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Entries in Groundstrokes (33)


Steal This Drill: Deep Game Variation

Here's a simple drill for improving one's depth on his or her groundstrokes (credit: the original form of the drill was learned from Peter Smith, current USC coach). At the risk of sounding sexist, this is a particularly useful drill for girls/women because they tend to rely more on depth and penetrating shots to win points whereas men tend to create more openings with spins and angles. Nevertheless, all players can be better off by learning how to master deep shots that land just inside the baseline. 

The rules are as follows: a line is drawn/taped about 6ft inside of the baseline. The player practicing hitting deep has 3 opportunities (i.e., 3 balls) to hit 20 shots inside of the "deep" area. For any ball landing in this area, the player get "+1". For every ball landing between this area and the service line, the player gets a "-1". If the player hits inside of the service line, the player goes back down to 0 (this being the variation on the original drill). If the player is already at 0 or in the negatives and hits inside of the service line, that shot is a "-1". If the principal misses wide or deep, the shot does not count [DNC in the diagram]. If the practices partner misses, than the players re-do the point. 

The players rally until either the principal (i.e., the player practicing hitting deep shots) makes it to +20 or -10. In case of the latter, the principal runs a sprint. The practice partner's job is to be steady and consisent. This is not as much of a movement drill as it is a ball control drill. The principal should be given ample opportunities to make the ball so the practice partner's role is to chase down all the shots and put them back deep and with a decent amount of pace. The practice partner should vary his spins and force the principal to aim deep even on the most diffuclt shots. Try this as a warm-up drill and let us know how it works. 



Steal This Drill: Mirror-Mirror

Here is an interesting drill for training groundstrokes as well as for warming up. The best part about this drill is that it can be performed with 4 (or more) players on court so it could be useful for situations where the court-time is limited (e.g. indoors). The basic drill is as follows:

1. Players play on one-half of the court. This can be either the down-the-line half (including/excluding doubles - coach's choice) or the cross-court half (including/excluding doubles - coach's choice).

2. One of the players feeds a deep (aim for 2-3 feet from the baseline) ball into his opponent's half.

3. The recipient (the "proactive" player) hits either a forehand or a backhand.

4. Here's the scope of this drill: whatever the recipient hits (forehand/backhand), the feeder (the "reactive" player) has to match/mirror. Hence the "mirror-mirror" name for this drill. It's "open play" when one of the players makes it to the net. However, players should be encouraged to play from the baseline so as to hone their groudnstroke and body-language instincts.

5. Variations for this drill include instances where the point is "opened up" (i.e., any shot goes after the ball cross the net a certain number of times: 6-8-10, etc.). Furthermore, although initially the players must only match the stroke (forehand-for-forehand; backhand-for-backhand), as the players develope they can also be encouraged to copy the spins. So if the receiver hits a slice backhand, the feeder must hit that as well. Lastly, the players can also do "opposite" mirror - so if the proactive player hits a forehand, the reactive player has to hit a backhand. An additional layer of complexity can be added by forcing the reactive player to hit not just the opposite shot but the opposite spin as well (e.g. BH slice when opponent hits FH topspin; and vice versa).

The drill teaches the players to be proactive in terms of dictating play (this goes for the receiver) and also to "read" the opponent's body language in order to make adjustments with respect to stroke and spin (particularly for the feeder...the "reactive" player). The reactive player MUST REALLY PAY ATTENTION in order to do this drill well. So focus is also improved. In addition, the feeder (reactive player) is taught how to control the point and seek to gain the upper hand from a relatively defensive position (i.e., turning defense into offense). Footwork is also a huge component of this drill - as the the "reactive" player hits the ball and immediately has to recover and adjust for the next ball from the "proactive" player.

If you would like to share any drill ideas or practical suggestions for improving the game, please email us at catenniseditor@gmail.com or contact us on Facebook. As always, if you like the information, please pass it along to anyone who may be interested.


Steal This Drill: Half Court Battle

Here is another great drill for developing proper court instincts, basic strategy, ball control as well as physical and mental toughness. When playing points - and not many juniors play sufficient points in practice - it is sometimes important to break away from the routine of simply playing to win and actually work on getting better. One of the ways to work on improving is to actually limit the possibilities for your shots and see how good you really are.

For example, in the first drill, use plastic lines or tape to demarcate 1/3 of your opponent's side. That's the "out" zone and on the diagram to the left this area is hashed out in white. However, leave an 8 ft x 8 ft box in the corner formed by the deuce service line and the deuce side-line (singles) - short-angle temptation. If you hit the ball in that area, the ball is still good. Play point where the unhandicapped player is serving up to 11, 15 and 21 and then switch roles. In this game, see how good you are at managing to control the shot into 2/3 of the court - particularly hitting a deep ball to the backhand. Remember, most points at the development level are, in fact, played in that portion of the court. Often times, however, juniors play sets and they slap the ball nilly-willy hoping that it will go in. Sometimes, they aim cross-court but the ball goes anywhere but near the intended target. Of course, if the ball goes in, there's no penalty except when the opponent is there to intervene and punish your lack of accuracy and control. But, with this being practice, there should be a penalty for the unintended consequences since the purpose is to sharpen your skills. 

