Why Play High School Tennis?

If you are entering high school and contemplating a decision on whether to play high school tennis (particularly if you are a tournament player and are unsure of the advantages of playing high school tennis versus other paths to develop your game), here are ten plus one reasons to participate in a high school tennis program.

  1. High school tennis is fun. Being actively engaged working together collectively with other players who share the same goals and aspirations is fun. The competition, travel to other schools and playing sites, the interaction before, during and after matches and practices with other players on your team all combine to make high school a rewarding and fun experience.
  2. There is the opportunity to establish meaningful relationships and friendships. Sharing the same experiences such as the physical demands and the daily regime of practices and matches, pressures of competition, time management and the balancing of course work loads and other school commitments with team requirements and expectations create a common bond and a unique connection with other players on your team.
  3. You get coaching support not only during practices but also during match play competition. Coaching can help overcome adverse momentum swings and mental obstacles characterized by the nature of the sport. Tennis is a tough sport requiring focus, mental toughness, and resiliency. There are times when all players get distracted, lose focus, and experience a loss of confidence. A coach who is not conflicted or bound to you by financial ties who interacts with you daily and knows your strengths as well as your weaknesses, vulnerabilities and insecurities can be an invaluable resource in getting you through rough patches on the court. Help could be as simple as a particular trigger word or general words of encouragement or it could be more specific and concrete such as strategic and/or technical advice on how to establish or reestablish rhythm, timing, composure and/or momentum.
  4. You benefit from the support of your teammates to improve your playing skills and match play performance. Your teammates can provide inspiration, motivation, and encouragement to bring your game to a higher level.
  5. You will develop complimentary/cooperative hitting skills (perhaps one of the most undervalued skills in tennis) in hitting with other players on your team. It begins with the ability to stay in a rally (get the ball in play) to extend rallies and execute specific shot patterns and progresses as you become more proficient to the ability to adjust your pace, spin, depth, and other controllable variables, mirror the pace, trajectory, spin, etc. of your hitting partner and vary your playing style in different role playing and hitting assignments as required for the benefit of players on your team. Acquiring these complimentary/cooperative hitting skills will not only will help your teammates but will also help you in your skill development and ability to both establish and disrupt rhythm. Plus, in acquiring these skills you will hopefully learn how to become the most valued and sought after player in tennis, a “player” with complete skills who finds joy and benefit in hitting with anyone regardless of level and playing style and genuinely sees the value of supporting others in their efforts to improve their skills.
  6. You get to support your school and the athletic program at your school. Achievements take on a greater significance when playing for more than just yourself. Participation alone demonstrates a commitment to your school and commitment to the values established by your school.
  7. You gain recognition, respect and acknowledgement for your commitment and effort with your peers. Your standing in the high school community is enhanced by your selection to the team.
  8. Play other sports? Tennis provides cross training benefits for all sports. Tennis develops hand eye coordination, complex movement and footwork agility, dynamic balance, linear/multi-directional speed, strength, endurance, flexibility, core and shoulder stability and explosive and reactive power.
  9. Your game will develop and improve with the commitment of tennis five to six days per week for the duration of the season. You will have the opportunity with the commitment of deliberate, disciplined, and purposeful practice and match play competition to develop lifetime playing skills and the foundational skills necessary to play tennis at the college level and/or play competitive tennis in adult and adult age-group leagues, tournaments and events.
  10. There is an opportunity to take on a leadership role as you advance in grade and gain seniority on the team. Through your actions and leadership by example, you can bolster player confidence and development, elevate team spirit and enthusiasm, build team cohesion, ensure player inclusion, promote a culture of continuous improvement, excellence, and purpose, and most importantly, make things fun. You can take on specific roles such as assisting the coach and/or coaching staff in welcoming and mentoring new players, communications, marketing, public relations, planning, and logistics. Through the process, you can learn team dynamics and how to collaborate, contribute and interact as an integral member of a team, an invaluable skill that can serve you well in life and any future occupation or profession.


Your prospect for college admission (whether pursuing tennis at the college level or not) is enhanced by your commitment and participation in high school tennis. Your high school tennis achievements and the achievements of your team also improve the possibility for recruitment by college coaches for play at the collegiate level. Play on a high school team demonstrates a high level of dedication to the sport of tennis. It also demonstrates your ability and willingness to interact in collaboration with your teammates and coach to achieve the collective and individual goals of the team. For the higher-level player, participation on a high school team shows a willingness to share the spotlight and sacrifice personal ego and self-interest for the advancement and betterment of the team.

Ideal Warm-Up or Start to a Practice Session

Included below is a layout with options and progressions for an ideal warm-up or start to your practice to prepare for competition (applicable for two hitting partners or a group or team of players).

