To serve or receive? That is the question.

‘Up or down?’

‘M or W?’

‘Lines up or lines down?’

Only the professionals have an umpire flipping a sparkly, shiny coin.  For the rest of us, we ask one of the above questions and spin our rackets. If we guess correctly we get to choose one of four options:

  1. Serve
  2. Receive
  3. End of the court
  4. Let your opponent decide

The two main choices are whether to serve first or receive first.  Option 4 of letting your opponent decide is just a weird one. Surely, if you’re a tennis player, you have some decision making skills! And why would you choose an end of the court if you don’t know whether you’re serving or receiving?

The question now is which to do – serve or receive? Well… do you have a big serve? Does it win you a lot of free points? Is it reliable? Actually, you know what? It doesn’t matter. Choose to receive. If you lose the game no problem, you are on still on serve. If you win the game, however, now you have a chance to consolidate the break on your serve and give yourself a solid footing to go on in the set.

Choosing to receive first lets you get your eye in. All the pressure is on your opponent to hold serve so you can use this game to get your footwork going, play long rallies to work your way into the match, focus on your game plan etc. You can work on your match play all you want in practice but when it comes to the real thing it is difficult to be focused and ready right from the get go. You need a few points to be aware of how you are feeling and playing on this particular day and you also need a few points to see how your opponent’s game is shaping up.

So what should you focus on when receiving serve for the first time?

  1.  Make them play; don’t give any cheap points away. Get your return in any way possible: block it, slice it, anything that makes your opponent hit another ball and gets you into the point.
  2. Play long rallies. Don’t go for too much until you know how you are playing.  Give yourself a big margin for error – aim high over the net and well inside the lines.
  3. Concentrate on winning the first two points of the game. If you can be 0-30 up you have a good chance of winning the game and at the very least making it competitive right from the get go.
  4. Footwork, footwork, footwork.  Concentrate on getting your feet in the right place so that you can hit on balance anywhere in the court. Once your footwork clicks into place everything else becomes that much easier.
Regardless of whether you have broken or not you need to make sure you win your first service game. To do so, concentrate on making your first serve (take some pace off and add some spin if you have to), hit your spot on the serve and focus on winning the first two points.
And then take it from there.

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The Cross-over Step

If I see my opponent running through their shot I know I’ve succeeded in getting them off the court and off balance. In tennis it’s so important to hit from a good, solid, wide base. The stronger the base, the more powerful the shot can be in every aspect: spin, power, control, precision. If you’re running through your shot (i.e. not able to set your base) you either need to lob the ball high in the air and hope your opponent doesn’t volley it or you need to go for a winner as you’ll be unable to recover in time for the next shot.  Your hips will be facing the side fence and as you can’t get your outside leg set and turned toward the court your power and control will be inaccessible; you’ll have to rely solely on your upper body strength.

That’s where the cross-over step comes in.  The cross-over step will let a player reach a ball that has them on the run and be able to use their entire body to hit and then recover with time for their next shot.  It’s all about using the energy from your momentum; you’re running along the baseline facing the side fence so there is no way you can transfer your body weight into the court on the hit.  But what you can do is make sure your last step before the hit is with your outside leg. You can make sure that that last step turns your running stance into an open stance with a wide, strong base. You can do this by turning your foot, on the outside leg, to face the net and take a much larger step than usual; then load up all your energy and strength into that leg. Then when you hit the ball that outside leg can explode out of its stance giving your shot all the power it was lacking with just your arm.  As you’re in the air your inside leg will cross over in front of the outside leg and land, bend and take the brunt force of your explosive action. Your outside leg will then take another large step and load up once more but this time it will push you back into the court, crossing over in front of the inside leg.

You can’t change the direction in which your momentum is carrying you as you’re going too fast but you can use the energy from it to help your hit be bigger and your recovery very efficient. When a player is first taught the cross-over step they don’t think it possible. The reason, after all, a player is running through their shot in the first place is because their opponent has hit such an awesomely brutal shot. How on earth are they supposed to halt their momentum, hit, do a dainty jig and then recover? You’re not! Remember, use your momentum to help you. Don’t try and stop or change it; go with it. As always in tennis use your legs to help you.

