(from a recreational player - me)
The following technology-based suggestions are offered for recreational tennis players that are not familiar with differences in racquets or who may be hampered with common tennis ailments. Basic swing, technique and other factors play important roles as well.
Common tennis-related health problems can include tendonitis (tennis elbow) and many issues with muscles/soft tissues of the body, particularly, wrist, arm, shoulder, knee, ankle, neck and back. Generally, these problems arise from repeated duplicate motions. Since tennis players tend to hit a lot of tennis balls over many years of enjoying the sport, the multiplification factor of many movements can have detrimental health effects. Here are three technology-related suggestions that can ease pain when already injured or help prevent injury in the long run:
1. Larger racquet head - softer impact on muscles, tendons and joints
2. Larger racquet grip - less strain on wrist & forearm
3. Lower racquet string tension - less shock to wrist, arm, shoulder, back
Tennis Style vs Racquet Technology
By tennis style I refer to the way you play the game. Are you a defensive player or do you like to aggressively attack? Do you prefer to play within your skill range or blast away like a wild animal? Are you more about consistency or accumulating clean winners? Do you go for a big serve or always strive to prevent double faults? Answers to these questions should determine the kind of racquet you are using. Following are some basic tips without consideration for health issues:
1. Larger racquet head - larger sweetspot, more forgiving on mis-hits, more "power" but less spin, less "control"
2. Smaller racquet head - smaller sweetspot, less forgiving on mis-hits, less "power" but more spin, more "control"
3. Stiffer frame - less power, more spin, more control
4. More flexible frame - more power, less spin, less control
5. Heavier racquet - more power, more forgiving, less spin, less control
6. Lighter racquet - less power, less forgiving, more spin, more control
7. Longer racquet - more power, less forgiving, less spin, less control
8. Shorter racquet - less power, more forgiving, more spin, more control
9. Higher string tension - less power, less forgiving, more spin, more control
10. Lower string tension - more power, more forgiving, less spin, less control
11. Larger grip - less slip, less strain on wrist and forearm, less control
12. Smaller grip - more slip, more strain on wrist and forearm, more control
As you can see racquet technology factors can become complex. There are other factors as well, such as racquet balance, swing weight, type of string, string gauge and more.
Power Game: (willing to accept errors while attempting to aggressively crush opponents)
Basically, if you want more pop on the ball, you should consider larger racquet head, lower string tension and heavier racquet weight. If you want the absolute maximum pop or power, add a flexible frame.
Control Game: (striving to prevent errors while allowing opponents to self-destruct)
If you find yourself hitting too many balls long or wide and having problems controlling shots, consider a smaller racquet head, higher string tension and lower racquet weight. To maximize control you can add a stiff frame.
There are many subtle aspects that should be considered if you are playing tennis 3 times/week or more and year round, using indoor facilities during cold weather months. Naturally, this kind of player should be looking at the long haul and taking measures to assure longevity in the sport. Otherwise, you can easily wear your body out! If you are using a smaller racquet head or stiff frame racquet and/or high string tension and are developing an aching elbow, wrist, shoulder, neck or back - change immediately to something with a larger head, lower string tension and if possible, a more flexible frame. Your local proshop technician should be able to help you select the right frame for your physical condition and style of play.
I hope these tips are useful. To learn more about racquet technology search the web. Most tennis equipment suppliers have vast resources available to help you make the right selection. There are independent tennis or sport research websites as well, where a wealth of useful information is available.
Playing to Win vs Playing for Fun
This is an interesting topic because for many players, tennis is more fun when you win. That means for some players, and probably a vast majority, winning and having fun are synonymous. There are people on the other hand that really don't care if they win or lose and so they are on the courts for a variety of other reasons. This group of people is not usually found in competitive tennis leagues. Whether you are playing to win or playing for fun regardless of victory or defeat here are some fundamental tips that will help you get more enjoyment from tennis:
Tip 1 - identify opponent weaknesses and build your strategy around them. In other words make them beat you with their weakest shot. If the opponent isn't very mobile and doesn't like to move or run, hugging the baseline, make them run - drop shots, lobs, junk balls... will get them huffing and puffing for air in no time making it easier for you to gain the upper hand. If the opponent has a weak or unreliable forehand or backhand, go after it consistently and only go the other way with your ball placement when you have opportunity for a clear winner. If opponent has trouble with balls that kick up, use as much topspin as you can generate and feed them high bouncers or kick balls all day.
