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Decades of teaching tennis has helped Judy to develop practical and clear instruction to improve the physical, mental, and strategic aspects of your game. Read about some of Judy's favorite tennis tips here and in her newsletter, AD IN!

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Judy's 15 Tips for Winning Matches

BEFORE THE MATCH

1. Develop your game outside of match time. It is important to remember that match time is not the time to focus on improving your strokes or implementing a new technique you have just learned. During a match, you will evaluate your opponent(s)' strengths and weaknesses and consider your strategy, but your primary focus is to play each point--watch the ball, stay in the moment. Developing the different parts of your game (groundstrokes, approach game, net game, understanding singles and or doubles strategy, etc.) should take place off the match court. If you want to improve your game, take tennis lessons, attend clinics or camps or group coaching sessions, read about tennis, watch tennis, practice with other players, use a ball machine, and work on your fitness, but once you step onto the match court, leave game developing thoughts behind and focus on playing each point to win that point!

2. Arrive for your match early. Typically, the UMass team arrives at a site, either home or away, an hour before the match. It’s during this time that the team checks their equipment, fills their water bottles, gets used to the environment, moves their bodies around, and stretches. It’s important for you to warm up quickly, and, since time is a factor, the 20 minutes before you take the court is critical. Move around, ride the exercise bike if available, do a few moving/stretching drills. A slow start is punished in league matches. Preparing before you take the court will help you to calm your emotions, allow you to be relatively focused when you take the court. Check your equipment—2 racquets, shoes, water bottle, towel. Note: do not wear your court shoes on the way to the match or after the match.

3. Move around during the match warm up. Movement is the key to getting off on the right foot (no pun intended). Treat the warm up seriously—control your pace to create a cooperative warm up and move, move, move! Do you often get better as the match progresses? This is your body working its way into the match. Why not allow it to start sooner.

4. Develop a ritual. Sharapova, Djokovic, and Nadal are all driven by their rituals. Watch sometime—Maria turns her back to the net, fiddles with her strings, never steps on a line, bounces the ball the same way each time before she serves. The importance of ritual in play as in life creates a feeling of safety and comfort and can provide the difference between winning and losing. 

WINNING POINTS

5. Use rituals during the match whether playing singles or doubles. Once you have developed your own ritual, be sure to use it consistently for EACH point. If you watch Nadal as he is about to serve, whether he has lost or won the previous point, his ritual gets him poised to start the next point fresh and in line with his best effort. In doubles, make physical contact with your doubles partner. The UMass team players make some sort of physicalcontact with each other after each point either by slapping each other’s hand or just standing shoulder to shoulder and checking in, again, after each point. The more difficult the situation, the more important this is. If one player is playing badly this contact remains crucial.
 
6. Stay in the present. How often do you hear coaches say, “one point at a time?” Playing one point at a time means focusing only on the current point, not the previous point or the points to come. You don’t want to carry thoughts about missed shots into the next point. Again, think about Sharapova. She turns her back to the net between points, mentally “turning away” from the last point to put it symbolically behind her. I have the UMass players put a rubber band on their racquet wrist and when their focus waivers either past or future, they snap the rubber band to bring them back into the present. As Billie Jean King says, “The only ball that’s important is the one coming at you now.” 

7. Relax your mind. A tennis match requires long periods of concentration. Breaks in concentration are built in during change overs and between points. If you don’t use these moments to relax your mind and release some tension, you will exhibits lapses of concentration during the point playing moments. 

8. Strategize, don’t analyze. Always work together in doubles to strategize. Do you need to cut down on unforced errors? Do you need to take the net away? Do you need to handle the lob better?Never, never, never analyze your partner, your partner’s technique, or even your own during a match. Evaluate your tactics.
 
AFTER THE MATCH
 
9. Why did you win (or lose)? Jot down a few notes about who you played. What went well? What did not? This will help you and your teammates in the future. The UMass team does this after each match. 