Here is a step by step play on a cross-over forehand:

  1. Run towards the ball preparing your backswing as you go.
  2. Make sure that the last step you take before hitting the ball is with your right foot.
  3. Make sure that that last step is wider than your shoulder width and sit down on your legs – your right leg especially.
  4. On the step turn your right foot so that it is pointing towards the net – you should by now be in a familiar stance: the open stance.
  5. Your shoulders throughout this change in footwork should be rotated and perpendicular to the baseline.
  6. Load up all your momentum into your right leg.
  7. Explode upward and into the shot with both your legs and your racket.
  8. Your racket will be going out into the court, giving the ball as much forward momentum as possible.
  9. Your body will be still be going sideways along the baseline.
  10. While in the air cross your left leg in front of your right leg and land on it, absorbing as much of the impact as possible.
  11. Your right leg will then takes its next step – make it large and load up all the left over momentum.
  12. Push yourself back into the court by crossing your right leg over your left in a shuffle back to the center of the court.
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Practicing Simplicity

In my blog ‘Keeping it simple’ I wrote that,

A good, if not great, rule of thumb is if your feet are behind the baseline hit your ball cross court and if they are inside the baseline then go down the line.’

Below are some drills and games that will help you to practice ‘keeping it simple’.

Feeding drills:

  • Feed Player X 10 forehands so they are hitting the ball behind the baseline. Make sure they start at the center so they practice moving out to the ball; emphasize the importance of remaining on balance. If Player X is balanced throughout the shot they will be able to put more of their body weight into the shot rather than trying not to fall over. Player X should aim cross court with as much depth and net clearance as possible, recovering efficiently after each shot.
  • Feed Player X 10 forehands inside the baseline.  Make sure Player X moves in a direct line to the side of the ball (taking the most direct route will lessen the opponent’s reaction as well as give Player X more preparation time), preparing their backswing as they go. Player X must give themselves a lot of space between them and the ball. When making contact with the ball Player X’s shoulders should be squared and facing their target.
  • Repeat above two drills with backhands. 
  • Feed Player X 4 shots – 1 deep, 1 short, 1 deep, 1 short or some such variation.  The feeder decides whether to tell Player X if they are getting 1 deep forehand followed by 1 short forehand etc. or whether they are simply going to get a mix. A mix will ensure that Player X does not preemptively move to the ball they know is coming though if they are struggling with any part of the drill knowing what ball is coming will give them extra time to prepare themselves.

Rallying drills:

  • Player A and Player B rally cross court.  Place a target 3 feet in from the baseline and 3 feet in from the side line (creating a good margin for error).  If Player A moves inside the baseline then they can redirect their ball down the line to another target (again one with good margin for error).  Player A must judge whether they are on balance enough with a neutral / attackable ball as to whether they redirect the ball. If in any doubt they should hit back cross court. The rally ends on the redirection and the coach and player can discuss whether the correct decision was made. After 10 minutes or 10 redirections (up to players and coach) switch and let Player B practice redirecting the ball. For the last 10 minutes let both players redirect if they are inside the court and on balance. If you’d like to further the drill you can see which player gets 10 redirects off the correct ball first.
  • Here is an advanced drill of the one above.  Both players can redirect if they are inside the court. If, for example, player A redirects Player B should run over and the return the ball cross court. The rally can then start again but now to the other side.  If Player B runs over and the ball is weak and inside the court they can choose to go down the line too.  Carrying on the drill like this rather than letting the rally end on the redirection lets the players work on the options their opponents have and not just their own.


