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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!


Steal This Drill: Dynamic Cross-Courts

Next time you're drilling with your practice partner and s/he suggests doing cross-courts, throw this dynamic drill into the mix. In this drill, player One (red) hits 2 cross-courts and the third shot down-the-line. Player Two (blue) hits only cross-court. 

The benefits of this drill include not only learning to change the direction of the ball but also working on consistency and rhythm. Because the game of tennis is not static, a drill where players are static (i.e. basic cross courts) is not as ueful as one where players move the ball around and learn how to control the ball from various court positions and to generate angles while on the move. 

Incorporating this drill into your workouts is also important because, many times, this is exactly how points are constructed: you push the opponent, with 1-2-3 cross-court shots, into a corner and then flatten out the ball down the line. However, the foundation for this drill comes from control, feel, footwork and repetition in motion. 

To work on more consistency, consider changing the direction of the ball after more cross-courts: e.g. 4 or 5. Another variation is for the players to not have a strict pattern but for one of the players (or coach) to yell "switch" before one player changes the direction of the ball. In addition, the players can do ths drill down the line and change direction cross court. Similar to other drills discussed here, the players can also start the drill off with a serve or play points. Master this drill and you will be more confident that you can put any shot on your side of the court into any place on your opponent's side of the court ("from anywhere to anywhere"). 



Steal This Drill: Catch the Return

Are you the type of player who can serve his way out of trouble but have some difficulties when it comes to breaking your opponent's serve?! If so, this drill may be helpful. One of the keys to successful returns is to rely on the feet more than the racket. The return should be attacked and, yet, too many players rely on the racket rather than the shoes to get them to the ball. They are reactive as opposed to being proactive. The problem with this attitude is that the further back you intend to make contact the greater the distance that you have to cover. This distance is not only measured left-to-right but also up-and-down (since a good server's ball can really bounce high if you let it). 

To assist you with the concept of attacking the ball with your feet, put the racket down and grab a baseball glove (or two - one for each hand). Have your coach or practice partner mix up serves keeping them as far away from you as possible. Have her slide serves out wide; kick them to your backhand or hammer them into your belly button. Your goal is to move forward and catch as many balls around your waist as possible. By moving forward (like a team handball goalie: video below), you will learn to cut off angles and to do less with the racket and more with the feet. In the process, you will learn how to adjust your positioning by being light but quick and explosive.

When you master 10-15 good catches in a row, switch things up by alternating regular returns with catches. Transfer the skills from the catching to the returning and learn to use more of your opponent's pace and angles against her. By being a proactive returner, you will put yourself in a better position for break opportunities. 


500 Sets a Year!  

I tell parents all the time, take one private a week and go play matches.  Sometimes I tell parents take one private every two weeks.  It's just overkill to do anything more until you reach the higher stages of the game (professional).  Players need to be playing 8-10 sets a week, thats where the real learning happens.  Tennis is a game of trial and error, not about feeding out of a basket and focusing on technique.  Players need to learn how to compete and cope with stress.  There is nothing stressful about doing crosscourts for an hour, it doesn't get to the essence of what tennis is...a nasty contest between two people where there is a winner and loser. Black and white.  You are judged by the bottom line. 

8-10 sets a week is a great benchmark to set.  Play with anyone who will play with you.  I'm tired of players or parents saying "I won't play with So and So because they push...because they cheat...because they aren't good enough..." All lame excuses!  All you are doing is saving the player from the realities of the world.  You will play pushers who will make life miserable, do you want me to ask them to stop missing?  You will play cheaters who will cheat you on the biggest point of the match.  You will play parents who cheer against your double faults.  You will play hackers, net rushers, grinders, counterpunchers, flat hitters, dinkers, rabbits- you can't simulate this through drilling or feeding.  Simply impossible.  

(See Picture)...Djokovic has angled his wrist and changed his grip slightly to somehow, someway, fight his tail off to get this ball back into the court.  This can't be duplicated without competing and playing matches where your pride is on the line.  

There are no limits on who to play against.  Whether you play someone you can defeat 0 and 0, see if you can beat them 0 and 0 coming to the net.  Can you beat them 0 and 0 with just a slice?  Can you beat them 0 and 0 if you spot them a 30-love lead?  There are endless amounts of ways to skin a cat, but the point is to build some pressure into the matchplay to make it worthwhile.  The reason people hate to compete is because people hate dealing with uncertainty, the small chance that they put their pride on the line and lose.  Yes!  You need to be able to handle that kind of pressure consistently, never let your guard down.  Its an absolutely necessary skill.  

