Big big difference between the short term thinking that's propagated and the actual reality of great players who train their mind for success. Get Involved... Learn faster... Improve faster...
There seem to be two divided camps. One telling players to hit harder, be more aggressive, and attack relentlessly. Another telling players to construct the point and play with consistency and margin. Sometimes this debate becomes associated with the American versus the European style of play. Can’t we all just get along...?
As with most conflicting beliefs, the answer is somewhere in the middle. It’s not black or white. And it’s not as if you fall in either the camp of consistency or the camp of aggression. Consistency and aggression are at opposite ends of a spectrum in which players fall in somewhere in between.
Let’s look at both extremes. Playing with increased aggression will at some point have diminishing returns. Aiming at the lines will produce more winners, but it doesn’t make sense if only 40% of the balls go in. Therefore, aiming closer and closer to the lines or hitting harder and harder has diminishing returns. On the flip side, playing with increased margin will also at some point will have diminishing returns because if you chose to increase your margin of error to make 100% of your shots, you’d sacrifice placement and power to the extent your opponent would have a field day.
Long story short, there’s a delicate balance - a "yin and yang" if you will. Each day that balance changes. If your strokes are feeling good, you might lean toward the side of aggression. If your strokes are off but the body is feeling good, then you might increase your margins and slug it out physically. A delicate balance indeed...
In tennis, everybody wants to hit a “heavy” ball. What does that even mean...?
Say you were trying to apply force on an object, there’s a difference between a “slap” and a “punch” even if your hand is moving with the same velocity. A slap clearly has no weight behind it, while a punch drives through the target at impact. In a serious fight, my guess is you'd rather be throwing punches.
In physics, they say force = mass x acceleration. A lot of coaches emphasize racquet head peed, but it’s not the actually pure swing speed that you’re looking for. Sometimes a slower swing might produce a heavier, more powerful shot. Hitting “heavy" involves you engaging your legs and core strength through the ball, giving the ball weight/mass that slapping at the ball does not.
Tennis is like body building in the sense that you can only improve so quickly. In body building terms, you can only bulk up so fast. A body builder does thousands of reps for such incremental gains just how a tennis player must hit thousands of balls before any noticeable improvement.
Development is a long, arduous process, so you must 1) adjust your expectations accordingly and 2) take the approach of sculpting a piece of art. You can’t get a six pack overnight - everyone knows that. But if you keep chipping away at that sculpture, you’ll end up with something beautiful over time. However, if you don’t start now and put in the work to chip away at that sculpture, it doesn’t matter how much time passes. You’ll have that same ugly hunk of stone.
Amazing to see how Fed puts the squeeze on his opponent. Before you even look up, he's on top of the ball smacking it the other way. Kudos to his excellent recovery footwork and seamless transition inside the court. When you take the ball early by two feet inside the court, that's two feet less the ball travels toward you and two feet less toward your opponent. Take away four feet of total distance traveled by the ball - now that's serious damage
The contact point is crucial to everything - power, accuracy, and stability. Your entire muscle system works to generate momentum, but that energy has to culminate at a very specific moment in time, hence your contact point. Striking the ball too close to your body means that your swing did not reach it’s peak momentum. Striking the ball too far away from your body means your energy dissipated into thin air before it could reach the ball.
At your optimal point of contact, you should feel the racquet almost “snap” through the hitting zone like a whip cracking and releasing the built up energy. It’s the same “snap” that Mike Tyson gets on his uppercut or Barry Bonds with his baseball swing, where every ounce of energy is unleashed upon a precise target at a single moment in time.
I recently saw a coach teaching students to lean forward on the transition volley split step, so if someone touched their back, they'd almost fall flat on their face. The reasoning was to hit out in front and cut off angles.
This is ridiculous.
What about a ball hit to the left, right, or lobbed..? The entire point of the split step is to move in any direction, and that can only happen if you're balanced. With your weight falling forward, you're basically saying, "pass me."