  • Shooter - flip a coin or racket to see who is the shooter.  Feed in a ball and play out the point hitting cross court. The shooter can redirect the ball up the line whenever they want to but when they do then the whole court becomes open for both players. The non-shooter must go cross court until the shooter has hit their ball down the line.  If the shooter wins the point they get a point (i.e. 1-0, 2-0 etc.). If the non-shooter wins the point they do not get a point but they do become the shooter. A game to 7 should last a very long time as the non-shooter’s aim should be to keep the ball high, out of the opponent’s strike zone so that either the shooter is unable to attack down the line or that they hit an unforced error.  The non-shooter should NOT be going for any winner’s as they can only go cross court and the shooter know this. The shooter’s aim should be to hit cross court effectively enough to create a short ball which they can drive down the line and open up the court. It is up to both players whether they play a game of just forehands and then switch to backhands or whether they switch every point.

Things to concentrate on:

  • When redirecting make sure you approach the ball to the side and not head on. Give yourself more space than you think necessary.
  • Re-align your body when redirecting so that when you make contact with the ball your shoulders are facing the direction you want the ball to go in.
  • Make contact out in front especially when going down the line.
  • Make sure your body weight is going down the line when redirecting.  This can only happen when you are on balance. If you don’t think you can adjust your body weight then hit back cross court.
  • Be on BALANCE – create a wide base to hit from and use your legs to create support and power in your shot.
  • Keep it simple – if you’re rushed/confused as to where to hit/off balance etc. go cross court and wait for another opportunity.

Let me know how you get on!!!

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Getting ready in 5 minutes.

When you only have 5 minutes to get ready to play a match there is a lot to consider. In the 5 minutes before a match you need to emotionally, mentally and physically prepare yourself. It’s not a lot of time and it goes by quickly.

Ideally you will have already hit for about 30 minutes prior to your match; warming up all your strokes and fine tuning anything in your game that feels a little off.  Some pros warm up with a hitting partner that best matches the style of their opponent. So if they are playing a left hander who hits with a lot of topspin they will warm up against someone who can mimic that style of play. Some players hit with their coaches; the familiarity both of the coach and of their ball will relax a lot of players and get them into their match mind set and the routines they concentrate on quickly and efficiently.  Other players will seek out players who are scheduled to play at the same time as them and ask them if they would like to warm up.

If you have warmed up before your match then use the 5 minute warm up to get mentally ready. Your body shouldn’t need a whole lot more prepping but, of course, if anything stands out in the warm up you can take note and concentrate on that area during the warm up (and on into the match if needs be). For example, if you notice your ball isn’t as deep as it was in your pre-match warm up then you can focus on making contact further out in front and extending your arm and racket through the shot more for a few shots.

I realize, however, that sometimes it isn’t possible to warm up before a match; the courts might already be in use or you’ve just come straight from work and have arrived when you are due on court. If that’s the case and you can’t even find a good wall to hit a few balls against make sure you have at least told your body that you are about to need its services. Run around the parking lot (safely!) for a few minutes, jump rope, do some shadow swings.  Anything to let your body know that it needs to wake up and get going. A little bit of exercise before you step on court will also help you mentally and emotionally.  Use the exercise to start focusing on how you’d like to play; remember the things you have been working on recently (‘make sure you have a solid, wide base to hit from…. prepare your backswing as early as possible…..etc.’); be aware of the weather and the court conditions – is it windy? Sunny? Are there cracks in the court? Is it clay or hard? And finally get your game face on; leave your day’s baggage at the gate and walk out onto court ready for battle and for some fun.

If the 5 minute warm up is the first time you have struck the ball all day then you have to get going hard and fast. Make sure above all else your feet are working from the get go. You don’t have time for them to be sluggish. Get them going and if nothing else in the warm up make sure they are taking the big steps to the ball and then the little steps around the ball.  While concentrating on your footwork you want to make sure you are getting a good, clean contact with each swing. If you can successfully finish the warm up with your feet moving and your contact sweet and clean everything else will fall into place quickly once the match has begun.  If you have time to focus on more and you feel comfortable with how you are striking the ball spend a minute watching your opponent. Are they favoring a particular side already? Is the technique on their backhand going to hold up if you apply pressure there during the match? Can they volley? Is their second serve attackable?  Obviously you won’t be able to tell all your opponent’s secrets in the few minutes before a match but it is nice to start the match with an idea of where to attack and what area of your opponent’s game you can try and break down.

