August 1, 2016
Your opponent has just hit a ball to force you on the run as you hit your forehand. Your disappointed shriek tells the story as you watch the ball fly well pass the baseline. The question is not how you hit it out but why you hit it out. You practice how you play but that is not deep enough of an analysis to get to the root of the matter. Let’s take a look.
As I watched Novak Djokovic (the #1 player this year) play a match, I would often guess when he would hit a more aggressive ball to end the point or at least put his opponent in a difficult position. “Now!” I would shout right before he hit his forehand inside the baseline but I was most often wrong in my prediction. What I realized is that Novak rarely went for a put-a-way until there was very little risk. The point of this observation is that his style of play relates to his physical and mental conditioning. He can physically stay on the court longer than anyone else, making his style of play make complete sense as he does not need to add risk to his game due to his off court conditioning. His mental strength is the same, allowing him to hit as many balls needed to win the point.
Have you analyzed your game and see if it relates well with your physical and mental strength? For example, I recently did a hitting lesson with a 4.0 who is trying to move up to the next level. After a few minutes, it became apparent that his aggressive and high-risk game was due to his lack of off court conditioning. To put it in perspective, for every ball he would hit pass me he would hit 5 long or into the net. When we worked on developing a rally ball, it was difficult for him because he simply hasn’t done this before. This makes sense. If you know you have a certain amount of gas in the tank and cannot afford to waste too much of it on a point, you will have no choice but to be aggressive. Pete Sampras was the master of this as his serve was so devastating that he knew one break of serve was all he needed in a set to win, which allowed him to coast on the rest of the return games to conserve energy. Going back to us mere mortals, this style of play doesn’t work. The player that is steadier while keeping the ball deep will win 99% of the matches.
Before focusing on your tennis game to become steadier at the baseline, hit the gym and kitchen. Get in better shape through interval training (Try the “Tabata” program) and gaining strength in the legs and core. Rid your kitchen of empty calories by eating only foods that you can grow. This simple approach will give you a better foundation to become a more consistent tennis player. The notion of hitting “one more ball” during a point will be a much easier task knowing your body will be able to keep up with your demands.