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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!


Entries in Creative Practice (81)


Steal This Drill: Confusing The Feet

One of my goals as a coach is to confuse the feet and make it unpredictable like it were match.  One way of accomplishing that is to feed the ball in a way (bounce ball) that makes them feel uncomfortable.  Just like in a match, you don't know what is coming.  Nobody knows, so you gotta be on alert.  This drill forces you to be quick, ready to dance, ready to pounce on an unpredictable ball to the open court.  The bounce ball off a live ball creates a heavy ball, one that is bouncing away from the player OR into the player- this requires impeccable footwork to hit a penetrating ball into the open court.  In this drill I am rather tame, but you can ratchet up the intensity by feeding the first ball deep after she was short in the court, forcing her to move up and back more visciously.  She must let the first ball drop.  

A good way to know if you are training a softie (one who needs things to be perfect) is to whip out this drill. The softie wants to be fed out of the basket, talk about the technical ins and outs of the forehand follow through, as if that were the main issue.  The tough cookies get up to the challenge, try to manhandle the ball before the spin takes a hold of them.  Tennis is extremely unpredictable!  The ball is never where you want it or expect it, so from a mental standpoint, this is a great drill.  Different strokes for different folks, so the goal is to work on your footwork and be accurate with the ball, however that works for you.  Coordination is a very personal thing.  

This variation is called "One To Me, One Away."  Be creative, you can have a player hit 10 balls in a row to you where you mix up bounce balls or regular volleys.  Again, the theme is to confuse their feet, see if they can be speedy around the court, like a CountryWide Mortgage Officer closing a deal on a 26 year old with bad credit.  



4 Practice Tricks For A Better Serve

Although the serve has many moving parts leading to a breakdown of the serve during the match, the mistake can usually be attributed to one of three components: (a) TOSS; (b) BALANCE; and (c) LEG DRIVE. Besides practicing inordinate amounts of serve, here are four tricks that you can use to solidify your grasp of these concepts.

1. Use a half-filled water bottle to practice tosses. Unless you have a calm toss, the water inside the bottle will cause it to wobble and move around. Instead of "tossing" the ball/bottle, practice putting it up in the air so that you can catch it in the same spot where you release it. 

2. Toss the ball against the fence and "catch" it between the racket and the fence. For training the proper contact point and proper arm extension, stand facing the back fence (about 2 feet away) and toss the ball slightly forward into the fence. Swing the racket towards the ball and see if you can trap the ball between the string bed and fence at full arm extension. 


3. Use "leg-cuffs" for teaching your hind foot to lock in position alongside the front foot. A lot of players who bring their back-foot forward (as opposed to serving off both feet - e.g. Federer) tend to overshoot the stopping point causing their hind foot to go in front of the front foot. This causes the hips (and, consequently, the chest) to rotate prematurely. Train your hind foot to "lock" into the proper position by using elastic/rubber leg-cuffs (generally used for speed work) which pull the feet close together without allowing the hind foot to swing forward out of control. 

EXAMPLE: Elena Bovina demonstrates the bottle toss and leg-cuff practice. 

4. Use a 2" x 4" piece of wood to train leg power. Place the piece of wood on top of the baseline and try jumping over it as ou serve. Proper knee bend and explosiveness will cause you to propel over the obstacle and land into the court. If you clip the obstacle with your toes it means your serve is lacking leg drive and, most likely, that you are "arming" the serve. Distribute power along all muscle groups from the ground up and your serve will maintain "pop" throughout the match. A lot of players start out the match ripping the serve with only their shoulder muscles. However, these muscles are normally very small and tire easily. Accordingly, the serve will invariably start breaking down as the match progresses. By recruiting more muscle groups for this stroke, you will be able to maintain a proper stroke for a longer period of time


Steal This Drill: Russian Warm-Up Drill

Are you the type of player who jumps straight into baseline-to-baseline rallies only to find yourself searching for rhythm and feel 15 minutes into the workout? If so, look to warm up your arms, feet and eyes by first rallying up-close with your practice partner (i.e., service line to service line). You will see and feel the ball gradually and then you can back up to the baseline. However, before jumping straight into a baseline slugfest, see if you can master this following warm-up drill (we call it "The Russian Warm Drill" because it has been brought to our attention by Ms. Elena Bovina). 

In this drill, two players rally from their respective service lines. After a few strokes, one of the players backs up towards his or her baseline. The player who reaches the baseline first must still aim her shots inside of the practice partner's service line; conversely, the service line player must punch his groundstrokes from inside the service line to just inside of the opposing baseline. After a few strokes, the service line player starts retreating towards his own baseline while the initial baseline player proceeds to move forward. The key to this drill is to keep the distance between the players constant so that neither has to step too far and too fast backwards or forwards to retrieve the practice partner's shot. This drill is great for practicing touch, dipping shots and also punching half-volleys deep. 

Stay tuned for more information from CAtennis.com.



Steal This Drill: Aggressive Movement Following Serve

Have you ever hit a decent serve just to be caught flat-footed by an even better return from your opponent? If so, here is a simple drill to help you with your post-serving movement. One of the reasons why we are often caught unprepared following a serve is due to the way we practice serves: out of context. We move and work on our groundstrokes but serving is often done in a vacuum - that is, hitting basket(s) (plural - when the student is motivated) of serves at the end of the workout. This type of practice does not prepare us for the ball coming back to us after the delivery of the serve. 

One way to practice is by playing points - however, merely playing points will not focus the workout for what we need most - quick, explosive steps. In the drill we are proposing, a line is marked 1-2ft inside of the baseline. After each serve, the player must step in, touch the line and immediately retreat behind the baseline. After warming up, the players play points where one person serves and must touch the line and the other returns. This drill forces the serving player to be aggressive with his serve (i.e. follow the ball in) and then immediately retract behind the baseline and rally. The returner is encouraged to hit aggressive returns deep into the middle of the court in order to jam the server. The players can then play out the point. This drill is also a good way to practice "faking" the serve-and-volley play (i.e. pretending to come in and tricking the opponent to hit a short ball which is then used as an approach shot). 



Steal This Drill: Disguised Serves

Learning how to disguise your serve in order to catch your opponent by surprise can be a tricky proposition. It is often difficult for us, as players, to practice an efficient disguise because, prior to striking the ball, we know exactly where we intend the ball to go. As a result, we often give the serve away by adjusting the toss and preparation just slightly in order to hit the target. 

One way to practice the disguise - that is, having the preparation be exactly the same for every serve - is to practice the serve while the coach is behind you calling out the target in the air. For example, set up three different targets: wide; middle; and T. When the ball reaches the apex of your toss, the coach calls out "wide" or "jam" or "T". S/he tries to mix up the signals so that no pattern is established. Once you get the hang of it, the player can practice the slice, top-spin, flat or kick-serve in the same fashion. 

Practice disguising your serve and you will have the element of surprise on your side. After mastering the basic drills, do it under pressure. For example, put something on the line where if you are within 3 feet of the target you run a brief sprint or do some kangaroo jumps. This will not only get the heart racing but will make serving practice competitive and exciting.