CRITICAL TIMES DURING A MATCH
 
10. The beginning of the match sets the tone. Both you and your opponent have a good idea of what to expect after the first three games. Take the first changeover to review what you have discovered and what message you have sent to your opponent(s). Are you moving well? Are you controlling the net? How is the lob part of your game serving you? It’s important to hold serve at this juncture when you are not fully warmed up. The best server of a doubles team does not always start the match. If you are a slow starter, let your partner serve first. If you move around the net a lot successfully, let your partner start. And if you win the toss, think about receiving. In singles, take these first three games to play conservatively aggressive. You can always go for more as the game progresses, but let the beginning be high percentage groundstroking and serving. 

11. 4-1 Ahead? Beware the wounded bear, as Brad Gilbert says. This is a time your opponent will try to regroup. Expect this and keep doing what put you in this position. Do not rush. If your opponents’ tactics change, be flexible enough (and aware enough) to counteract that. Keep your mind clear and do not panic. Even if they catch up, remember that this took a lot out of them to do this and just regroup.

12. 4-1 Behind? It’s time to come up with Plan B. I never let my team go into a match without a Plan B. When you are this far behind, be realistic and make a tactical change. That way you will know if this change will have an effect before the second set. I played a National Intersectional singles match in San Antonio in November. I was down 5-0 before I took a breath. At this point I decided to come to the net as a tactical change. I won the next two games, and even though I lost the first set 6-2, I felt my opponent was not comfortable when I approached. I took this tactic into the next two sets and won them 6-1 6-3. 

13. Beginning of the second set. You must start again! If you won the first set, expect your opponent to come back. If you reestablish yourself immediately, they may lose heart. If you have lost the first set, approach the second as a 1 set and tiebreaker match—really not that bad, right? 

14. Closing out the match. Stay in the present—remember 1 point at a time. This is not the time to play conservatively. Play to win. If you ski so as not to fall, bad things happen. Play slowly in between points and aggressively during the point. 

15. Your attitude matters! And finally, remember what Billie Jean always says, “Pressure is a privilege.” 

Serving for Success in Doubles

HELP YOUR PARTNER

The location of the serve plays an important part in all successful doubles. Serving to the proper spot enables your partner to help out at the net, and an active server’s partner is the difference between holding serve or not.

doubles

Getting in a high percentage of first serves is critical.  Aim for 70-75% of first serves in even if you have to back off the pace. The first serve allows the serving team to gain the offense while defending from a second serve position negates any serve advantage.

When starting the game, serve the first two points either down the center or into the body. This location allows two things to happen—
 

  1. The server’s partner can cover more territory thereby making it harder for the returner to get the ball by the net person. The court diagram on the left below shows the territory covered by the server’s partner when the serve is located into the body or down the T in the deuce (shaded area).
  2. This location takes the angle away from the receiver making it more difficult to hit down the line.

tennis serve tennis serve

The diagrams above show what happens when serving on the deuce side. The diagrams below show what happens when serving on the ad side. Notice the shaded area in the court (left diagrams), which show the area that the server's partner must cover when the serve is placed down the T as compared to when the ball is served out wide (right diagrams). As you can see, the net person covers the center and thus more of the server's area when the ball is served down the T, keeping the net person more active.

tennis serve tennis serve

If you create space by going ahead 30-0, now you can swing the serve wide as a surprise. Remember that the wide serve is really a 25% or 1 out of 4 serve, not the “go to” serve. The more active the net player is the more distracted the receiver is. If the serve is hit out wide the net person will remain less active.

Holding serve is the key to successful doubles!

Understanding the importance of the first serve is crucial. Try playing a few games with just one serve and see how the serving team reacts! The second serve gives the receiving team options:
 

  1. Hitting hard at the server’s partner
  2. Hitting and coming to net
  3. Lobbing
  4. Hitting a sharp angle return
  5. Pounding the ball crosscourt
     

While defending the second serve, the serving team must get back to neutral.

75% of first serves in will win you 75% of your service points. Be smart, be consistent, be active and you will take a step toward success.

 

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