Showing posts with label tennis strategy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tennis strategy. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

THE BENEFITS OF KEEPING THE BALL LOW




One of the most neglected aspects in modern tennis is the ability to keep the ball low. Young players today are so focused on hitting bigger shots and are so fixated on topspin that their ability to keep a ball low is completely missing.

However the top players understand the value of keeping a ball low in certain situations and employ underspin a lot more than you think. Here’s when keeping the ball low is beneficial…




1.  To Stop Your Opponent Attacking You

It’s the era of big groundstrokes! Dominant forehands are now the norm and any ball waist height today is an invitation for your opponent to go on the attack.

By throwing in a low ball when in trouble during the rally you are neutralizing your opponent’s offense. The low ball has taken the ball out of his/her strike zone and gets you back into the rally on level terms.




2. When You Volley

If you are at net and playing a volley you are generally in a strong position to win the point. The only real concern you have is being passed or lobbed by your opponent.

This can be avoided by keeping the ball low because a passing shot or lob is much more difficult off a low ball. Keeping the bounce low may only be a small change but will make all the difference to your opponent’s options.




3. When You Approach Net

Many up and coming players today have relatively poor net games. It’s not just the quality of their volleys that’s causing them problems, it’s often the quality of their approach shot where the problem starts.

Similar to the Volley, any ball you approach the net on that bounces too high will give your opponent the chance to counter-attack.

By learning to approach on underspin (usually the best way to keep the ball low) and to vary the depth of your approach, will make your volleys much easier and your net game in general much more effective.




4. Slow the Ball Down

Everyone is hitting the ball fast and although I teach my players to hit with speed, I also like to see them mix-in slow balls sometimes.

This is particularly effective in women’s tennis where some of the most successful players recently have had the ability to use an underspin backhand to create some variety of speeds during the rally. Ashley Barty (currently world number 1) has a very effective one-handed underspin backhand which allows her to defend, change speeds and create an effective net game based on keeping a ball low.




5. To Create Variety

It’s important as a player not to be too one-dimensional. Being predictable allows your opponent to be one step ahead in the mental battle taking place in each match. It’s tough to win when you are “playing mental catch-up” with your opponent throughout a match.

By adding underspin to create low balls you’re adding another layer to your game.



The best players in our game got to the top not because they hit the ball faster than everyone else. They got there because they have the shots to attack and defend the most effectively. Maybe it’s time to add low balls to your on-court “tool box”










Friday, October 18, 2019

HOW TO PLAY AGAINST A COUNTER-PUNCHER





AT A HIGHER LEVEL EVERY PLAYER LOOKS GOOD. The top players seem to attack every point aggressively with big full swings on every ball. Their mindset seems to one of all-out aggression, with the goal of finishing points quickly


Likewise, their defense is at times miraculous. When you are attacking them, these top players seem to be able to change into defense and hit incredible winners from impossible positions in the court. During your match you begin to see this same scenario repeating often. Your attacking game is being ripped apart by your opponent’s incredible defense skills!


YOU COULD BE PLAYING A “COUNTER-PUNCHER” PRETENDING TO BE AN ATTACKING PLAYER!


Sometimes when you review the match later you begin to realize that actually your opponent seldom hit winners from offense. You begin to realize that the full swings he/she were taking were a type of disguise. While looking and sounding scary they weren’t actually your opponent’s main source of points. Most of their points were coming from defense, particularly their counter-punching whenever you attacked them!


YOU HAD BEEN PLAYING A COUNTER-PUNCHER AND YOU DIDN’T REALIZE IT!


I liken this to a fly being caught in a spiders web. You had continually player into the hands of the counter-puncher each time you attacked them.


Therefore, Step #1 “Know That You Are Playing A Counter-Puncher”


If you are unaware that your opponent is setting you up for the counter-punch you will keep playing into the same trap.


Counter-punchers need not be skinny nerds wearing thick horn-rimmed glasses. They can be muscular specimens with huge serves. Don’t be fooled by appearances


Which leads to… Step #2 “How Do You Attack A Counter-Puncher”?


