5 Elements of Serve Power

1. Lateral Shoulder Turn

2. Vertical Shoulder Turn

3. Hip Extension

4. Leg Bend

5. Exploding through the ball in the order of 4, 3, 2, 1. Hit through with right shoulder.

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5 Ways to Cut Down Your Unforced Errors

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Develop More Power on your Backhand – Shoulder to Shoulder Drill

If you constantly struggle to hit your backhands aggressively, and never quite feel like you can hit through the ball, one drill I like to do to get myself in an aggressive mentality is to practice touching my right shoulder to my chin on the preparation phase, and after I hit the ball, touch my chin with my left shoulder on the follow through.

With each backhand, the physical contact of right shoulder / left shoulder will give you immediate feedback as to whether or not you are (a) turning your shoulders properly and (b) hitting through the ball.

It may feel different at first, but like Agassi’s dad used to tell him – ‘just keep whacking that ball hard and one of these days it’s going to go in’. But in all seriousness, it will help you break through the mental barrier of having a ‘weak’ backhand, and help you feel like you can attack the ball from both sides.

Check out this slow mo of Djokovic – 36 seconds for the right shoulder touch, and 2:40 for the left shoulder touch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ed3S-X1Xiv4

Etiquette

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One aspect of tennis that is unfortunately lost on most players today, is that it is supposed to be a game of etiquette. Etiquette in tennis applies just like in life – the most important thing is to just be polite, and as conscientious as possible about other people.

That being said, here are some basic etiquette points that will help you feel more comfortable out on the court.

  1. If you are playing a point, and one of your balls rolls onto the court beside you, do not go fetch it. If they are playing a point or a match, your running onto their court is a major distraction, and they will have to replay the point, whereas maybe if it was just the ball rolling behind someone the other players wouldn’t even have noticed. So if your ball rolls onto their court, politely wait for their point to finish, and then ask for them to pass it to you, or quickly get it if that is easier for everyone. If they are clearly just working on drills, then feel free to go get your ball.
  2. Similarly, if one of their balls rolls onto your court from an adjacent match, don’t just toss it back in their direction — if they are in the middle of a point, you just disrupted it and they may have to replay it because of you. Instead, wait patiently for their point to finish, and then toss it to one of the players. Alternatively, you can place the ball at the back of your court near the dividing line between your two courts. This way if they need to get it for some reason while you are perhaps taking a bathroom break, or are at your bench, it’s easy for them to reach it.
  3. If you have reserved a court for 10:00, and there are two people playing there, then wait until the official clock strikes 10:00 before you walk onto the court. Before you walk onto the court, wait until their last point has been played. They will know that they no longer have the court reserved, and should be appreciative that you let them play right up to the last minute. Walking on too early is distracting and puts pressure on them for the final few points, which can leave a bad taste in their mouths.
  4. On the other side – if the clock turns 10:00 and the next group walks onto your court, immediately back up your bags and balls, and exit to the outside of the courts. Don’t try to squeeze in a few more points or games, or linger about on the court talking loudly. This is not your time – they paid for it, so you should vacate the court quickly.
  5. Some clubs and tennis centers have an ‘all white’ dress code policy. Check what the dress code is before you arrive. You don’t want to have to pay $100 for some white short-shorts at their pro-shop.
  6. Non-marking court shoes. This is a huge deal, especially if you’re playing at a private establishment. You need shoes specifically made for tennis – anything else can mark up the court as you run, making them ugly and the black lines are hard to clean up.
  7. Congratulate your opponent on their good shots.
  8. Apologize if you win a point by sheer luck, or accidentally hit them with the ball. (If it’s a highly competitive match, maybe you don’t want to be overly apologetic.)
  9. Don’t swear or otherwise throw kiddie tantrums. Don’t whack the ball in frustration.
  10. When warming up before a match, don’t try to rip winners on every shot. You should have already practiced in the weeks and months before the tournament. The warmup is just to loosen up your muscles, so hit the ball down the middle of the court to efficiently get strokes in. You can rip a good shot here or there if you feel you need to get it out of your system before the match starts, but you should generally be working together during the warmup since you have so little time.
  11. And finally, just don’t be a jerk in general.

Control the Rally – Patterns

Here I just wanted to put together my thinking on some fairly common shot selection decisions you will have to make over and over throughout the course of a match. This is by no means me saying ‘always hit this shot’ as situations vary in every situation depending on ball height, opponent, pace, court conditions, movement, etc. Sometimes it’s good to do the opposite of what I recommend in this video, but I just wanted to go over the basic high percentage plays.

I hope it’s helpful, even if it gets you thinking in a slightly different framework, or re-enforces your own thoughts on favorite tactics. For those of you who are newer to the game, perhaps these brief  classroom videos will help emphasize that it’s a thinking game, not purely shot execution.

How to Beat a “Pusher”

How to beat a Pusher

  • Mentality

First of all, it’s not helpful to mentally designate someone as a pusher. So although I titled this article ‘how to beat a pusher’, really I would not encourage use of the term to describe an opponent, or classify a player.