In other words, when it comes to a lot of junior players, accuracy and control are too often sacrificed at the altar of power. However, if you don't know where you are capable of hitting the ball, your game will suffer since it will be difficult for you to create any strategy to help you succeed. As stated above, this is also a way to test and develop your mental and physical toughness because you will have to grind long points while your opponent pushes you around the court. That's OK - this is what tennis is all about: GRIT.

In the second drill, the concept is the same but the game becomes a bit tougher. In this alternative, more than 1/3 of the court is marked off for one of the players - perhaps close to one half. The 8 ft x 8ft box remains, however, to tempt one of the players to still for this shot which, in this scenario, is fairly low percentage. Again, the player should attempt to play points where, as in the first drill, the unhandicapped player attempts to work his opponent around the court. The handicapped player has to be even tougher than in the first drill and his shots have to be way more accurate.

When performing this drill, you will really see the importance of actually hitting your targets in practice - target practice is not just for show; there's an actual purpose behind it and being proficient at hitting your targets (from anywhere in the court; whether you are standing still or are on the run) will help you develop more sensible offensive and defensive plays.

The dimensions outlined above could, obviously, be adjusted to fit the particular scenario. For example, better players (good juniors or college players) may only require a 3 ft wide sliver ("out" zone) to make the game very challenging (as opposed to 1/3 of the court). Also, the safe zone box could be enlarged or reduced to suit the players' skills. The game could also be coupled with a "one serve only" practice or "mirrored" (I.e., the opposites side of the court could be marked off).

Again, the key is to be (or become) a thinking player and work on practicing with the purpose getting 1% better today than you were yesterday. By varying your practice your mind will be more engaged on the task at hand while still being competitive.


Steal This Drill: Rock-Solid Backhand

Do you struggle with your backhand? Are you the type of person who expends too much energy running around your weaker shot? Do you find yourself doing silly things with the rest of your game in order to avoid hitting a backhand? Are you motivated to improve your backhand so that it becomes rock-solid? If the answer to some or all of these questions is "yes", then here are some creative drills to help you along. 

In the first drill (game up to 11, 15, 21, etc.), one player has to cover the whole court but must hit all his shots (including volleys) into the backhand half of the opponent's court (blue lines). The backhand player (i.e. the one covering only half of the court) can hit anywhere but, from the baseline, must only use his backhand. If the backhand, player is brought (or comes in) to the net, s/he can hit FH volleys. However, if the backhand player comes to the net (inside the service line), it's open court time (whole court may be used by the opponent). This is a great drill for one player to force himself to learn how to set up for the backhand and how to move it around without worrying about covering the other half of the court. The opponent, on the other hand, must learn how to make the backhand player move around so the his/her forehand (middle of the court) is exposed. In this eay, both players are working on something

In the second drill, the whole court is used by both players, but one player can only hit his backhand (including BH volley) cross-court (red line) unless the opponent comes to the net (blue line). The player who is limited to a cross-court backhand can, however, hit inside-out or inside-in forehands. For the player who can do anything, this drill simulates playing against a steady player who doesn't take too many chances on his backhand. Whenever the ball comes to that side of the court, the steady player (i.e., the one limited to a cross-court BH) tends to keep things simple and sends the ball back cross-court. The opponent "knows" this (i.e., in the drill, knowledge is artificially injected into the equation) so s/he tries to construct the point accordingly. The player who is limited to a cross-court backhand knows that the opponent is aware of the limitation so s/he works on hitting more effective backhands over the low part of the net and into the long part of the court - cross-court. Like a well-fought boxing match, both players work towards creating an opening. Same as in the first drill, play points and then swap roles. 


Steal This Drill: The Iron Butterfly 

Here's a neat little offense-defense drill that CAtennis.com dreamt up last night. This a two-player drill where one player (the PARTNER) stays in the corner and moves the other player (the PRINCIPAL) around. The pattern is as follows: Shot #1 - deep forehand; Shot #2 - deep backhand (or deep inside-out forehand); Shot #3 - short backhand; and Shot #4 - short forenahd. Rinse and repeat. The PARTNER's role is to work on ball control and perfect placement. His focus is to "look good" (perfect strokes and movement) and give the PRINCIPAL a good workout. 

When moving from the deep forehand to the deep backhand, the PRINCIPAL sprints forward around the cone (blue line). When moving from the short backhand to the short forehand, the PRINCIPAL circles backwards around the cone (white line). This way, the PRINCIPAL learns how to (a) hit and recover (short groundstrokes); and (b) turn defense into offense (deep groundstrokes). 

After a couple of sets, the players trade roles. The point is for each player to learn how to "hit and move" particularly when the opponent has managed to push you deep off the court and out of position. Much like Aikido and Jiu-Jitsu, tennis is a moving sport where you must learn how to use your opponent's energy (offense) against them in order to gain control (and put them on the defensive). 

One of the basic mistakes that players often make is to remain on the defensive when the opponent has managed to get them out of the comfort zone. They play the defensive role for the duration of the point without figuring out how to get back on top. In this drill, the PRINCIPAL learns that when he's pushed back, he can hit the ball high and deep and recover forward around the cone. Similarly, he learns how to recover backwards (in order to bisect the opponent's angle) when being pulled off-the court slightly short. By being moved out of his comfort zone, the PRINCIPAL manages to make his movement and his shots more effective and efficient under the given circumstances. 


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