Monday, September 10, 2012


Junior tennis often follows the trends that dominate the professional game. Today very few juniors have an understanding of when to use under-spin, nor do they have solid technique to allow them to use under-spin in a match. However the ability to use under-spin as a tool in points is beginning to make a come-back. 

For too many years players have relied almost totally on topspin to attack and defend in points.  Recently the top male players in our game have started to use under-spin more.

In the 2012 US Open there were several instances whereby players who were struggling to match their opponents in the baseline exchanges were forced to change the pattern of the points and attack the net. Roddick, Federer and Murray all used under-spin to force a new pattern on their opponents.

As tennis gets more and more diverse in its skill complexities, players today must have an understanding of when to use under-spin and how to execute under-spin.  Here is an outline on the key points I emphasize when teaching under-spin.

     1        THE LOCK

I teach players to lock their wrist whenever they want to hit under-spin.  Whether it’s the volley, approach shot, or a one-handed under-spin groundstroke, I insist on a locked wrist.

The "Lock" involves creating a 90 degree
angle between the racquet shaft and the forearm
The advantage of a locked wrist is that it creates a solid surface (racquet-face) for the ball to rebound off.  There is no need to swing or add wrist to the contact because the locked wrist allows the player to use the natural momentum of the on-coming ball and rebound the ball.

Create an open racquet-face by rolling the knuckles (Backhand) and palm (forehand)
Insisting on a locked wrist also forces the player to work harder on their position.  If you don’t get close enough to the ball you can’t stay locked in the wrist.  You will need to extend the wrist to reach the ball.


One of the biggest mistakes you can make with under-spin is to hit the ball early and in front.  Even worst is to “punch” the ball in front.  I know that these phrases are used often to describe the volley mechanics but they will destroy your under-spin and they are incorrect.  Early contact will “open” the racquet-face and diminish control of the flight of the ball. An early contact point is for top-spin not under-spin.

Contacting the ball on the side helps
maintain an open racquet-face
through the contact zone

Under-spin requires the contact point to be a little later.  A deeper contact point, roughly parallel to the body, will allow the racquet-face to stay “open” through the ball. This late contact effects the amount of under-spin on the ball and the amount of under-spin controls the depth and bounce at the other side of the net.

To achieve a late contact point on a short ball in front, the player must learn to use a side-ways cross-over step.  I like to work this cross-over step into fitness workouts so that the skill can be perfected and the player becomes more confident in moving this way


Because the wrist is locked the energy to the ball comes from the rebound effect and by extending the elbow through contact.

Keep the elbow relaxed so that it can
extend through the contact zone
The player must anticipate where the ball will be contacted and prepare a locked wrist and a slightly relaxed elbow.  Once the ball is being contacted, the wrist remains locked and the elbow extends through the contact to help provide penetration on the bounce at the other side.
4.    VOLLEY

Apart from the technique of hitting a good volley, which has already been outlined, I highlight two other objectives to a player:

                                                  i.    The Volley is a placement shot and not a put-away shot

Accurate placement will always be better than attempting to bludgeon the ball. Very often the volley is the finish shot but the mindset should be one of placement.

                                                ii.    Be conscious of the height of the ball in relation to the height of the net band

By being aware of the net band a player will know how much they can and can’t do on a particular ball.  A ball struck below the height of the white band puts the player in neutral or even defense, while any ball contacted above the white band of the net will be a much easier ball. It’s important to know clearly what role you are in on each situation.


The player hitting the approach must slow the
arm and rely mostly on his/her forward momentum
These are my key points for the approach shot:
                                                  i.    The ball is struck primarily by using the forward movement of the body running forward and the player continuing their run towards the net, Don’t over-do the racquet work!
                                                ii.    Keep the arm slow for under-spin. A fast arm is for topspin
                                               iii.    Your objectives are to keep yourself safe at net by keeping the opponents feet deep in the court and/or keep the opponents contact point low


Many of the points remain the same but additional points are:
                                          i.    Maintain a disciplined finish at the completion of your stroke. The finish should end with the knuckles of your racquet hand in front of your face.  Finishing out to the side of your body shows that you are using too much shoulder in your swing.  Dominate with the elbow.

