hand for right-handed players) plays a key role in adjusting the grip for the backhand groundstroke and backhand volley (whether hitting with one or two hands). Ideally the non-dominant hand should be positioned near the throat of the racquet in the ready position and in the unit turn takeback for one-handed backhands and at the top of the racquet handle for two-handed backhands. This support of the non-dominant hand allows for ease in adjusting and finetuning the grip for the dominant hand.
  10. In an emergency and adaptive response to a difficult shot or when hitting from an awkward position (above, below, behind, or ahead of your ideal strike zone), there needs to be manipulation of your hand position (and hand checkpoints) in relation to the racquet bevels outside of normal grip parameters. An example would be placing your hand checkpoints on the number 8 bevel to stretch and reach out and back to get a ball back in play with your forehand. More subtle adjustments are also necessary at times (even when not hitting from a less than ideal position). A forehand example is sliding the hand slightly under the racquet handle to hit with more topspin. Maintain soft hands (as mentioned earlier) to allow for dexterity in manipulating the angle of the racquet face at the point of contact as necessary to get a ball back in play or to hit a specific target.

In conclusion, high performance players often make subtle adjustments of these grips in finding the right fit for their game. A common adjustment is to hit the forehand groundstroke with a mild Semi-Western grip which places the hand between the Eastern Forehand and Semi-Western grips. Just as you see some players rotate their hand position underneath to a Western grip to hit forehand groundstrokes with more topspin, you will see players come over the racquet handle to place the hand checkpoints on the number 8 bevel to hit the one-handed backhand with more topspin. Another possible variation not mentioned above is the option of raising (choking up) and lowering your position on the racquet handle. Examples include choking up on the racquet handle to stabilize the racquet for the volley and lowering your hand position off the bottom of the racquet handle to gain more leverage for the serve. Although there are better ways to hit the ball off each side and standard parameters for grip variation, there is no absolute grip or set of grips that works best for all players. The important thing is to find a set of grips and versatility (as required) that allows you to control the racquet face at the point of contact for each stroke and promotes efficient transfer of power, precision, racquet head acceleration, etc.

How to Compensate for Limited Mobility (particularly when coming back from an injury)

  1. Play on or inside the baseline.  There is less court to cover the closer you play into the court. Positioning may be compromised creating more difficult shots at your feet but it beats the alternative of not being able to get to a shot.
  2. Develop good hands and the ability to volley from all court positions. Having the ability to control the angle face of your racquet with your wrist, hand and continental grip is the key to having success volleying from all court positions (particularly from deeper, mid-court positions). It’s important to learn how to open the face of the racquet (hitting up on the ball as necessary) to control the depth and angle of your shots. A great drill is to hit volley to volleys (working not to let the ball bounce) first from up close and then progressively from deeper and deeper court positions on the court.  (For the same reason it’s also good to learn how to hit a half-volley and how hit the ball on the rise or on the short hop).
  3. Move in with each shot.  Move in slowly with each shot to cut off the angle and take advantage of your newly acquired volley and half-volley skills.
  4. Stay balanced and centered.  Pay particular attention to your posture and balance. Stay centered with core stability.  Keep your head still (and centered above your hips). Avoid abrupt and sudden stops and starts.  Be careful not to lunge and reach (with your elbows out away from your body).
  5. Use an open stance.  Use an open stance to better facilitate a more effortless and smoother move to the ball and recovery after the shot.
  6. Get air under the ball and take pace off the ball. Hit with high net clearance and depth to buy more time.  Use spin and net clearance to slow down the pace of the ball (and the rally) and to give yourself more time to recover between shots.  Take pace off the serve to allow more time to close and/or recover. Likewise, control the tempo and flow of the match to your advantage.  Take sufficient time between points, games and sets.
  7. Make your opponent(s) run.  Easier said than done but the more you can move your opponents the less likely they are in a position to make you run.
  8. Anticipate.  Look for cues and tendencies to better anticipate the directional intent of your opponent’s shots.
  9. Become a “Court Physics Master”.  Study the dimensions and lines of the court and net height distinctions. Learn basic angles of probability and how to position yourself to bisect angles of possible and probable outcomes. Study flight path trajectories before and after the bounce and the best footwork patterns and path angles to the ball and in recovery after the shot. Develop “that sought after by every player” court awareness and presence. Apply this knowledge to get into the best possible position before and after each shot with efficiency and the least amount of energy expenditure and effort.
  10. Know when to say no to go. Following the theory of diminishing returns, recognize when and when not to exert effort and when and when not to go for the ball.

Other things to look at are your racquet and strings.  An oversize racquet may help to get more balls back in play.  A looser string pattern and lower string tension also helps to generate more power (which is important if physically you are not able to generate as much racquet head speed and/or if conditions require a more compact swing.)