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Coil for Power

Coil for Power

Power in tennis shots comes from different areas, one of the most important is the coiling down to generate power as we come up.

Our ground strokes require a preparation that allows us to bend our knees when taking the racquet back. Whether discussing the Traditional forehand or backhand, or the more Modern style, knee bends are essential. The Traditional strokes, where our bodies are turned more sideways to the net and our stances are closed, have a knee bend in the rear leg, which will automatically bend the front leg a bit. This bending allows the player to come up, and through, the ball at contact resulting in more power. With the Modern style the body is more open to the net and so too is the stance. Notice in the picture how bent the right knee is while preparing for the forehand, the term “ loading “ is used instead of coiling, but we are talking the same thing here, lowering the body to generate an upward motion creating power.

Serving also requires a coiling action. We want to hit our serves at the apex of our reach. When this is accomplished two things occur, one, the trajectory downward is greater, giving us a better angle to hit the serve in, and two, there is a much larger arc in the swing which will generate more head speed, thus power. Remember L=L, or, if the serve is Long you probably hit it too Low. To be able to reach that apex the knees have to bend as the toss is being lifted. This coiling process allows us to push upward towards the toss and contact the ball at our maximum height. [See picture]

Let’s not forget the overhead either. We need to hit that shot high also, for the exact same reason as the serve. Ever wonder why your overhead is continually flying long? Go back to the L=L theory, they are being struck too low.

With both the serve and overhead remember to keep the head up through the entire stroke; this will insure longer eye contact and an extended reach.

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Think Shoulders

Think Shoulders

What does throwing a great pitch, a touchdown pass, hitting a baseball, smacking a perfect drive in golf, scoring a hockey goal with a blazing slap shot or good tennis ground strokes have in common? The answer for all these is a consistent shoulder rotation. When you have some time, watch some of these other sports and take note of where the shoulders are in relation to the ball just before the ball is thrown or struck. You will instantly pick up on the fact that the shoulders have rotated sideways and maintain that position until release or contact and then rotate forward for power and direction.

The same holds true for all tennis strokes-shoulders are the key for power and consistency.

The forehand and backhand topspin ground strokes, whether you hit in a closed or open stance, need the shoulders to rotate sideways to the ball and then be at a forty-five degree angle at contact turning towards the net when following through.

The back spin, or slice, forehand and backhand ground strokes are hit in a closed stance and turned shoulders. You should maintain that position through the contact point and not rotate the shoulders forward after the shot, but keep the shoulders sideways to the net until the follow through is completed.

To hit the volley correctly the opposite leg must step forward toward the ball and net, this will correctly force your shoulders to turn toward the ball and create a forty-five degree angle at the point of contact. Again, maintain that angle until the ball has left the face of the racquet.

When hitting the serve or overhead begin with the front shoulder facing toward the net. As you coil and then reach up for the shot the shoulders should begin to rotate forward-be at a forty-five degree angle at contact and then rotate forward towards the net completing the follow through.

Remember, the shoulders are the key ingredient for keeping the face of the racquet level at contact, thus giving your shots more consistency and the rotation adds power. Think shoulders and your game will improve.

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Drop Shot

 Drop Shot

The drop shot is a double edged sword. It can be very effective and win you points at times and can also lose you points. Let’s go over when it should be tried and the technique.

First a quick story about my son Ian, who is currently the Tennis Director/Head Pro at the Scarsdale Country Club in New York. When he was playing USTA junior tournaments the drop shot came back to bite him more than a few times. Ian had a natural ability for feel and touch shots. My worst fear as parent and coach was that if Ian tried and made a drop shot early in the match he would attempt it over and over, losing most of those points. The drop shot is a surprise tactic not a continual practice.

When should you hit the drop shot? I’ll tell you when not to first. Never attempt the shot if you are behind the baseline, the shot has to cover too much distance which makes it more difficult to convert and allows the opponent that much time to run up and cover it. When the opponent is behind the baseline and you are a couple of feet inside the baseline then the opportunity is there. Obviously, the closer to the net you are the easier the shot will be. The fitness of the opponent will be a factor if the shot is used more often.