Create a finish check-point high and in front

                                        ii.    Establish a contact foot that draws power up from the ground. Many players who use a two handed backhand lack strength in their arms. Enlist the ground forces to supply power to the single handed backhand.

The power, balance and timing for the
one-handed under-spin backhand comes
from the players connection to the ground

Saturday, August 25, 2012


To Snap or Pronate, Which is Best?

There are two theories on how to hit a serve.  There are people who believe that “Snapping” the wrist is the best way and others who believe that “Pronating” is the best method of serving. The difference between the two options is difficult to detect visually.

When you Snap the wrist to execute the serve the racquet-head tends to finish with the tip leading and the right and left edges going through contact almost symmetrically.

When you Pronate to hit the serve the left edge (in the case of a right-hander) tends to lead the racquet through the ball.

For me, both styles do the same thing when executed correctly. Both Snapping and Pronating, when done correctly, promote a wrist that dominates the arm during the serve. Whenever the arm dominates the wrist during the serve the result will be a serve lacking feel for your target and reduced racquet-head speed.

A dominant wrist that Snaps or Pronates will give the serve the timing, accuracy and “pop” all players seek. Here are some ideas to help the wrist dominate the arm.

1.  Sitting on the Chair Drill
Sit in a chair facing the court and throw from the sitting position. In order to mimic the exact chain reaction used when serving, align your arm with your chest and make sure your under-arm is parallel with the ground.

Try to throw the ball as far as you can without a follow-through.  Throw only from the wrist.  Soon, the chain reaction from your forearm, through the wrist and into the hand will improve and this will translate into a more intelligent wrist when serving.

2.  Baseline/ Net Band/ Service box Drill

Stand in the centre of the baseline and try to hit the baseline by using a “late” wrist. A late wrist will create an open racquet-face on contact with the ball, sending it long. 

Hit another ball into the service-box on your side of the net. Again, do this by timing the wrist, this time the wrist will need to be “early” on contact with the ball.

The last target is the white net-band.  By gaining experience of a late and early wrist you should now be able to time the contact correctly to hit the white net-band.

Be sure to make changes of depth through the wrist only.  By isolating the wrist to perform this drill you are educating the wrist to not only be more accurate but also dominate the arm during the motion.

3.  Sideline/ Centre Line/ Sideline Drill

Stand in the centre of the baseline and try to hit the singles sideline on the left side, the centre service-line and lastly the singles service-line on the right side.

As you do this exercise don’t make changes with your body position, but simply change the wrist direction.  By isolating the wrist to perform this drill you are again educating the wrist to not only be more accurate but also dominate the arm during the motion.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


I recently worked with a group of strong ITF level juniors. Each player had a solid game and the task for me was to take these accomplished juniors to the next level.

Because ground-strokes are such an important part of a player’s competitive success, I focused on adding to their existing ground-stroke games.  Many players at this level have very good ground-strokes but lack that X-factor separating good juniors from juniors that transition successfully into the professional ranks.

During the week of training I brought 3 different theories together and tried to create a much stronger, more effective game which would also continue to develop far into the future.

The 3 Theories I worked on were:

1.  The 7 Target Zones: ADDING ACCURACY

There are 7 target zones on the court. They are…

(1)                Deep Baseline Corner (right side)
(2)                Deep Baseline Corner (left side)
(3)                Side “T” (right side)
(4)                Side “T” (left side)
(5)                Drop Shot Corner (right side)
(6)                Drop Shot Corner (left side)
(7)                Centre Baseline (middle rectangular area)

The best players don’t just hit the ball to “get it in”.  Accomplished player’s use targets to assist in attacking and defending the point.  At tournament level, playing with a “one shot” mindset will not work against an experienced opponent.

Tennis is a form of chess, the 7 target zones on the court taking the place of the squares on the chessboard and the ball replacing the chess pieces.  Like chess, you must coordinate a series on-court target zones to out maneuver your opponent and gain an advantage.  