The short answer is… with caution and intelligently

Any time you attack an opponent there is an element of danger. Offense usually involves you going inside the baseline, even as far as the net. With some opponents you’re going to win the point often this way. The sheer intimidation factor is enough. These opponents will give you lots of free points when you attack them… but not the counter-puncher!


When you attack the counter-puncher you are entering their world. You think you are controlling the point but you’ve actually played yourself into a world of trouble, and you’re in danger of getting tangled in thei web.


That’s the warning to be cautious! Now here’s how you attack a counter-puncher intelligently.


Playing offensively against a counter-puncher requires you to juggle 4 important dimensions successfully, all at the same time and on every point… (yes, it’s mentally very exhausting). The 4 dimensions to coordinate against a counter-puncher are:


Speed:

You need to get your speeds right. The counter-puncher will prefer you to attack them at a certain speed (fast or slow). Learn the speed they prefer and give them the opposite speed!


The counter-puncher wants to take the speed of your ball and hurt you with it but if you don’t give them their preferred speed you have neutralized one part of their “web”


Angles:

Your use of angles also needs to be done intelligently. Let’s first consider the counter-puncher themselves.


Attacking the counter-puncher wide will show you their preference for passing shots. They will try to pass you either down the line or cross-court and again, they will prefer one of these options over the other.


Once you begin to see their preferred option on the passing shot you can set-up a trap (web) of your own!


Now let’s consider the angles you will be giving the counter-puncher. As you come forward to attack the counter-puncher you need to make a decision on either  going wide to the forehand, backhand or through the middle (into their body).


Again. Whether you attack the counter-puncher wide or through the middle will depend on what you are learning about their preferences as the match unfolds. Once you know their preference, give them the opposite.


Height of the contact:

The counter-puncher will try to get the ball as low as possible to as you come forward. They are trying to make you lift the ball and create a high bounce at their side of the net to help them pass or lob you.


You’ll need to play these low balls they are giving you intelligently. Do not dropshot these balls. Instead push these balls deep, either to a corner or down the middle (remember “Angles”).


Position of your feet for Contact:

Be aware of how far you are positioned over the baseline at all times. The closer you are to the net when you contact the ball determines how offensive you are in each particular  point.


Likewise, if you can keep your opponent’s feet as deep in the court as possible while attacking them the chances of them passing you or hitting a winning lob are reduced


Counter-punchers are tricky opponents but the important thing is to identify them early in the match (if you haven’t already seen them play previously). Once you know you’re up against a counter-puncher your task is every bit as mental and strategic as it is physical








Thursday, May 9, 2019

WHERE DO YOU SEND YOUR AWARENESS?




“THE ABILITY TO QUICKLY SHIFT YOUR AWARENESS AROUND TO DIFFERENT PARTS OF YOUR GAME IS A KEY TO PLAYING WELL”



You need the ability to shift your awareness around as you play. Each shot requires a slightly different focus, no stroke is the same.



Here are some of the main areas you need to send your awareness to as you play a match. Some of the areas I mention may surprise you. Tennis is not just about awareness of the ball and your opponent… there’s much more to tennis than that!



1.   Court Awareness

Because you are playing the ball from different places within the court you need to shift your awareness to where you are standing sometimes.



This is even more important when you are in less familiar territory such as very deep off the baseline or very wide on either side of the court.



When you are made to play from these “special” positions on the court, shifting your awareness to where you are standing will help you factor in the height of the net, the distance to the baseline and the type of spin required.



2.  Ball Awareness

The ball tells you everything. It tells you when to move back (for deep balls), when to move forward (short balls) and the timing you will need to adjust to (slow or fast ball)



Therefore, an awareness of the ball is critical to playing well



3.  Opponent Awareness

Opponent awareness covers both where you should hit the ball (hopefully where your opponent is not!) and the type of ball you should hit to your opponent (tactical)



Far too many players are concerned only with what THEY are doing. Developing opponent awareness will take your game to the next level.



4.  Racquetface Awareness

If I was only allowed to give just one tip to a player it would be… develop your awareness of your racquet head.



