One thing that I love about this blog is that I am at the "beginner" level of some of the things that I post about, tennis being one of them. I hope that you, as readers, get something out of these beginner posts so that if you try to pick up something new or something you haven't played in a while these tips will help you get started at a more accelerated pace. I've played tennis maybe 4 or 5 times now (I used to play when I was younger) and I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of it. Today, I played one-on-one with a good friend who also doubles as a great tennis coach. Because it was just the two of us, he really helped me with my forehand and backhand swings as well as my control. First, we warmed up and just volleyed the ball back and forth. Then, we decided to play a game, to which I lost 6-0 (I did score 1 point). After that, he had me hit the tennis ball against a fence to work on my control (aim and power). But the thing that worked best for practicing my control was when we played in one of the half court boxes, otherwise known as mini tennis. He told me to aim within that half court mini box and every time it went long or wide we'd start again. After about 15 minutes we had some really great volleys going and my forehand looked pretty good. I was able to gauge how much power I needed to put in my swings and how I should hold my racket in order to get the ball where I wanted it to go. We then switched to backhand and I worked on only swinging with one hand rather than two (it just feels more natural to me). After about two hours and a few great volleys under our belts, we decided to call it a day.
I would like to provide some tips for beginners or even advanced beginners in order to improve your game. Some of this may come obvious to most, but I would hope that someone would find these tips helpful. As I discover ways to make myself a better and more competitive tennis player, I hope to document the things I changed about my technique and my form so that others may decide to pick up this exhilarating sport. I feel new things are less intimidating when you have some tricks of the trade at your disposal :)
Always keep your feet moving
This is one thing that should have come naturally to me since I always try to stay on the balls of my feet whenever playing ultimate. My friend told me that my feet should never be in the same position for each swing, and once that clicked for me, my swings became much better. Also, when your feet are moving your brain is engaged and you are more likely to have some pretty good hits if your whole body and your mind is in motion. A stagnant player will not hit the ball well even if their feet are in the right position.
- If the ball is coming at you, take a few steps back rather than choking up on the racket. This will give you a fuller swing, which will result in more power and accuracy.
- Keep your feet perpendicular to the net. I found that if my hips were square to the net, the ball would go off to the side because my arm would follow my body. When I swing, I step with my front foot in the direction that I want the ball to go (which by the way is exactly what you do when you throw a frisbee). If you're on the balls of your feet and ready to move when that ball comes over the net, you'll have more time to get a good position on the ball.
- Always return to the middle of the court after a swing. You may be running more than necessary, but if your opponent hits the ball across the court, you want to be in a good position to go after it. It's also much easier to run forwards than backwards so if your opponent hits a short ball you can charge the net rather than run after it. However, if your opponent hits the ball towards the back of the court, you want be far enough back so you have time to run onto it.
To summarize, make sure that you're feet are always moving so that you can position yourself perpendicular to the net so that the ball comes to your side and you're facing it, ready for your swing.
Let the ball come to you
This is something that I had A LOT of trouble with when I first started playing tennis because it is against everything I have ever learned when playing a sport. In frisbee, if you don't charge that disc, someone else will knock it right out of your path. So, when I first started playing tennis and the ball was coming towards me, I would run straight at it and then have to hit it with this weird overhand swing, which either sent the ball flying or straight into the ground (on my side of the court). So today I practiced waiting for the ball to come to my side. When I knew approximately where it was going to reach its peak after the first bounce, I would make sure my hips were square to the ball and my feet were perpendicular to the net. Then, I'd take my swing when it looked like the ball was at its peak. It was so difficult for me to wait for that ball, but my swings improved drastically once I did. So again, square your hips to the ball, keep your front foot in the direction you want the ball to go (your feet should be ready because they've been constantly moving), and swing level.
Speaking of swinging level, that's another problem I had when I first started playing. This was fixed immediately, though, once I realized that when I cocked my racket back, I would twist my wrist so that my palm was facing me, which would tilt the racket up and out, which is where the ball would go when I hit it. Once I kept my palm down when my racket was cocked back, my swing would be more level and the ball wouldn't go up in the air or off to the side as much. My backhand still needs some work, and I've been fooling with whether or not I want to swing my backhand with two hands (like a baseball bat) or with one hand. What seemed to work with me was when I approached the ball with two hands but only used one hand on my follow through (it's just much more comfortable for me).
So to summarize again, when that ball comes at you, square your hips to the ball, make sure your arm's length away from it, your front foot is where you want the ball to go, and swing. It takes a ton of practice but you'll start to feel really good once you get some good volleys going.
I really do like playing tennis. Chasing down that ball and getting a nice level hit over the net is exhilarating. And I love the sound the ball makes when it hits the racket right in the center. The weather is supposed to be in the mid 70s for the next week or so in my area, so grab a $30 racket from Dick's or Sports Authority and hit the court with a friend. When you start, practice close to the net and play in one of the half boxes like we did today, and as you get more confident in your hits and your accuracy improves, start to back up a little. Next time we play one-on-one we'll play half court, which is one of the small boxes up close to the net plus the large rectangular box in the back of the court. And remember, keep on the balls of your feet, let the ball come to you, and get your feet and hips in position before you swing. Get out there and have some fun :)