The problem is that it’s a derogatory term used to imply that your opponent does not hit the ball aggressively, and merely blocks everything back in a neutral way. Since everything is blocked back and keeps you neutralized, you find yourself struggling to attack, making errors, and generally becoming frustrated by their consistent dinks back into the court. It’s easy to scoff at them as being inferior players, and be frustrated at their style of play – but it’s simply one type of problem you must solve when you are playing. They’re presenting you with a challenge and you need to think in order to solve it.

By just saying ‘Oh, Tom is just a Pusher.’ You immediately are on a footing of disrespect, and this can be dangerous because it brings your ego into your shot selection. If you view your opponent as being very beneath you because they are a ‘pusher’, then it is tempting to think that your superior shot-making skills ought to shine through – that you should be hitting winners and dominating the court. When this doesn’t occur, you start to get angry at yourself for not playing beautifully, or your opponent for forcing you to play an ugly match. You might start attacking when you are not in an offensive position, or pressing to try and attack too aggressively in order to end the point.

If you look on the internet or ask a tennis pro ‘how do I beat a pusher???’ usually they’ll come back with some basic tips like ‘be patient’ or ‘finish the point at the net’. And these tactical considerations can be helpful and important. But I believe that 90% of the time when one is playing a “pusher”, they end up losing many points (or the match) because they lose the mental game, and beat themselves.

If you haven’t already read it, my post on Controlled Aggression is particularly important when playing someone who constantly tries to neutralize you, and give you no pace. You have to be very aware as to when you are in control of the point, have some comfort in causing them hurt (get them running), and know when you should finish the point.

When going into a match with an opponent who hits a lot of no-pace neutralizing shots, you should accept right away that it’s going to be an ugly match. You will have to adapt your playing style however you must in order to win. Accept that you are going to hit errors, and hit some bad ones. You’ll hit easy volleys and overheads into the net. It’s inevitable. But in the long run, trust that your high percentage play will win you the match. You’ll find yourself hitting a sitter out – and your internal dialogue has to be ‘Ok that was wide, but I was correct in trying to attack that ball, and in the long run I’ll make more than I miss. It was the high percentage play. So it’s okay.’ Think tactically rather than fixating on your “pusher” opponent.

If you think about it – your consistency should be the same as the “pusher” since you are technically superior. And they likely do not have weapons to attack you with – otherwise they would try to utilize them. So you should be equal in terms of consistency, but you should have a series of weapons you can utilize should you choose to. What determines whether you win or lose is your shot selection, energy spend, and conditioning. You need to be efficient with your emotional and physical energy spend during the match. A “pusher” player can wear you down if you get angry at yourself, and they can wear you down if you try to attack every ball with maximum effort.

You need to work the point – get control of the point by hitting with depth, hitting to their weakness, then use your control to make them run. Angled balls that bounce off the court are particularly effective I find. Most ‘Pusher’ type players tend to stand very far behind the baseline, and focus only on moving forward and backward to cover deep balls and dropshots. They are comfortable running to drop shots and beating you at net. They are comfortable hitting lobs over and over if you hit it deep.  Play high percentage tennis – don’t go outside your comfort zone to try and force the point in your favor.

  • Know Your own Capabilities!

Many times I hear beginners talk about how frustrating it is to play ‘Pushers’ because they hit with no pace. First, take a close look at your own game and ask – if I got 100 balls fed to me with no pace in the middle of the court, am I technically capable – skillful enough – to consistently attack the ball? Would I hit more than 30% of my attacking shots out or in the net?

If your error rate is that high, then yes of course someone who focuses solely on consistency of 100% is going to beat you. You have to match their consistency of 100%, and only attack when you can win the point with near certainty. I’d say attack aggressively in situations where you know you’ll win 90% of the time. If you’re not advanced enough to consistently build points and play with control, then you’re by no means allowed to snicker at ‘pusher’ players. You first have to work on your control, technique, spin, power, etc. Past a certain point in player development and strength conditioning, ‘pusher’ players no longer become a true challenge.

  • Tactics

Let’s say you gain control of the point by hitting a great heavy deep ball to their backhand. You then get a weak reply, and you hit a nice angle ball off the court to get them running. They manage to get it back, and you hit an angled shot to the other side of the court. They’re running again and will only just be able to get their racquet on it. If you are positioned at the net, then you put away the volley and win the point. If you’re positioned at the baseline, then your opponent simply float a weak high slice back into the court, giving himself time to recover, and you have to start all over again. So people say close the net against pushers – but only after you have hurt them and can anticipate the weak return.

Usually ‘Pusher’ players have bad footwork – advanced footwork comes with advanced play. They may be quick running out wide, but if you hit the ball right at them down the middle of the court, they may not be able to get out of their own way. It’s also a higher percentage play for you. So test their ability at responding to deep balls down the middle of the court, and a change of pace – soft, soft, hard.

