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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 Score (6)


Whatever Problems You May Have, They Have Their Own Problems Too

Whatever problems you may have, just remember they have their own problems too. This is very practical advice that is very easy to forget in the heat of the battle. Reading this article, unemotional and clear headed, this makes perfect logical sense. Only problem is it is very hard to remember when you need it. Everyone needs to be reminded from time to time that it is easy to forget the task at hand (to win the match) instead of intensifying all your time and energy on your own problems (technique, feeling the ball, dogmatic strategies, etc). Tennis is never static, the elements are always changing. Your opponent is confronting their own demons as the match unfolds, you may not know exactly what those issues are, but they are lurking underneath the surface. If you are paying attention, good things can happen.

The most efficient players mentally play tennis from a 3rd person point of view as if they are observing the match from the stands. As the match unfolds, they take notes on all the jabs and body blows delivered and recieved. They see with clarity how their opponent is boiling inside, frosting at the mouth when things don't go their way. They see with crystal vision how their opponent plays 30-all points. They see how their opponent can't keep their cookies together when they get a break of serve. Sometimes these little cues and nuances can tip the match in your favor and increase your odds of winning.

Imagine the following scenario. You are down 2-0 to an evenly matched player who you have never played before. I say evenly matched because you have done your research and you notice you have similar wins and losses in comparison. The stakes are high and pride is on the line, you both desperately want to win. Your opponent serves at 2-0 and easily holds for a 3-0 lead.


Most players confronted with a 3-0 deficit hit the panic button. Uh oh, change strategy. Go for broke. Serve and volley. Pace around the court in-between points. Panic, panic, panic. Drastic measures have to be taken.


It is only one break of serve. You were nervous to start the match giving them a handful of unforced errors. Lets settle down and make them hit some balls. "Aha, whatever problems you have, they have their own problems too!" This wonderful piece of practical advice pops into your head and your blood pressure goes down. You realize the match is not slipping out of your hands, but it is closely within reach. You buckle down and get back to work.


Your opponent who just held for the 3-0 lead is overthinking it. "What a great start! Shoot, I don't know if I can keep this up. I'm playing awfully good, almost too good to be true. What if he starts to make some returns? He doesn't realize I don't like long rallies. I hope he keeps missing."

So if you remain calm and practical, just remember, whatever problems you may have, they have their own problems too. Sometimes your opponent is willing to lose the match if you give him a chance to choke. Better players don't crack til deeper in the match, your job is to hang around and find their breaking point. You got nothing better to do, so just keep hanging around.


Rock Paper Scissor Strategy

"If I beat Johnny and Johnny beats Bobby, why do I always lose to Bobby?" Sound familiar? If you're a junior - or even a developing adult player - this type of thinking will have crossed your mind at one point or another in your tennis career. It is attractive to think that, just because you're better than player X (objectively or in terms of ranking), and player X defeats player Y on a regular basis, you are automatically entitled to a win over player Y. The sooner you learn to get out of this mental quicksand, the better player you will become.

You see, when it comes to tennis, there are several factors that need to be evaluated before determining whether you should take a win over player Y for granted. For example, you may possess a huge serve while player X has only a spin serve. Although on paper it may look like you should have no problems holding serve against player Y, the reality is that player Y may love returning big, flat serves and may have difficulty adjusting to kicks and slices. Also, where you may be a righty, player X may be a lefty. This is only the tip of the iceberg but in terms of winning and losing you must objectively evaluate your game, player X's game as well as player Y's game to determine how X beat Y and what kind of trouble player Y may give you given your game. 

Let's delve even deeper into these concepts by looking at three examples. Player X is a counter-puncher; a pure defensive player. Player Y is an aggressive baseliner; he is comfortable at the baseline (perhaps right on top of the baseline) as well as at the net. Player Z is a pure serve-and volleyer; he looks to get in every chance he gets. For purposes of this example, let's also assume that the players are closely matched in terms of results and rankings. From experience, we have found the following to be generally true:

1. Player X (grinder) will generally beat Player Y (aggressive baseliner). Reason: although player Y is comfortable at the baseline, Player X is a baseline specialist who can run shots down all day and not miss. He has more stamina and more patience. Long points and longer matches (especially in tough conditions) do not bother Player X at all. The longer the match goes on, the more confidence is gained by Player X. Player Y does venture into the net once in a while but, not being a volley specialist, he wins as many points from inside the service line as he loses - resulting in frustration and over-hitting (just what Player X wants). Althoug the match is close, Player X usually snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. 