  1. Dynamic stretching. Tennis is a difficult and physically demanding sport requiring complex coordination and movement, dynamic balance, linear/multi-directional speed, strength, endurance/stamina, flexibility, core and shoulder stability and explosive and reactive power. To prepare for the complexity and variability of the game of tennis, the warm-up should begin with dynamic stretching (continuous movement patterns operating in multiple anatomical planes to activate and engage the body in preparation for more strenuous effort). Start with more stationary patterns such as arm circles, bow draw torso twists, bend overs, side lunges, squats and split squats. Progress to more movement-based patterns such walking lunges with arm drivers, walking lunges with twists, walking knees to armpits, walking high knee pulls and monster walks. Then add complexity to include more footwork and plyometric patterns and sprints such crossover steps, side shuffles, carioca steps and high knee, A, B and C skips. All patterns should be performed at a moderate to submaximal level of intensity. The focus should be fluid and elastic controlled movement.
  2. Groundstroke focus. Start with a short court groundstroke rally with players positioned at or just past the service line. Players should aim for a target midway between the service line and net. Hit with soft hands and a full swing. Start slowly and then accelerate with a fluid complete swing. Hit at a compatible and manageable pace. Maintain active feet. Establish down-the-line and cross-court hitting lanes/patterns. Set consecutive rally requirements or goals of x number of shots or x seconds (minutes). For added difficulty, when hitting cross-court, use only your outside stroke or inside-out stroke. When hitting straight ahead on a full court or down the line on half the court, hit using only your outside stroke or establish a cross-court/down-the-line (alternating forehand-backhand) pattern. As a graduated length process, follow the same groundstroke progression from a 3/4 court position aiming for the service line and then from the baseline with the goal of hitting past the service line. New to tennis? Start with an underhand toss and catch exchange. Progress next to a drop hit and catch exchange (alternating roles every x number of shots) before working up to a full rally of two, three, four and more shots.
  3. Volley focus. For the volley, start with a volley-to-volley exchange. Progress to a tap volley to short-court groundstroke rally. Keep the volley short of the service line. Next maintain a volley to baseline groundstroke rally with the goal to hit the volley past the service line. Establish down-the-line and crosscourt hitting lanes/patterns. Set goals to keep it going consecutively for x number of shots or x number of seconds (minutes). For more advanced play, execute alternating forehand and backhand volley, all forehand volley, and all backhand volley sequences. Rotate positions and roles accordingly.
  4. Volley and groundstroke transitions. Combine groundstrokes and volleys with an up and back accordion-style rally. Start with a volley-to-volley rally. Progress back with each shot transitioning from volleys to groundstrokes adjusting the depth and trajectory of each shot to maintain the rally until you both get to the baseline. Establish a baseline rally and then work your way back to the net. Reestablish a volley-to-volley rally and repeat. Set goals to maintain the complete up and back pattern x number of time or keep it going for x number of shots or x number of seconds (minutes).
  5. Overheads (and lobs). Feed lobs from the baseline to be countered with an overhead. Use a countdown (count up) to track success with the overheads. Start at a count of x (i.e., 20). Every time the overhead is hit successfully to a designated target the count goes down by one. Count up by one with every overhead mistake. Work down to zero. To add more pop, require the overhead to bounce up over the back fence (curtain, wall) or to a specific height on the back fence (curtain, wall) or over another established barrier. For advanced play, vary randomly or by design the location, depth, and angular direction of the lob. Similarly, randomly or by design change the required target for each overhead. Announce the required target with each feed (e.g., left, right, short, deep). As with all progressions, periodically rotate roles for overheads and lobs.
  6. Serves (and serve returns). Serve to a partner (who can either catch and serve the ball back or reply with a controlled return to the server). Hit serves (and returns) at a moderate pace. Start at a position close to the net and progress with success back to the baseline. Establish four serving stations – halfway between the net and service line, service line, halfway between the service line and baseline and baseline. Set a countdown (count up) target number. Work down to zero at each station. The goal is to establish timing, tempo, and accuracy with a smooth, fluid, and effortless swing pattern. After taking turns to successfully complete these initial graduated length progressions, play out extended serve/return/groundstroke crosscourt rallies. Set a goal of completing x number of rallies of x shots or more. For variation, work on cooperative serve/return/closing patterns and other more complicated serve/return patterns with similar goals for the number of shots per rally and successfully completed rallies.
  7. I like to conclude the warm-up with a challenge. For serving, I often run a 40-Serve Challenge. Here is how it works… Use the same eight serving (close to the net to the baseline) stations or locations (four on the deuce side of the court and four from the ad side of the court) established earlier in the warm-up. You serve counting down (or counting up) from five to zero through each of the eight serving stations. Every time you make a serve the count goes down by one. Every time you miss a serve the count goes up by one. You continue serving until you get to zero at each station. After you get to zero at one station, you then move to the next station to begin another count down to zero until you complete all eight stations. You count the total number of serves you hit (in or out) to successfully count down to zero through all eight stations. The goal is to make 40 serves in a row and get a perfect score of 40. Miss one serve and the best you can score is 42. Miss two serves and your score is 44. If competing against other players, the challenge is to see who can get a score of 40 or the lowest score. Challenges can feature basic high percentage rallies where the focus is consistency and patience. I have established 500 Ball Clubs and 1,000 Ball Clubs with many programs and teams. To become a member, you need to sustain a rally of 500 or 1,000 shots in a row (without an error). For another rally challenge with four or more players, start by positioning two or more players on each side of the net. Players alternate with their partner or teammates after hitting each shot. The goal is to see how long the rally can be sustained in a row without an error. For more difficulty, maintain a cross court rally and require players to run around a cone on the opposite far corner of the court before returning in line. With four or more players, you can also set up rally game challenges where pairs or groups of players vie to the be first pair or team to hit x number of consecutive shots or be the first pair or team to complete a shot sequence x number of times. Challenges can be quite complex as players advance in skill. A “killer” one I use for more advanced players is a continuous loop sequence which requires one player to direct groundstrokes and lobs as designated to a second player who must hit two volleys, run down a lob on the bounce, close back in after retrieving the lob to repeat the second loop of the pattern with two more volleys. The goal is to keep the rally sequence going as long as possible (two, three or more complete loops).
  8. The goal for all progressions is to establish consistency, rhythm, and timing. The pace of all rallies should be controlled and moderate at a compatible pace and tempo. The focus for the volleys is a centered, balanced hitting position with core stability, quiet upper body and hands, “soft” hands, active feet, and precise racquet head control. The focus for all other strokes is a centered, balanced hitting position with core stability, active feet, proximal initiation (loading) and elasticity, fluid and effortless stroke pattern, length through the hitting zone, whole body synchronization and integration with and a broad range of motion and an exaggerated complete finish to each shot. It is not about hitting or moving at a maximal level of intensity. It is about discipline and active engagement of the mind and body in preparation for more intense, competitive play to follow.
  9. There is flexibility on how to structure this warm-up. You can streamline the timeline to a commitment of 10 minutes or lengthen the process to 60 or more minutes. There are options to change the sequence order (i.e., work on volleys before groundstrokes), streamline or eliminate certain segments or spend more time with one specific aspect or theme (particularly if the play or practice to follow is similarly focusing on the same aspect or theme). Another option is to set a goal to complete each segment or all segments in a specific amount of time. If there is a team or group of players on multiple courts, you can set up competitions on who can be the first to accomplish a specific pattern in x number of shots, hit a consecutive rally of x number of shots, or complete requirements and targets for one entire segment (i.e., groundstrokes) or all segments combined. For teams, it is beneficial for players to establish the warm-up as a set routine that can be accomplished without any guidance or minimal guidance from a coach or professional.
  10. How do you make hitting for consistency and repetition fun? The key is engagement (how attentive and actively invested players are in the process) and how you structure practice and your time on the court to be more engaging and fun. The variety, progressions and general flow to this warm-up routine make the process more engaging and fun. The general format of collaborating with another player to reach goals and targets for consistency and execution of different patterns plus having the opportunity to compete against different pairs or teams of players to be the first to reach specific goals and targets make the process engaging and fun. Introducing challenges of increasing complexity and difficulty is another way to better engage players in the process and to make it fun. Being creative with the flexibility to change things as necessary and to add different dimensions to your hitting time can also make the process for engaging and fun. The goal of any warm-up is to prepare players for technical and/or competitive-based training and ultimately competition by improving focus and concentration, body awareness and movement, racquet skill proficiency, consistency, and the ability to execute basic patterns. To the extent the process can be fun, the better the results and more likely players will want to invest more time hitting and playing.

