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Jak Beardsworth Tennis

Quick Tennis Tips

THE HEAT IS ON

I happen to notice the grips on the 12 or so rackets that were queued up for the next-player-on during a recent event a few weeks back. And what a sight it was! A sorry collection of the dirty, the greasy, and the frayed.

All the iPhones quickly disappeared and the waiting players quickly scattered when I noted that I needed a picture of them for future use.

With the warm weather here to stay, and the heavy perspiring that goes along with it, it is beyond prudent to replace your over grip prior to every play! Maintaining a high grip-to-hand friction coefficient is essential in hot and humid weather. Optimal relaxation at the ball striking moment facilitates your best chance for shot making success, and starts with your grip tension.

Worn out grips promote racket strangulation, excessive muscle tension, and a level of play with not much chance for personal best.

So yes, get-a-grip, a fresh one that is, everytime.

THE TOSS

Unless you’re ambidextrous, the service toss can be problematic. We’ve all been there. Here are a few thoughts to get it under control:

1. Hold the ball lightly in your finger tips – avoid enveloping it in your hand;
2. During the ritual stage, position your tossing arm low and comfortably close to your body with a slight bend in your elbow;
3. As your arm/hand move upward and away from your body maintain an anatomically neutral position – the same position it assumes just hanging by your side;
4. Release the ball with as little spin as possible at full arm extension – treat it like an egg not a hot potato;
5. Once airborne, the ball should reach a height that’s approximately as high as you can reach with the racket – slightly higher if your coiling-up dynamic is well developed – and be positioned about an arm’s length in front of your body;
6. Strike the ball at its highest point or as it begins its descent if you have that slightly higher toss

A note on spontaneously catching the toss; only if it is clearly out of your strike zone because of the wind or otherwise. Releasing the toss and then deciding to hit or not hit is a recipe for not serving with total commitment. Slight variations in toss placement are acceptable and still very doable.

GETTING NERVOUS?

Super Bowl winning quarterback Eli Manning apparently has the answer, and explanation for his not unusual game-on-the-line heroics, with this little pearl of last week: “If you’re nervous, you’re unprepared.”

The late, great, legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis had, as you might expect, quite a different take on the topic: “If you’re not nervous, you ain’t listenin’.”

So, yes, it’s normal to be a bit jazzed in the pre-match warm-up, but that’s where you’re supposed to be able to settle down. Unfortunately, if you haven’t practiced one-on-one, even a little bit with a favorable practice partner, and instead you play doubles match, after match, after match without ever practicing – how about the ball machine and working on your serve if the right person isn’t available – your unpreparedness, i.e. self doubt, will be lurking in the back of your mind.

Success through practice repetition breeds confidence. Confidence then breeds success in match play.

GETTING THE WARM-UP PROTOCOL RIGHT

There is indeed an accepted, universal protocol regarding the pre-match warm-up. Unfortunately, my profession and trade organization (USPTA) has done an inadequate job of promoting it.

First and foremost, the warm-up is a cooperative. That means hitting back and forth right at the opponent. It is not practice, i.e. some yahoo opponent practicing winners. Check the USTA Code of Conduct. It's right there! Second, the racket flip to choose serve, receive, side, defer should take place prior to players taking the court in order to warm-up on the side the first game will be played on.

At the start, players have the option of warming-up their groundstrokes beginning at a ¾ court position and slowly moving back - especially in a friendly match - or full court prior to league match play if players are unwilling. One player, once ready, takes the initiative to move into the net to practice their volleys, and ask for some lobs to also warm-up their overhead as well! Positions are then reversed.

Finally, all players are required to take their practice serves prior to the first point of the match. No further practice is allowed after the first point is played. There is no "I'll take mine before I serve." One player serves, the other "catches" and serves them back. Partners then switch ad and deuce court positions in order to get practice from both sides. Do not listen to players who announce after 2 minutes, "Let's start since I'm not going to get any better." They are correct.