That's the difference between Andy Roddick barreling into net and Roger Federer transitioning gracefully with pristine balance and posture.
You always hear stories of the 3 year old who hit the ball against the wall thousands of times. It's normally a success story.
Either way it builds good discipline because it's so darn boring. It's much like playing a grinder to hits a repeatable ball that lulls you to sleep, So... you have to keep your mind engaged on what you're doing/working on because there's not much external stimulus.
Enjoy the simple pleasures of tennis like the feeling of the ball on your strings and your muscle systems working together.
Hitting against a wall, among other isolated drills, is a great way to bring the focus on your body mechanics that are often forgotten during the dynamism of a match.
Tolerance To Pain, one of the five aspects of mental toughness, is something you can't avoid. Your legs will feel like they're on fire. Who's going to volunteer for that..?
You have to reframe the whole idea of pain. Here's some ideas:
"The more pain I can take the stronger my body will be."
"The more pain I can take the better I'll feel after having pushed myself."
"The more pain I can take - that also goes for my opponent. And clearly I can take more."
All pain is temporary. As Andy Roddick once put it, "I'll talk to my body about it tomorrow."
If you're going to model yourself after somebody, model yourself after the best. If you're doing 80% of what Federer is doing, you'll be in pretty good shape. If you're doing 80% of most other players... well.. maybe not so much
Tennis is a game of time and energy. If you don't use energy to aggressively attack the ball with your feet to take time away from your opponent, you'll have to use more energy hitting a bigger shot to make up that time. If you do neither and hit lower quality shots, you'll be burning that energy from running around on defense. It's gotta come from somewhere.
Do the eyes sparkle...?
Or are the pupils dull and glazed over...?
In a way, it's sad to see players who don't have or lost the passion for the game and are just going through the motions, regardless of their results. The typical Tony Robbins, "success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure" applies to tennis all the same.
Speaking of pet peeves...
in doubles, when you hit a solid volley and/or multiple volleys and your partner is immobilized at the baseline watching the ball go back and forth. In theory, your partner should be using every free second to reposition.
Imagine sticking an aggressive volley and having your opponent on their heels, but allowing them to loft an easy defensive shot to your unassuming doubles partner waiting to hit a groundstroke at the baseline. Gross.
The only three things that matter: mental toughness, physical toughness, and technical perfection.
At the start of a match, it may be wise to give yourself a margin of safety for the first few games. This means selecting safe targets to get your teeth into the match, feeling your legs beneath you to find the rhythm of the ball, and assessing your opponent's abilities to understand what might be most effective.
After those first couple games, once you've got a good sweat going and calibrated your strokes to the conditions of the court (because every match the conditions will be change), there's no reason you can't open up and take more risks.
If you can start smacking winners from the first shot of the match like Roger Federer, then do it. But most players can't and there's nothing wrong with easing yourself in. Just don't mistake playing with a margin of safety with playing passive, conservative, or timid.
All it means is don't aim for the lines!
Anyone who is mentally engaged can be a tough opponent. Don't let your guard down... the moment you underestimate your opponent your intensity, effort level, and focus dips. When you give your mind permission to go on vacation, it may not be there when you really need it.
It's never one thing. Roger Federer doesn't do one thing 50% better, he does 15 things 5% better.
Don't gloss over the details.
To be a master of your craft you need to maximize all the 1%ers to separate yourself from the pack, especially as your skill level increases and the margin between players becomes smaller and smaller.
Generally speaking... high ball - strike the inside quadrant of the ball. Mid ball around the torso - strike the back of the ball. Low ball - strike the outside quadrant of the ball.
Smile... enjoy yourself on the court. Are you only in a good mood if you're playing well..? But what are the chances you'd play well if you were in a really good mood...? Maybe a better question is how often do you play well when you're in a really bad mood...? Maybe the correlation works both ways.
How you move influences how you feel, but how you feel also influences how you move. Keep that in mind... you can't necessarily control how you play on a given day, but you can control your attitude.