2. Player Y will beat Player Z (serve and volleyer). Reason: Player Y is more comfortable at the baseline that Player Z. The shorter points - which offer lots of tagerts - are just what Player Y desires. Player Y loves to thump weak pop-ups and he zeros in on openings like a sniper. Player Y is also skilled at coming in and manages to steal some points that way from Player Z. Player Z seeks to come in but, by having Player Y "hug the baseline", he is forced to come up with better serves and tougher volleys under pressure. With flatter shots from Player Y (i.e., enough topsin to clear the net and then dip), Player Z has less time to come in and must make contact with the volley further back than normal. Sometimes, Player Z will be forced to stay back where he is like a fish out of water. Unless Player Z serves and volleys well beyond his skill level, chances are that Player Y will run away with the victory. 

3 Player Z will beat Player X. Reason: Player X is playing further behind the baseline than Player Y would. Therefore, Player Z has a split-second longer to come in and punch the volley. By being closer to the net, Player Z is in better position to open up the court and, as a result, he forces Player X to cover more ground. Sure, Player X will hit some tough passing shots here and there. However, with his loopy topspin, they are too few and far between. Player X is fighting a losing battle where he has to work extremely hard for every point just to have a fighting chance. All this time, Player Z chops him up with solid serves and deft volleys. Player X lacks the opportunity to "get in a rhythm"; the points are simply too short for this and he is forced to hit against a skidding ball (as opposed to a ball with some topsin that would be hit by someone like Player Y).

With the foregoing in mind, the general advice would be to (1) determine how you win and how you lose; (2) determine how your peers win and how they lose (evaluate the information objectively and in a cold and calculating manner); (3) understand that, despite your rankings, you are fallible (definitely not immortal); and (4) practice mastering every gamestyle so that you can apply it when necessary. As you play, keep your eyes open and stay cool-headed so that you can shift strategies as necessary. Try to refrain from pigeonholing yourself as either this type of player or that. Be malleable; do not impose limitations upon yourself. By remaining flexible in your thinking and playing you will be in a better position to utilize the correct tool(s) for the job. 

To assist you, keep the following quote by Bruce Lee in mind

Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless - like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”


My Karma Ran Over My Dogma


Tennis is a difficult sport to learn because of the many components that must be perfectly orchestrated in order to produce a player's individual masterpiece. However, when learning the game, it is becoming on a player to use some critical thinking and analytical skills in order to cut through the flak, misinformation as well as seemingly conflicting information and get to the truth. In this regard, when a coach tells you to "never" do this or "never" attempt that, it is helpful to keep in mind that because the game is so complex, the "never" can mean "most of the time", "sometime" or "heck, I don't know. I don't feel like explaining the difference...just don't do it again".

Take for example our previous article on building forearm and wrist strength. In the article, we sought to emphasize the importance of having a strong grip. One of our favorite readers mentioned, like many players across the United States, that he was taught to hold the racket with the same grip strength that he would use when holding a bird. Sound advice...but is it? USPTA High Performance Coach and former WTA player Yvonne Gallop takes issue with this approach. Her opinion is that the grip must be varied to take into account pace of the oncoming shot as well as your intent vis-a-vis the ball. For example, squeezing the grip against a hard, incoming ball will propel the ball past it's intended target (like a ball rebounding against a wall). Similarly, having an overly-stiff grip and wrist against a soft ball may prevent you from generating sufficient pace. In short, there is no rule of thumb...it's a lot of trial and error and integrating various components (emphasizing some; de-emphasizing others) in the particular circumstance. 

Nevertheless, this brings into question an interesting concept: when we're talking about grip STRENGTH are we, ipso facto, talking about grip PRESSURE? The answer is "no". Think of grip strength as a barbell collar (device that keeps the weights from sliding off the bar). It is a pretty sturdy device made out of metal (first picture above) yet it slides easily onto the bar. If the bar is levered (i.e. tipped) against the collar, the latter won't break...because it's strong. On the other hand, grip pressure is the inward force (purple and red arrows in the second picture, above) that the collar applies to the bar when it's squeezed shut. Once it's locked, the bar doesn't slide within the collar due to the application of this pressure and friction. So, as a player, it's important to be strong when it comes to your grip so that you can apply the right amount of pressure as required by the particular circumstance. Try holding the racket like a birdie against an Isner rocket serve and you'll be collecting the stick from the next ZIP code. On the other hand, try choking the handle against a soft ball and your shot will have difficulty clearing the net.

In a similar vein, when talking about which grip is best and which one this player has or that player favors, keep in mind that there is no general rule. Take for example, tennis legend's Johan Kriek's take on Roger Federer's forehand grip:

"Roger adapts his forehand grip depending on the height of the ball...I have been doing it also for many years...tricky hey!" and "I used to use a continental grip but a little more to the strong backhand grip due to everybody thinking my backhand was the place to serve, which was great for me since it was actually my best shot. I could do anything off my backhand; my forehand was changed 2 years into my career from a continental to a more semi western grip but I used a little more eastern grip on fast surfaces. In 1986 I got to the semis of the French and that was for me one of the most satisfying results ever because of what it took in mental strength to attack so much on clay and the stamina it took to grind and attack at the right time. I eventually lost to Lendl but I was cooked physically by then, just too many 5 setters."

