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Steal This Drill: Minefield Tennis

Do you find yourself losing points because you're too far away from the ball?! Maybe you're too far away from the middle of the court? Perhaps your opponent has managed to yank you side-to-side and you find yourself in the proverbial vineyard inspecting next year's crops. This can be attributed to a number of factors (which can be independent of each other): you are slow; you are not good at reading your opponent's intentions; you are not comfortable recovering or don't know how to properly recover in the first place. Another possibility is that you have not develop a keen sense of court awareness. The top players - see Federer, for example - have spent so many hours on the court that the map of the court is ingrained in their psyche. In many ways, they are like ballroom dancers who feel their steps around the room without looking down. Similarly, the tennis players know exactly how far they are from the the center of the court and when they are getting dangerously close to overstepping their comfort zone. In other words, in their 10,000 hours of training they have covered so much ground that they are intimately familiar with every square inch of the court. Furthermore, they know that when they reach certain zones, they are likely to lose the point as their opponents are utterly ruthless; they punish poor positioning and actively work to create it one behalf of their opponents.

Besides spending 10,000 hours running side to side, up and back as well as diagonally, is there a quick way to learn proper court positioning?! Answer: come on! This is CAtennis.com! Quick-fixes and band-aid practices are for the DVD hucksters. What we can show you, however, is an effective way to learn. Take "minefield tennis" for example. At the higher levels, chances are that if you ever find yourself in one of the spots designated by the red "Xs", you will lose the point. If you're too deep, the opponent will hit a deft drop-shot. If you're too far to the side, the opponent will bomb the ball the other way - sometimes deep, other times with a short angle. So, like any good soldier, learn to read the lay of the land. Set up a parameter of "mines" around the court... 15ft deep; 5th away from the sidelines; all around the court in a half circle - even off-court and short. Play points where you lose the point automatically if you step on one of these mines. The key is to practice being "tethered" to the middle of the court - like Federer - so that you're never too far away from having a decent play on the next shot. Sometimes, this means scrambling; hitting shots from a deep lunge; moving low to the ground; maybe even jumping ala Marcelo Rios. Since your opponent is actively trying to get you out of the comfort zone, don't give him too many looks at an open court; hit and recover. If you spot an oncoming shot that you think may take you away from your center of gravity, figure out the most effective shot you can hit so that you remain close to your base...instead of backing up 15steps, maybe taking 5 steps in is a more effective and efficient strategy.

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