This is a comment that I hear routinely from my students and club level players when watching professional tennis on television or when attending tour matches. So, how is it that some players, particularly the world’s greatest, make those miraculous feats you see on the tennis court look so easy? There is no simple answer to this question. However, I will share with you my thoughts on this subject in hopes that you might be able to incorporate some of them into your game, and start drawing similar reactions from your own viewing audience.
Balance—both physical and mental—is a key factor in this equation. I will start by explaining my logic behind physical balance. If I’m playing against or watching a player who hits a flailing forehand with both feet flying in the air off his back heels, my first reaction is, “What a lucky shot!” Of course, out of good sportsmanship, I do not verbalize this, but the thought definitely goes through my mind. However, when a player hits the exact same winner with both feet planted on the ground, shifting his or her weight from the back leg to the front, and finishing in a stoic pose, I instantly determine that this player knew exactly what he or she was doing. The shot was most likely intended, and could probably be repeated, with little difficulty by this individual. In order to improve upon this specific skill, one must analyze what they are doing with their legs while striking the ball and see if they can freeze their pose after the shot has been struck. If you can nail a clean winner and hold your pose much like Michael Jordan did during his infamous game winner during the NBA playoffs you are on track to making the shot look easy.
Mental balance can best be described by a reasonable degree of calm, focus and relaxation. In my opinion, the player that screams “Come on!” and pumps their fist after every point won is often unsure of their consistency and overall ability. In fact, it is my opinion that some of these players do not necessarily expect to make a large percentage of winners, and consequently, jester in such a way as to make an emphatic point to their opponent. Now don’t get me wrong … even the greatest players in the world pump their fists and shout to motivate themselves during strategic times in a match. But, the best players do not routinely overreact or make a big deal out of an incredible winner. Rather, they expect this to be the case. This is what makes tennis look easy.
Uncertainty also breeds tense muscles and frantic facial expressions. A relaxed face and body will lead to better vision of the ball and higher shot accuracy. To improve your facial relaxation while playing a match, try placing a potato chip in your mouth during a point and see how many crumbs there are after the point is over. When watching Roger Federer play in a Grand Slam, take notice of how his face looks exactly the same when he is hitting a running backhand winner down the line on a big point, or sitting in the chair during the changeover, mentally strategizing and planning for the next game.
So, the next time you hit the practice court bring a bag of chips, a cup of water, and a video camera. See if you can play an entire point without breaking a chip in your mouth. Try hitting a forehand with a cup of water in your non-dominant hand and not spilling a drop of the water (remember, this requires physical balance). Record yourself and watch for proper weight transfer as well as balance. Yoga is another terrific way to improve body control. Give it a try and see if it makes a difference.
These are but a few of the elements that make tennis, when played by the professionals, look “easy.” If you can start by improving these facets of your game, you too should find that you will start making the tough shots
look easy. But remember: Act like it is no big deal when you do hit the winner. Believe that it is purposeful and expected. In turn, your opponents will very quickly start believing that you are the better player, and they will be seeing lots of winners go by.
<p>Darrin Cohen was a top-ranked national junior player who went on to play four years as a scholarship athlete at the University of Virginia. He is now the director of tennis at Sportime in Kings Park, N.Y. He may be reached by e-mail at <a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.</p>