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Entries in Warmup (6)


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: 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. 


Steal This Drill: 1-up 1-back variation

We've all done this drill: one player (coach) is at the net, the other is at the baseline. The net player moves the baseline player around the baseline thereby providing him with repetition and the opportunity to work on good footwork (due to shorter reaction time). There are a few downsides to this drill including (1) the baseline player is hitting against a ball that has little topspin (i.e., unrealistic for a run-of-the-mill baseline exchange); and (2) the baseline player can get winded pretty quickly (resulting in a practice of poor quality). 

To break things up, the net player should not only move around at the net and force the player to guide the ball towards various targets but he should also try to provide the baseline player with some top-spin shots. How does one achieve this from the net? The answer is that the net player can volley into his side of the court first and then, after the ball clears the net, it strikes the court on the baseline player's side of the court as well. That is, imagine a ping-pong serve where the ball must bounce on the server's side of the court first and then on the receiver's side. This action cause the ball to pick up some topsin from the ground which is then translated into a topsin shot on the baseliner's side of the court. With some practice, the net player can master various heights, depths and spins.

In another variant, the baseline player can try to take some of these ping-pong shots out of the air (i.e., before they bounce on his side of the court) or use these shots as put-away shots. In the latter drill, the net player/coach can feed a follow-up volley. It's amazing what can be achieved with some imagination. 


Late For Match? Quick Way To Warm Up

We live in a highly industrialized world and it's foreseeable that at least a handful of times in your life you will show up just in time for your match or a little bit late (perhaps due to traffic or misdirection by your navigation system). Assuming that you didn't get defaulted, how ensure that you obtain the best possible warm-up under the circumstances? That is, the same, old routine might not do the trick particularly if you're playing against a tough opponent.

I have found that the best routine is one that gets the blood flowing the fastest and also "warms-up" (i.e., focuses) the eyes. First, chase down EVERY ball. If your opponent hits an errant shot, give chase even if the ball is way wide or deep. This is the time to bring out your inner tiger and the ball has blood on it. Don't let a single ball get by you. Second, when the opponent is at the net, warm up from INSIDE the baseline. This will force you to take FAST, SHORT steps and will also serve to trigger your eyes and how they see the ball. Again, NO BALL GETS BY YOU! Get in position and work the warm-up point like a boxer with high intensity. Third, take extra overheads to get some blood flowing to your back and shoulder muscles. This will help with your serves, particularly in the first couple of games. After finishing your net routine, PLAY ONE MORE warm-up rally from the baseline. In this rally, try to hit a lot of "inside-outs". That is, rather than being flat-footed in just hitting the ball back-and-forth to your opponent without rhyme or reason, focus on moving your feet, getting in positing and staying loose. Fourth, as you're warming up your serve, again, chase down every serve from your opponent and see if you can catch it on your racket. If the serve gets by you, don't walk to get the ball - RUN. INTENSITY is the key concept here. You have 5-6 minutes to get a decent warm-up so use every SECOND to getting your body to optimal competitive levels in every aspect. As you're starting to play the match, it's important to keep the intensity flowing for a few games before ratcheting back to more manageable levels. During these 2-3 games, (1) MAKE EVERY FIRST SERVE, (2) MAKE NO UNFORCED ERRORS, and (3) IF POSSIBLE, HIT NO WINNERS. Work hard for every point and establish a pattern for doing battle the rest of the match.

Unfortunately, a lot of players show up late for the match and do the same thing as they have done for previous matches - where they may have had the opportunity to warm up. Unless you're special, this is a misguided approach to big matches. The warm-up is not just for the strokes but, as the name entails, it serves the body as well. If you're starting the match cold (which is something that happens to unexperienced juniors all too often), chances are that you will lose the first few games. In big matches, this may be sufficient to lose the set. Lose the set, and now you have an uphill battles both score-wise and confidence-wise.

Thus, if you CARE about the outcome of the match, enter the arena with the attitude of a warrior - for those first 5-6 minutes, it's not a tennis match, it's a gladiatorial contest. 


Note, however, that this should not be used as an alternative to proper warm-up. This is an emergency routine for those handful of times when you're unable to follow your prescribed regimen


Tennis Mummies

Does this look familiar (<-)? It's the sight of a run-of-the-mill junior tennis player immediately before the match. If you've been around junior events long enough you will learn to spot the mummies - they are usually wearing track suits, hands straight by the sides, walking aimlessly with stiff legs from bag to tournament desk to bathroom and back. Sometimes they are chatting with their friends although it;s usually in monosylabic grunts. I've always wondered why it is that some kids get so...cold immediately before the match. Why are they shivering so much?! Did the temperature suddenly drop after exiting the car? Weird...

It turns out that shivers are actually reflexes - controlled by the nervous system - produced automatically by the body to keep us safe. When your body temperature drops below a certain level - say 98° - your nerves send a signals saying "I'm cold". What happens next is that your muscles contract and loosen really fast (causing friction which increases body heat slightly) causing you to shiver. What does this have to do with tennis? Researchers have conducted many tests on lab animals to see how their body temperature changes with fear. In these lab experiments, scientists use infra-red thermography to get images in skin temperatures to see the animals' response to a fear agent. What they have generally found is that the animals usually froze into immobility with a significant drop in skin temperature. It's the same with people faced with fear, anxiety and nerves - although some may experience a rise in body temperature a lot of players will experience a drop in body temperature; their feet and hands become cold; body trembles. For some players, muscle tension will increase and breathing will become shallow (i.e., less oxygen entering the system) and labored.

In a match, this usually translates into 3-4 poor first games. But here's the kicker: rather than doing something productive to keep warm and "stay loose", some of these player will continue to walk around stiffly all bundled up in their track suits. I never understood why these players - if they care about the outcome in the first place - don't engage in some productive exercises to warm-up and "shake off" the anxiety. Jog in place, jump rope, run some sprints, play some practice points...anything to keep the blood flowing to the limbs and oxygen entering the system. Perhaps nobody told them regarding the physiological importance of "being limber". Warming up is not just important for the strokes but also for the body...the heart, the lungs, the muscles, the eyes, etc. As a player, it's important to enter the tennis court "firing on all pistons". If you wait 3-4 games to find a way to settle down, it may already be too late. As you get older, "comebacks" from 3-4 games down will be much more rare. Therefore, if you're the type who freezes under pressure, find a way to stay loose and limber. Start setting warm-up rituals early. All the "great players" hame them (I bet that even Nadal's pre-match sprint is a last second way to burn off some extra nervousness. And his jumping and running in the locker-room before the match is legendary).

Initially, it's better if you (junior player) get on the court sweaty (and perhaps a little tired) than "not warmed up at all". At  least you're ready to pounce on the ball from the word "GO!" As you get older and more experienced, you will be able to fine-tune your warm-up rituals to suit your needs and energy levels. But don't wait until the start of the match to do something that could have been addressed without a racket.