My Kid Wants to Learn Tennis – Help!

What to Know if You are a Tennis Parent

  • Make it fun! Remember that it’s a game, and a great way to spend time learning and improving with your child. There will almost certainly be challenges, but how you overcome those challenges together is most important. Don’t sink into an antagonistic relationship with your child, where you fight out on the court. This doesn’t benefit their game, or your relationship with them.
  • By making it fun for your child, and giving them selective positive re-enforcement, they will become encouraged to teach themselves, learn more, and spend more time on the court. Most kids desire strongly the approval of their parents.
  • Don’t nag or criticize your child. They’re trying their best out there and your job should be to encourage them through the tough points, or the times where they want to quit.
  • Have a clear goal or reason in your mind for why your child is learning – for instance, are you doing it just for fun? For exercise? To learn social or life skills? Maybe something they can use down the road? Or are you aiming for them to get a scholarship to college, or even become pro? Whatever the aim is, have it clear in your mind so you can devote your energy properly.
  • Don’t interfere between players during a match. The moment your kid steps out onto that court, it’s entirely up to them to determine the outcome of the match. It’s one of the nice and challenging things about tennis – it’s an individual sport where you have to be self-aware and independent.
  • Don’t coach from the sidelines or encourage cheating. These are not the values you want to instill in your child (I hope!!).
  • Do help them get prepared for their tournaments, and make them adopt full responsibility for packing their bag.
  • Do your best to learn the game through readings, videos, and online resources. This will not only help you take on the role as coach, but help you figure out when a paid-for coach is full of B.S.
  • Ensure the coaches you pay for are not teaching your child bad habits.
  • Above all else, be thoughtful and calm. Try to understand that your child has a lot going on in their mind, and they are likely struggling with the nerves and stress of match play. There will be tough times, tough losses, and some silly tennis drama. But most importantly, your child needs to overcome those challenges, learn values, work hard, and be happy with their good shots.

Stupid Tennis Math and the College Scholarship Myth

I think one of the most interesting and frustrating things that I witnessed as I played tennis growing up, was that as competitors started reaching the ages of 14-18, there was increased talk among parents about scholarships. They would huddle together at tournaments and gossip about s0-and-so who got a scholarship to some college in the USA, and whether or not it was “full-ride”. They would tell their kids that if they too won their matches and got good rankings, they could receive a $20,000 scholarship from bumpiss state somewhere in the US.

Once players and parents started equating winning with some distant financial reward, you could see them salivating. Enormous pressure was mounted on kids to win their matches at any cost – and since kids were calling their own lines, it got pretty nasty at the older ages. Of course the better players were always aware of the gamesmanship and cheating, but did not have to stoop so low.

It always seemed like such ludicrous reasoning. Below I drafted just a simple thought process where if you add up what the costs of playing tennis at a high level for a year might be, and extrapolate those costs out for 8 years, you can see what the total financial and time costs are for trying to play tennis at a high enough level to achieve a college scholarship. You can tweak the assumptions however you like, but anyway you cut it, the financial costs are pretty enormous, and probably leave you in the red, even if you get the revered “full ride” scholarship.

Item 1 Year Associated Costs 8 years of Costs 4 Years of Average College Tuition Net Gain Time Lost
Financial Cost
3 Racquets $450 $0
3 re-stringings $105 $840
3×3 grip changes $90 $720
new shoes $100 $800
Tennis Attire $150 $1,200
Tennis bag $200 $0
1 can of balls per week $156 $1,248
Tournament registrations $1,000 $8,000
Transport to tournaments $500 $4,000
$60/hr private coaching 4hrs/week $12,000 $96,000
TOTAL $14,751 $118,008            100,000 -$18,008 1,744 Hours
Time Cost in Hours
Practices Per Week 6 48
Length of Practice 1.5 12
Weeks of Play 50 400
Transport Time to/from Practice 0.5 4
Weekends at Tournaments 10 80
Productive Hours per Weekend 16 128
TOTAL TIME COST 218         1,744

Now obviously, if you took those 288 hours spent playing tennis each year, and devoted that time to hardcore studying for your academic subjects, SAT tests, and tutoring where needed – you would likely dominate academically and be in a better position for scholarships without any of the financial costs associated with tennis. Not to mention that the highest-ranked universities do not generally give out sports scholarships at all – instead they reward need-based financial aid to all those who are accepted. So if you’re aiming for a place like Harvard or Yale, it’s impossible to get admitted by only focusing on an athletic scholarship.

Tennis is a game that can be enjoyed for your whole life, and it teaches a lot of life lessons along the way. It’s great for learning about your own mental attitude, other people, and the biomechanics of the body. But at the end of the day, it is just a game. I would argue, before you set out to devote all this time and energy into becoming a ‘college level’ tennis player, focus first on your education which will be invaluable throughout your life in any endeavour. Once you’re already doing well academically, Tennis becomes what it should be – a hobby and a game for you to enjoy – and not a stressful win-at-all-costs financial rat race.