The drop shot is hit with the Continental grip and the form is like the slice forehand or backhand. If those two shots are in your arsenal then your drop shot will be that much more effective. The drop shot can be disguised since the set up for the slice and drop shot are the same. The differences are, one- a shorter backswing, two- at contact try to almost catch the ball by opening the face of the racquet, taking the pace off the ball, and three- very little follow through.

Remember the drop shot requires a lot of practice to develop the feel.

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Back Swing vs.Loop

First let’s understand that on the forehand both the loop and straight back backs wings are correct. There are advantages for both and obviously some disadvantages too.

The main plus for the straight back is compactness of the swing. I’m a firm believer that the less body parts moving during a swing, the less causes for error. When using the straight back technique, think of the three Hs, Hip-Handle-Head, if the hip, handle and head of the racquet are in alignment on the backswing the stroke is compact and the head of the racquet will be below the oncoming ball to allow you to hit up the backside of the ball to generate topspin. Another plus for the straight back is when you are playing a particularly hard hitter, there will be less time to prepare due to the oncoming speed and the straight back backswing takes a shorter amount of time to get the racquet in the proper position.

Two disadvantages of the straight back are footwork and power. There is a lack of fluidity while swinging, which can cut down the head speed of the racquet, possibly resulting in a slight loss of power. The straight back swing generally dictates a closed stance which will force you to move your feet faster to get into position to hit correctly and recover back to the center of the court.

The loop backswing has been part of tennis for years and years, it has become more popular in the Modern tennis era. The advantages may be more power, condensed foot work and more control. The modern loop backswing is generally hit with the western grip, creating more spin which means more control. The power is generated by a continual swing that can form more of an arc which can give you more head speed, and if the western grip is being used, more wrist snap is needed to enhance the head speed at impact. The loop is hit more often in an open stance, so getting to the ball is faster as well as the recovery time.

Disadvantages might be errors due to form or lack of preparation time. The height of the top of your racquet head should not be higher than your eyes. Too high, and the swing will be too slow for hard hitting opponents and too difficult for balls lower than your knees. I’ve seen too many times players using the open stance forget that “open stance” is from the waist on down, a shoulder rotation is still needed to hit the shot correctly.

I suggest picking one that you’re comfortable with, and then try to learn the other. I play matches and use both when the oncoming shot dictates one or the other.

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Positive Tennis

Positive Tennis

I have seen over the years, either through my own play or through players I have coached, many matches lost due to negative mental attitudes during the match. When I was first starting out as a junior I know I lost some matches purely due to negative thoughts. It was only after I came to realize that part of playing tennis is the mere fact you are going to lose points, games, sets and even matches- because that’s the nature of the beast- and it is okay.

We all want to win, but when winning becomes the only enjoyment of the game then it may be time to quit because you are not going to win all the time. For me, the fun of tennis is being on the court in the heat of the battle. I’ve won a lot of matches, but I have lost a bunch too and it was only after I learned that everyone misses shots did I enjoy the sport to the fullest.

tennis forehand

Do not let a lost point or a miss on an easy ball start you down a path of negativity that will only increase your errors, because you are remembering points that are over and you can do nothing about them, rather than the points you can control-the next ones. Opponents are not blind, if you start getting angry and hanging your head you are just fuelling the opponent’s confidence and depleting your own, a simple recipe for losing quickly.

When playing in a tournament I am a firm believer in not knowing my opponent until the day of the match. I’ve seen too many players check out the draw to see they are playing a seeded player and then spend the next week before the match getting that losing feeling. Instead, spend that week focusing on your strong points building a confidence; you have an excellent chance to succeed no matter who the opponent is going to be.

tennis backhand

There is no shame in losing to a superior player; there is no fun in losing because you have mentally beaten yourself up before or during the match. Stay positive all the time during matches, do not hurry in between points and breathe, play to your strengths and enjoy the battle of shot making and wills. If you are winning do not change and try to hurry the end, stay on an even keel. If you are losing a tight match you can play the same strategy because the difference is probably only a few more unforced errors on your part, concentrate harder on less errors. If the match is lopsided against you change your strategy to something different.