“Good” and “Bad” Mistakes

How to manage and define risk and unforced errors.

  1. There will be times when things are not going so well, where you will make mistakes. There will also times when things are going well and you make mistakes. The reality is that mistakes are very much part of the game. The important thing is to recognize and distinguish what constitutes a “good” mistake (not that any mistake is necessarily good) from a “bad” mistake.
  2. Right away you need to take away the net as a hindrance. This means no mistakes in the net and any mistake in the net is always considered a “bad” mistake.
  3. Similarly, you want to eliminate mistakes hit wide of the sidelines. Aside from the serve (which I will get to later), mistakes missed out wide are generally considered forced mistakes and should be avoided. The focus should always be to stay in the point by making your opponent “hit one more shot”. If you are hitting from a disadvantaged court position and given an extremely narrow down-the-line passing window, rather than trying to make the spectacular pass and risk hitting the ball wide of the sideline, think of other options. Consider chipping the ball at the feet of your opponent or hitting a defensive lob. At the very least, make your opponent “hit one more shot”. Every shot requires a quick risk/reward calculation of best options. If in your analysis your only option is to aim directly at the sideline, understand there is most likely a 50% chance you will miss wide. In most situations, you need to establish a margin by aiming at the very least several inches inside the sideline.
  4. So, what constitutes a “good” mistake. Missing a target and sending a ball long of the baseline when trying to get additional depth and spin would be considered a “good” mistake (except if the mistake was caused by a lack of weight transfer and follow through). Missing a ball long due to a tightness in the arm and racquet head deceleration would be considered a “bad” mistake.
  5. Positioning (where you are positioned in hitting the ball) is a major factor in determining your risk in making any shot. You can be decisive with confidence when hitting the ball from inside the baseline. Making a mistake when attacking from inside the baseline (where the probability of success is high) is unfortunate but still considered a “good” mistake (particularly when hitting to a big target area). Trying the same shot from well behind the baseline is a low probability shot and not so smart and is considered a “bad” mistake.
  6. You are rarely operating in a vacuum. If you have a history of consistently making a shot or executing a pattern that on one level seems risky (such as pulling the trigger early in a rally to redirect the ball up-the-line or stepping around your backhand to hit an inside in forehand), the few times you do make a mistake attempting the same shot or pattern would not be considered “bad” mistakes. This does not mean you can be free swinging. There is a fragile line to being careless. You need to build margin into any shot or pattern. You also must be cognizant of your positioning and preparation before attempting any shot (but particularly a shot that has a lower probability of success). On a related subject, beware of succumbing to the allure of a big shot. Proceeding to make a series of mistakes trying to replicate the impossibly difficult shot you made in the previous game is not smart.
  7. The score creates a context for defining risk and the number and types of mistakes that are tolerable. Going for huge shot and making a mistake at 40 – 0 in a nonconsequential game would not necessarily be considered a “good” mistake but would not be a “bad” mistake. Making the same mistake at two all in the tiebreaker is a “bad” mistake. Making an error in trying to do something new to add versatility to your game when ahead in the score would be an example of a “good” mistake.
  8. There are statement shots that serve their purpose even if resulting in a mistake. Targeting the alley off the return in doubles lets your opponents know you are not afraid to hit down-the-line and that they should be wary of poaching. Going at your opponent (although not the nicest thing to do) can have reverberations well past the initial shot.
  9. Matchups and styles of play influence the number of acceptable errors. The number of unforced errors and winner to error ratios do not always show the true picture. For example, if you cannot stay (on a consistency basis) in the point from the baseline nor power through the court to get balls past an opponent, you will need to find ways to come into the net which requires a different mindset and the likelihood of more errors. A player who attacks and comes in on everything should never expect to win every point. The goal is not to win all the points but just most of the points. For another example, a player with a strong and dependable serve secure and confident in the ability to hold serve can be more aggressive off the return. It may lead to more mistakes with the return and quick service games but there is always the chance of hitting a few return winners in succession perhaps resulting in a nervous double fault and “boom”, the set is over. As a final example, a high-risk big hitter with a lively arm and explosive groundstrokes who has the potential to quickly reel off a series of spectacular winners but is also prone to just as quickly hit a series of mistakes can be extremely disruptive to your ability to find rhythm. This player may not present the cleanest stat sheet (with a high number of “bad” unforced errors) but as an opponent, can present a formidable challenge. It is difficult to feel in control or establish any rhythm and timing when playing this playing personality.
  10. Managing risk with the serve and the acceptance of a certain number missed serves or “good” mistakes is based on a calculation of four factors – 1st serve percentage (the percentage of first serves put in play), the percentage of points won when getting the 1st serve in play, 2nd serve percentage (the percentage of 2nd serves put in play) and the percentage of points won when putting the 2nd serve in play. It is hard to do the calculation in your head while playing but with match play experience it becomes more intuitive. Your percentages are based on how well you are serving (serving rhythm and timing, ability to hit your targets and ability to generate pace and spin) which can vary match to match and the ability of your opponent to neutralize and attack your serve. There are many other factors which influence your success in winning your service games other than the serve, but it is interesting to play with the numbers. Strategies are not so obvious as highlighted by this simple case example. If you hit 70% of your 1st serves in play and win 70% of the points when getting your 1st serve in play and then get 90% of your 2nd serves in play and win 50% of the points when getting your 2nd serve in play and play a total 100 points with your serve, you would win a total of 63 points (with three double faults) or 63% of your service points. Interestingly (and you will have to trust me with the numbers), if you were to hit two 1st serves or the same average velocity for both your 1st and 2nd serves (which many would feel is reckless) while maintaining the same 1st serve percentage (70% of all serves put in play), you would double fault nine times but would still win 64 points (one more than you would win with the more standard serving strategy). Would you tolerate nine double faults to win one more overall point with your serve? Perhaps not, but what if you were able to win 75% of all your serves put in play while still maintaining the same serve percentage of 70% with this same two 1st serves strategy? Would nine double faults be more acceptable? What would be the result if you could increase the average velocity of your 1st serve to get more free points (unreturnable serves) and a better 1st serve winning percentage but in doing so, lowered your percentage of 1st serves put in play? What would be the result if you could close the gap between your 1st and 2nd serves by not necessarily hitting with the same pace for both serves but by incrementally scaling back your 1st serve and incrementally beefing up your 2nd serve? It is fun to play with different scenarios to analyze risk and determine what it takes to win the greatest number of points with your serve.