Tip 2 - There are 4 opponents in tennis; your opponent, yourself, the net and pressure. When you remember this it is sometimes helpful to tip the scales in your favor by employing a "cross-court" game plan. What are the advantages to hitting cross-court? Lower net - the net is lowest in the center (36") vs 42" on the sides. Obviously, you will get more balls back when hitting over the middle and more balls in the net when going for the higher net sections. Remove yourself from the opponent list by working your way into the match slowly but aggressively. What does that mean? It means don't go for too much right away but instead make up your mind to send everything cross-court and stick to that aggressively! When winner opportunities present themselves down the line take them. You can handle your opponent better when he or she is getting a heavy dose of balls to their weakest side, neutralizing the 2nd opponent on the list.
The 3rd opponent is self-explanatory - THE NET! Put some practice time in and learn to clear the net by a foot or even two feet with the majority of your strokes. Don't let the net spoil your fun and winning plans at match time. Now there is only one left - Pressure. When you are successful there is less pressure. You tend to relax and play even better! This is the advantage to being a fast starter in tennis. Players like Andy Roddick, when he was still on tour and Roger Federer, David Ferer are examples of fast starters. When you are behind in a match pressure mounts on your side of the net because you feel crunch time is upon you - in other words you have to do something different because the first plan hasn't been working. That adds pressure to your game. We all handle pressure differently and sometimes it is the lone factor deciding who wins and who loses. The best way to eliminate this 3rd opponent is to stay focused and play your best tennis right up front to build a lead and allow yourself to relax. Meanwhile with the opponent falling behind they begin to go for more in desperation (making themselves their own 2nd opponent) the pressure mounts and your opponent is trying to prevail against 4 adversaries... not an easy task. This is tennis.
The Knife Edge of Confidence and Competition
In recreational tennis, no one ever plays as well in a match as their actual skill level should allow. In practice or just hitting the ball with a partner we are often a level above our actual competition level. Why is that? Confidence. Without the pressure of competition, without trying to win, we are loose and hit freely. Our footwork is better. Balance is better. We hit harder and more accurately. Come match time, singles or doubles, we tighten up and our game suffers. Confidence is key. The race to win hinges on the race to achieve confidence in a match.
The battle for confidence is the same as the battle to win. Whoever achieves confidence first often wins. This is bad news for slow starters on the tennis court. I am a slow starter. I tend to relax into a match from the start. I dont jump off the block in my most aggressive posture. Instead, I kind of sit back and feel my way into the match. There is a problem with this approach if I want to win. The problem is that while I am all relaxed and hitting my way into the match, my opponent is getting off to a quicker start, winning more points and gaining confidence. Its a knife edge and often the outcome of the match teeters on that edge.
While my opponent(s) gains confidence they swing more freely, more like they are just hitting or practicing. Their footwork is better than mine and they are hitting the ball harder and more accurately than me. The result of that is they are winning more points and games. Meanwhile, because they are playing better and better and taking games, I am playing tight and worse and worse. Losing games creates pressure. Playing behind creates pressure. Pressure is the greatest opponent in tennis.
Slow starters face this problem all the time. Always behind in a match, we are forced to rise up and play above our actual skill level to covercome the deficit - what are the chances that we will be successful playing above our skill level while under score pressure? Meanwhile our opponent(s) enjoys an early lead. Does this sound familiar? If so, you are a slow starter like me. It's not good for competition.
Sometimes Rafa Nadal appears to be a slow starter depending on who he is playing. Nadal tends to drop the first set, forcing himself to overcome his opponents' best game because he has allowed them to gain maximum confidence. Nadal must step up his game, win more points by brute strength and determination and then gradually erode his opponent's confidence until he can overcome them and win the match. Due to injuries in recent years Rafa's ability to do this has declined. Opponents got the scoop on Nadal and expected a slow start. So they prepared themselves to jump into an early lead by being aggressive from the start. It is August 2017 as I edit this page for typos and I'm happy that Nadal has emerged healthy and is back to playing his best tennis this year - a treat to see. Nadal won his 10th French Open earlier this summer - amazing. When healthy, because Nadal fights for every point with equal tenacity, he is indeed a fast starter. We all need to work toward the same goal in tennis.