The racquet head is the surface the ball takes its instructions from. If a player has no feel or control of  their racquet head they will never reach a higher level



Great awareness of your racquet head is more important than footwork!



5.  Self-Awareness

To play well you must be constantly monitoring yourself.

Awareness of your technique, confidence levels, fitness levels and the type of strategy you are using are all important during a match




Wednesday, April 3, 2019

LEARN FROM ROD LAVER





MY FAVOURITE PLAYER  GROWING UP WAS ROD LAVER. 

What I admired most about "Rocket" was that he was just a normal guy, humble, down to earth and hard working.

During his career Laver was known for his ability to play his best tennis when it mattered most. He hardly ever lost a five set match.

Here are 2 ways for you to learn from Rod "Rocket" Laver:

#  1  Stay focused in the present. Allowing your mind to get too far ahead or beating yourself before you get on the court can be disastrous. Avoid the internal mind games by sticking to tactics and don't allow yourself to lose focus on executing them throughout the match.

Laver built up a reputation during his career of coming up with something special when a match got tight. Begin building your legacy in tight situations!


#  2  Simulate match pressure during practice sessions:  Train in a similar way to what you will experience during competition. 

Laver and many of his peers trained under the legendary Australian coach Harry Hopman. In his day Harry Hopman revolutionized  the way tennis was trained. He insisted on each one of his players being extremely fit, far beyond the norm during that era.

In matches Hopman was also famous for telling his players to "Relax and hit for the lines". 

This is how Laver trained under Hopman both as a youngster and while he was on top. By adopting a similar attitude and work ethic in your training also, you will be able to better handle yourself under difficult conditions in real matches.    

Monday, March 25, 2019

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY!



A coach can only do so much with a player who is experiencing destructive mental issues related to tennis competition.

Players who find competition mentally too much to handle and suffer from choking, low levels of self confidence or an inability to close out important matches are generally the victims of their environment. They are reflecting the environment they live in everyday when they compete in matches.

Prolonged and repeated negative mental issues in matches when competing as a junior player, also continue to be a problem for the player much later in life, even though the environment which has caused the mental issues in the first place might have changed for the better.


Considering a majority of competitive junior players suffer from an almost crippling mental war inside their heads, it would be fair to say that a majority of players never fully reach their true potential.

It therefore becomes clear that the  environment we grow up in when we start our tennis is critically important. 

Coaches can sometimes merely inherit the mental problems of their students, although in some cases coaches actually add to, or at worst create the negative mental issues.

This article therefore is for Parents and Coaches who need help in understanding how to avoid their child or student developing mental issues related to competition in the first place. It can also be a reference in how to handle players who have already developed issues mentally and ultimately how to reverse the problem.


A father recently messaged me while on his way to a tournament with his son. They were on their way to play the first day of the Nationals.

The stress in the car must have been considerable because his son had asked his father "What if I lose"?

His father had messaged me asking "What should I tell him"?

The most important thing for Parents and Coaches to remember is that in order to play at their best a player must enjoy the process of playing. Enjoyment unlocks the mind and allows you to perform to your potential. Any form of mental contamination will hurt your performance.

The root causes of contamination are broad but can include unrealistic expectations, unrealistic pressure, low self esteem, low self confidence and fear.

In my experience most of this is picked up by young players from the people they want to please the most, parents and coaches. It is therefore important to know now that what you say as a parent or a coach becomes extremely powerful... the emotion you send to a young player within your comments is magnified 5 times!

 IF YOU THINK THE SUBTLE COMMENT YOU JUST MADE WAS NO BIG DEAL, MAGNIFY IT BY FIVE TIMES... NOW TELL ME IT WASN'T MEANT TO HURT OR PUT STRESS ON THE CHILD!


I prepare myself to react to situations around players. I prepare for possible questions that may come, either in a few moments or in several days. I'm ready.

I also react to questions or situations in the third person. Often I observe myself speaking to a player from the perspective of the third person, monitoring my words, my tone and my body language.