The Joy of Hitting

I am reposting this article which I initially wrote more than 15 years ago and published on http://www.TenThingsTennis.com in November 2017. My intent is to follow this post with other “Joy Of” articles.

  1. Hitting is a great way to improve your consistency. Counting the number of your consecutive shots in play (regardless of what your partner is doing) is a good way to maintain your focus and provide a gauge on how you’re doing keeping the ball in play. To keep things more interesting, establish different parameters. Ideas include hitting only cross court, hitting to a specific target area, hitting with all forehands (backhands), etc.
  2. The goal of a rally, much like Aikido, is to blend your shots with the shots of your partner (adjusting the tempo and flow as necessary) to ensure you and your partner have success getting the ball back in play, maintaining the length of the rally and avoiding the need to pick up balls. Developing the ability to manage your controllable variables (pace, spin, depth, trajectory, direction and net clearance) to establish and maintain a rally with players of different skill sets, playing level, mobility, etc. is arguably one of the best skills you can establish as a player. It ultimately defines your ability to dictate and control the pace and flow of the rally in a point situation.
  3. Hitting helps to improve your rhythm and timing. Rhythm and timing involves the three main components of tennis – eyes and mind (ball recognition), feet (footwork and balance) and hands (stroke production).
  4. Hitting provides an ideal opportunity to work on your technique for all your shots.
  5. Hitting provides the repetition necessary to develop and hone skills.
  6. Hitting provides an opportunity to experiment and try different shots. In cooperation with your partner, use your hitting time to hit outside of your normal comfort zone. Experiment by hitting with more or less spin, pace, depth, net clearance and trajectory. In his complete four-hour hitting session, Roger Federer works on every possible hitting pattern and shot in his repertoire (including specialty shots).
  7. Hitting can offer a productive and beneficial conditioning workout providing an opportunity to hit more balls than possible in a match.
  8. Hitting provides an opportunity to interact with a friend in a shared interest. The non-competitive format allows for more dialogue and interchange. What better way to get to know someone better.
  9. The cadence and rhythmic construction of a rally can share similar characteristics to music and much like music can serve to rejuvenate the mind and spirit. A rally and the process of a rally can be a very engaging activity requiring intensity and focus. It’s also possible to hit in a more relaxed state of mind without major deliberation and concentrated focus with the goal of establishing a performance zone of effortless hitting (in other words, hitting without thinking).
  10. Hitting is fun. It’s fun to hit the ball the ball back and forth regardless of the quality and length of the rally.


Feeding in tennis is an art and skill that only gets better with practice and time. It has applications primarily to teaching pros and coaches but also has applications for hitting partners looking to work on their skills. It is ideal for getting players to hit a lot of balls in a short amount of time, working on specific hitting skills and patterns and for setting up different competitive point situations (the subject of my last article). Outlined below is a review of considerations and applications for feeding tennis balls for training.

  1. Feeding begins with underhand feeds and drop feeds at close range without use of the racquet. Both are great tools for getting players to hit a lot of balls in repetition (which is the key to improvement) and working on technique. Having players on a team pair up to drop feed or underhand feed balls to each other can be a more productive use of time than to have players line up in a group to receive balls from a single feeder. Hand feeds can work for most all shots including overheads. For overheads, players can team up in pairs with one player sitting right at the net to toss balls up with an overhand throwing motion to a second player to hit overheads. Hand feeding can also be quite dynamic with multi-directional and multi-shot patterns (such as footwork navigational patterns using cones).
  2. All players (particularly playing members on a team) should learn how to initiate a rally or point with a drop-hit self-feed. This means the ability to hit targets and vary trajectory, depth, spin and pace. With this ability to control the ball with a drop-hit self feed, hitting partners and team players can work together to set up different point situations and drills.
  3. The traditional feeding technique using the racquet in most teaching and coaching settings is to hit the ball out of the air with a volley stroke using the continental grip. The stroke pattern is short, concise, and easy to replicate leading to better accuracy in hitting targets. With a cart or raised hopper of balls at hip level (for quick and easy access), it is possible with this stroke pattern to feed balls in rapid succession (for up tempo drills and to move larger numbers of players quickly through lines).
  4. One of the limitations of feeding with a continental grip is the difficulty in hitting topspin. To generate topspin with the feed, one alternative is to change the grip to an eastern or semi-western grip. The feed is easier hitting off the bounce with more of a full swing but can be accomplished with an abbreviated swing and no bounce. Feeding topspin with an abbreviated swing (to dispense balls more quickly) requires a relaxed grip, soft hands, and a windshield wiper brushing or swiping action with ulnar and radial deviation of the wrist.
  5. A novel way to generate topspin with the feed is to hit the ball down onto your side of the court. How sharply and hard you hit the ball onto the court influences the trajectory, depth and height of the bounce of the feed. It is possible to generate some pretty heavy balls with this feed.
  6. It can be argued that the traditional feed makes it more difficult to replicate the standard trajectory of most groundstrokes. One option for a different look is to feed with overhead tap service motion. The feed creates a natural loop and is easy to hit fairly rapidly from both a standing and half/kneeling position.
  7. There are times where it is advisable to feed the ball off the bounce either with an abbreviated or complete swing. The bounce can help with timing for the player receiving the feed. A full swing with the feed helps players receiving the feed mirror the proper stroke technique.
  8. Perhaps the best application is to use a feed to start a live ball point situation or a shot combination collaboration between two or more players. A feed can be used to simply to put the ball in play for a neutral start to the point, get players in motion, set up a specific pattern or sequence, challenge players to defend in response to a difficult shot or defend from a disadvantaged court position or create opportunities for players to attack and go on the offensive. Examples include a short feed to initiate a closing pattern, a feed requiring a player to run down and retrieve a lob and a high bouncing feed requiring a decision to fade back or move in to take the ball on the rise.
  9. The ability to feed two or more balls at roughly the same time is a more advanced skill that can be utilized for larger groups where there is a need to quickly move players through a specific pattern. A double feed can be used for a two shot running drill where players in turn hit an inside-out forehand from the add court followed by a running forehand hit from the deuce court. As one player receives the second feed the next player in line receives his/her first feed at roughly the same time. It requires quick, easy and seamless access to a supply of balls, two or more balls readily in hand and the ability to replenish balls in hand without diverting attention and focus away from the players in line. It requires a repeatable pattern of two quick, crisp feeds, a pause or gap (to allow time for the second player time to run down the next shot) followed by two more quick, crisp feeds (pop, pop….pop, pop). The pause or gap between the two double feeds can be shortened or lengthened depending on how much you want to push the player hitting the running forehand.
  10. If you want to be “monster” clever (if that is a thing) with a larger group of players, you can set up a drill or point situation feeding to two courts. One option is to set up a running drill with the feeder stationed between two courts. Players line up in the alley of each respective court. Players on the court positioned to the left of the feeder move with the feed to hit a running forehand (if right-handed). Players on the court positioned to the right of the feeder move with the feed to hit a running backhand (if right-handed). After receiving the feed players then play out the point versus a defender on the far side of the court. If a player loses the point, he/she moves to the end of the opposite court line. If the player wins the point, he/she moves to replace the defender on the far side of the court. For doubles, the first player in line runs wide in response to the feed. The next player in line moves to fill the gap. The two then play out the point together as a team. There are many possible alternatives and progressions as there are for every drill and point situation mentioned in this article. Variations include positioning players at the net to run down lobs with their forehands on one court and backhands on the other and positioning players at the baseline to hit forehand approach shots on one court and backhand approach shots on the other.