We must train to start quick and come out fighting from the first toss. We must apply pressure immediately to opponents and serve them notice that they are in a losing fight. Doing this will allow the confidence meter to tip in our direction and while our game improves with every stroke the opponent faces increasing problems because of pressure, tightness and errors. This is our strategy. This is tennis.
Facing Unknown Singles Opponent (Winning vs Actually Playing Tennis)
Sooner or later you will play a match against an unfamiliar opponent. There is a delicate balance between the need to get off to a fast start and not allow yourself to fall behind early and also not going for too much too early. Going for too much leads to more unforced errors and that is not a good way to open a match. What is the best approach when facing a new and unfamiliar opponent?
Since the warmup in recreational tennis varies from match to match you cannot rely on it to gauge your opponent's strengths and weaknesses. You should still pay close attention to the warmup and watch for signs of the opponent's abilities. See which stroke is their best and most comfortable, forehand or backhand. See if they have a backhand drive or do they slice it all the time from that side? You can make use of this information later. For example if they slice the backhand all the time you can plan to keep the ball to their backside side and come in often to pick off the weak slice returns. Are they comfortable moving forward and backward to the ball? During serve warmup, do they have control over the serve, hitting spots, or do they just randomly target the box? Do they hit a flat serve or put spin on the ball? Make mental notes during the warmup. Do not look at the warmup as your obligation to help your opponent get ready for the match. Look at it as your opportunity to assess their strengths and weaknesses and remember they are probably doing the same.
When the match begins, remember you will not squander a fast start but at the same time you will use the first couple games to probe the opponent skill level. Your goal is to play at a level just above your opponent so that you can win the games and eventually the match, without risking unforced errors. How is this done?
You take the exploratory start of the match in 3 quick stages. In the first stage your goal is to only return the ball directly to the opponent for 2 or 3 entire rallies regardless who wins those points. You want to find out whether they can keep the ball in play under the simplest conditions when the ball is coming right back to them. If they put those balls away or otherwise control those points, you have learned that the next level is necessary. If they cannot handle the first level, your goal is to continue play at that level and win the games and match. The next level, if necessary, for 2 or 3 rallies, is to return the ball to the open spaces on the court, forcing the opponent to move and return the ball. Note whether this causes unforced errors or whether they manage that level of play. If they manage that level you must kick up to the final notch of your game and actually play tennis. If they cannot handle this level of play you have your strategy, hit it where they ain't and win.
When you have an opponent that can keep the ball in play at the first and second levels, you are forced to open your game kit and actually play tennis. That means you are in for a match and must use all of your game savvy and skill to prevail. You should not go for monster shots or target the lines etc right away - save that for when really needed.
Remember, your approach is to play only at the lowest needed level to win. If your opponent cannot handle your 2nd serve there is no need to go for more on the serve and add errors and points to them. If they handle your 2nd serve move on to your first serve but work your way up to it only if necessary.
You need to achieve all of this exploration in the first 2 games. By then you should have all the information needed to adjust your game to the level necessary. Play to win... tennis is more fun when you are winning... play at the lowest level necessary to win.
Tennis is about scoring economy. It means being stingy with every point - not giving points away for free and aiding your opponents. Think of every point as a dollar in your pocket - you either hold on to it and move on to the next dollar and battle for that one, or you give them up one by one to an undeserving person. This is tennis. Economy of points. Keep every hard earned dollar and give nothing to your opponent.
When possible, win without actually playing all out. This is tennis.
Nice Guys Finish Last (Aug 13, 2017)
We hear that phrase often and it is not always true. However, in tennis, it is true.
I know this first hand because for several years when I played a lot of recreational tennis I was that "nice guy" It showed up for example when I played against someone with a knee brace or who was nursing an injury. It showed up when I played against a woman or someone much older than myself. Somewhere deep down inside I had pity for those kinds of players. So let me tell you a couple quick stories and you can decide for yourself whether you want to approach tennis as a "nice guy" or not.