Once you have warmed up your groundstrokes make your way into net for some volleys. Even if you don’t ever come to net during a match there’s no need to let your opponent know that this early on. Similarly if your opponent doesn’t take any volleys that gives an indication of their style of play – baseliner. So perhaps the odd low, slice short ball to bring them in wouldn’t be a bad tactic to try.

At the 2 minute call from the umpire you should be warming up your serve. You want to warm up your go to serve (your favorite serve, the one that you can always rely on) first so that you know that if all else fails you have your bread and butter serve working. From there you can start to warm up your bigger serves with varying spins, targeting different areas of the court. If your serve feels great and you are ready then spend the last remaining moments of the warm up returning your opponent’s serve. This will give you a good look at how hard they are going to hit their serve, what spins they are capable of and will also get your eye in for the different bounce a serve gives you.

Once the umpire calls out ‘time’ hit your last shot and make your way to your chair. This is your last chance for you to breathe and collect yourself before the fun really begins.

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Hitting off the court vs. hitting through the court

Hitting off the court vs. hitting through the court? I thought you were just supposed to hit into the court?!  Making your ball is, of course, the ultimate goal but within that, if you have the control, there are many different areas of the court to place your ball.

Hitting off the court means the ball will cross a singles’ side line before it reaches the baseline.  Hitting through the court means the ball will cross the baseline before it reaches a side line. 

Hitting the ball through the court limits your opponents’ choices (by not giving them any angle) and pushes them back, hopefully resulting in a weaker ball with which you can go on the offense.
Hitting the ball off the court makes your opponent move more – and perhaps gets them off balance – as well as opening up the rest of the court for you to hit into.

In my previous post, ‘Keeping It Simple’, I talked about how if you were behind the baseline you should aim cross court and if inside the court to aim down the line.  Those are great basic ideas to follow. Once you have that down, however, you can start to think about exactly where cross court and down the line you want your ball to go.

Here is a scenario of when would be a good time to hit through the court and when to hit off the court. Imagine splitting the court into even thirds, lengthways (so parallel with the doubles’ alley).  Your opponent hits you a ball that has you hitting, behind the baseline, from the middle alley (so center of the court).  From this spot in the court you have no angle to hit into and you are behind the baseline so you should aim your ball cross court and through the court.  You want to aim as deep as you can with the result of pushing your opponent back and forcing them to hit a weaker shot. You can hit into the center third or the outer third depending on your balance, how much time you have and whether you have control of the ball or not.
If your opponent hits a deep, tough shot to the center alley again in reply then you should repeat the above advice. If, however, they give you a tough shot but in the outer alley (pulling you wide) then you have a few options available to you. IF you are on balance and can make contact out in front then you can go for whatever angle has been given to you by your opponent. If you are unable to plant your feet and give yourself a good support base, or if you are late on the ball, you should try to hit through the court again and wait for a better opportunity.

If they do hit a weak ball that allows you to move inside the court make sure you hit the ball at the peak of the bounce (to take as much time away from your opponent as possible while bringing you inside the court and allowing to you hit down on the ball) into the outer third of the alleys you have separated the court into. Obviously you will be aiming to hit through the court. If you decide to hit the ball cross court you should aim to hit it off the court with as much angle as you have available.

To put it in simple terms the most high percentage tennis is to hit back into the same third that your opponent has hit to you from. So if they hit cross court into the outer third then you can safely hit back into their outer third, taking the ball off the court if you have the opportunity. The more angle you are given the more angle you can create.
If they hit up the middle third then you’re safest bet is to hit up the middle too and go through the court. It will just depend on who is hitting the better shot up the middle alley as to who gets the shorter ball or unforced error first.




