Summer is upon us and the opportunity to improve your tennis game waits. There are a number of potential areas of your game you can work on now. Hitting the ball, having a good strategy, being in good shape, and learning how to compete better, are key. Many of my students ask me to recommend some things to focus on so that they can improve quickly. I recommend the five areas outlined below.
Practice your forehand and backhand swings
This can be done off the court and almost anywhere with a little space. Start from the ready position, turn your shoulders and take a nice smooth swing with your hand or hands finishing near your front shoulder. Make sure you practice both shots and try doing some randomly (not just ten forehands in a row). Once you feel pretty automatic off the court, hit some balls with the same idea emphasizing the same swing each time. Practice going from forehand to backhand and vice-versa. Keep the swings a similar speed and try taking a few steps each time after the shoulder turn. This will help simulate what you face during an actual point. Remind yourself that even when the opponent hits a variety of different shots, you are going to try to keep your swing as close to normal as possible.
Practice watching the ball
This can be done during your normal warm-up by reminding yourself to follow the ball with your eyes, all the way from your opponent’s contact with the ball, through the air, as the ball is bouncing, and, finally, as your strings make contact with the ball. Get ready after the hit and repeat the same thought process. Although this seems like an obvious point of emphasis, our minds tend to drift away from these ideas during a rally or a point. Hitting the ball solid as a result of watching the ball very closely is the key to a consistently good shot.
Practice your serve
This is probably the most under-practiced shot. Work on keeping your motion nice and smooth, releasing the ball at the same point each time, and keeping all of your focus on the ball and the racquet meeting at impact. Once you feel good about the timing and rhythm, and your toss is going to the same spot, work on placing the serve in one of three areas in the service box: the half of the box that would make the return of serve a forehand, the half of the box that would make the return of serve a backhand, or right in the middle of the box so the serve ends up heading right towards the opponent. The location of your serve is more important than how hard you serve.
Practice your return of serve
This is the second most important shot in the game. The key to a good return is hitting the ball solid and early which allows you to use the pace that the opponent has hit on the serve. Use your watching the ball skills to track the ball from the opponents hand to their racquet, following it to the bounce on the court, and ultimately, to the contact of the ball with your strings. Try to make contact in front of where you are standing and keep the backswing slightly shorter than you would on a normal groundstroke. Adjust your ready position and cover the areas that the opponent tends to serve more to.
Play points, sets, and matches
If you practice the ideas above but have not been able to test yourself in competitive situations, it may seem challenging. Trying to win the point tends to take a player away from the basic things that give them a better chance to be successful. Practice the ideas under pressure and with consequences in order to become more confident about your ability to execute the shots in a match. Playing actual matches makes it much more likely that you can repeat the practice ideas discussed above, resulting in more instinctive play and more success!
Steve Annacone, USPTA Elite Pro, is the Director of Annacone Tennis (http://www.annaconetennis.com) and MyHamptonsPro based in Sag Harbor, NY (http://www. myhamptonspro.com) and Tennis Professional at Ventana Canyon Golf and Racquet Club in Tucson, AZ. For details on lessons, clinics, or coaching, contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 865-300-7323