So the first Slam of the year is over, and we could not have asked for a more exciting two weeks down under. While watching the pros is incredibly entertaining, watching tennis played at the highest level also gives us tennis players the itch to get out on the court ourselves. Sometimes it gives us a false sense of confidence, leading us to believe that we can watch the stars and think we can translate what we see on the TV into our game. While it certainly can provide some inspiration, simply watching the best of the best is not going to translate to rapid improvements in our games. There are, however, things in the pros’ games that we can watch, and take to the court to improve our games. Here is what you can learn from watching the best players in the world.
Pros are only allotted a 5 minute warm-up before a match. Watch how they progress efficiently through the warm-up. They don’t aimlessly hit groundstrokes before approaching the net. They work on both their forehands and backhands, hitting different angles and spins, working on down-the-line, cross-court, inside-out, and inside-in shots from both wings. When they are comfortable, they move in and take volleys, again, hitting all different types of shots, preparing themselves for all the shots they will need to hit in the match. Then they hit overheads, and move back for serves. Sure, they are loose before they get to the court, but they use every shot in warm-ups to prepare for the match. You should too!
Return of serve
A glaring difference between the pros and amateurs is how consistently the pros return their opponents serve. Sure, they are more talented than we are, but they also handle returns differently. Rarely will you see a pro try and smack a winner off of a return. You can’t win a point if you don’t get the ball in play, and this is something all pros know very well. As a returner, you are expected to lose your return games, that’s why it is called “holding serve.” They make nearly every return, unless they are aced, because they are not trying to win the point, they are trying to get in the point, and set themselves up to win it after several shots. You should look at the return as a way IN to the point, never as an opportunity to end the point.
Given, pros don’t have to go and pick up their own balls in-between points, but they use the few seconds of down time to recover for the next point. You will see their feet stay active, but they remain very focused on their faces. They often take deep breaths, forgetting about the past point, and get mentally prepared for the next point. Don’t dwell on past points, whether won or lost, but recover, catch your breath, and try and immediately shift your focus to the next point. By focusing on one point at a time, you will be in a much better mindset to take charge on any given point.
Watch their targets
When watching Federer, Serena, or any top pro, you will see them hit a lot of winners. However, you should also notice that the rate at which they hit winners versus rally balls is very, very low. They take the time to set up each point, moving their opponent around, and waiting for the right opportunity to try and end the point. There are two very important things to notice. One is that they VERY rarely hit a ball down the middle of the court. They are constantly trying to keep their opponents on the move, spreading the ball to both sides of the court. HOWEVER, you won’t see them aiming for the lines very often, especially on rally balls (unless you are watching Novak Djokovic, who is a freak, and is an outlier who regularly paints the lines.) So, they are moving their opponent side-to-side, but with margin, giving themselves several feet of space between both the sidelines and the baseline. Are you still wondering why they make less unforced errors than you? Try to put more margin on your shots. Develop the points by moving your opponent side to side, yet not going for the lines. You will stay in the points longer, and give yourself more opportunities to hit the highlight-reel winner when the time is right.
Next time you pro tennis is on TV, watch very closely how they set up the points. All pros are very capable in a groundstroke rally, and are comfortable hitting 20 shots in a row from the baseline. Especially if you watch the top players, they are absolute masters of disrupting the points. What this means is that they possess every imaginable shot, and use those shots throughout the course of a point to take their opponent out of rhythm. They will mix in a low, skidding slice, or a high, heavy topspin shot to throw off their opponent. When the opportunity presents itself, they will throw in a drop shot, pulling their opponent forward, giving themselves plenty of options to lob or pass them. Once you find yourself comfortably in a baseline rally, try to mix up your shot selection, and you will be amazed at how regularly, and quickly, you can take the advantage in a point.
So, remember… the pros are the pros for a reason, they are really, really good at tennis. Next time you are watching on TV, don’t just ooh and ahh and try to mimic them next time you get on the court. Sit a little closer to the TV, and watch each of these aspects of their game. Take these ideas to the court, and watch your game improve. Good luck, and let us know how it goes in the comments section!