Drills to establish a “7 Target Zone” mindset:

Throwing Drill:
To create a “target zone” mindset I first show players  the 7 zones on a court and then have them rally together by hand, throwing the ball to the 7 target areas (1,2,3,4,5,6 or 7) instead of using their racquets.

Hitting Slow
I then repeat the same drill but this time have the players use their racquets to find the 7 target zones.  This step should be done slowly, with the emphasis on accuracy, not speed and finishing the point

“No Winner” Game
The no winner game is played with the goal of working the “opponent” around the court by use of the 7 target zones.  Don’t try to finish the rally but to instead concentrate on applying pressure on your opponents court coverage and your response to pressure from your opponent.


“The Directionals” were developed by Paul Wardlaw and involve high percentage shot selection. There are 3 types of ball to consider:
§  Outside Ball
This is a crosscourt ball which comes from one side of the body (ie: the left side), and travels through to the outer side (right side).

We refer to the line of the shoulders, if a ball traveling crosscourt passes one shoulder and makes its way past the outside shoulder its an “Outside Ball”. An Outside Ball is considered the best way to create offense and the best way to defend when under pressure at the baseline.

§  Inside Ball
If the ball doesn’t make it all the way to the outer shoulder it’s an “Inside Ball”.  Inside Balls are considered the best balls to change direction on and to create the most effective offense.

§  90 Degree Ball
This is the ball hit down the line.  The rule when hitting down the line is that the ball must cross the far baseline at 90 degrees. Therefore the down the line ball is used mostly as a means to out maneuver the opponent

When you are playing at the baseline the high percentage option is to dominate the crosscourt exchanges.  When at net the high percentage option is to volley mostly down the line.

We worked on the correct options throughout the week and tried to eliminate low percentage options from their games.

Drills to develop “Directionals”:

Cross-court and Change
Two players start a crosscourt rally and try to dominate the exchange by hitting heavier or deeper.  If one of the players has an opportunity on a short ball they can change down the line at 90 degrees and finish the “point”.

This drills helps the player to recognize the correct type of ball to change down the line and also confidence in creating inside balls.

No Winner Game
I have described the No Winner game already. When used to develop the Directionals the player will have lots of opportunities to develop a strong outside ball, become mentally stronger in long rallies and learn to respond correctly under a variety of situations.

Basket Feed & “Outside” targets
Place two cone targets on the court, each target representing the outside shoulder.  Feed 6 balls side to side (FH & BH) and have the player practice hitting a crosscourt outside ball beyond the “cone shoulder”.


Drills to develop the DNO Theory:

Cross-court & change DTL
Similar to the previous drill, both players start by hitting crosscourt. On the correct ball one of the players can change the direction down the line and the two players play the point out until the point has been won.

By combining these three theories all the players received training on targeting, playing the percentages and correct shot selection.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012


I recently had a player, “James”, who was going through a rough period. James was struggling in practice and in competition. He didn’t seem to be enjoying himself on-court, becoming over-stressed and making poor decisions while executing strokes and tactics.

It would have been easy to point the blame at his faltering ground-strokes and poor on-court execution, but I felt that spending time working on the details of his game would not have helped.  It seemed to me that the problem was mental and not technical. 

Sometimes players lose sight of the real reasons they love to play tennis and compete. Often I ask players “Why do you play tennis”?  The answers are mostly the same.  Players say they “Like to Win” and “It’s fun”. But if that was true we would all play against opponents that we could beat easily.  Obviously playing against opponents that can be beaten easily would not be satisfying at all, therefore “winning” is not what brings us back to competition. Sometimes even a loss can be extremely satisfying and rewarding.

If the reason we compete in tennis was for fun, why is it so stressful for most of us during matches? I don’t think I would describe facing a break point as “fun”.

I believe we are attracted to tennis by the challenge.  Humans do extraordinary things to challenge themselves. We climb mountains, swim the English Channel, run long distances and continually try to beat previous best times and distances in sporting events.  Our passion for challenges have produced amazing feats, and also gotten us killed. We seem to never tire of going beyond our limits.

Therefore I believe we play tennis to be challenged, the tougher the task the better the feeling.