The trick to feeding is to be creative with the understanding of the role of feeding to get players hitting more balls in different and varied hitting situations. As mentioned at the beginning, it is a skill not just applicable to teaching pros and coaches but to all players who have the opportunity to cooperatively work with other players to improve racquet skills and court awareness.

Competitive Point Situations

I got a little carried away with the depth of information for this topic. I kept to the theme of 10 by referencing 10 different title subjects to explain the benefits and fun of training with point-situational competition. The article includes an explanation of what competitive point-situational training is all about, the objectives of competitive point situational play and eight categories of examples of point-situational games. Point-situational training has applications for teaching professionals working with groups of students, high school, college and USTA league teams and for playing partners looking to add variety to their hitting time.


Competitive Point and Point Situation Games Explained

In point situational play, general rules of play and playing formats are manipulated to place specific demands and expectations on players. Examples include point-situational formats requiring players to close out games when ahead or recover when behind, to execute specific shot combinations and sequential patterns either prior to playing out points, throughout the entirety of a point or at predetermined or non-predetermined times during a match, to increase or slow down the tempo and flow of play and decrease or increase the use of certain shots or shot sequences.


The objectives of point-situational play are to improve:

  1. Problem-solving skills,
  2. Response under pressure,
  3. Ability to hit targets and target areas,
  4. Ability to execute specific patterns,
  5. Score management,
  6. Response to different playing styles and situations,
  7. Ability to utilize strengths and mask weaknesses,
  8. Weaknesses and strokes and stroke patterns most difficult to successfully execute,
  9. Ability to control the tempo and flow of a match,
  10. Ability to disrupt rhythm of your opponent,
  11. First strike capabilities with the serve return,
  12. Ability to dictate and control play with an aggressive, offensive style of play,
  13. Ability to extend the point with a consistent, defensive style of play,
  14. Ability to transition from defense to offense,
  15. Dynamic court coverage (complex coordination and movement, dynamic balance, linear/multi-directional speed, and agility),
  16. Level of fitness (strength, endurance, flexibility, core and shoulder stability and power),
  17. Variety and the ability to utilize the entire court with a range of different shot options,
  18. Ability to vary stroke variables (spin, trajectory, direction, pace, bounce, depth and net clearance),
  19. Intensity, focus and concentration, and
  20. Shot tolerance and ability to win points of different rally lengths (short points lasting 1 – 4 shots, medium length points lasting 5 – 9 shot and long points lasting 10 and more shots)


Category #1 – Score/Risk Management

Learn how to assess risk based on the score. Learn when to “lock down” and refuse to make a mistake and when to be more free swinging. Learn how to close out a game, set, and match when ahead and how to stay in a game, set and match when behind. Learn how to establish and sustain momentum to build a lead and how to reverse momentum when down in the score. Learn how to recognize which points in a match have more consequence to the outcome and which points have less consequence and although there should be a mentality to fight for every point, learn how to manage effort and to be peak performance at the most pivotal points of the match. Examples of point situations include:

  1. Start each game up or down x number of points. As a variation, start each game up or down x number of points based on results of the previous game(s).
  2. Continue play until one player is ahead by x number of point (or games). End game and declare winner when one player (or team) is ahead by x number of points (or games).
  3. Play points until one player or team wins x number of points in a row.
  4. Continue serving complete games until broken. Serve then transfers to opposing player to continue serving until broken.
  5. Assign weight or extra value to predetermined games (i.e., the fourth and fifth games of the set).


Category #2 – Shot Tolerance/Consistency

Learn how to stay in a point as long as necessary to win the point. Learn how to sustain intensity and focus through the entire duration of a point. Learn to how get into a point and establish consistency, tempo and rhythm. Examples of point situations include:

  1. Exact a penalty or subtract a point for hitting an unforced error, hitting the ball into the net and/or hitting the ball wide of the sidelines, etc.
  2. Reward a bonus point for each point won when the rally exceeds x or a greater number of shots (i.e., for a rally of 9 or more shots). As an alternative, offer points of escalating value for each point won for rallies of 1- 4 shots, 5 – 8 shots and 9 or more shots.
  3. Require completion of a specific basic one-lane rally or a more complex rally pattern of x number of shots to start each point. For example, hit a six-shot cross-court, down-the-line rally prior to the start of each point.
  4. Allow only one serve to start each point.
  5. Track and total the number of unforced errors. Establish a limit to the number of unforced errors. If a player or team exceeds the established limit, the player or team loses the match (regardless of the score). As an alternative, track both unforced errors and winners. Establish a limit to a negative differential. If the established differential is exceeded (x number more errors than winners), the player or team loses the match (regardless of the score).


