The difference between the top players in the world and everyone else is mainly strokes, footwork, strategy and the mental game. But what most people don’t realize is that these differences start in the way you practice and play tennis.
Watch any pro tennis player ranked in the top 100 and examine the way they practice.Chances are, if you have the opportunity to watch their practice – you’ll be stunned at the level of intensity and commitment they possess on every single shot they hit.
Rafael Nadal is the perfect example of this.
Just watch him play a practice match, or even a hitting session with his sparring partner. You’ll notice that he is committed to every shot, no matter where it lands in the court. In between shots, he is usually using bounce steps and staying on his toes at all times during the point.
Contrast this with most club players, junior players or even tournament level players when they practice. Often times, what you’ll see is that they practice with only half of the intensity of the pros. You’ll often hear things like “Oh. We’re just hitting around” or “Let’s just get a casual hit in this week sometime.” And then, these same players wonder why they are not improving or why they are unable to stay competitive during a real match.
Tip #1: Practice the Way You Want to Play
It’s no secret, but the way you practice will directly translate into how you play your matches. If you practice with 50% intensity, then it’ll certainly be difficult to kick it up to high gear when it comes to a real match.
The reason for this is that you are training your brain and your muscle memory as to how your body will react and perform in certain situations on the tennis court. If you are practicing with 50% intensity, your body will be used to that type of intensity, and consequently be unprepared for a more contested and competitive match.
This is why the pros seem to be in “the zone” so often, and it is not unusual to see them achieve 5+ shot rallys on every point. Since they practice the way they want to play, this type of high performance play is a natural part of their body’s expectations.
Tip #2: Planning is Essential
If you are going to commit to practice, then you should have an exact plan as to what you are going to accomplish during that practice session. Most players go into a practice session without a plan, so they end up hitting a bunch of balls around, spraying a few shots here and there, and nothing really gets accomplished.
Let’s say you want to improve your forehand. Then you should plan on having you and your partner agree to practice some drills to isolate the forehand shot, and the particular aspects of that forehand shot you wish to improve on. Crosscourt drills, baseline to volley drills, crosscourt/down the line alternating drills are some examples.
Tip #3: Get out of “hitting mode” and into “focus mode”
There are 2 types of modes that you can have when you practice. Most players, even (semi-pros) make the mistake of being in “hitting mode” with no goal in mind for that particular session. Instead, what you should do is isolate exact areas of your game that needs to be improved on.
There should be no such thing as just ‘hitting’ because, certainly, there has to be an area of your game that needs to be improved upon.
As a junior, I had the opportunity to attend the Saddlebrook Tennis Academy in Florida. One of the things that struck me was that every single hour was structured with exact parts of our game that we needed to work on. Usually, the morning consisted of baseline drills focusing on the forehand and backhand.
We would practice drills that isolated the exact elements of our strokes that needed work. The afternoon session would consist of match play, where we would be able to put our stroke and footwork practice to the test. Near the end of the day, around 5:00 PM, we would usually conclude with a fitness workout and a light stretch & cool down routine.
Tip #4: Make sure all of the Logistics are in Place
Tennis is a difficult game in that it requires you to be fit, healthy and agile. If you want to play well on the tennis court, you generally need to be feeling well physically, mentally and even emotionally.
Even small hitches in your daily life can drastically affect your performance on the tennis court. Whether it’s a recent breakup, financial problems, or a certain havoc in your life, any negative thoughts will undoubtedly find its way into hindering your practice or match session.
Make it a point to eliminate all distractions outside of the tennis court and in your daily life. Getting rid of toxic people in your life can be a good first step, if such persons exist in your life.
If you want to play better tennis, 100% of your mind has to be in the sport, or else, you’ll only be playing at half of your true ability.
Tip #5: Develop a Player’s Routine
Every elite tennis player will have something in common. They usually possess some kind of unique and very systematic routine that they engage in before every match or tournament.
This usually starts in the preparation of their equipment, the food that they eat the day before, clothing, accessories and even the activities that they do the day before a tennis match.
I once had a tennis coach that told me he always went to the movie theatre the day before an important tournament match. Since he usually played challengers or futures, often times, he found himself at different parts of the world.
But no matter where in the world he was, he made it a routine to frequent the cinemas in whichever part of the country he was in the evening before his tennis match. He told me that this calmed his mind and body, relaxing him and preparing him mentally for the battle ahead the next morning.
Finding the Perfect Routine to Maximize Your Oncourt Performance
Maybe the cinemas the night before isn’t right for you, but certainly, you should make it a point to find a suitable routine that can help you perform better in tennis matches. No matter what level you are at right now, these 5 important tips are essential if you want to be a better and more competent player on the tennis court.
This article was written by Coach Ed of Optimumtennis.net