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Top 15 Technical Mistakes Made By Rookies In Match Situations


Be aware of the following technical mistakes that may occur during a match. It only takes 48 points to lose (or win) the match so when you spot some of these signs, stop and make the proper adjustment. Repeat one or two of these mistakes and you will have handed your opponent the match on a silver platter: 

  1. Failing to adjust your backswing to the pace, spin and trajectory of the ball. Most players' backswings resemble a loop. The racket, generally, needs more time to complete a bigger loop than a smaller loop (circumference of big circle v. small circle). When the opponent's ball comes in fast, you must make the adjustment in the preparation in order to continue to make contact out in front. Cut down on the loop so that the racket has a shorter distance to travel - which allows you to transfer the momentum (body and racket) forward. In this scenario, your opponent is providing you with all the pace that you need; all you're required to do is add control. 

  2. Failing to adjust your footwork to the pace, spin and trajectory of the ball. A shot that comes in low and fast requires a different set of "dance" steps than one that comes in with a lot of spin. The latter ball explodes off the court requiring you to constantly move in so that you can make contact around the waist. A flat, fast shot tends to come to you so that the basic preparation involves fewer steps but better balance (i.e. dropping your body-weight fast). Learn the difference and, more importantly, learn how to spot the difference early.

  3. Flailing at returns. When returning serve, remember that even a slow serve will have a decent amount of pace. Therefore, it's more important to return with your "shoulders and feet" than standing still and returning by flailing your arms which results in mis-hits and over-hits. Use your opponent's pace and redirect the ball for maximum benefit. 

  4. Failing to make appropriate adjustments in your serve positioning. How many times have you made all the adjustments that you thought were necessary and continued to miss the same serve? Sometimes, it may help to not just "play" with the basic stroke components but to also shift the location from which you hit a serve. Try to move to the right, left an/or back and see what works. Often times, the stroke is there but the condition of the court (court may be on a slant [angling your body-weight upwards, downwards or to a side]; or you might be serving from a "hole" or depression in the court) may affect where your serves are going. For example, if you are getting good net clearance but the ball is sailing on you slightly, step back an inch or two...those balls whould be landing inside the service line. This can be a simple fix without messing too much with the stroke itself. 

  5. Attacking the net with the racket by your shoelaces. This is another biggie. When good players rush the net, their rackets are always in the "ready" position. However, players who are not as good, charge the net with rackets held low - like a baton in track and field. When they reach the volley-location, they still have to make some last second adjustments - which usually cost them the point - in order to bring the racket up from below their waist. It is impotant in these instances to remember that tennis is about "moving in position"...not so much about (a) moving, then (b) getting in position, and then (c) hitting the ball. All these components take time - something that's in limited supply. {Note: Coach Roy Coopersmith, former coach of Jelena Jankovic and several other notable WTA players, suggests remebering to also push the arms out in front since the natural running motion tends to keep the elbows back by the chest}

  6. Failing to match the strokes to the game-style. This is a situation where you see yourself as a certain type of a player yet your strokes are tailored to an entirely different gamestyle. For example, if you see yourself as a grinder, you need to adjust the trajectory of your shots accordingly. You are not going to be very effective at grinding when your shots don’t cross the net with a wide enough margin. You may be belting the ball - thereby utilixing all your energy - while putting the ball in the optimal strike range for your opponent. Or, on the other hand, you’re not going to be an aggressive baseliner if your shots don’t have enough punch to them. Match your strokes to your game-style; forcing a square peg in a round hole is inefficient. 

  7. Losing the point before winning it. Often times, rookie players set up the point perfectly only to lose it at the very second. For example, they work the point side-to-side, get to the net beautifully only to dump the volley from right on top of the net. They fail to recognize that even this last shot requires proper technique and start thinking about the next point before the one at hand is over. Remember, 99% is an A+ anywhere except for tennis. 99% in tennis is still a FAIL. 