Category #3 – Offense/Defense Patterns and Tactics

From an offensive perspective… Learn how to execute offensive play patterns. Learn how to gain and maintain a positional court advantage. Learn how to take time away from your opponent by taking the ball early. Learn how to attack short balls. Learn how to aggressively finish a point with a winner or forced error. Learn how to create situations to hit your strongest, most offensive shots for the majority of shots played during a match. Learn how to shorten the average length of points played to your advantage. From a defensive perspective… Learn how to stay in the point by extending the rally, absorbing pace, changing the tempo, and varying pace, spin, and net clearance. Learn how to disrupt rhythm and do whatever is necessary first to neutralize the point and then to transition to offense. Examples of point situations include:

  1. Designate one player with the role of being the first player allowed to dictate play with redirection. Require both players to hit cross-court until the designated player changes the direction (redirects the ball down-the-line) and then both players can play the point out with no restrictions on placement of the ball.
  2. Have both players start each point hitting past the service line. If a player hits a ball short of the service line, the player receiving the short ball must approach the net and finish the point at the net.
  3. Allow one player or team (or both players or teams) only x number of bounces (or no bounces) each point. All shots must be hit in the air prior to the bounce after the bounce limit has been reached.
  4. Play an offense/defense game where one player must conclude the point by hitting no more than x number of shots. If the player tasked on offense must hit one more shot past the designated number of shots, he/she losses the point. From the defensive perspective, the player on defense tries to win the point by requiring the player on offense to have to hit one more shot past the designated number of shots.
  5. Designate role-playing offensive and defensive assignments. Have one player or team play an aggressive, attacking, high-risk offensive game. Have the opposing player or team respond as necessary. Likewise, designate one player or team to play a defensive “get everything back in play” strategy. Have the opposing player or team respond as necessary.


Category #4 – Serve and Serve Return and First Strike Capabilities with the Serve and Serve Return

Learn how to dictate play with the serve by hitting specific targets and target zones and executing specific serve patterns. Learn how to take time away from your opponent and apply pressure with the serve and subsequent shots. Learn how to attack and dictate play with the return (by similarly taking time away and applying pressure). Learn also how to neutralize the advantage of the server and get into the point with the return and subsequent shots following the return. Examples of point situations include:

  1. Require the serve to be hit to a designated target area to start each point. To increase the complexity of the game, require the return to be hit cross-court, down-the-line or to a designated target area based on the target hit by the server. For example, require a cross-court (preferably angled) shot in response to receiving a serve hit out wide to the outside corner of the service box.
  2. Require the server (serve returner) to finish the point in less than three shots (or lose the point regardless of the ultimate outcome). On a more positive note, award bonus points in escalating value if the server (serve returner) can successfully conclude the point in three shots, two shots or one shot (which in the case of the server would be an ace or unreturnable serve).
  3. Choreograph the start of each point in a collaborative effort by both the server and serve returner. Require the server and serve returner to hit a two or more shot pattern hitting specific designated targets (including the serve) with specific designated shots after the serve. For example, require the server to hit a serve out wide, followed by a forehand approach hit deep to the opposite corner concluded with a forehand angled cross court volley.
  4. Require one player to return serve from a starting position x feet inside the baseline (or x feet behind the baseline).
  5. Require the server to state his/her plan for the first two (or more) shots hit prior to each point. Award bonus points whenever the shot pattern follows according to plan.


Category #5 – Mental Toughness/Concentration/Focus

Learn how to establish and maintain composure, focus, concentration, intensity, and confidence. Examples of point situations include:

  1. Start and maintain a two-ball rally until a mistake is made with one of the balls. Then play out the point with the remaining ball.
  2. Require one player or team to play all points from a disadvantage of playing on the court side looking into the sun or playing with other adverse playing condition (such as playing against a fierce headwind.
  3. Require players to be silent (no talking or negative or positive outbursts) during match play. Players are to use only hand signals to make calls and not say anything (except to call out the score) during all play (including during changeovers between games and sets).
  4. Using a time clock, reduce time between points to no more than x number of seconds between points. Or, using a time clock, extend time between points by requiring no less than x number of seconds between points.
  5. Rally Games. With the goal of executing repetitive hitting patterns and the discipline and focus required to execute repetitive hitting patterns, have pairs or teams of players compete against each other to hit the most number of consecutive shots according to the pattern requirements before the end of the allotted game time or have pairs or teams of players compete against each other to be the first to hit x number of shots in a row according to the pattern requirements. Patterns can be designed to be progressively more complicated and difficult to perform as players improve in ability and execution.


Category #6 – Touch, Feel and Finesse

Learn how to absorb and vary pace, mix spins, hit acute angles, execute short and deep patterns, manipulate the bounce, etc. Examples of point situations include:

  1. Require one or both players to hit groundstrokes with only slice (topspin).
  2. Play a volley, no bounce game with a requirement to hit the ball up only. Limit the court to the service box only.
  3. Play a mini-court game using only the service box(es). Require balls to be hit with no pace.
  4. Play two bounce points (ball must bounce twice in the court prior to hitting each shot).
  5. Play two-touch points where both players must first trap the ball (as the first touch) and then hit the ball back in play (with the second touch).


Category # 7 – Dynamic Court Coverage/Footwork/Fitness

Develop multi-directional speed, quickness, and agility. Develop endurance, power and strength. Develop strength, muscular endurance, core and shoulder stability and power. Examples of point situations (with an emphasis on escalating density) include:

  1. Players play points with one player required to only cover half the court but free to hit to the full court while the other player must only hit to half the court but cover the full court. Roles are reassigned after the conclusion of each point. The winner of the previous point covers only half the court, and the loser covers the full court. The winner of each point can choose which side to cover (or which side the opponent must hit to) or sides can be designated by rotation or by the identified needs of the players.
  2. Require players or teams to run wide left or right, up (to cover a drop shot) or back (to run down a lob) to start each point.
  3. Require player(s) to run to, run around and/or touch a marker (such as a cone) or defined court area after each shot for x number of shots prior to start playing out the point.
  4. Require one player to hit every ball with a forehand.
  5. Play full court no volley points.


Category #8 – Point Construction/General Application

Through repetition and situation-based live competition, learn how to construct a point and develop better court and match presence. Learn by a “games theory” model of sequential repetition of basic patterns how to approximate and better determine probabilities and outcomes leading to better shot selections and choices. Examples of point situations include:

