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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 Movement (8)


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: Figure 8 Variation With Three Players

Here are 2 variations on the Figure 8 drill (i.e., where one player goes cross-court but another goes down the line. CAtennis.com would like to extend our appreciation to Mr. Roy Coopersmith for, once again, suggesting the following variations on this staple tennis drill. One of the issues with the Fig. 8 drill is that it seems to work best in a 1-on-1 practice. However, as evidenced by the following, one can easily incorporate the Figure 8 drill into 3-on-court workouts. 

Variant 1 (Figure 1 on the left): In this variant, Player A hits cross-court and Player B hits down the line. Player C is at the net post. The drill starts by having Player A feed. After Player B makes contact SIX (6) times, Player C jumps in Player B's spot and Player B runs to the opposite net post from where Player C was standing. Then, after Player A hits SIX (6) shots, Player B replaces Player A and Player A rushes to the net post that was originally manned by Player C. In other words, all players have the opportunity to hit TWELVE (12) shots in a row and then get a brief respite at the net. So, to summarize, the players hit and then rotate clockwise. Depending on the levels of the players, they can either hit FOUR (4) shots and move, SIX (6) shots or even EIGHT (8) shots and move. 

Variant 2 (Figure 2 on the left): In this variant, Player B is by herself and hits down the line (or cross court). Players A and C hit SIX (6) shots each and then substitute in and substitute out. This is a great drill because Player B can really focus on hammering the ball down the line (or cross court) without "feeling bad" about making her practice partners move. The two practice partners (A and C) hit only a few shots and then get a brief break so they can (or should be able to) maintain a higher intensity and better quality drill. 

What we like about these drills - particularly if the players possess different styles of play - is that all players get to "see a different ball" coming from their practice partners and have to adjust to the various shots while in the middle of the point. Accordingly, these are great drill for incorporating into a team format such as a high school or college practice. 



Watch the Ball!!!

"Watch the ball" along with "move your feet" are two staple pieces of advice that a player is bound to hear throughout his/her career. Obviously, since one of the centerpieces of our sport is to hit a moving object, both components must be mastered in order to succeed. Although movement has been covered ad nauseum by tennis writers, less ink has been devoted to the concept of watching the ball. Here are CAtennis.com's thoughts on the subject:

1. Watch the ball so that you can pick up the speed of the ball. Remember that light travels faster than sound. Don't rely on the cracking sound of the ball to inform you that the opponent has hit a hard and heavy shot (or, conversely, a soft ball). Pick up the necessary information from your opponent's preparation and the velocity at which the ball is leaving your opponent's string bed. This will enable you to prepare early and adequately. The ball will slow down somewhat after touching the ground - due to friction - but your best guess at anticipating the speed is to analyze the trajectory prior to the bounce. 

2. Watch the ball so that you can pick up the spin of the ball. In addition to hitting fabulous shots, great players are also known for doing the simple things really, really well. They don't overthink or overcomplicate the basics. If the ball comes with underspin, they know how to get (and stay) under and adjust the face of the racket accordingly. If the ball comes with topspin, they know that the speed of the ball prior to the bounce is deceptive - that the ball will bounce and, due to forward rotation, will "explode" forward. Therefore, the high-level players will prepare a smidgeon sooner in order to avoid being jammed by the oncoming ball. As mentioned in a prior article, the ball (whether struck with top- or under-spin) may also come with a slight side-spin which further alters the trajectory of the ball and forces the player to take an extra couple of small adjustment steps. 

3. Watch the ball so that you can anticipate the angle of reflection. The basic physics concept is that when a ray of light strikes a flat surface at a certain angle (angle of incidence) it will reflect at the same angle (angle of reflection or refraction) in the opposit direction (see image to the right). For example, if sunlight hits a mirror at 45degrees, the light will bounce off at 45degrees in the opposite direction. Substitute ball for sunlight and the application is that when the ball arcs and then drops at a certain angle it will bounce, more or less, at the same angle (give or take a couple of degrees due to pace, spin, smootheness of the court, wind, etc). As a player, if you can anticipate the angle of the ball's "reflection", you can adjust - whether with your feet, balance, core and/or racket - your shot. A lot of developing players wait for the ball to bounce in order to prepare. Unless you're playing Criss Angel, there is no magic! The ball will not change trajectory in mid-air (and may only change very slightly after the bounce). Accordingly, if the opponent sends the ball your way in a certain manner (horizontal angle as well as vertical angle), you should be able to determine where and how the ball will bounce even before the ball crosses the net. If you truly watch the ball (as well as the opponent's biomechanics), you will shave precious time off your preparation. 

To assist yourself with watching the ball, try doing the following: right after the opponent (pr practice partner) has contacted the ball, tell yourself (in your mind) "Back" (i.e. racket back). Do you have to take the racket back as you're doing it? Depending on your strokes and the particular circumstances - maybe, maybe not. However, giving yourself this verbal cue will put you - mentally - in the position to prepare a split second sooner. In other words, you will trick your brain (and your eyes) to start watching the ball sooner and with a purpose. 


Steal This Drill: Switch!!!

