September 7, 2016
Feeling slow on the court? Although fitness is essential for a great tennis game, chances are you are not taking full advantage of your speed. Read below on how to get faster on the court without getting in better shape.
Watching the ball vs. watching your opponent
It dawned on me after my discussion with someone in an adult tennis drill that many players watch the ball more than they need to. Although we know that it is very important to watch the ball during contact (just see below on how Roger Federer does it), many of us take this to the extreme by watching the ball move towards their opponent. By focusing on the ball, there is little chance that you can predict what kind of shot will be hit by your opponent. For example, I would see players move forward after hitting a lob that is falling short and about to be smashed by the opposing player. The danger of getting hurt is definitely a concern of mine while running drills but also the ability to be in a good position to hit the next ball gives a higher chance for success. So in recap, are you watching the body language of your opponent or the ball while playing? Give a closer look at your opponent between shots and you might start seeing some tendencies that you didn't know they had the next time you play!
Being Proactive vs. Reactive
The clip below is a great example of anticipating for the ball before it is hit. What many of us tend to do is the opposite. We react to every ball after it is struck, making us a second late to the ball every time. The U.S Open is on right now, making it a great opportunity for seeing this in action. The next match you watch, focus on the player hitting and you will see them moving to a part of the court before their opponent hits the ball. This is because they have developed mental representations of the most likely place the ball will be hit next. The point of this is to be still while hitting the ball. Basically, if you are staying still while hitting the ball while your opponent is most often moving as they hit, chances are high you will be more consistent than they will be. The only way to have a good idea of where your opponent is hitting is through a lot of practice doing this. During your hitting sessions, try to move in positions that your opponent will more than likely hit it. To do this, you will have to assess your opponent's tendencies but also the circumstances of the point. Is your opponent moving forward? Are they hitting a strong shot such as an overhead? There are a lot of factors so it takes time to build a "data base" that will allow you to figure out where the ball will be going.
Testing to See if You're Moving Better
The best way to see how you are doing with being proactive vs. just reacting to the ball is imagining that someone is watching you from the sideline. See below for a clip that shows this. They can only see you but should be able to figure out if you are playing offense, defense or in a neutral rally based on your positioning on the court. For example, if you hit a weak ball that lands short, you should more than likely backup in anticipation for a hard ball hit back. You can even go as far as moving to the side that your opponent more than likely hits at to give you more time to get in position for the next shot. See the clip of Kei Nishikori below to see what I mean by this. Hopefully this new practice will give you a quicker step than before, allowing for more consistent shots and ultimately, more victories on the court.