Losing to Injured Players
I met a woman and her son for tennis one night and a 4th person joined us to play doubles. The 4th person was a woman with a very noticeable limp and a huge knee brace on one leg. We chose teams and I partnered with the first woman, who was a lefty and a pretty good player. Her high school age son was a good player and on the school tennis team - he was partnered with the limping lady. As the match proceeded both my partner and I were falling behind and just before losing the match, we pulled it in for a strategy talk. Both of us admitted to playing down for the same reasons. I asked my partner which was worse, losing to a young kid and woman in a knee brace or playing well enough to beat them? We both laughed and agreed it was better to win. We upped our game at the end and pulled out the match. It really does not help people that are playing at a lower level, whatever the reason, when you play down to them. It is not kind to blow them off the court necessarily either. So what you should do is win that match and play at a level that is just enough to win - nothing more and most importantly, nothing less.
Losing to Children
I lost 6 straight sets to a really young kid one time because I refused to pull the plug on my strokes and unload on the young fella. He was only 8 or 10 years old. Yes he was a well trained player even at that age and he would go on to become a virtual tennis MONSTER in his teen years. But I let that kid beat me 6 straight sets and all the while I pretended that I could not answer the questions he asked in every rally. The truth was I was playing at about a quarter of my power level because he was so young and so small. His skill level was enough to beat me and embarrass me. He won 6-0, 6-0, 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 and 6-0, beating me thru 36 straight games. Finally, his mom, who was watching at courtside, decided that playing me was not helping her son and so we had to stop playing. I never forgot that day and I'm sure the young fella never did either. There was no reason for me to play down to that little kid, I learned later. His parents wanted strong competition to help him learn what would be needed going forward. I did not help them or him and for my "nice guy" attitude I have a very embarrassing memory that will never change.
Losing to Older Players
I played a local fund raising tournament years ago and my first round match was against a 70 year old man, with pure white hair and a small body frame. Immediately, I had a sense of pity for him because of his age and to make a long story short, he eliminated me in the first round, in straight sets and I hardly took a game off of him. He was a very solid and experienced tennis player. I learned later that he had won the National Senior Olympic Gold Metal several years in tennis. My pity was ill placed and unnecessary. Pity does not belong in tennis. It's a sport and not a platform for personal feelings etc.
I have been in similar situations many times over decades of recreational tennis. It took me a long time and too many embarrassing losses before I realized it had to stop. I could no longer approach tennis as a "nice guy" and end up losing to people I should have crushed. I made the adjustment and I recommend that you make it as soon as possible rather than accumulating a bunch of shameful losses to people that should never have beaten you on the court.
I played a first time opponent a few years ago. He was taller, more fit and more aggressive than me. I had a way of not playing my best unless it was necessary and so I started that way against this guy. Basically, I was using the match as a practice hitting session, sending the ball back to him and still managing to maintain a safe lead, until the guy turned the score around on me. I was up 4-1 and not even playing, really, until he was sending the balls over for my serve after winning his serve to go 2-4 but instead of calling out 2-4, he called 4-2 as though he was in the lead. I immediately corrected him that the score was 4-2, me. He insisted and debated for several minutes that he was up 4-2. I could see he would not relinquish and also I felt strongly that I could beat him anyway if I started playing for real so I accepted his score and continued to play. It bothered me though and effected my game. I lost the desire to play with him at all, actually, and so instead of bringing my game up for the win, I let him win. He was quite pleased with himself and even offered me some tips to correct my strategy going forward - a little hard to take and I was pretty miffed (angry)
Turning the Tables
A couple nights later he wanted to play me again and I decided to do it only this time it would be different. I'd make sure he could not turn the score on me. I brought my game from the get-go and won the first set 6-0. Taking water he asked me what was different. Apparently, he was having difficulty comparing the two nights of tennis. I wanted to tell him I was actually playing this time but instead I only replied I was just getting lucky tonight. Second set was an identical 6-0 and before it was over the guy was shaking his head and muttering even asking me out loud what was different again. I only offered enouraging words like "keep playing, you'll win the next one" etc. Third set was 6-0 and after 3 bagels in a row the guy was beside himself. I mean he couldn't understand why he didn't get one game after beating me the first time we played a few nights before. I thought the answer was pretty plain, right there in front of his face... he could see I was playing this time compared to last time. Some people cannot face the truth. He made a mistake switching the score around me the first time and going home feeling like he had really done something. I made sure it didn't happen again. For one reason or another he never asked to play again and we never did.
If an opponent is healthy enough to take the court they are healthy enough to meet the full fury of your game. It's not personal - it's tennis. Play your game and win as often as you can. No mercy. This is tennis.
