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Subject: Get the Ball OVER the Net!, TennisOne Newslettr,[masked]

October 8, 2010

Now, if you lose sight of the ball, it���s because you blinked

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Get the Ball OVER the Net!

David W. Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne

Watching pros play, it is often helpful to not just look at stroke, footwork, and strategy issues, but also look at how points are won and lost. I often encourage my students to analyze points and try to determine when one player gained control of a point. Another learning opportunity is to look at how many points were won through winners and forced errors and how many are won (or lost) through unforced errors. Today, many web sites and even television coverage offer snapshot views of these statistics, allowing an observer to analyze a match with these numbers.

Click photo to view on website.

However, there is another statistic that is often overlooked by statisticians and players alike. This is the division of how many mistakes are made by hitting balls into the net versus hitting them long or wide. At the professional level, this is most revealing as the numbers are almost 4 to 1 in terms of balls hit out or wide compared to balls hit into the net. (These numbers can vary but various studies do suggest that 25% of balls missed are hit into the net at the professional level.) At recreational and club level play, we see an almost inverse proportion of this statistic. Regardless of level of play, the propensity to hit balls into the net can be a revelation that something in your game that needs attention.

Why So Many Into the Net?

So why do recreational players hit so many balls into the net and and what conclusions can we arrive at based on this. First, there is only one net yet there are three lines to consider, the baseline and each of the two sidelines.  Second, through proper stroke development, pros are able to hit with enough topspin to make it easier to aim higher than recreational players and still keep balls in play. Recreational players tend to hit a lot more slice and flat strokes and those shots tend to be hit lower, especially when players try to add more pace to the shot. Because the net is a barrier and club players tend to hit the ball lower, it makes sense that these less skilled players will encounter the net more often than hitting balls long or wide.

Click photo to view on website: At the club level, 75% of errors are hit into the net, yet the pros hardly ever make that error.

In addition, by the way some players inadvertently practice (or how some pros tend to train students), we can actually encourage hitting balls into the net . Here���s how:

In clinics, drills, or lessons, pros often place cones inside the court, leaving very little room for players to aim beyond the cones and have such shots feel successful. In other words, using cones that are placed inside the court often encourages ���safe��� shots, those which are hit well short. Of course, during actual competition, balls hit short but in are always better than balls hit out! Yet, if we look at the goal of hitting better, more effective shots, hitting short���or training players to only be satisfied hitting balls short but in, will seldom result in players working on depth to the point of becoming comfortable with hitting deeper shots.

Training

There are several ways to train players to hit deeper. Some pros string a rope across the court several feet above the net using tall sticks that are attached to the net post. This very good drill is even better when the pro hangs an actual net above the tennis net, further encouraging players to aim higher in drills and rallies. Some pros even hang a sheet so that the players can���t even see the short part of their opponent���s court.

Click photo to view on website: Placing target cones just outside the baseline is a great way to get players to hit higher and deeper shots with plenty of net clearance.

A drill that is easier and more practical to set up than the previous is to actually place your cones outside the court, encouraging students to aim beyond their ���safe��� zone and learn to hit deeper or greater angles. For example, if we are working on approach shots, be it first volleys as in doubles or taking a short ball off the bounce, we must hit a deep shot against our opponents or we will find ourselves vulnerable to a relatively easy passing shot, lob, or we could simply be blasted at by our opponent!

In many clinics, especially those where we have a broad spectrum of player skill levels, I usually point out the deeper shots hit by the better players. Also, when working angle volleys, placing a cone close to the net post and outside the doubles alley help players work on hitting more effective volleys since so many hit an angle volley too deep or with not enough angle to be effective.

Perception

Consider this: players seldom berates themselves when they hit balls six, ten, or even fifteen feet short of the baseline in any given rally or shot sequence. This is because the ball is landing in; the ball is in play and the opponent must make a shot. Yet, when they hit a ball long by as little as one foot, they are usually dissatisfied to some degree, as the point is immediately lost. What's wrong with this? It depends on the level of skill and play you're trying to achieve. At lower levels, certainly we want to make our opponent make that extra shot to win the point. If they are not that good, those short shots might be just fine to hit in the overall concept of winning a match.