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Everything but the kitchen sink – what every player needs on hand.

When you see the professionals walk out onto Arthur Ashe stadium, Centre Court or even court 19 way out in the back of the grounds they are usually carrying one huge racket bag and one equally huge duffel bag.  What could they possibly need on court with them that would fill two large bags?

On average they have about 8 to 12 rackets all newly strung and perhaps (depending on the player) with differing tensions. Whether they are nervous, how new/heavy the balls are, the weather, the surface and so forth will determine what tension a pro wants their racket at. It makes a difference. Too tight and the pro won’t be able to generate the power he/she wants and too loose and you can say goodbye to any control. Alongside the numerous rackets are towels, sunscreen, computer (there is A LOT of idle time at tournaments), phone, book, grips (I would go through at least one grip a match) and all kinds of medicinal products: band aids, wrap, pre-wrap (so you don’t lose all the hair on your body when you take the wrap off), padding, ibuprofen, neosporin…the list may carry on depending on the pro.  There are also many changes of clothes as someone like Andy Roddick will go through a handful of shirts in one match and that’s after warming up however many times before his match.  There might even be different shoes in there – running shoes, casual shoes, flip flops – for off court activities.

So what does the non-professional player need to carry on court with them?  Actually, the list is pretty similar to the pro’s.  Though the fact that you won’t need as many rackets or changes of clothes etc. means you can use just one bag.

Here is a list of some of the essentials:

  • At least two rackets of the same tension – that way if one breaks you can pick up the other one and carry on as if nothing happened.
  • A towel – it’s really annoying to lose your racket because the sweat dripping down your arm makes it impossible to hold onto the racket.
  • A bottle – water is fine of course but if you are a sweater then some kind of gatorade or coconut juice is recommended.
  • Sunscreen should be applied at least 15 minutes before going out into the sunshine for it to work effectively. It also gives you time to wash your hands after applying.
  • A snack – if your match is long or you have come straight from work then keeping a banana or granola bar in your bag is a great way to keep your energy up. Avoid high sugary substances as they won’t fuel you for long.
  • A cap or hat – keep the sun off your face and the hair out of your eyes.
  • A change of clothes for after the match or if you have a second match.
  • Any medicine you might need – band aids, wrap, inhaler etc.
  • A can of tennis balls.
  • A jump rope.

Any other items you add to the list are up to you!

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Come on kids – let’s play.

Tennis is a difficult sport; it’s awkward to learn, tough to get better at and impossible to perfect. You have to play tennis frequently to keep even a semblance of your current standard and you have to play a lot to get better. So how on earth do we get kids interested? Children have short attention spans, they get frustrated easily and they are constantly having to adapt to their new and more powerful bodies. Fine motor skills? They are still learning how to hold a pencil – how are they going to adjust their racket face by a few degrees while trying to swing, make contact and move all at the same time? Let’s not even mention that they can’t see over the net or that the length of the racket is as long as they are and that the ball bounces high above their heads.

The answer? Start them simple and let them take the lead.

You don’t need to go to a tennis court or have any ‘real’ equipment to get going. I started my two year old son in the living room with a balloon. He loved trying to keep it up in the air and then have me alternate hits with him.  One day he picked up a model tennis racket I had lying around and started using that. It wasn’t always a racket though; he’s used spoons, sticks, trains, pillows all with varying results (he is a boy after all).

Finally I bought him a 17 inch racket (though he used the 10 inch model racket for quite some time!) and a few foam tennis balls. Still in our living room I would gently throw a ball so that it landed a few feet away from him and he would swing away gamely. Hit or miss he loved it.  The one thing I never did though was tell him we were going to play tennis, I might have suggested it as an activity but normally I waited until he asked to play. That way I knew we would get at least say 7 minutes of ‘playing’ time. If he ever cried or stomped his feet we were done because Conrad tired and/or frustrated was counter productive to whatever it is we were doing. We played for as long or as short as he wanted to. Some days it was a good 30 minutes and others it was 1 minute.