Some players however, lose sight of the reason they play tennis.  The challenge becomes the enemy and something to be avoided and blocked out. This leads to a player reacting like James.  If things didn’t go well during competition James became angry and sulked.  Often after losing a long point he would look skyward for divine intervention.
My talk with James involved explaining to him that he needed to take ownership of what happened on-court.  He had been missing shots and failing to execute on-court because he couldn’t accept responsibility for what was happening. He continually blamed outside factors. Every time he lost a point he would think “see, mistakes are beyond my control”.

After our talk James began to take responsibility for his actions, and any time he made mistakes he had to get honest with himself and acknowledge that the fault and the solution were in his hands. He could either continue sulking or take immediate action to remedy the problem. He chose to take ownership and confront the challenges that came alone in his matches.

The transformation was immediate.  James began to play as if a heavy weight had been lifted off his shoulders.  He began to execute perfectly whatever he decided to do, whether it was a change of direction, decisive offense or staying in the point through gritty defense.  If James does make mistakes now, he acknowledges the problem calmly and honestly… and remedies the situation without the previous theatrics!

Players must understand that the reason we play tennis and enjoy it so much is because of the challenges we must face. Giving a player a better insight into the nature of competition could be the catalyst to a much improved mindset and improved results.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Beating superior opponents sets you apart from the other players

There is nothing more satisfying than beating an opponent who is, on paper at least, better than you.  Achieving a win against a superior opponent sets you apart as a genuine competitor.

Here are three ways to overcome a stronger opponent.

1.     Do Your Homework First
Playing someone who is better than you suggests that your opponent is perhaps technically, physically OR mentally stronger than you. They could even be technically, physically AND mentally stronger than you! Don’t panic. You need to isolate where their true strengths are.

Look at what they do best. Ask the following questions:

Speed: do they prefer the ball fast or slow?
Direction: do they prefer the ball wide or into the  body?
Height: do they prefer the ball high or low?
Position: Do they prefer to play at the net or at the baseline?

That’s the technical part finished. Next you must look at their mental make-up. Don’t always assume that they are confident people just because they win lots of matches, are experienced and are intimidating you by the way they are walking and talking. They may well be all those things but nobody until you has devised a systematic plan to beat them yet!

2.   Play With a Plan
Devise a plan based on understanding what type of ball your opponent prefers, and giving them the opposite.

If they are timing the fast ball perfectly and are sending it back with added power and accuracy, feed them slower balls to take them out of their preferred option.

If they are taking big swings at the high bouncing balls you give them, add under-spin to the rally to limit their potency.

If you are hitting wide in the court and your opponent replies by hitting offensive winners, start to target the middle of the baseline to take away the angles.

If your opponent is dominating the rally, coming forward on your short balls and finishing with a volley or an overhead, get to the net before them and stop them dictating the point in this way.

I will repeat again… Devise a plan based on understanding what type of ball your opponent prefers, and giving them the opposite

Sometimes the conditions will assist you. Conditions may make it easier to implement your ideal game plan therefore factor-in court conditions, climatic conditions and physical conditions.

I once played a match indoors.  One court was particularly close to a wall, so close that this court should not have been used during the tournament. During my match I kept serving wide towards the wall and winning the point each time. Fortunately my opponent didn’t seem to have practiced his slice serve enough to be able to use the same tactic!  

3.   Believe and Keep Believing
Once you have done a good job of scouting your opponent, and devised a clever strategy, you’ve got to go into the match with strong determination.

Here’s a great quote from Vince Lombardi, the late coach of the champion Green Bay Packers…

“Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or fitter man, but sooner or later, the man who wants to win the most, will win”.

Many things will happen to dent your spirits but you must continue to implement your strategy no matter what happens. Sometimes the strategy takes time to develop.  The majority of your tactics are based on:

·         Creating errors
·         Creating frustration
·         Developing a loss of confidence
·         Destroying your opponents composure

All these things take time to develop so be patient.  Your job is to maintain your self-belief throughout.

The more often you develop game plans in matches to help against stronger opponents the better you will become at creating the “up-set” win that sets you apart from the majority of players.