Timing is important. Don't bring up possible stressful topics around stressful times, before or after matches for example. I'm not saying tough topics can't be discussed. I'm saying be smart with when you bring them up. 

DEVELOP EMPATHY FOR YOUR CHILD OR STUDENT

Parents often ask me what they can do that makes a real difference to their child's tennis. By monitoring how you act and what you say around your child you will create an environment whereby a happy, competitive player emerges. This is the single most important  ingredient in developing a successful player.

With enough awareness and empathy you will also be able to correct unwanted behavioural problems that have already developed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

4 STEPS IN UNDERSTANDING & MASTERING CONTACT: "Late & Early"





Lesson 1: LATE & EARLY CONTACT...

When you hit a ball with late or early contact, that can be a positive thing or a negative thing, you either did it on purpose or by mistake, 

Let's look at late and early contact in the positive sense first...


To master the tennis rally you need to be able to direct the ball both down the line and cross court at will. This is where the ability to hit late and early on purpose is crucial.


If you contact the ball early within the contact zone the ball will go cross court.  





If you contact the ball late within the contact zone the ball will travel down the line or inside out ( depending on how late you hit the ball)



This is the positive aspect of late and early contact.

However, most players think of late and early contact in the negative sense. This is when they struggle with timing the ball in the right spot within their contact zone.

Here are some reasons you may be hitting the ball late unintentionally:


  1. Your arms dominate your swing
All swings should start in the ground, it supplies the timing and power for your stroke. If you are not injecting "Ground" into your stroke as you start the swing then you are asking your arms to generate timing and power, neither of which the arms are able to do as well as the legs when interacting with ground.

  1. You don't begin your swing from the ground first
Sometimes you might be under pressure to set up "Ground" because the ball is either too deep or too fast for you ( or too deep AND too fast at the same time) to prepare.

This will lead to timing problems and invariably late contact.
  1. Your swing is manufactured and not practical
Another common reason for late or early contact mistakes is a players' fixation with producing "copy book" form.

Most early stages of tennis coaching involves showing the new student where to take their backswing and where to finish their follow through

The problem with this type of coaching is that it does not take into account the ball!

These players then continue trying to produce the "perfect" backswing and follow through on all balls, rather than "reading" each ball and adapting to the situation. 

In summary, 

1. Train yourself to be able to change the direction of the ball by adjusting the contact point.

2. Also, be adaptable to each and every ball by adjusting your backswing and follow through according to the properties of the ball you are hitting.

By working this first of 4 Steps in Mastering & Understanding Contact you will gain greater control and feel for this important fundamental.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

MARTINA HINGIS: "THE SWISS MISS"



In 2005 Martina Hingis decided to make a come-back to professional tennis.  Martina had walked away from tennis in 2002 after a career that saw her rise to number 1 in the rankings and stay there for a total of 206 weeks. She captured 15 Grand Slam titles which included 5 singles, 9 women’s doubles and 1 mixed doubles titles.

Martina’s first match back was going to be the Pattaya Women’s Open, held annually in the seaside resort town of Pattaya, Thailand.  The tournament is owned and run by an old friend of mine Geoffrey Rowe.  Geoffrey has been running women’s events in Thailand for many years and Thai tennis owes him a huge debt of thanks.  It was his wild card into the Pattaya Women’s Open that gave Tamarine Tanasugarn her big opportunity to break into the WTA Tour.  Ironically “Tami” under-performed in Pattaya for many years after her break through there, perhaps due to the pressure of playing in front of her Thai fans.

Each year Geoffrey asked me to help with sparring partners for the women participants.  Hingis was scheduled to arrive into Pattaya 10 days early in order to prepare. 

I took two male players with me to Pattaya, Alex Korch, a Canadian who had been training with me for the past few months, and Anuwat Dalodom, a Thai player who was in his last year as a junior.

The first training session certainly made it clear this was not going to be like any other training session we had done before.  There were television crews all the way from Europe filming her every move. Throughout the week we changed courts often and everywhere we went in Pattaya there were crowds of spectators watching our practise. 