  1. Play team singles. Players stay in and play points until they lose a point or until they win x number points in a row. When a player comes out, he/she is replaced by a team partner who similarly stays in until he/she loses a point or wins x number of points in a row.
  2. Play a version of table tennis doubles. Players alternate hitting each shot with a team partner.
  3. Designate (mark off) an area on the court players cannot hit without losing the point. For example, mark a mid-court area where the center service line intersects with the service line.
  4. Rally Games – Play a rally game where a pair of players or team of players collaborate to execute a specific pattern or hit x number of designated shots in a row in less time than other opposing pairs or teams. Rally games can progress by increased demands for volume and complexity. Rally games can also include competition for pairs or teams of players to compete to see who can be the first to execute a specific stroke combination pattern or sequence x number of times.
  5. King or Queen of the Court (Attack and Defend) – One or two players defend or receive on one side of the court. The remaining players on the opposite side of the court take turns trying to win a designated number of points or consecutive points to replace the player(s) on the receiving end of the court. Players vie to win x number of points or x number of consecutive points while defending or receiving to win the overall game. Points can be initiated by a serve, drop hit courtesy feed or a feed requiring players to hit or move to hit a specific shot or shot sequence. There are two basic rotational options. Players can either rotate out after each point until they win the designated number of points or consecutive points or they can stay in until they lose or win the designated number of consecutive points. With six or more players, the game could include points running simultaneously on each half of the court. After losing a point, players rotate to the end of the adjacent line until winning the designated number of points or consecutive points. When a player proceeds to win the designated number of points or consecutive points, the player then replaces the player he/she last defeated. Options can extend to multiple courts. Players work up to a top court by winning x number of designated points or consecutive points from lower court positions. Players get bumped down should they fail to win points to provide space for players moving up. (e.g., Player X wins two consecutive service points on court 3, replaces Player Y to then return serve, proceeds to win three service return points, then moves up to court 2 and in the process bumps down Player Z who takes his old spot to return serve on court 3.)

The Importance of “Soft Hands” and a Relaxed Grip (and How “Soft Hands” and a Relaxed Grip Translate to a More Fluid and Effortless Style of Play)

  1. A player with skilled or “soft” hands has wrist mobility and can use wrist flexion and extension as well as ulnar and radial deviation of the wrist to generate racquet head speed, extra bite with the use of spin and sharper and more severe angles. It is ulnar and radial deviation of the wrist that helps create lag and an explosive whipping action as the body uncoils in hitting groundstrokes. It is this same wrist deviation that creates the windshield wiper motion and the ability to generate more topspin with the groundstrokes. Wrist mobility and flexibility provide the ability to maneuver the racquet face to create the sharp angles that players like Djokovic and Medvedev seem to make on a routine basis. It is wrist extension combined with forearm pronation and supination that help add that extra bite to the Federer slice forehand and backhand groundstrokes. It is a loose and relaxed wrist flexion at the beginning of the motion that initiates the whipping/cartwheel action and “snap” at contact for the Alexander Zverev serve.
  2. A player with the ability to maneuver hand and racquet position and path is better able to disguise intent and all stroke variables (such as direction, spin, trajectory, and depth).
  3. A player with flexibility and “soft hands” can better take advantage of the elastic energy generated through the stretch-shortening cycle. The stretch-shortening cycle is an active stretch of eccentric contraction of a muscle or muscle group followed by an immediate shortening or concentric contraction 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 stored elastic energy is released when the eccentric contraction is followed by an immediate concentric contraction leading to an increase in force production. The process almost by definition requires a relaxed grip and a fluid and effortless stroke pattern.
  4. A player with “soft hands” can absorb pace (particularly important when handling pace with the volley). “Soft hands” create the ability to cushion the ball to create angles, drop the ball short and hit lob volleys when at the net. It provides the ability to deaden the drop shot so the ball drops short and sits or spins away from your opponent. “Soft hands” creates the ability to take pace of the ball with spin for the groundstrokes to disrupt rhythm and to better manage the tempo of the rally to your advantage.
  5. A player with “soft hands” is more adaptive (can adjust to get a racquet on the ball in response to balls hit outside the strike zone) and as a result, tends to be better in retrieval skills when on the defensive.
  6. A relaxed grip and “soft hands” leads to less fatigue. Relaxation promotes fluidity, flexibility, and elasticity through the entire kinetic chain and a more effortless stroke pattern. Maintaining a relaxed grip and “soft hands” when not hitting the ball (in support of the racquet in the ready position and when moving to the ball) also minimizes fatigue particularly over the course of a long match.
  7. A player lacking “soft hands” and a relaxed grip tends to be more tense and rigid and is less able to generate that “pop” you see at contact with players who have a more fluid playing style. A player who is more rigid can generate arm speed but is less able to incorporate all body segments in a synchronized chain to transfer acceleration into the hand and racquet. A relaxed start to a stroke is particularly important for the serve to establish a lively arm which begins with wrist flexion at the start of the motion and to generate “pop” or racquet head speed at the point of contact. For relaxation, Pancho Gonzales (a prominent player in 50’s and 60’s) shook out his hand prior to gripping the racquet before hitting each serve.
  8. Tension and a rigid grip can lead to muscle imbalances and injury by disrupting muscle group interactions (such as the relationship between agonist, antagonist, and synergist muscle groups) and fascial (connective tissue) lines responsible for body movement and force transmission. Players should seek to establish elasticity in the fascial system and fluid, effortless movement. Rigidity at the opposite end of the spectrum is like jumping rope while only landing on your heels (which invites stress and injury).
  9. Soft hands” and a relaxed grip and stance enhance the ability to manipulate height, trajectory depth, bounce height and projection and direction of the ball after the bounce and provide players with variety and more shot options.
  10. Perhaps this is more subjective but hitting and moving with fluidity and elasticity (by starting with a relaxed and grip and posture) is more aesthetically appealing and more fun. If not more aesthetically appealing, a more fluid style employing more elasticity is more functional and efficient by relying less on muscle power. This equates to being able to be able to play at a higher level of performance and sustain this high level of performance for a longer duration (which definitely is more fun).


Things to consider when playing singles to better read and predict the intentions and patterns of your opponent and the consequences of your shots and decisions