For the parents who protect their kids from playing people below them, your child will never reach its full potential.  This is the same player who tanks against players equal to their ability.  This is the same player who looks at the parent after every sign of poor play.  This is the same player who pouts when a bad line call comes their way.  This is the same player who yells, "What a tree!"  The coddling needs to stop.  

Imagine if you played 10 sets a week for 50 weeks a year?  500 sets!  Now compare that to the kid who maybe plays 1 set a week?  50 sets a year.  No comparison.  I wonder who will win.  Doesn't matter who your coach is, doesn't matter if you have a world class trainer, or use the best string.  It just won't matter.  Get out there and compete, its what makes tennis fun.  


Steal This Drill: Figure 8 Game with Serve

I should probably start making videos of certain entries, but unfortunately, I don't have a single volunteer to film me because I hit with my players!  I'll work on it.  In this Steal The Drill, we want to take the ever so popular (dreadful to most) Figure 8 drill to another level with added variations.  For those of you who don't know what a Figure 8 drill is, it is where one person goes crosscourt and the other person goes DTL (down the line).  

In my variation, the server is serving the entire time in a game to 15.  The server must go crosscourt and the returner must go down-the-line (except on the return where the returner can go anywhere).  Once the return is in play, the server can rip the first ball crosscourt for a winner.  Since everyone knows the figure 8 pattern and where the next ball is going, the game can be played at match speed.  

I love this drill for several reasons:

1) Working on your serves during practice instead at the end of practice.  Too often we practice serves standing around, saved for the end of practice.  The problem is serves should be practiced when you are tired, huffing and puffing.  

2) Everyone knows where the ball is going, therefore you can work on your anticipation and defense.  It should be very difficult for anyone to hit a winner since you know their next move.  

3) Forces you to use the entire court and hit the ball in a way that will not hurt you on the next shot.  For example, if you are changing the direction of your FH to go DTL and you are in a slightly poor position off the court and behind the baseline- you should hit your FH in a way that gives you a play in tracking down the next shot.  

4) Builds mental toughness.  There are no easy points if both people are hustling and willing to make shots on the run.  Can you play when there are no obvious way to win a point?  Can you play when your heartrate is up?  

Added variation: 1 person goes 2 Crosscourts and 1 DTL while the other person only goes Crosscourt.    



Mental Fortitude is a Limited Resource, Don't Squander It

Your game tends to follow your emotions.  When you feel great about your tennis, you tend to play better.  If you feel unconfident about the way you are striking the ball, you tend to play worse. One fact that seems to confuse even good players is having positive emotions should guarantee great tennis, maybe even guarantee winning.  It doesn't work that way.  Positive emotions only increase your odds of winning, that's all you can hope for at the end of the day.  This is why when Mr. Meathead makes a concerted effort to be positive amidst the stress of a tennis match and things start to go south, they start to believe having emotional control has absolutely no value. They revert back to their barbaric ways, slamming balls into the fence, semi-tanking by going for the outright winner, berating themselves after each point, and just having a "Why me?" attitude.  When has Mr. Meathead ever had a brilliant idea.  

Instead, a much sounder approach is to have no feelings one way or another after each point.  This might sound kind of ridiculous, but it works.  On the pro tour, the 20 seconds between each point is used purposefully to rid themselves of poor thoughts and replace them with thoughts of optimism.  Now, I know what you are saying, "shouldn't I jump up and down after I hit a great shot?"  The normal person would do this, but again if you watch the best players in the world, they use momentum and opportune times to give the occasional fist pump...like at 4-4 after breaking serve.  

The whole idea behind not reacting to each point and having no emotion is to prevent an emotional rollercoaster. If there is a high, there will be a low.  An over-celebratory fist pump at 1-0 in the first is going to be followed by a racquet "ding" on the cement if things don't go your way.  Very common at the lower levels of the game.  The good to great players have seen this movie many times and don't want to sit through another episode of Debbie Downer.  

Think about it, in a close match you will lose every other point.  Reacting after each point will force you to go up and down emotionally, very exhausting after a closely contested 2-3 hour match.  The truth of the matter is no matter how many hours you dedicate to your tennis, you are a human, and you will make errors you have no intention of making.  Accidents happen, just move on.  Reacting after each point temporarily throws you off balance emotionally and that time could have been better used thinking about way to be more productive against your opponent.  Mental fortitude is a limited resource, don't squander it.  Lastly, you don't want to overemphasize particular points, try to treat them all equal.  

Now this is why when your coach starts to talk about your footwork, follow through, fitness, etc- all great things worth exploring.  At the heart of the matter is how did you compete?  It's frustrating to see coaches/players (I'm certainly guilty of it, but trying to be aware) focus on the wrong during competition. American players don't lack the talent, they lack the mental maturity.