Unforced Errors! AH! You hear that term all the time when you’re watching tennis, and if you’re just beginning to play, it’s probably the main reason why you lose. So how do you stop hitting them? What are they? I’d define an unforced error as a ball you hit out or in the net when you are in a neutral or offensive position. Here are some tips on how to reduce your errors.
1. Don’t Fool yourself. In a match, it is very rare to have all of your shots firing perfectly. Sometimes I get out there and play, and for whatever reason that day I can’t hit my favorite slice serve out wide on the deuce court. I get frustrated because it’s my favorite serve to hit. “Why can’t I get it!?!?” I think to myself. Each time I step up to the baseline, I think “Maybe this time if I just turn my shoulders more, or toss it differently…” and then I continue to miss the serve. This kind of thinking can have a hugely negative effect on your performance during a match. It’s good to try to work through issues (in practice!), but not during a match. It’s best to acknowledge what’s working for you that day, and what isn’t. If you keep missing your favorite shot – dropshots, down the line forehands, whatever — just hit something else rather than repeat the error and let it get to your head.
2. Targets. Nobody says you have to aim for the corners. In fact, I wouldn’t ever aim for any target within 1 foot of the line during a match. Some people think the pros actually aim for the lines. No. If the ball gets that close, it is basically a missed shot. The best players are aiming for large targets and give themselves wide margins of error. They’ll aim for 1 foot inside the line at their riskiest. By shrinking the court you play to by 1 foot on each side, you give yourself much more room for small fluctuations in accuracy, without really having any effect on the pressure you put on your opponent.
3. Choose wisely. Some people don’t automatically sense when they arei n an offensive, neutral, or defensive position. If you too often are trying to hit offensive shots from a neutral or defensive position, you’re gonna have a bad time.
4. Stay focused, and have a plan for each point. Both as the server and returner, you should visualize your first two or three shots before each point. Construct the point in your head before it is played. Don’t just go out there and wing it – or see what happens. Don’t do either. Further – you should always have a fallback shot in your mind, so if you’re ever in a 50/50 position where you could either hit it to one side or another, you should have the default side chosen already so you aren’t over-thinking during the point. For example, “Ok if I’m unsure of where to hit the ball on these coming points, I’m going to direct it deep to his forehand.”
5. Footwork and Technique. Your technique is going to be the primary factor in determining your consistency. If you have major flaws with your body rotation, swing, grip, footwork, etc. it’s going to make it very difficult for you to play consistent tennis. So if you find yourself hitting far too many errors, video tape yourself and seriously analyze your strokes.