I had also allowed my daughter, Isabella, to sit and watch at courtside. Early into the practice Isabella had made a noise that drew the attention of Martina’s mother Melanie. Melanie Molitorova was on-court for every session and she made it clear that there was to be no distractions at courtside during practice sessions. 

On-court Martina was the consummate professional, focused and hard working.  It was a great opportunity for me to see her game up close and to talk to her about her game.  It was obvious that Martina’s mother had a big part to play in getting her to the top.

Martina was drawn to play the German, Marlene Weingartner in a first round evening match of the tournament and a capacity crowd gathered to watch.  

When the match started Martina was clearly the better player and raced away to a handy lead in the first set.  What happened next was one of the most bizarre incidents I have ever witnessed in my many years of watching tennis.  

During a point Weingartner popped up a high defensive lob and Martina hit a confident smash to finish the point.  However the smash hit the courtside scoreboard, sending the metal letters and numbers flying in all directions.  

Play stopped while the young Thai ball-boy replaced the metal plates on which the letters are painted.  Unfortunately the ball boy began struggling with the surname Weingartner and made several failed attempts to get the name right, much to the amusement of the large crowd.  By the time the ball-boy had made his fifth attempt at Weingartner  (without success), the crowd were hooting with laughter.

The only person not laughing was Marlene Weingartner.  She was being beaten badly in the match by Martina Hingis and now even her name was receiving ridicule from the crowd. She must have felt very disrespected!

When the match finally resumed Weingartner began to go for her shots.  She was hitting everything as hard as she could and everything was going in.  She seemed to have overcome her slow, hesitant start and was now playing like someone who not only thought she was worthy to be on the same court as Martine, but should also win the match!

Marlene Weingartner went on to win the set and the match thanks to some old fashioned controlled aggressive anger.  The Hingis come-back had suffered a major set back.

Despite her loss in the Pattaya Women’s Open Hingis did go on to win 3 more singles titles before retiring again a few years later.  Alex, Anuwat and I were privileged to spend time with her on and off court during her time in Pattaya. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

VETERANS DOUBLES: 7 TIPS TO BOOST YOUR GAME


It's a thrill for me to coach veteran players. Veteran players are all so open  and receptive to the lesson. Perfect students!

Because tennis singles is such a physical game, doubles is the most popular form of tennis for veteran players. 

Here are 7 doubles tips for veteran players that will help boost your game immediately.

1.   Serve Wide
When you start the point serving wide you are positioning your opponent off-court from the first ball.  The Returner now has 3 options, a more difficult cross-court return, a risky attempt at a down-the-line passing shot or a lob. 

All 3 of these options put you the server at an advantage!

2.   Keep the Ball Low
This will help in two important ways… it limits your opponents' ability to attack the ball and will also provide you with many more opportunities to attack the resulting high balls (high volleys & overheads)

3.   Get Fitter
One of the biggest factors in Veterans Tennis is the physical limitations that come with age. Speed, strength, endurance and recovery time are all factors that affect your performance. 
Commit to getting in better shape.

4.   Dominate Cross-court
The team that dominate the cross-court contest will dominate the match. Dominating the cross-court exchange forces your opponents to change direction down the line or to lob, both play into your hands!

5.   Make Your Opponents Lift the Ball
Look for ways to force your opponents to lift the ball. Think "one-two punch" by either keeping the ball low or hitting to your opponents’ feet. Both these tactics will force your opponents to lift the ball. 
Any ball that you can contact high puts you in an attacking position .

6.   Focus on the Serve and Return
The two most important shots in doubles are the serve and the return. In both cases, if you serve or return well, you will be giving yourself an excellent chance to win the point. When serving, focus on getting a high percentage of first serves in play.
When returning, focus on consistency, getting lots of balls back into play. consistent returning puts pressure on the serving team.

7.   Keep Their Feet Deep
If you are playing a very strong team, or any team for that matter, its important to keep their feet deep in the court when they hit the ball. If your opponents are hitting their shots while standing inside the baseline, chances are that they are dominating the match. 

