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CAtennis is a passionate discussion for serious tennis players, parents and coaches looking for something different. No talk about technique, no talk about useless theory, no gimmicks; just practical advice from first-hand experience on how to improve your tennis. Kick back, drink the content, bounce ideas, and pitch articles (or friend us on Facebook).

Unless otherwise noted, all articles are authored by the founders of CAtennis.  Enjoy!


Ten Tips To Help You Win More Matches NOW

Here are some tips to assist you in winning more matches. Some of them are fairly basic but it's amazing how many high-level professional players end up repeating these rookie mistakes. Therefore, keep this checklist in mind and feel free to add to it anything that may help you with your particular game:

1. Get a proper warm-up. The warm-up is an integral part of most players' preparation for competition. Unfortunately, a lot of players tend to confuse the warm-up with the work-out. They miss a ball in the warm-up and then spend an indordinate amount of time trying to perfect the shot so that it won't happen in a match. Many times, these players completely ignore the remainder of their game and it is this part that usually causes these players' games to collapse later on. Instead of hammering drills that should have been covered in practice, attempt to spend the warm-up period to get your body (muslces, blood vessels, enzymes, aerobic metabolism) ready for physical activity. Pre-match warm-up is not the best time to "cram for the exam". 

2. Understand your opponent. Not many players do a good enough job of getting to know their opponents' likes and dislikes. If you cannot review footage of your opponent prior to the match, spend a couple of minutes visualizing her game style and strokes and imagine how your weapons fit against against her weaknesses and how you can best neutralize her stregths. Even if you are COMPLETELY wrong, you will be in a better position to change your stride during the match than if you go into battle without a plan. 

3. Stay flexible. Understand that a strategy that works in the beginning of the match may not be as successful as he match goes on. Therefore, keep looking for opportunities to win points through alternate methods. Be like more like a hunter who sets several traps and doesn't just wait in one clearing for the prey to arrive. 

4. Stay positive. If you can win a point you can win a game; if you can win a game you can win a set; if you can win a set you can win a match. Don't get down on yourself simply because things aren't going your way on the scoreboard. If you can string a bad mistake by the opponent (point one) with a tough physical play by you (point 2) and a smart play by you (point 3), you are in great shape to win the game. All you have to do is believe in your game and your abilities. 

5. Play one point at a time. A lot of players - whether they are up or down - think about the end result more than it's necessary. This is similar to a professional poker player who thinks about the $1Million jackpot during every hand rather than cards and chips on the table. Doing so brings way too much pressure into the mix and you end up overplaying or underplaying the point. Instead, try to think about ways to win each point. Learn from past mistakes and pattern but do not become obsessed by either the past or the future. Simply focus on that point and keep the end result somewhere in the back of your mind. 

6. Make effective use of time. Use time - during the point as well as between points - to your advantage. A lot of players simply rush way too much between points. They don't allow their bodies (or minds) to recover from the stresses of the previous point. In addition, rushing only ensures that you will fail to learn the lessons of the past condemning you to repeat them in th future. Furthermore, rushing during the point - for example, by hitting flat/hard when you're in a defensive position - increases the chances that you will not have time to recover for the next shot (the faster the ball goes towards the opponent, the faster it will come back). As a result, learn how to make effective use of time - be it by going to the towel after long points or slow-balling your way out of trouble. 

7. Don't become complacent. We covered this in a previous article. Briefly, allowing the opponent to hang around without crushing her spirit. When you're up, be more like a tiger who's gotten that much closer to the prey; the tiger doesn't let up - it ACCELERATES. It smells the blood and all the killer instincts get that much sharper. The closer it gets the more it wants to taste the blood. 

8. Pressure the server. The more pressure you put on the server, the more energy (mental and physical) he has to expend in order to hold serve. The more energy the opponent utilizes on holding serve, the less energy he will have available to use against you on your serve. Therefore, make every effort to get as many deep returns in play in order to put the server on his heels. There's a school of tennis that advocates going for big returns (winners) as a general rule. This type of thinking fails to take into account the risks and rewards of such plays. For the most part, the serve is one of the top 2 weapons for most decent opponents (before or after one of the groundstrokes). Therefore, you are taking a huge risk in trying to hit a ball that's moving in an unpredictible manner (i.e., the serve is a serve; it's not a feed). If the serve is a sitter - fine; take a chance. But if it's not in your wheelhouse, do as much as you can to get the ball back in play and then grind your way out from a neutral position. 