Here's a variation of the 1-on-1 drill known as "corners" where one player stays in one corner and moves his paractice partner side to side. In the standard corners drill, one of the player moves side to side until he tires and then the roles switch allowing the dictating player to move as well. We find the standard drill to be somewhat artificial in that the dictating player's energy level is usually ratcheted back while the other player is moving.

In our version, every 3-4 shots the dictating player yells out "switch!!!!" and the moving player has to direct the shots to the open corner. The dictating player then moves to the open corner from where the game continues. Then, after 2-3-4-5 shots (or even 1), the dictating player yells "switch" again and the moving player directs his shots to the open court. The benefit of this drill is that both of the players are moving and that the moving player is forced to constantly shift the angles of his shots while on the run. The dictating player gets to move as well so this drill is usefull in maintaining a high level of excitement for both players. Furthermore, with both players being forced to move and change the direction of the ball, the drill is a lot more realistic and practical than your standard corners drill. 

A second variation of the corners drill is where the moving player (or coach) yells "switch" and the roles change in the middle of the rally. For example, wherever the moving player happens to be when "switch" is called out, that's his corner and the player who was previously dictating the play is now the runner (hitting all of his shots towards that corner. This is a great drill for practicing in a team format where 3-4 courts can perform the same task and the coach's directive ("Switch") controls all the courts at the same time. 



Tips for Playing Against Heavy Topsins

With the Australian Open fortnight upon us - a tournament generally known for higher ball-bounces (although the Plexicushion has sped things up quite a bit resulting in slightly lower bounces) - let's take a look at some tips for playing against a player with high-bouncing topsin strokes. 

1. It goes without saying ("well, why are you saying it then, genius?!") that if you want to handle high topsins from the opponent, you should be practicing against people who hit with a lot of topsin. This will allow you to read their body language and ball trajectory so that you can anticipate the type of bounce as well as depth thereof. It can be a daunting task to try to take on such a player for the first time in a match. So improve your chances by playing against similar players in advance. 

2. Footwork; footwork; footwork. When you're trying to handle extreme topsins, you must be prepared to not only move forward and backwards but also sideways. Remember that an opponent can generate topsin that rotates "top-wise" or even slightly lop-sided (by brushing upwards AND to the outside/inside of the ball)If the latter happens, you must be prepared to for a ball the explodes sideways slightly and take an extra step or two before striking the ball. Don't get set too soon (as you would against a flat shot that is driven into the contact point); keep moving until you're in optimal position to strike. Adjust the angle of attack so that you're always moving forward and slightly to the side. If you get set too soon, there's a possibility that you may be either too closed or too open - making for an ineffective stroke (which the opponent can demolish) - or that you will allow the ball to bounce over your shoulder (which is exactly what your opponent wants to see happening). 

3. When the ball comes high, think "low". It is tempting, when seeing a high ball, to want to stand straight up "since the ball will end up bouncing high anyway" (DOH!!!). However, this type of thinking can be dangerous. When the ball bounces vertically and you swing horizontally, the two paths (1. path of the ball; AND 2. path of the racket) form a "plus" sign. Unless you have picture-perfect timing, there's a strong chance that you will either (a) mis-hit the ball, (b) generate insufficient pace, or (c) hit a ball without much arc (resulting in either an error or a short ball). To correct this, think about getting low as soon as you see the high ball leaving your opponent's racket and, after you've set up (see step #2 above), come up with the ball. If you you manage to do this well, although the racket will still swing through horizontally, the path of the racket will be at an upward angle (synchronized with the upward movement of your body). In other words, when compared to your body, the racket moves horizontally just as before; however, when compared to the ground, the racket actually moves upwards. This allows for not just better timing but also for a ball with more arc (and margin for error) over the net.  Furthermore, by working with the legs, you don't have to tinker with the path of your stroke. 

Closely related to this concept is trying to shorten the backswing a bit in order to have better timing. Remember that an exploding topsin has, in fact, pace. However, this pace is vertical (produced by spin as well as gravity) as opposed to horizontal (such as on a flat shot). A smart player will redirect this pace (by adjusting the face of the racket) and send the ball back to the opponent in an effective manner. If, however, you try to do this with a huge backswing, either your timing will be affected or you will mis-judge the amount of pace required. Therefore, try to cut down on your backswing just a tad and see how that works (particularly if you actually "stay down" and take the ball close to the bounce). After a couple of shots, you should be able to feel the amount of pace required. 

4. If all else fails, match the angle of the racket with the angle of the bounce. Assuming that you cannot adjust to a ball as outlined above, you may have to recognize that your opponent has managed to put you in a defensive position. In that case, rather than trying to hit a flat shot against a high-bouncing ball (which may end up going into the net), try to match the angle of your swing (i.e., path of the racket) with the angle of the ball-bounce. For example, if the ball explodes off the court at 80 degrees then try to drop the racket under the ball so that you can swing upwards at 80 degrees as well (towards the ball). Too many players try to "cover" a high-bouncing ball resulting either in a mistake in the net or a short ball. Forget it! Match the angle of the bounce and send the ball back high and deep to the opponent. Let HIM try to fight off the high ball - if you're lucky, he may just miss or hit you a short ball that you can thump. 

What suggestions do you have for playing against someone with massive topsins?