Keep their feet deep and make them play their shots from behind the baseline.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

STOP UMPIRING... YOU'RE A PLAYER!






It's really important to have a sharp competitive mindset if you want to be successful in matches. In my practice sessions I encourage players to compete in everything they do. 

In my sessions most drills have a "Finish", meaning the players are required to play the point out at the end of every drill. By practicing this way I am attempting to change the mindset of players who are having trouble competing successfully in tournaments.

By practicing under this highly competitive atmosphere everyday the players become comfortable competing. It becomes natural for them.

But there is always another ingredient I must insist on during these practice sessions, and it's just as important.

I need to tell players to be PLAYERS FIRST, UMPIRES SECOND!

You see it often... players who are returning serve more concerned with calling the serve in or out. It's their first priority! They are literally putting their return of serve "On Hold" until they know if the ball has gone in or out.

Obviously if your first priority is to call the ball in or out you're not preparing to return the ball with 100% focus. There will be a delay in the preparation of the return.

Sometimes in juniors you can get away with being in an "umpires mode", but in seniors you will need to be 100% in "players mode",  or you won't get the ball back!

You also see the "umpire mode" in effect when there is a deep ball close to the baseline during a rally. Instead of positioning and preparing the themselves for the shot, the player is in frozen "umpire mode", and their focus firmly in calling the ball in or out! 

You can hear me shouting to players during the first few days of camps and clinics I conduct "STOP UMPIRING"!, "YOU'RE A PLAYER, NOT AN UMPIRE"! and "FOCUS ON BEING A PLAYER, YOU CAN BECOME AN UMPIRE ONCE YOU RETIRE"!

I'm trying to establish the "Player first" mentality and thus encouraging preparation for each and every shot, not in calling balls in or out. This small detail will improve the level of the return of serve quickly and replace a negative habit that was harming the players return game, with a positive one.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A MENTAL ROADMAP FOR MATCHES



A player involved in a match and trying to play smart tennis is constantly assessing a variety of factors when trying to maintain their good momentum or make significant changes in the match because they are behind on the scoreboard.

If a player feels they are losing the battle either technically, tactically, physically or mentally, there needs to be a process each player can go through to make those necessary changes. As a Davis Cup and Federation Cup captain I often had to go through this mental process myself in order to turn a match around by adjusting the way my player was competing.

Those adjustments came about after a process that involved accurately reading the situation and deciding what needed to change (or in some cases to not change at all) and putting those changes to the test during the match.

Here is that process in detail:

1.     EXPLORE (Analyse)
This is the stage where, if there is a change of strategy needed, the player explores the possibilities. At the same time as they compete in the match every player needs to monitor a variety of "aspects". The particular aspects I like to monitor are called "The 8 Opposites". The 8 Opposites can be used to exploit weaknesses in the opponent.

I have dealt with this subject previously within the “The 8 Opposites” blog article.  The “8 Opposites” involve the variables of High v Low, Wide v Tight, Fast v Slow and Up (net) v Back (baseline). The opponent’s preferences need to be assessed as the match progresses and a specific strategy designed to exploit the weakness you have identified.


2.   EXPLOIT (Plan)
The player now needs to exploit the perceived weakness by devising a plan. Within each of the 8 opposites every player will have a preference. Opponents will prefer one of the two options, High or Low, Wide or Tight, Fast or Slow and Up and Back.

This step should involve designing a plan based on The 8 Opposites. Whatever the perceived weakness of the opponent, it needs to be exploited.

3.   EXECUTE (Just do it)
Now the new tactics need to be executed on-court. The player needs to put the new changes to the test within the match. Experienced players will execute new strategy swiftly, accurately and with conviction.

4.   ADAPT (continue to monitor the situation)
Matches are constantly in a state of flux. What was working early in a match may not be working now, after-all the opponent could be going through a similar process of analysis and creating fresh tactics when facing defeat. 

Players must constantly stay aware of the developments within the match.

 EXPLORE......EXPLOIT.....EXECUTE....ADAPT
  
This whole process must continue throughout the match if momentum is to be maintained or if you have to change a losing situation into a winning one.