However, if the goal is not to simply beat average or relatively unskilled players, but to make ourselves competitive against more and more complete players, we will, at some point, need to become more aggressive from a perspective of hitting more effective shots. Note, however, I���m not talking about hitting ���harder.��� I���m talking about shots that are well within a player���s range of consistency, yet using these shots in ways that will eventually produce more effective play and more difficulty for better players to return. As I often point out, shots hit a foot out (over the baseline) are in actuality far more accurate than a shot hit ten or twelve feet short of the baseline but in. Again, players need to recognize the bigger picture here. Hitting a ball a foot long tells me a student is usually on the right track. Players who consistently hit balls very sho! rt and don���t strive to move passed this level of play, often are those who don���t break through their current NTRP level for life.

How to Improve Height and Depth

Click photo to view on website: Practice hitting the ball high over the net by hitting with an open stance and exaggerating the height of your follow-through and and holding your finish.

Obviously, using the teaching tools I���ve mentioned (either adding a raised rope or moving cones beyond the traditional aiming areas) can help players train themselves to hit deeper or with greater angles.

But, in terms of stroke development I have three suggestions that will help players develop greater depth and added height to their current swing patterns.

  • Exaggerate the height of your finish or follow-through: This helps players lift their forehands and backhands more and helps keep players from flattening our or worse, turning the racquet over the ball.
  • Open your stance: By adopting a more open stance, players tend to drive up more instead of closing over the ball.
  • Drop the shoulder: On forehands, drop the hitting shoulder more on the backswing. This will tilt your shoulder plane and help create a more natural low-to-high swing path. On backhands, for one-handers, drop the non-hitting shoulder on the backswing. For two-handers, you can drop this same shoulder and drop your hitting hands down more towards your hip on the backswing which will produce a lower position and a natural low-to-high stroke as well.

Conclusion

Make a point to play some practice games or sets with the specific intention of not making mistakes into the net. In other words, do not hit balls too short or too low. Play games with partners where a player loses two points for balls hit into the net. (including the serve!). These are great ways for coaches to train entire teams to improve this part of their game!

Another aspect is to use ropes and targets that encourage players to hit beyond the baseline for a period of time, just to get them used to hitting deeper balls. (Often, these drills can help players remain positive when they do attempt to hit deeper. The reward in these drills is indeed to be long or wide more than just ���in!")

I believe you will find yourself already improving your game just by changing your perception of depth or angles, which, as a side effect, can often lead to more effective stroke technique.

  • Dave Smith's DVD is in the TennisOne Writer���s Store," Building a WorldClass Volley," TennisOne Members ��� Public

As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.

Current Features

The Touch and the Drive on the Volley

Doug King often talks about the wind-up, touch, and drive, the elements that make up a stroke. There are varying degrees of these components in all strokes. Some strokes, like the serve, have a lot of wind-up but not a lot of drive. The volley, on the other hand, has very little wind-up and a lot of drive towards the target. In this video, Doug examines how we integrate these different elements into a successful volley.

Help Your Opponents Beat Themselves

Every day we're bombarded with the message that winning tennis in the "modern" era is all about hitting big shots and winners. Open any book, magazine, website or turn on your television and you'll undoubtedly be fed a menu of techniques designed to give you a bigger game. The message is clear: winners hit winners. But Greg Moran believes that message is wrong! At all levels, most matches are won by the player who makes the fewest errors. With that in mind, Greg has some strategies designed to help your opponent beat himself.

ProStrokes 2.0 ��� Kim Clijsters' Backhand

Known for incredible movement, perhaps quicker than anyone on the tour. Kim Clijsters routinely uses gravity turns to cover the court. But more than that, she plays with a simplicity lacking in many of her opponent's "one note" playing styles. Rather than a huge forehand, indifferent serve and limited tactics so common on the women's tour ��� Kim serves well, simple rather than massive forehand and backhand ground strokes, but truly a knack for moving forward to take control of the point when any and all short opportunities arise. New this issue, the Clijsters backhand.

TennisOne Writers Store

One of your many new benefits as a TennisOne membership is your ability to purchase selected instructional DVDs at 20% off ($7.50 off each) in our new TennisOne Writers Store (login in first to access members links):

  • "Building Your Serve from the Ground Up," Jim McLennan Members Public
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