When we finally did go to a tennis court I brought a bucket of the 36 foot Quick Start balls (part of the USTA’s Quick Start initiative which makes everything proportional to the size of the child; so Conrad, who is now 3, gets to play on a badminton size court with a racket that suits his size, a ball that bounces at hip height and a net that he can see and reach over) with us. However, we rarely ever actually try and hit over the net. The simple joy of being on a tennis court is enough for Conrad. As soon as we walk through the gate he grabs a ball, throws it in the air and heaves an almighty swing.  He’s actually pretty good so connects about a quarter to a third of the time. I usually get about 10 minutes of his time when I can hit or throw him a ball that he will try and hit on the umpteenth bounce.  Even if it’s rolling by the time it reaches him I urge him to swing away and try to connect with it.  Any contact is a great contact.

Tennis rules and instruction are non-existant at this age. I don’t tell Conrad a thing except watch the ball. And I let him lead. If after a few minutes he chooses to hit leaves on the court or throw the ball against the fence then that is part of the fun too. It all goes toward him enjoying his time on a tennis court, which will count in later years.

As Conrad gets older we will talk about hitting the ball on one bounce only and we might even get to what a backhand is. We will start to use the net a bit more but the instruction – on technique, on the rules etc. – will come later.  I want Conrad to love tennis. The rest can wait.

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Chemistry and communication – there’s something to it.

I was never very good at mathematics or science at school but on the court it all made a lot more sense. One thing in particular I never had to study for was chemistry; on court chemistry that is (I was done for in the classroom). Put me with anyone and I’d like to think we could strike up some kind of relationship that worked for us and got us communicating on the court.

It was my job with my first doubles partner in college to keep her laughing and smiling. If that smile disappeared even for a second you could see the tension in her serve and the stiffness in her touch game. We hardly ever talked about tennis in between points. With my second partner it was all about keeping her happy. Where do you want to serve? You got it. You want to poach off my return? Go for it. When my last doubles partner and I won the NCAA’s we had developed a great set up; I hit big, she finished and we talked and hi-fived in between every point.

Chemistry and within that communication are all that matters when playing doubles. You could have the best singles players in the world on court together who dislike each other and, yes, they’d be good but put them up against a pair that have developed a partnership with each other and I’d bet on the pair every time. It’s not just about figuring out who should take the middle (though that is of extreme importance).  It’s about feeling comfortable on court with each other; if you make an unforced error is your partner supportive? (No worries, partner. You’ve got that next time.)  If your partner hits a terrible lob while you’re at net do you trust her to call you back immediately or do you have to see the ball coming at your nose for you to realize you need to duck and run? If you serve your first serve into the net does you partner move it out of the way for you? If you need another ball does your partner run off to find one for you? In other words does your partner have your back and you theirs? Do you continually communicate that with your partner?

If your partner isn’t playing that well it’s your job to get them going again, whether that means you have to poach more, make more jokes, leave them be, pep them up……you are partners so if you lose you lose together, if you win you win together.  There’s nothing that annoys me more than when someone says they lost their doubles match but it was because their partner played terribly. That may well have been the case but it also means you didn’t do a very good job of helping them out.

Everyone knows that they should communicate on a doubles court. After all you have to know who is going to serve first, whether they like to serve and volley etc. but no one really talks about the deeper communication of making your partner feel comfortable.  There’s enough to think about when playing tennis without having to wonder whether your partner is mad at you or whether they want you to be up at net instead of back on the baseline.

There are so many different personalities out there, especially in tennis, that it is not always easy finding common ground to bond as doubles partners but if you are trying the verbal communication should be a breeze and the deeper communication between you both should be well on its way.