SHOWING EMOTIONS DURING A MATCH (Aug 13, 2017)
Not a good idea generally. Players like John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors played better when they showed their emotions and many times matches turned in their favor because they blew off some steam. But these are two hall of fame professional tennis players. You and I are recreational players - a world of difference. For most of us it is counter productive to allow opponents to know what we are feeling.
If we are losing and becoming frustrated, body language alone can convey it to our opponents, lifting them and encouraging them to hang on for the win. In a long, hotly contended match this can be crucial because the opponent in a match like that is more than likely feeling pretty much the same way you are feeling. Can I endure well enough physically to finish and win? Can I hold on and pull it off? The last thing we need to do in matches like this is to signal our opponent that we are in worse shape than them. No. We must deny them any such encouragement. It is important to control your emotions and body language in hard fought matches.
When we are winning easily against inferior opponents its not that important. We are more relaxed and can afford to let our mood show because we have a dominant upper hand. I do not recommend letting your hair down during any match but in an easy match doing so will probably not cost you the win. It might cost you a few points and games but you'll still win. These matches are unimportant. The matches that count and the tough ones and that is where emotions need to be bridled.
There are two sides to emotions during a match. If we find ourselves in a dominant position and allow the joy and relief of that fact to show too much it can become offensive to someone we respect and do not wish to offend. Most of our opponents in recreational tennis are friends that we play with or against on a weekly basis. We do not want to insult our friends by showing obvious signs that we feel superior to them on the court - that is not a good idea in recreational tennis. In competition showing the same emotions can have a beneficial effect for us. If opponents see the relief and joy we are experiencing at their expense it can demotivate them further, helping us win even easier. On the other hand, it can have an adverse effect by pricking them deep inside and helping them conjur energy and determination that can make life less pleasant for us, even cost the match. Pro Bowler Pete Weber is a good example of a personality that benefited many times from being angered. He had a kind of pride down deep inside. Pete could go on a baloney on white with mayo spree and seem unbothered by leaving 4 or 10 pins that should have been strikes when he needed them. Opponents hoped nothing would happen in those situations to anger Pete or to prick his pride. On many such occasions, however, someone in the crowd would chide "you suck" or something to that effect and if Pete heard it - LOOK OUT! The man more often than not would become so motivated to prove that person wrong that he would immediately start throwing his best balls, striking time after time and taking the match to win big. Pete Weber, love or hate him, is one of the greatest bowlers of all time. The same adverse effects can happen on a tennis court. In the end it is better to control your emotions and body language. Keep an even appearance and manner at all times. Winning or losing, same person, same tennis - not effected. This is the ideal posture for most tennis players.
When were are being embarrassed on the tennis court and our opponents is enjoying superiority over us, it can make us angry and disappointed enough to start leaking little phrases out of our mouths usually to ourselves but that definitely clue our opponent that we are on a downward spiral emotionally - which is good for them, lifts them, encourages them to keep up the good work and win. We can sulk around, lowering our shoulders in shame. We can stomp around, snatching balls up from the court in anger. Throwing our racquets is a classic one. I used to play in a great group of pretty competitive guys, some up to 4.0 or even 5.0 levels. One of them had a hot head earlier in his playing years and we all knew if we could get him to throw his racquet it was game over - we had him. Once he was that frustrated he couldnt get control of himself enough to win. Better to hide your anger and disappointment. Don't let opponents know they are effecting your emotions. It's not personal - Its business as usual, every ball, every point, win or lose... you look and play the same. Don't help the opponent.
Another guy I enjoyed playing with for years was a professional psychologist and no joke he was not easy to hide your emotions from. He could read all of us like a book, no matter how steady our manner. As a result he was always quick with a little word to lift you if you were down and his doubles partner. He knew how to work with each of us individually - really amazing when you think about it. He had a great game of his own, one of the toughest players and yet, every match for him was two matches in one. The first match was the tennis and the second was coaxing his partner along to improve chances for victory while taunting his opponents just exactly right, to nudge them toward self-destructive behaviors and defeat. I laugh thinking about it. The man is a genius - no wonder I could never beat him!
Do nothing in a match that helps your opponent. Don't be counter productive. Let nothing phase you. Show no emotions.
Don't let it become personal. It's not personal, it's tennis.
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