Saturday, October 17, 2009

The “To Do” List: Hitting With Purpose & Building Points

Are you showing up to the court with a plan of action? Some players have one thing in mind when going into a tennis match and that’s to return the ball over the net, get it in the court and pray that their opponent will not be able to do the same thing as often. It all starts at warm-up! With a good eye and attentiveness you can start planning your match points in the first 5 minutes of the warm-up, although you will continue your fact finding and information gathering during the match, a good tennis strategist will already start planning their match before the the first serve and return. You should make mental notes about the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. How is their reaction time? Do they have good balance and technique or are they wrong footed and look as if they have never taken formal instruction? Ask yourself what types of shots does my opponent prefer to hit? What are they trying to avoid hitting? Try to get a read on your opponent’s mental status as well. Some players will come to the court sluggish others will be amped up ( not to their advantage ). Does your opponent look nervous or overconfident?When your information gathering has been completed it’s time to move into the next operation and that is to EXECUTE the plan using the ingredients that your opponent has given you to make a really nice tennis dish called “Exploitation and Domination”. I always tell my high school players that having a ” To Do” list is one of the most important things a player can do for themselves on the court. It not only helps you stay in the moment and focused, but gives you a mini-plan for each and every point of the match. You’ll find that your ” To Do” list will promote mental focus that you never had before and you’ll be hitting with purpose. Your list should be a nice blend of your personal strengths combined with your opponent’s weaknesses. To Do lists also require a good balance and understanding that placement over power is key. After-all, without consistency and placement, power is worthless.There are several variations of mechanical shot combinations one can use in singles play, keeping in mind that every match is going to be different, a player may want to use some of these tactics based upon their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, a good player will have several variations to a lot of these tactics and not play the same points repeatedly with the risk of becoming predictable. It’s easy to vary these purposefully planned combinations and a player should always be evolving and changing their game plan as needed during the match. Remember it’s a two way street and your opponent will make adjustments if they are well schooled in the game. Here are some mechanical variations that one might bring to the baseline before taking their serve to start any given point:

- Three drives in a row to the same corner, and then a sharp, slow cross-court to the other side.
- Four drives from alternate corner to corner, and then the cross-court drop shot.
- Alternate corner to corner until you decide your opponent is set in the rhythm, and then the slow, straight short shot back to the same side of court as your last shot.
- First a drop shot, then a lob deep to the opposite side of the court.
- First a drive, then a slice , then a drive, then a slice , and so forth, with continually varying depth until an error is forced.

Unless a player is going for a clean winner, a good player always hits his shot with his next shot in mind, and an even better strategist is planning two strokes in advance of the one he is then hitting. There are several types of baseline rallies that, unless deliberately broken up by one player or the other, will follow an almost invariable pattern. The most general type is the cross-court exchange to deep court. The one seen most often is the backhand-to-backhand variety. The forehand-to-forehand variety seldom continues for more than three exchanges. To break up either type of cross-court exchange, there are two excellent shots. One is the faster straight shot, paralleling the sideline, into the deep corner. The other is a slow and very sharply angled cross-court shot, which is still in pattern with the exchange, but has very different depth and pace, and possibly has different spin as well.

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