IT'S THE WHITE GRIPS

Why are white overgrips far more functional, particularly for club players sans entourages, than the blue or black ones? Because, unlike the others, they readily show the accumulation of the dirt and grime that comes off of our hands. Why is this so important, besides the obvious reminder for a fresh wrap? Because as the discoloration becomes more prominent the hand-on-grip friction coefficient becomes compromised - let the "grip strangulation" begin. Not good! This elevated muscle tension undermines both your ball-striking fluidity and your ability to replicate your best stuff consistently. Treat yourself and your game - a high friction coefficient promotes relaxation - use the white ones and change them often. They are available at both Punta Gorda pro shops. I recommend and prefer HEAD XTREMESOFT.

WATCH THE FOOTWORK

What's the least best component of club player's games? Footwork, or lack thereof. Tennis is a differential relaxation sport - the lower body is highly energized to facilitate silky smoothness in the upper body. Turn on the Tennis Channel and observe any tour player at all. You'll see countless adjustment steps in order to get the ball right where they want it. Eye-hand timing is very dependent on eye-foot timing. When they're in sync, your forehand and backhand suddenly become noticeably better. Remember the old tennis adage: "No feet, no game, no future."

Happy Holidays!

4 PLAYERS WARMING UP WITH 3 BALLS?

Not possible! The best doubles players in the world warm-up with 6 balls, and they have ball kids to retrieve them. No wonder so many want to rush through it and lose the frustration. In clubland it's prudent to always have 2 cans of balls available - even if the second can is slightly used - in order to facilitate an effective match preparation, whether it's league play or a friendly game.

THE LINES are not YOUR BOUNDARIES . . .

In order to play within your shot-making capabilities, it’s prudent to not impulsively go for the lines to win. Safe margins to those lines on all your shots, and more importantly to the net – where most mistakes are made, i.e., too high, too low – will allow for an acceptable degree of error.

Always visualize your shots clearing the net by the optimal amount for the shot you’re hitting, and landing approximately 3-4 feet from the lines – still a very effective shot – both of which will eliminate many of your unforced errors.
Definitely play aggressively. But by playing within yourself, you’ll keep giving the opposition more chances to self-destruct, become frustrated, and lose confidence.

Committing to being very good at, if you will, doing “nothing” is paramount in evolving to the point where your game has really become “something.”

FOCUSING ON PERFORMANCE

"Losing is not my enemy; the fear of losing is my enemy." - Rafael Nadal

Your best results will come by focusing on your performance, not winning and losing, which is often not an accurate measure of how you played anyway. Doing your best, fear free, one shot at a time, is all you can do. After all, once you've arrived at the courts it's too late to fret about any holes in your game. This is the game you've arrived with...play freely and have fun!

VISUALIZE... REALIZE

THE TERM "MENTAL TOUGHNESS," FIRST POPULARIZED IN TENNIS IN THE 80s , HAS TODAY BECOME AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE SPORT'S LEXICON ACROSS THE BOARD. IT'S CORE COMPONENTS INCLUDE: BREATHING, PACING, RITUALS, AND, MOST IMPORTANTLY, VISUALIZATION. SIMPLY, VISUALIZING ONE'S SHOTS, OR FLIGHT PLAN IF YOU WILL, PRIOR TO ACTUALLY STRIKING THE BALL, IS PARAMOUNT TO GETTING WHAT YOU EXPECT. IT OCCURS IN THE BRAIN'S RIGHT SIDE, WHICH DOES NOT INTERFERE WITH BALL TRACKING. RUNNING A 10 POINT PRE-SHOT CHECK LIST THROUGH THE LEFT BRAIN RESULTS IN PARALYSIS THROUGH ANALYSIS AT THE MOMENT OF IMPACT AND. SKETCHY BALL WATCHING. SO START THINKING-IN-PICTURES... VISUALIZE TO REALIZE.

 

Jak is a career USPTA professional with over 40 years experience. He is the author of "Tennis Theory: Dialing in Your A-Game Every Day"(2016) and "More Than Just the Strokes: Personal Best Tennis in Clubland and Beyond," (2005). He has presented seminars to tennis pros nationally and internationally and contributes articles to Harbor Style magazine.


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