October 6, 2017
Often times I see recreational players with good solid strokes but unable to win matches. After watching them compete it is clear that it has nothing to do with their strokes but more about their position on the court and how it relates to where they hit the ball. Let's look into some common mistakes to avoid.
Sit Where You Hit
This is a classic mistake where players are more concerned about their stroke then competing. I see a player hit a ball and stand where they hit it to watch where it goes before reacting to the next shot. To combat this, practice hitting a ball and while watching it go across the net, move back to the middle of the court to be in position to hit the next shot. If you are already at the middle of the court, work on shuffling your feet as you prepare for the next shot. This constant movement is essential to get to more balls and feel faster on the court.
Lose To a Short Ball
Another mistake I see in court positioning is when a player hits a great shot against an opponent that creates a weak reply, giving the player a short ball. The player either fails to hit the next shot as they are unprepared and they rush the shot or they give their opponent a weak ball that they can easily be beaten on. This is a problem beyond missing the opportunity to capitalize on a weak ball. This also gives your opponent less pressure to hit deep balls. They now feel that they can win on a weak ball, giving them a much easier time getting balls over the net. Work on moving forward more often than usual to start creating pressure on your opponents. You will start seeing a dip in their game when they know that they cannot get away with hitting a short ball.
f you see a professional tennis match it is quite obvious who is in control and who is on defense during a rally just by looking at the court positioning of the players. The player on defense is many feet behind the baseline, giving them an opportunity to retrieve the next ball as their opponent is hitting hard and to corners of the court. Try to see a strong shot coming from your opponent so that you are able to defend it better by backing up and allowing yourself more time to react to the ball. This will give your more time to get to the ball and keep you in the point.
Being Reactive Rather Than Proactive
There are some common places that a recreational tennis player will hit to in certain situations. If you can guess correctly in the place where the ball is hit, you are able to be in position much faster and most likely have an open court to hit into. Due to technique that I will dive into and a video for the future, players will hit crosscourt on their short ball groundstrokes and high volleys. See if your opponent does this often and then try to move to that spot on the court before they hit it. Even if the player you are facing does not do this type of pattern, most players have a tendency to hit to certain parts of the court when facing specific shots (short, deep, left or right side of the court). This also relates to the serve. Not only will this get your opponent to question the direction of their shots but also make them hit balls to parts of the court they are not as comfortable doing.
Watching Rather Than Moving
This applies mainly to doubles. There is a strong urge to stop moving and watch as your partner is hitting a ball. This mistake keeps you from being in the right position to hit the next shot. For example, if you know your partner has a strong forehand and he or she is about to hit it, you need to be moving forward and towards the middle of the court to be ready for the weak reply. This is the same for when your partner hits a lob. There should be a quick reaction to where you need to go before your partner is striking the ball. I recommend players to not only have signals for where your partner is going to go on your serve but also for the second serve return. Let your partner know if you are going to lob, hit crosscourt or down the line. This allows both players to be in the right position before the ball is hit. This takes practice but it will make you faster on the court without improving your overall speed. ‘
Know Your Role
In doubles, there are too many times players go for balls they have no business of going for. When you know your roles as a doubles team, the movement and court position becomes much easier. The best rule I can give a doubles team regarding this is related to the two holes in tennis. The first hole is down the line. If the ball is in front of you on the other side of the net, your job is to cover the line. If the ball is crosscourt of you on the other side of the net you have the middle of the court. The sharp cross court angle is very difficult to hit into with any pace, allowing you to cover that too by moving there once the ball is hit. This shot is difficult and rarely hit at so ensure the middle is your main priority when you are in this crosscourt position. This is hard at first as the person at the net with the ball in front of them wants to jump and take the middle but this is something that should only happen if the ball is a “sitter” that can be put away. Practice this by having someone hit groundstrokes on the deuce or crosscourt side with you and your partner at the net. If you are in front of the baseline player, let the ball go by if it’s going down the middle. This takes some trust for your partner to be able to hit that ball but once you have that trust, your court positioning will be much stronger and allow you to win more matches.
I remember subbing in for a 3.5 men’s doubles match and after the first set the guys were saying how fast I was. Although I wouldn’t call myself slow, I’m definitely not known for my speed. The reason they said this is I anticipated the next shot and focused on my court positioning rather than my strokes. This allows me to move and be in position ore often than not which gives me more options for what type of shot I will hit and where I will hit it. Start thinking about your positioning and watch your speed increase too!