Stay positive and you’ll have more fun and win more matches.

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Stance

Stance

In modern tennis the open stance has emerged as a popular way to hit the ball, especially on the forehand side. I will go over the positives of the open stance and then discuss when the closed stance is a must.

In the above picture is the forehand open stance, the picture below is the forehand closed stance.

As the game has become more powerful, due to equipment, the open stance forehand allows a bit less footwork when responding to the oncoming faster shots. Power can be generated by exploding upward off the bent back knee when making contact with the ball, make sure not to be completely erect off that knee before contact or your shot will generally end up in the net due to the ball contact on the face of the racquet will too low. You want to hit topspin by making contact with the ball from the center of the racquet on up-you will be able to brush up more of the strings which will give you more spin. Personally I like to hit the forehand with a closed stance when the shot is in the middle of the court and an open stance when pulled further out wide, you have options.

The backhand, one or two hand, is more consistently hit with a closed stance. Where I preach the open stance on the backhand, especially the two handed, is when you are pulled wide. (picture 4) On both the forehand and backhand wide shots the open stance allows you to get to the ball faster and return to the center of the court more quickly after making that wide shot.

The other shot that the open stance is an asset is the mid court swinging volley. Make sure you stop before you hit so your forward momentum will not carry your shot too long. (picture 3)

When is the closed stance a must when hitting a shot? The answer is the service return and the conventional volley. Both of these shots are fundamentally the same. They both require a split step right before your opponent’s contact, a short backswing and early contact. The early contact cannot be attained if there is not a cross over step with your opposite leg. On the service return the contact point is usually higher than a normal ground stroke due to the trajectory of the oncoming serve, without the forward step the ball will be hit late. When at net the oncoming shots are arriving much quicker and require a forward reach (no backswing) that is only accomplished by a cross over step. In both cases the closed stance will get you moving forward to help you take the shots earlier.

Practice the different stances for your ground strokes and be committed to the closed for returns and volleys.

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Tennis on the Service Line

Tennis on the Service Line

Playing from the service line is not the most opportunistic place to be on the court, but in the course of the match you will find yourself there. The only time you will begin a point there is if your partner is receiving serve when playing doubles. By the way, in that position you call the cross service line and your partner calls the service side lines.

This will be a bunch of small tips when at the service line. The shots presented to you will be the volley, swinging volley, half volley, slice forehand or backhand and in some cases a limited ground stroke-so here we go!

When starting the point from the service line, be prepared for three scenarios. First- after your partners’ return passes the net player move forward to net when the server is playing back, also move forward if your partners’ return is low making the server volley up when the server is following in the serve. Third- be ready for a reflex volley if the net player can cut off the return.

If you are coming to net either after your serve or moving in on a short ball from your opponent, in singles or doubles, change your grip to the Continental. This grip will be used for the conventional volley, half volley and the slice forehand or backhand.

Conventional volley- split step as your opponent begins the forward motion to hit the ball (not the backswing) then step on the opposite leg and reach as if you’re trying to catch the ball. The wrist is locked with no backswing and very little follow through.

Half volley- with the oncoming shot low and bouncing almost at your feet, you have already completed your split step; now all that is left is to turn, drop and lift. There is no backswing and the face of the racquet is slightly closed to prevent your shot from floating too high. Again, a firm wrist is required.

When the opponent’s shot is short, low and bouncing in front, not at your feet, a slice approach shot is needed to clear the net and keep your ball bouncing low for a high response from the opponent to give you an easier volley when reaching the net. The slice is an elongated volley. The shot is high to low brushing down the backside of the ball with a firm wrist. Please keep your knees bent and your shoulders turned through the entire shot.