  8. Going for more than is necessary under the situation. How many times have you had the open court only to miss the put-away? This doesn’t have to be an easy “sitter”; it can be a situation where you hit a great cross-court forehand, the opponent sent the ball back to your backhand and now you have the open court cross-court. Like a volley on top of the net, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over”. You still need the proper footwork, preparation and concentration in order to put the finishing touches on the point. So stop “shoplifting” and actually pay for your item first before putting it in your bag. In tennis, this means preparing well and hitting confidently through the shot. Save the fist-pump for later. 

  9. Hitting flat shots from 15 feet behind the baseline. This is an “oldie but a goodie”. I love sending an opponent into the vineyard only to let him attempt to hit the ball hard a flat. There’s nothing that a good player hates more than a short ball, waist high and with a decent amount of pace (being facetious, of course). If you get pushed back, adjust the trajectory of your shots accordingly in order to buy yourself time to recover and also to put the ball out of your opponent's strike zone.

  10. Overhitting when moving forward. Proper adjustments have to be made when moving towards the net so as to account for the movement/momentum of your own body. Similar to volleys (above), when moving forward with a ground-stroke (e.g. approach shot), many players fail to "take the racket with them". That is, forward movement with your body tends to create a backswing (if only slight) with the racket if you fail to account for this and don’t make a proper adjustment (e.g., pumping your arms when you run a sprint - as a part of your body moves forward, the opposite arm shifts back). Failing to adjust can result in over-hitting and a loss of confidence. Again, 99% ain't good enough. 

  11. Running around the opponent’s slice backhands in order to hit a forehand. If the opponent has a good slice backhand cross-court, the ball will curve beyond the bounce (i.e. continue to skid). If you attempt to run around this shot in order to hit a forehand, you will often find yourself trying to hit a low, awkward ball out of position (great, you hit a forehand, but now you have to back-track). Instead, move your feet, bend your knees and step into the slice with your backhand. At the very least, you will find yourself in the middle of the court. As a matter of fact, it helps - when seeing the opponent's racket opening up to hit a slice - to pretend that he's hitting a drop shot: lean in/step in rather than thinking about "circling back" to hit a forehand. Slices are often easier to handle "off the bounce". 

  12. Failing to cut off the opponent’s cross-court. When the opponent has a cross-court opening, your first instinct should be to move forward towards the cross-court (i.e. at an angle) as opposed to “tracing” the baseline. This will ensure that, not only will you have to cover a shorter distance but, if you manage to get to the ball, the contact point will be in front of you (as opposed to behind you) – allowing you to generate some pace with not just your swing but also with your momentum. 

  13. Failing to read the shot until it’s bounced. A lot of players wait for the ball to bounce before making the necessary preparation. The fact is that you should be able to spot where your opponent’s shot is headed within 3 feet of it leaving his string-bed. Read the shot as early as possible so that you can play proactive tennis. Unless you're playing magician David Copperfield, the shot will not trick you; if the ball is headed towards the backhand, it will end up towards the backhand. Prepare early so that you can hit early. 

  14. Slicing high balls. Unless this is your specialty, slicing a high ball is probably not the best idea. First, the face of the racket is open to the sky so you’re likely to send the ball flying back – overshooting the baseline. Second, even if you make it, it’s not exactly an aggressive shot. If the opponent doesn't hammer the easy floater out of the air, most likely, the ball will just sit in the middle of the court enabling your opponent to pounce on it with a groundstroke. On these occasions (high balls), it is often a better play to move in and rip it with a topspin or at least CHIP the ball (face of the racket being a bit more perpendicular to the ground than on a slice) aggressively. 

  15. Drop-shotting high volleys. Unless you have very good touch around the net, you should never drop shot a high volley. The ball will just bounce higher due to gravity allowing your opponent to get there and make you look silly. High volleys should be punched (best play is, probably, to angle them away); volleys below the net can be drop-volleyed if you are able to absorb the pace of the ball with your legs (like catching a punted football). 

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