9. Don't hit your way out of trouble. There's an expression that goes along the lines of "for the person who carries a hammer everything looks like a nail". In tennis terms, a player may possess a huge weapon (e.g. forehand) and said player may be tempted to use it all the time - for good or for bad. The fact is that a 100mph shot followed by a 100mph shot followed by a 100mph shot, etc., loses it's "sting". As the point goes on, people become accustomed to the "pop" of the ball are no longer fazed by the speed. A 100mph shot that follows a 65mph "looper" with some spin/depth is, on many occasions, way more effective...it's just harder to adjusted to a changing tempo. Same with serves - if you keep dropping bombs, your opponents will just back up and wait for the ball to slow down. Use angles and spins to break up the rhythm before dropping the hammer. 

10. Give your opponent the credit that she is due. In simple terms, you should seek to remain objective about your opponents. Too many players overqualify their own skills and underqualify their opponents. Listen, there's a reason why you are facing this particular player in this match. Somewhere along the line, she has done something well enough to get to "your level." Therefore, give her credit for being there and try to break down her game objectively. A lot of superior players (on paper) have been stunned by lesser players...players who may be fat; players without serves; players without backkhands; players who are old; etc. A fat player knows he's fat - the second he touches the ball he will tag it knowing full well that he might not have the juice to got he distance. A player without a big serve is expecting to be broken; however, he knows just as well how to break and how to maximize the openings you provide to him. An old player - the most dangerous of them all because she's SEEN it all - should be approached with the greatest degree of caution (things that are over the hill tend to pick up speed LOL). Therefore, stay objective and worry about carrying your trophy through customs only when the appropriate time comes. 


On-court Coaching

Coaching is defined by the USTA as [a] "communication, advice or instruction of any kind, audible or visible, to a player." A broad interpretation of this rule would make it impossible to hold competitons of any kind. Think, for example, of a scenario where the player double faults and the parent/coach lifts her eye-brows in shock. In theory, this is a visible communication by the parent to the player with the implied message being that the player should do a better job of getting her serves in.

Therefore, the anti-coaching rule is a bit of a gray area and some communication between spectators and players is tolerated (e.g. "let's go", "nice playing", "stay tough", etc.). But with so much confusion between what's allowed and what is not allowed, how does one know when the line is crossed? 

The simple answer is that the interpretation of the rule depends on the official(s) in charge. However, in our experience, we have found that while lengthy diatribes and complex discourses among players and coaches are frowned upon, some expressions of encouragement are acceptable. Although you are advised to proceed at your own risk, you may consider the following prompts during a match where the no-coaching rule applies: 

1. "Good Start": this innocent expression can made to mean "take your time and focus on a good serve percentage" (this is especially useful when the player fails to realize that she's getting chopped up due to a drop in first serves). Again, you are not telling the player HOW to hit the serve or WHERE to do it.

2. "Push Yourself": again, another innocent expression that can be made to mean "move your feet" (this is particularly important where the player starts to rely on his arm as opposed to his legs to hit the ball). 

3. "Keep Hunting": some players become fixated on implementing a limited strategy (e.g., hitting to opponent's backhand) and fail to see that there are other ways to win points. Keep hunting can remind them to keep looking for other opportunities. Again, you are not telling the player WHERE or HOW to hit the ball but this innocent expression reminds him to keep exploring and that you are OK with his experimenting. 

4. Etc. 

Before you criticize us for advocating for the breaking (or bending?) of any rules, please consider, for a moment, the fact that the rule itself is vaguely worded. As stated above, any verbal (e.g., "that's the way to play") or non-verbal gesture (e.g., clapping) can be infused with a subtle secret code (Morse Code clapping) between player and parent/coach. Thus, the key is to not stand out as much as the person next to you (sort of like filing tax returns). 


Steal This Drill: Cross-Court Intercept

Tired of the same-old cross-court routine?! If so, here is a variation on the drill to keep things fresh and exciting. Two players are in opposite corners rallying cross-court. One or two coaches (one on each side of the net in the middle of the service box) is positioned in front of the baseline player(s) at the net. Two coaches would be available when players are drilling against each other during a tournament. Without moving too close to the middle of the court (i.e. center line), the coach(es) attempt(s) to intercept the cross-court ball that is struck by the opposing baseline player. When intercepting the ball, the net player/coach makes the baseline player chase the the ball (either drop shot or to the opposite corner; the rally must continue). The key is not to intercept too many balls; just the easy ones...the ones floating too close to the middle of the court. 