Short high balls allow you to be more aggressive. Playing from your normal forehand and backhand grips allow you to hit either a swinging volley or attacking a high ball that already bounced. The swinging volley will be struck the same as your groundstroke just in the air. After the ball has bounced remember to move in-stop-and shorten the backswing since a quarter of the court is now behind you. A complete, over the shoulder follow through is needed for both strokes.

Good Luck-Have Fun!!

Wimbledon

Wimbledon

If you’ve been watching the Wimbledon, I bet you’ve been really enjoying the great matches, I know I have.

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Wimbledon Observation

Wimbledon Observation

It’s Wimbledon time-so let’s learn while we watch!!

Observation plays an awfully important role in the learning process of the game. We all observe things in our everyday lives that are then stored in our memories and used in our own experiences later. What is the difference in observing mental experiences than observing tennis strokes or strategy? Why is it so easy to copy mental experiences and not so easy to copy the tennis motions? The answers lie in the transferring of the mental images into physical actions.

A baby observes an adult eating with a spoon and then imitates. Lack of coordination and muscle training contributes to the baby’s inability to perform the action. However, after a long period of repeated tries it is done correctly and turned into a habit. We have the same problems with the physical actions of tennis. We can observe a perfect stroke and not be able to imitate because of lack of muscle training. This inability to perform immediately is, as all tennis players know, frustrating; but it will come with practice. The frustration should not detract from the valuable learning one can receive through observation.

When watching quality players on television, at your club or in the parks; observe what will help you best. I have heard too many people say to quality players as they come off the court, I really enjoy watching you play, your strokes are beautiful. That person had a great opportunity to gain in the learning process has wasted his or her time watching, not observing.

If you know that you have a particular problem in your stroke, for example, a too high racquet head on your backswing, key in on that part of the player’s swing you are observing. When we watch, we tend to watch the total stroke and game the player is involved in, however, nothing is being learned because there are too many physical actions going on in too short of time. Try to observe how that player handles your particular problem in that stroke. Always start your observation from the player’s ready position and follow from that position to the area of the stroke that is your problem. Many times a problem in a specific area is caused by early mechanics. The observer should key in on the arm, wrist and racquet head of the player, also take note of body rotation.

We can do this in segments of all areas that give us problems. Once you have determined your specific needs do not give up chances to see how better players handle them, don’t watch-observe!

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Errors-Good and Bad

Errors-Good and Bad

Many players believe that any shot not landing in the court is an error. This, while taken literally may have to be defined that way, is really is not so. Let’s discuss ones that are and ones that are not.

You’re playing a point and drive an aggressive forehand down the line and the ball lands a couple of inches wide, in my opinion that is not an error, that’s a miss. You never want to get down on yourself at any time; it will only hurt your game. Never get down after a miss!! Misses are going to happen when you are playing well and trying to win a match as opposed to playing too conservatively and trying not to lose.

tennis forehand

If you miss on ground strokes you want to have the ball land either long or wide. Ground strokes that hit the net are errors. No shot has a chance of landing in if it does not go over the net. When you practice try to hit all your shots past the service line, this way even if the ball falls short of the service line it is still over the net. Take putting in golf as an example. Where would you like a missed putt to end up? (No, close to the hole is not the answer.) The ball should end up past the hole; if it stopped short it could not go in. The same in tennis, the ball has to go over the net to have a chance of landing in. So, hit up and follow through for good shots and some misses, but not errors in the net.

tennis follow through

There are errors on ground strokes that do land long or wide, called unforced errors. This is when there is no pressure on you with the oncoming shot and you are not trying to do too much with your shot and for no apparent reason you hit it out. Concentrate on your form harder after one of those.

Another example of a miss or an error is in serving. Your good hard first serve is out, that’s a miss. A double fault is an unforgivable error, never give a point away!

tennis overhead

Errors occur due to lack of concentration, another example is a shot hit off the frame because the player is just not watching the ball. Misses are due to a bit of inaccuracy, do not equate the two.

Concentration is the answer for both misses and errors. Focus in more and you’ll cut down on both. Again, please don’t get down on yourself, it never helps.

Good Luck-Have Fun!!