I scored two goals playing tennis in one day ... how you may ask? I mishit a ball so severely on two separate occasions that it flew backwards over the fence and into two soccer goals which were adjacent to the court. It may be one of the biggest clichés in sports, but “keep your eye on the ball” is an excellent bit of advice in tennis for a number of reasons. It is particularly important to track the ball so that you can get into position and also ensure that you watch the contact that takes place.
It was early summer, and though I had been playing diligently throughout the year, I had not had too much court time outside yet. It was a particularly hot and windy day, and the wind was constantly changing, so I initially attributed the shanks to the conditions and my lack of recent outdoor play.
About a 30 min. into my hitting session, my vibration damper flew off my racquet, and I didn’t even see it happen. I momentarily thought my strings had broken when I hit the next shot and felt the difference. That is when the light bulb lit up and I realized that there is no way that my eye was on the ball at the point of contact. Playing indoors with consistent bouncing had spoiled me, allowing me to get away with lifting my head up before contact and succeeding based on feel. I immediately made a conscious effort to watch the contact and keep my head down as long as possible—trying my best to channel Roger Federer—and my shots became more crisp, as I was able to consistently find the sweet spot after 30 min. of hitting some of the worst shanks of my life.
In addition to ensuring better contact, because of the visual feedback in the milliseconds before you strike the ball, keeping your head down for a longer period of time allows you to better disguise your shots. People will generally watch their ball after contact even if they didn’t see it hit the strings, and the sooner you look in the direction you are aiming your shot, the sooner your opponent knows what part of the court they need to cover. Federer’s ability to keep his head down for longer than virtually everyone else on the pro tour is one of the reasons he has been so dominant.
Though eye contact is always key, windy conditions, courts with inconsistent bounces, or opponents who put lots of spin on their ball, make it significantly more essential for your success. Keep your head down more (on ground strokes) during your match, and you won’t have your head down after the post-match handshake.
<p>Daniel Kresh is a USPTA-certified tennis professional who recently accepted the positions of director of junior tennis and assistant tennis professional at the Three Village Tennis Club in Setauket, N.Y. He is also the assistant professional at The Port Jefferson Country Club at Harbor Hills. He may be reached by e-mail at <a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.</p>