Many authorities, including Larry Stefanki, said the same thing about Bjorn Borg's forehand grip...that he adjusted it based on surface and trajectory of incoming ball. How many teaching pros have told you that you should probably master one forehand but be well-versed in many other grips?! Probably not many. How many pros have told you: (a) never hit swinging volleys (what about a floater?); (b) never play in the no-man's land (what if the opponent can't hit past the service line?); (c) never hit a flat second serve (what if you're serving for the match at 5-3; 40-0?); (d) never hit a drop-shot from behind the baseline (what if the opponent is 15 feet behind the baseline and tired?); (e) never serve and volley on clay (what about Johan Kriek's amazing run to the semis of the French Open?); (f) never hit to your opponent's strength (what if you want to do so in order to open up a weakness); etc.

When it comes to tennis, there are exceptions to every rule. It's your job as a player to read through the "nevers" as well as the "always" and determine when you should apply the exception and when to apply the rule. The more you play, the more experience you will acquire and the more adept you will become at parsing the communication. No coach in the world will be able to give you the exact recipe for every shot or every play since the exact factors that may exist in a practice scenario may be missing in a match. Accordingly, you have to do the dirty work of discovering the game yourself.


As The Wind Blows

Given that California is currently experiencing some massive windstorms, we thought that we would provide you with some tips for playing tennis in the wind or using it to your advantage:

1. Since drilling in the wind is frustrating, windy conditions are great for playing points. Therefore, rather than performing repetition-type drills, find someone to play sets against and use it to get better.

2. Wind requires even better footwork than usual. The ball tends to swirl around until the very last second so it's important for you to constantly strive to position yourself for the optimal shot. 

3. This may be obvious, but try not to aim for the lines (or even inside the lines). If you aim for the lines and the ball is moved by the wind in a ten foot radius, there is a great likelihood that you're going to miss. Instead, aim for the middle of the court and have the wind move the ball for you. That same 10ft radius will be inside the lines.

4. Even if it's not natural for you, try to approach the net (either serve and volley, chip and charge or off a ground-stroke). It's difficult to be precise in the wind so your opponents will have a more difficult time trying to pass you. On the other hand, you will be better positioned to knock balls down into the opponent's court and, therefore, not be affected by the conditions. 

5. Use slices for two major reasons: (A) your opponent will have to bend her knees and move her feet even more than usual increasing the chances that she will miss (hitting a skidding ball is hard enough under normal conditions); and (B) slices (well-struck ones, anyway) tend to not have such a high arc when crossing the net - therefore, the wind will not have the opportunity to affect such shots. As always, however, don't attempt this shot for the first time in a match and under windy conditions. Practice, practice, practice beforehand. 

6. Not aiming for the lines is not just for groundstrokes but also for the serve. The kick-serve and slice serve are probably your best bet under these conditions. First of all, determine which one of your serves requires a lower toss - that should be your "A" serve. As above, a lower toss has less chance of being affected by the wind. Once you figure out this aspect, make just slight adjustments to vary the intended target - the wind will take care of the rest (the ball will "sail" with the direction of the wind). For example, slice/kick down the T, middle of the court, or out wide. Sometimes, it also helps to be sneaky - by not putting a lot of pace/spin on the ball, the wind will play with it, making it swirl and, consequently, difficult and frustrating to return. When hitting serves against the wind, we have found that a slice serve tends to penetrate better than a kick or flat serve. When the wind is behind you, try to kick the serve more so that the ball explodes on your opponent and he has trouble generating pace from above his shoulders. 

7. If you know that your opponent has trouble with "dinkers" under normal conditions, these problems will be magnified by the wind. Don't rip the ball with a lot of spin (since such shots will penetrate the wind and will be easier to handle); use only enough pace and spin to maintain proper ball control. Give your opponent a wobbly ball to hit against and allow him to self-destruct. 

8. Remember the "10 and under play" or the sneak-attack. This is where you lob a high-topspin ball and, while your opponent is backing up and trying to figure out how to best handle it, you sneak in (wind may drown out your footsteps) and knock your opponent's shot out of the air. It works once in a while, particularly against some inexperienced players who back up for every ball. 

9. Keep tabs of the shift in wind; check out the swaying of the trees, blowing of the dust, or puffing of the net or windscreens. Remember to make proper adjustments when changing sides. If, on one side, you're facing the wind, chances are that you will be over-hitting when you change ends. Therefore, remember to add more spin. Conversely, when you change from side where the wind was behind you to one where it is in front, add more pace.

