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Coaches Corner - tip of the month


Insights to Mastering your Game, from Jak


I have absolutely no idea why so many perceive the warm-up as, literally, a waste of time. Especially doubles players. I don’t get it.

Tennis PLayer Joann Cancro
Joann Cancro

Allow me to set the scene, the one that occurs every single day at clubs across America. Picture four players, approaching their assigned court shouldering tour type racket bags, dressed in proper tennis attire, and looking very professional. Unfortunately, this is where any aspirations to model themselves after professional players ends. The warm-up is about to begin.

There are a number of reasons why club players, even experienced ones, misperceive how the warm-up should proceed, resulting in well intentioned but hopelessly inefficient approaches, and, sometimes, even, unfortunately, combative.

First and foremost, club professionals should be held accountable for turning their collective backs and not even bothering to address the long established warm-up protocol. We deserve a class action malpractice suit. Second, we are seldom allowed to see the warm-up on television – which would be a great learning tool – prior to the beginning of a tour match. Commercials take precedent. Third, many players, transplants from Northern winter climates, are products of indoor contact time play where players speed through their warm-up “to get their money’s worth” for such relatively expensive court time. Fourth, there are the trite attempts at humor to end the warm-up as soon as possible. Here are my least favorite three: 1) “Let’s hurry-up and start before I’m too tired to play;” 2) “Let’s hurry-up and start before I use up all my good shots;” 3) “Let’s hurry-up and start since I’m not going to get any better.” With regards to the mind set revealed in number three, yes, that’s right, you are not going to get any better.

Okay, I’m just getting warmed-up for this article, so here are two more issues that undermine a productive warm-up: 1) the number of balls used, 2) poor sportsmanship. The best doubles players on planet Earth do not attempt to warm-up with 3 balls for 4 players. No wonder they’re in a hurry – who can warm-up with 3 balls? The pros have 2 to 3 cans – and ball boys and girls – to maximize the number of balls struck. Regarding respecting your opponent the game, and sportsmanship in general, the warm-up is a cooperative effort with both players hitting to each other, not away from each other so that they both have an equal opportunity at dialing in their game. It is not placement practice. That’s even in the USTA Code. C’mon!

Now, back to the actual protocol whether you’re in London, Paris, Melbourne, New York or Punta Gorda. First, ground strokes are exchanged. Then one individual takes the initiative and comes to net for some volleys. Before departing that individual asks “for some up” in order to take some overhead practice. Once they give up the net and head back to the baseline the other player follows suit for the same routine. When you think it’s time for serves first ask your partner if they are ready – they might be a bit behind you in their progression and need a few more.

Regarding serve practice: ALL PRACTICE SERVES MUST BE TAKEN PRIOR TO THE START OF THE MATCH. Once the first point of the match is played there is no more permitted practice of any kind!! Not only are you now playing by the rules but the dreaded “fbi” first-ball-in request, even in a friendly intra club, is automatically eliminated.

When you are taking your practice serves – from both sides - the receiving player should stop, or catch, those serves and then serve them back. Again, this is a cooperative warm-up, not return of serve practice. However, if you feel you have dialed in your serve, it is then alright to sacrifice your remaining serves – if others are still serving – for a few practice returns. If you do run into an opponent who immediately starts returning your serves simply state: “Aren’t you going to take any?” They cannot have it both ways and it’s up to you to explain that to them instead of being taken advantage of because you’re a nice guy.

The spin of the racket to choose serve, return, side, or defer choice to opponents (why a team would choose not to choose to defer is avoidance to me) should take place prior to the beginning of the warm-up so that you will warm-up on the side that the first game is played on. Since sun and wind can play a role in this decision it should not be taken for granted. Nothing like warming-up on the South side, then spinning the racket, and end up playing the first game at the North end where the sun in particular can be problematic at certain times of day.

If all goes wrong, and you are getting no cooperation from your opponent in the beginning of the warm-up, even after requesting it and explaining it, then tell the opponents that you’re going to warm-up with your partner instead. It’s within the rules to do that! Buy them a coke later since they’re now getting all huffy and puffy as a result of their own ignorance and boorishness.

One last item - where to stand for the first few balls in a friendly. The most functional place to position yourself for the initial groundies is smack dab in the middle of no-man’s land. This spacing between you and your opponent is now great enough to allow for a full swing, albeit relatively slow, through the ball to capture that special, optimal, world class feel for the ball on the strings. Re-inventing your timing and rhythm on a daily basis.

Beginning at the service line, worse yet in the middle of the service box actually volleying, is in complete conflict with preparing your true forehand and backhand. Specificity is what you’re seeking. Also, avoid well intentioned sprinting around right off to get the ball exclusively on one bounce. It’s the warm-up! Allowing a slightly short ball to bounce once or twice – or don’t even go for it and send the “cooperative message” - in order to create a better practice opportunity, is the smarter choice, not to mention being kinder to your still “cold” muscles and joints. One qualifier: in an inter-club team match you may be expected to warm-up beginning from the baseline – a good reason to arrive early and warm-up for the pre-match warm-up.

Okay, now, at least consider removing my name from that potential lawsuit. The ball(s) are now in your court.

Questions and comments are welcome at anytime for all tips present and past via email.

This Tip of the Month is copyright© by Jak Beardsworth Tennis. All rights reserved. Copies may be made only with the permission of and by Jak Beardsworth. Contact him here.

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