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Steal This Drill: Handicap Tennis

Here are some good drills to try when you're either trying to mix things up or are practicing against a player who is not as good as you. Often times, playing against a weaker player might cause a better player to lose his concentration turning the practice into a hit and giggle session. In an ideal world, you should be able to have a focused practice against anyone but we realize that that's not always the case. Furthermore, there are some nutty parents out there who think that their kid is so much better than his peers that playing against them would be a waste of time. While that may very well be the case, competitive practices can still be arranged by playing against someone who is one or two levels below you if you put ego aside and your creative hat on.

In the first drill, set up the court (with athletic tape - yes, I go through quite a few rolls) so that the corners are marked off, more or less, as shown. If the weaker player hits the corner(s), s/he wins the point automatically. The stronger player's objective is to hit the types of shots (pace, depth, spin, placement) that cause the weaker player to have difficulty controlling. In addition, the stronger player would have to scramble to defend the corners - even taking balls out of the air. Play either regular sets or games up to 11, 15 and 21. Against players who are not quite that weak, you can set up only 1 or 2 "target areas". 

In the second drill, the court is set up so that the weaker player automatically wins the point if he hits it deep (blue) and the stronger player automatically loses if he hits the ball short (red). Again, these are great drill for evening the odds, for ensuring that both players practice with a purpose and for ensuring that both players stay focused throughout the practice. As we stated in the past, as long as you are motivated and focused, you can play against anybody and still have a very good and beneficial practice. You don't always have to play with someone who is better than you in order to get better. By handicapping yourself (whether by setting up targets, playing "down 0-30", playing in ankle weights, playing with one serve, playing with a wooden racket, etc.) you can still improve a great deal. You will learn to see the court in a different light and develop the necessary insticts to be a great tennis player. 

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