In addition, if the court has a drainage "tilt" (which can either be side-to-side or end-to-end, depending on the set-up of the facility), it may be exacerbated by the wind; see if you can use it to your advantage by sliding the ball with the wind into the low part of the court and having your opponent get even more out of position. 

10. Wind may be beautiful for sailing but when it comes to tennis it's all ugly. Therefore, expect to play ugly and win ugly. Under these conditions, it's all about getting the job done, not making the highlight reel. 


Shhh! Here's A Secret Way to Guarantee Stupid Playing

The origin of clapping as part of public performances is hard to trace. Some believe that clapping originated in the Middle Ages with the increase of public performances by traveling bands of actors and musicians. Others trace clapping far further - to Roman gladiatorial contests and, perhaps, even ancient Biblical times. Since even babies clap, it is possible that this instinct of expressing joy goes even further than that. It is, almost universally, associated with praise, pleasure and approval

As parents, you are expected to support your child's endeavors. However, often times, even innocent, positive actions can have far-reaching negative consequences. Take, for example, clapping during your child's match. "Now, come on, CAtennis.com, you can't expect me to show up at my kid's match and not be supportive! What's wrong with clapping?!" The answer is nothing - as long as you do it an appropriate time. Let's think about this for a second. When, exactly, is an appropriate time to clap: when the player hits an Ace? When the player hits a winner? When the player hits a shot that forces an error from the opponent? After all, you wouldn't clap if your kid played a point that drew an unforced error from his opponent, would you?! That would be unsportsmanlike. Right?!

Well, here's the thing: if clapping is a form of praise or of signaling approval, in many ways it has the same effect of giving the child an increase in allowance for doing her homework extra early, getting him a new car for finishing his senior year with all A+ grades, or taking him to Disneyland for winning a tournament. It's a form of rewarding certain behavior and motivating similar future actions. I can only speak from annecdotal evidence but I have witnessed HUNDREDS of matches lost and, consequently, many careers ruined by parents who simply "clapped at the wrong time". For example, do you find yourself clapping at a drop-shot winner at 15-40? Do you find yourself clapping at your kids' second serve aces? Do you find yourself clapping at your players' return winners? Do you find yourself clapping and cheering when your kid hits a between-the-legs winner? Well STOP IT! There's one certain way to ensure that the player will continue hitting stupid, low-percentage shots and that's to acknowledge such shots in the first place. Forget about what goes on at ATP/WTA tour events - people clap and cheer for any reason or no reason at all. However, those players have the ability to block things out. Even at those levels, however, the player's box cheers/claps loudest for well-played points; for points were the player gritted out a tough play; where he showed guts and smarts. They are more prone to acknowledge heart and smart-playing as opposed to flashy, low-percentage shots. So learn from these levels and encourage the player - and here's the key - WIN OR LOSE to the extent they accomplished their desired objective. By clapping winners you're encouraging him to go for winners. Same with second serve aces and low-percentage drop shots at key points. Instead, strive to emphasize the process.

The best advice that we could outline for you is to communicate with your player's coach in advance and ask him/her what the player has been working on. If the player has been working on being steady - clap/cheer for long points that show heart (again, WIN OR LOSE): "way to fight"; "way to stay tough"; "good hustle". If the player has been working on certain groundstrokes, acknowledge those strokes after the point (WIN OR LOSE): "nice forehand"; "beautiful serve"; "nice stick on that volley". By clapping/acknowledging the things that player has been working on, you will send the player the message that (a) you are 100% behind his development; and (b) your primary concern is not winning/losing. If the player has been working on certain patterns - acknowledge those patterns. It's useless to clap for winners during the match and then, after a loss, tell the kid that "it's not the result that matters." You are sending her two contradicting messages. In addition, you risk undermining the player's relationship with the coach because, where one is focusing on developing the game (i.e., the coach), the other (player) is concentrating on results. How is the coach supposed to focus on getting the player to the mid- and long-term level if the only thing that's on the player's mind is the immediate past and immediate future result?! This type of behavior leads to Band-Aid practices where the parties are focused on covering up past mistakes instead of emphasizing long-term growth and development. So, in a way, telling the kid one thing and exhibiting a different kind of behavior is not just useless is downright harmful.

The same lesson goes for being overly excited after the match for wins but being depressed after losses. What message are you sending your player? It doesn't matter what you say - it's how you act that sends the clearest message (remember: only about TEN PERCENT OF COMMUNICATION IS VERBAL). During the development stages it is EXTREMELY important to stay even-tempered regardless of result. The message that needs to get across is that learning and improving is of foremost importance. Results are simply the outcome of hard, passionate, driven and focused work.