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Maturity wins the day or in this case the US Open

Imagine moving away from home at the age of fourteen to concentrate solely on an endeavor that focuses entirely on… you.  Not only at fourteen are you somewhat self obsessed but now you have multiple people obsessing over you too. Such formative years and they are all spent concentrating on you. Such a lifestyle shapes your outlook, your interactions with others, indeed your character.  Now please enter one Andy Murray. He arrived on the tour, like others before him; Roddick, Hewitt, Djokovic a brash, impertinent upstart who would lash out at everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure being propelled at the tender age of eighteen and nineteen into the world’s spotlight is blinding but somewhere along the line you’d think some common sense might kick in. Unfortunately for Andy that wasn’t the case. He was rude to reporters, yelled at his own box and perhaps worst of all vehemently berated himself. If a match wasn’t going his way we all knew it. If he didn’t like a question from a reporter we all heard about it. If Andy lost a big match it took a while for him to find his groove again.

It’s a tough life to have to mature in front of the world but that is exactly what Andy has done. We’ve never questioned Andy’s desire to win and to get better but few have given him credit for doing it in a sporting way. Yet look at the reception he got last night for winning his first Grand Slam. So what happened? Why are we so pleased (and when I say we I don’t just mean us Brits; the sporting world is thrilled with Andy’s US Open win) that Andy won?

What we saw last night was the epitome of perseverance, grit and maturity. Andy has spent the last few years maturing; physically he has become a tennis specimen, emotionally he is more stable, mentally he is more disciplined and focused. His loss in the finals of Wimbledon had us all worried that his summer was over but he used that loss, unlike the previous Grand Slam losses, to motivate himself and to propel himself to the Olympic Gold medal and the US Open crown.

For some players it all comes together a little earlier, a little more cleanly than others but with time, dedication and focus those others can come into their own and it makes the result that much more special.

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Keeping It Simple

There is a statistic out there that says that the player who last touches the ball in each point generally loses the match, which means that matches are won and lost on unforced errors; it means that if you can get the ball back in play one more time you have a high likelihood of winning the match.

With that in mind, however, how do you go about getting the ball back in one more time? How do you go about limiting your unforced errors? Easier said than done, that’s for sure.  The priority is to keep it simple.  There are so many options available when deciding about any one shot but most of them are far from realistic.

A good, if not great, rule of thumb is if your feet are behind the baseline hit your ball cross court and if they are inside the baseline then go down the line.

If you are behind the baseline then you are most likely not in an attacking position. Your aim, therefore, should be to build and construct your point or, if on defense, to neutralize the point. Hit the ball with heavy topspin, high over the net and deep in the court. Not only will this give you time to recover as the ball has a long way to travel to reach your opponent but you are hitting over the lowest point of the net, thereby taking it out of the equation. If you succeed in getting heavy topspin on your ball the high, kicking bounce will take your opponent out of their strike zone so even if you are hitting into their strength they will be unable to attack effectively.

Once you receive a shorter ball and your feet are inside the baseline your aim should be to take as much time away from your opponent as possible. Take the ball at the peak of the bounce and aim down the line. Geometrically, hitting down the line is the shortest distance the ball can travel before reaching your opponent thereby shortening their reaction time.

At all levels of tennis there is one thing that sets a player apart from the rest of the group: discipline.  Everyone can hit a ball over the net, some can choose what spin to put on the ball and where to place it but the one who will succeed, even if they don’t look the part, is the one who can mentally and emotionally see and follow a straight line. A straight line in terms of decision making – keep it simple, keep it high percentage; a straight line in terms of checking an extreme emotion – no giddy highs, no racket throwing lows; a straight line in terms of work ethic – run until the ball bounces twice, move your feet to get as perfectly balanced as possible and keep trying to find ways to make your game work for you on any given day.  Once you have established the game plan of hitting cross court when behind the baseline and down the line when inside the court then you have every right to break the rule and make an exception because at some stage your opponent will have figured out what you are up to.  I would still recommend hitting cross court on deep balls to get as much recovery time as possible but feel at liberty to go wherever you’d like on the shorter balls though again instead of going for a winner (which would make you the last person to hit the ball) taking time away from your opponent and having them miss is every bit as satisfying as hitting a winner. Why? Because you won the point!

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