  1. Look at the location and height of the service toss to get a read on the intended spin, bounce and location of the serve. A service toss up and behind the tossing shoulder indicates a higher bouncing kick serve either at the body or to the center T on the deuce side of the court and either at the body or out wide on the add side of the court. A toss veering more to the right for right-handed players indicates a lower bouncing slice serve generally angled out wide when serving from the deuce side of the court. Of course, elite players can vary location, spin, trajectory, bounce and pace with minimal variation in service toss location (making it more difficult to read). This then requires a more advanced and thorough observation (either live or by study of film) to determine player preferences, tendencies, and patterns.
  2. Note the footwork or lack of footwork to the ball. As an example, if a player is slow or late getting up to a short ball, the responding shot will invariably be short and/or up. A (right-handed) player who in running around her backhand to hit a forehand kicks back and loads her rear leg behind and to the left of the front leg thus closing her stance to the ball will almost always hit the responding shot cross court in an inside/out pattern.
  3. Note the swing path and swing mechanics and the ability of the player to adjust as necessary in response to different velocities, spins, trajectories, directional angles and bounce heights. A player with a straight take back is going to experience problems with higher bouncing balls up and out of the strike zone. A player with a loopy, big backswing unable to adjust to shorten the swing is likely to experience problems hitting the ball on the rise, maintaining a tighter position to the baseline, handling balls hit flat and with more pace and responding to patterns and point situations which require less time to respond.
  4. Check out the grips on both the forehand and backhand sides of your opponent. Choice of grips can betray specific vulnerabilities or tendencies. A player preparing to return serve with a continental or backhand grip is likely to block or chip the return when receiving serves hit to the forehand. A player who hits a one-handed backhand with a continental or mild eastern grip is going to face problems coming over the ball (hitting topspin) particularly when responding to balls hit up and out of the strike zone. A player who hits a two-handed backhand using a continental or mild eastern grip with the non dominant hand will similarly have difficulty hitting heavy topspin. A player with a more extreme western forehand grip is likely to experience difficulties with low shots. Of course, this is not to say that a player cannot modify his/her grip depending on the requirements of the shot. Better players can and often subtly change their grip to close or open the racquet face to generate more or less spin and to adjust to balls hit outside their strike zone. What is perceived initially to be a potential weakness can prove not to be a weakness with closer observation.
  5. Check out the angle of the racquet face with the take back or backswing. You can anticipate slice (or a flatter ball) when your opponent sets with an open face on the forehand side. A shift from two hands to one hand combined with an open face take back indicates slice off the backhand side for players who regularly hit their backhand with two hands. Intent is easier to disguise with the backhand for players who regularly hit with one hand but there are still cues in the take back that help to identify the type and degree of spin. To recognize slice, look for the extent of wrist extension and forearm pronation and the degree to which the racquet face opens and the racquet edge turns in toward the shoulder.
  6. This is more subtle, but I like to look at the hand skills (the ability to maneuver the racquet face angle and swing velocity and path as necessary to get the ball back in play, hit targets, etc.) to assess how my opponent is likely to respond to different shots and point situations. A skilled player with soft hands can use wrist flexion and extension and ulnar and radial deviation of the wrist to adjust the racquet face angle and to generate racquet head speed. A player with soft hands is characterized by finesse, creativity and elastic, fluid, and effortless strokes. On the other end of the spectrum is a player who is more rigid, less athletic, and mechanical in stroke execution. A player with soft hands is adaptive (can adjust to get a racquet on the ball in response to balls hit outside the strike zone) and can absorb and generate pace, vary the type and degree of spin, height, trajectory, and directional angles and by nature, is more unpredictable. A player who is more rigid is vulnerable to changes in tempo, rhythm, pace, and spin.
  7. Key on positioning (recovering and repositioning after each shot) to better anticipate responses from your opponent and to provide yourself with the best opportunity to counter and respond to every shot hit by your opponent. When operating from the backcourt, look to bisect the angle of your opponent’s best shot options to your right and left. This translates to a recovery position just right of the center mark after hitting a ball crosscourt (from your right to the right side of your opponent). In terms of your depth or your positioning in relation to the baseline, look to recover a few feet behind the baseline and then adjust your depth either in or back based on the severity (imposed pressure) of your previous shot. You can move in or play tighter to the baseline in a more offensive position after pressuring your opponent into a defensive response and either hold your position or move back after hitting a weaker shot. When playing in the forecourt, bisect the possible angles of return which essentially requires you to follow the line of the ball. Protect against the down-the-line pass. Force your opponent to attempt a cross-court angle pass which is a much tighter window. Get as tight as possible to the net to cut off angles and to put yourself in position to finish the point with a volley winner. You can get tighter to the net if your previous shot is hit low and stays down (knowing it will be difficult for your opponent to lift the ball over your head). You should fade back from the net if your previous shot sits up and fall back more considerably, stay low and possibly guess to move to your left or right if you leave your opponent with a sitter (such as a short lob).
  8. One way to better anticipate what shot to expect in a point exchange is to understand the concept of mirroring. With variation based on the ability level to execute, there is a tendency for players to mirror the shots they receive. For example, if you hit a high, heavy, and loopy shot, you can often expect the same shot in reply. Similarly, if you hit a shot hard and flat, you are likely to receive a hard and flat shot in reply. If you take pace off the ball, it is hard for players at most levels to generate pace, so you can expect the corresponding shot to be hit at a slower pace by your opponent. When you hit a shot crosscourt, the expected response is for your opponent to maintain direction and hit the ball back in a crosscourt direction (particularly when hitting from a neutral or defensive position). The same mirroring response applies to spin, trajectory, net clearance, etc.
  9. For better anticipation and court awareness, it is important to know basic shot patterns and styles of play. Most points begin with a cross court pattern (maintaining the direction of the serve) with depth being the primary objective for the return and subsequent shots. The initial pattern then changes when one player (Player A) hits a short or weak shot which provides the opponent (Player B) with the opportunity to attack by redirection to the open court, hitting an angle (preferably targeting the spot on the court where the service line intersects with singles sideline), hitting behind Player A as he or she is recovering to the opposite direction, or taking the ball out of the air with a volley or swinging volley. There are a number of first-strike patterns beginning with the serve and return. A classic first-strike pattern is an angled serve hit out wide followed by a shot hit down-the-line or inside-out to the open court. There are serve and stay back, return and stay back, serve and come in (serve and volley) and return and come in patterns. There are four basic styles of play or playing personalities – counterpunchers, all-court players, aggressive baseliners, and serve-and-volleyers. Of course, the best players do not always stay to script and vary their style as necessary for the best results.
  10. After factoring all the cues and references noted above, it is still necessary to dig a little deeper to get a better and more complete picture of your opponent. By observation prior to the start of your match or if not possible during the warm-up and the course of play, assess the tendencies, patterns, strengths, and weaknesses specific to your opponent. Assess the shot tolerance of your opponent. How disciplined is your opponent to stay in a rally as long as necessary to win a point? Is your opponent more successful with rallies of 0 – 4 shots, 5 – 8 shots or 9+ shots? What triggers your opponent to change direction, tempo, pace, spin, trajectory, etc.? What triggers a more offensive response and when attacking, does your opponent tend to repeat specific patterns and/or aim targets? Does your opponent prefer to play at a fast or slow tempo? What are the target tendencies with the serve and return? How is the composure and focus of your opponent when ahead and when behind? The more you can discern about your opponent the better able you will be to anticipate shot locations and patterns of your opponent and the consequences of your shots, shot locations and pattern choices.

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.