The game of tennis works from some basic principles that recur with reassuring regularity. We will introduce them first, then delve into each one in more detail in its own section. Court positioning: Good tennis requires an awareness of one's position on the court, that position in relation to the other player, and the ability to use position to seize an advantage in a point. This is a complicated topic, because how a player positions himself also depends on his strengths, weaknesses and inclinations. Court positioning includes a good understanding of the geometry of the court. Footwork: We think footwork is so important that we have already included a brief section about this topic. Footwork and movement are closely tied, though not identical. Good tennis footwork requires good anticipation, quickness and technique. True enough, technique is involved in how you run to the ball – and back into position after swinging. It particularly comes into play on the small, adjusting steps you take before hitting the ball. The first steps to the ball should be natural: just stay on balance and hold the racquet in your dominant, hitting hand. (When you break out of the Ready position, you remove your 'off' hand from the handle.) If the anticipated landing point is across the court, continue to run naturally until you are within several feet of that point. This is the marker at which you transition to the small steps. This is where footwork technique becomes critical. Taking the small steps is not purely natural. First, the transition to them requires practice, and a little thought. Second, the little steps have a specific purpose – setting up the ground stroke platform. Once you incorporate them into your footwork agenda and repertoire, less thought will be required. More on footwork later... NOTE: There are also specialty steps like split steps prior to volleys. Split steps are a unique move that we cover in our discussion of the volley a bit later in the book. Strokework: Readying the body for the stroke assumes proper footwork. It also requires creating a platform that supports the stroke. The platform includes a balanced body that allows a range of useful strokes. You set up this platform to enable a good, full swing. You are neither too close nor too far from the ball. You can set your racquet comfortably with a bent arm, and then swing freely.

The stroke is the key moment, the critical action that sends the ball on a good course (or not). Yet, stroke work is the culmination of anticipation, footwork and setting up a good hitting platform. This is somewhat analogous to golf, in which the swing is preceded by critical preparatory actions – grip, stance and backswing. The swing is the final piece, and is a natural action best accomplished by rapid, controlled acceleration. We go into the various racquet actions and individual strokes in the appropriate section. If you are taking lessons, you should also be receiving close-quarters instructions from your coach about the individual strokes. There are three general types of groundstroke swings: the drive (flat) swing, the topspin (low to high) and the slice (high to low) swing. Each of these motions can be used on either forehands or backhands, though the forehand slice is relatively rare:

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Drive: Essentially, the racquet travels on a horizontal, 'flat' trajectory. This is a stroke that should be saved for 'kill' shots and when the incoming ball is at waist height or higher to allow net clearance. Topspin: This is the default, reliable rally ground stroke on both forehand and backhand sides. The racquet travels low-to-high, brushing against the ball and causing it to spin rapidly. The purpose of the spin is to facilitate net clearance and to make the opponent's next shot difficult. Since you lose velocity when applying topspin, the spin adds a complicating factor for the opponent to consider. Slice: The racquet travels high-to-low, creating backspin or underspin. This is a backhand rally and approach shot both; it adds variety to your backhand side and has an added benefit of being less physically demanding than repeated topspin strokes. Hitting several successive topspin strokes without variation taxes the body.

We will also discuss the serve, volley, return, and specialty strokes in the Strokework section. Nothing will be left out, left to chance or otherwise left unreported. Recovery: This is the last component of every stroke sequence. Recovery means restoring balance and posture to prepare for the next shot. It is also a specific tennis position, one in which the player's legs are about shoulder-width and his racquet is held in both hands, the edge of the frame facing forward and the racquet head tilted up. From this position, you can adjust to the opponent's next ball quickly and easily. Tactics/Game Plan: Now we're into the actual playing of games, in other words – competition. Although not every tennis player will compete, most will at some point. This may consist only of playing a few games, or points, with family or friends. Let's let a secret out of the bag: most tennis players are competitive and enjoy playing games, sets and matches. It makes no sense to compete without a sure grip on tactics, without a game plan to guide you through a match. A good game plan will incorporate basic principles of play, the rules of tennis geometry, and your strengths and weaknesses and your opponent's. The Mental Side: It was Jimmy Connors who was quoted as saying that sports, or tennis, is 90% mental. Yogi Berra had a similar quote; it may have been 'sports is 50% physical and the other 90% is mental.' Though this is true of other sports as well, it is particularly apt to a sport that is one-on-one (singles), and in which there are no teammates or coaches to call on during battle. The question then becomes, 'how does a tennis player maximize his mental preparedness and execution?' It's the mind's determination and clarity, or lack of same, that informs the body and directs its actions. A muddled mind pollutes your strokes, impedes footwork and induces confusion and self-recrimination. A clear, focused and relaxed mind during play is absolutely essential to eliciting your physical skills, talents and tactics.


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