It may seem obvious, but the fitter you are, the better your tennis game. Additionally, if you cut back on needless snacking and the endless playing of video games, you’ll move around faster on the court. The faster you can move, the more balls you’ll get to and, let’s hope, return successfully so you’ll win more points. Start a regular exercise program to strengthen your tennis muscles, especially in the arms, legs, and core.
Run if you enjoy it, by all means, but you’ll do more for your tennis game if you practice wind sprints around the court rather than distance running. And once you reach your new fitness level, keep up the effort to stay in shape. You’ll win more matches if you do.
2 Get help from a pro
Just as a car needs a regular tune-up to run well, your game needs a periodic overhaul by a good teaching pro. Preferably, a pro who is certified with the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR) or the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA).
Every three months or so, go back to a pro who knows your game well. The chances are that you’ll have developed a few bad habits he’ll spot right away. If it takes a few lessons to correct those flaws and put some extra polish on your strokes, it’s worth the investment.
Your game won’t improve much if you take what you’ve learned and jump right into match play. You must really work to get the instructors tips so ingrained that they become instinctive. So immediately after a lesson, line up another player, if you possibly can, and practice the points that you’ve just learned from the pro. The two of you can do the same drills that he or she used.
Even players on the pro tour practice several hours a day, often concentrating on one particular stroke for thirty minutes to an hour. You and your practice partner can help each other out by feeding balls or by working on complimentary shots – like the lob and overhead.
3 Take a “playing lesson”
If you are a relatively good player, your strokes may not be the cause of your lack of improvement. Your strategy may be faulty. If that’s the case, I recommend you take a playing lesson with a pro or coach who has had plenty of competitive experience. Play a match with the pro so he can test your strategy and point out your weaknesses. I’ve noticed that many juniors are indecisive, perhaps because they lack the confidence to do the right thing. A pro may suggest that you hit your approach shots down the line to reduce the available angles for your opponent as you come to the net. Or he may advise you to use high topspin shots to keep your opponent back behind the baseline. A pro can guide you toward the best strategy for your game.
4 Learn a new shot
When you go back to your pro for your tune-up, ask him to start you working on a new stroke. For example, if you are a competent intermediate player, perhaps you’d like to try a topspin lob. That’s not a shot you’ll hit very often. But it’s one that can come in handy; and the knowledge that you can hit it will often give you a psychological boost. Players who have beaten you in the past will be surprised when you pull your new shot on them. Raising the level of your game is sometimes a question of a mental block. Trying something new can be an excellent way to help remove the block.
Many junior players can hit the ball well but don’t seem to win many matches. In those cases, something obviously is lacking and a good way to identify it is to ask a friend chart one of your matches. Your friend should note how each point was won or lost and with which stroke. You can easily make up a chart listing forehand winners and errors, volley winners and errors, and so on. After the match, add up your various winners and errors to see the strengths and weaknesses in your game.
Also, it’s a good idea to discuss the results with your teaching pro so he can tailor your future lessons to them. Chart some matches at regular intervals to see how your game is improving.
6 Develop a game plan
Get into the habit of working out a game plan before your upcoming match. To do that in a tournament, it’s helpful to watch your next opponent in action and make a few notes about his weaknesses that can become part of your plan. Or ask another player how to play against him. I’ve known players who write out game plans and refer back to them at changeovers. But when you have sufficient experience, it’s enough to compile your game plan mentally.
7 Analyze your opponent
When you are facing a player who beats you consistently or a new opponent who seems to be outplaying you, try watching him more intently. Does he make more errors on the backhand return of serve? Does he favor the forehand approach? Are there any shots he’s afraid to hit? Incidentally, you can often tell by the look on his face which shots he doesn’t like to hit. Force him to make those shots and you’ll undermine his confidence little by little. If he likes hard-hit shots, for instance, give him plenty of soft, sliced balls that lack pace. Size up your opponent’s play in your mind so you can adjust your game plan to counter his.
Nothing seems to boost a player’s confidence and court performance quite so dramatically as a brand new racquet. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of playing surprisingly well with a new racquet. That improvement usually falls off a bit as you become used to the new model. Nonetheless, a new racquet, or even a new stringing job, may even be enough to add an extra edge to your game. And playing with different racquets can be an entertaining exercise that will take your mind off your stagnating game, giving you a renewed confidence to move ahead.
Posted by Steven White, Author of the Bring Your Racquet Series
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