Why is this variation important? First of all, most players do not have the discipline to group their shots in a designated cross-court area. Often times, their shots wander into the middle of the court, sail wide or float deep. Having a person at the net who's trying to steal your shots reminds you to "keep the ball out of the middle of the court" and to channel into deep into the opposing corner. Second, this drill is also (and obviously) important for doubles. In doubles you are faced with a net player who is trying to intercept your shot. This keeps you sharp. Float the ball a little too close to the center and you (and your partner) are toast/tagged. So, in other words, this is a great way to use a "doubles practice" to sharpen your singles game. 


Grind Regularly, Celebrate Rarely

Win a practice match, nobody cares. Keep grinding. Win a groundstroke game against So and So, keep the head down. Keep grinding. Get an A on a test, don't tell the entire neighborhood. Keep grinding. Win the fastest sprint time in suicides, keep your mouth shut. Keep grinding. Date the prettiest girl in the school, get over yourself. Keep grinding. Get free equipment from Babolat...so what? Keep grinding. Got a chance to butt heads with a legend on the practice court, keep it to yourself. Keep grinding. Got a phone call from a top 10 college program, its not cocktail party gossip. Keep grinding.

Win that local, sectional, national, ITF pro circuit event? Good for you, celebrate with a Coke or cupcake. Celebrate rarely. Now get back out there and do it all over again.

Parents/coaches are guilty of building a child up. Raise the expectations, pressure rises, kids develop "Look-At-Me" syndrome and "Come-Save-Me" syndrome, and parents/coaches scratching the head at 18 why their kids strikes the best backhand in their locale, but can't seem to develop any consistency.

The best long-term organizations "grind regularly, celebrate rarely." Less flash, more substance. Everything is aimed at the long-term. Do not want attention. First one in, last one to leave. Egoless off the court, believes in their hard work under pressure on the court. Authentic, true to themselves. Spurs, Patriots, Warren Buffet, Duke Basketball...grind regularly, celebrate rarely. Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal...they are not "Look-At-Me" guys.

This is a "You Problem" if your perception is unhealthy in the eyes of those you respect. Don't be that guy who is users of people, self absorbed, ego centric, delusional, rockstar demeanor. Tennis is unforgiving, forehands and backhands are only part of it. What is your culture off the court? Who are you surrounded with? Tell me who you are surrounded with, good chance you become your friends. Smart people like to hang out with smart people. Classy people hang out with classy people. Know-It-Alls hang out with Know-It-Alls. Flashy people hang out with flashy people. Lazy people hang out with lazy people.


Drafting Isn't Just For Cyclists

Have you ever found yourself in a match situation where you are up a set and a break and, right before closing out the match, you managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?! All players are familiar with this scenario. Maybe the opponent played better... maybe your shots stopped clicking... maybe the wind picked up... the balls got fuzzy... Numerous excuses can exist for what is nothing more than a rookie mistake. What is going on?! Why do so many good players allow their opponents to come from behind and beat them? One explanation could be that most players who are ahead have an imaginary time clock in their heads... they exert just enough energy to allow their opponents to "beat themselves". Although this works at some levels, at the more advanced stages it is more appropriate to replace the fictitious time clock with an image of the Tour de France. 

You see, when it comes to road cycling, one strategy that is often used is the concept of "drafting". This is where a racer sits on the wheel of the front byciclist and allows such person to block the wind for him. Then, when the racers get close to the finish line, the trailing racer springs ahead - since he is more "fresh" - for victory. A similar thing happens in tennis; here, the player trailing on the scoreboard is constantly pressing his opponent to "beat him" by playing high intensity points and making few errors. Another factor that comes into play is that the trailing player has nothing left to lose so he's playing the points very loose. By not being pressured, he is free to hold serve with ease and figure out ways to chip at your service games. If the leading player's concentration slips, the trailing player may find himself in the lead just as things get interesting in the match. Therefore, when you find yourself ahead on the scoreboard, rather than waiting for the time to run out on your opponent, seek to expand the lead. Get one bike length in front, then two then three. In tennis, don't be satisfied with remaining up a break. Get up another break; and then another; then another. Be so far in front that the opponent has to work very hard just to pull even with you. Break the opponent at 30 or at 15... then see if you can break him at love. Don't be satisfied with "good enough". Stay hungry and stay interested. Sure, this is not the time for heroics, but do try to push the envelope a bit further. Chase balls that are clearly out. Challenge yourself to make good, hard first serves; get every return in play and show your opponent that you're "in it to win it".