My top tips on how to improve your tennis in 2023?
Movement and when to hit the ball
1. Improve the timing of your split step - many players either don't split step or get the timing wrong. This is fundamental to help you move better and react to the oncoming ball. It's not just for volleys but every shot. Work specifically on timing your split step just before your opponent hits the ball. Video this from behind to see if you are splitting at the right time. Done correctly you will land on one foot and then the other depending upon which direction you need to move to.
2. The decision on whether to hit the ball on the 1/2 volley, at the top of the bounce, or on the way down depends upon how much time you have, where you are on the court and your level of play. The choice you make here can impact a great deal on your consistency, but it is almost always a personal choice related to your style of play. Do what suits you best!
3. In general letting the ball drop is easier but may require better footwork to get you in position to do so. 1/2 volleys are a great shot to learn not only for advanced players but also for anyone (like me) who can't run a fast as they used to! If playing on a slow court then letting the ball drop can be useful for all levels of player as it also allows you to use your legs more to drive up through the ball. Many top players use this tactic when returning 2nd serves and especially in the modern game where most players don't serve & volley.
Shot selection & tactics
1. Okay so you have now done a good split step, got behind the ball and chosen to hit the ball at a particular time, so where do you then hit the ball?
2. Lower club level - aim to target your opponents weaker shot most of the time - simple!
Everyone else - do the same assuming that you have worked out their weaker shot!
I always remember looking at the stats of Nadal v Federer at the French Open on 2nd serve % to the ad side. Nadal would hit 100% of his serves to Fed's backhand over the entire match. Even at that very high level it doesn't matter if your opponent knows what you are going to do if it's a shot they prefer less.
When Andy Murray played Djokovic he would generally target his forehand in the big moments as the Novak backhand is an impenetrable wall!
3. If playing someone who is equal on both sides then mix up serves, and in rallies play mainly crosscourt or through the middle. If in doubt hit the ball in through the middle reducing angles for your opponent and giving you a bigger target area.
4. Keep your tactics very simple e.g. if your opponent can't volley or smash very well (like most players), then bring them into the net! Lots of variations on this theme if you can work out what they don't like but only if you have the tools to bring out your opponent's weaker areas.
Good technique (whatever that is) is so overrated. You could pick holes in many top players if applying a technical model, but I would say that you need to look at what a player (you) does to the ball and where they can get it to land on the other side of the net. There are so many ways to hit the ball including various types of slice, topspin and flat shots. You will no doubt have your favourite method and I would advise sticking to it. What we can all try to improve is our timing, feel and balance e.g. when attempting to serve better work first on your rhythm and timing of the swing before you even think of any technical changes. When volleying work on the split step and the timing of your move always from the outside leg and then transferring your weight through the shot. When hitting forehands and backhands try to hold your follow through in a balanced position for 2 seconds before recovering for the next shot - this can be done as part of a slow warm up every time you are on the court. Keeping your head steady through contact like a golfer will help enormously with balance and fewer miss-hits.
A lot of coaching tends to focus on technical changes but if we can improve our timing, rhythm and balance on our shots with the inherent style that suits us then I firmly believe that we will make quicker improvements.
There is a strong argument to say that most people who attempt to play competitive tennis should focus mainly on the development of their mental skills. The scoring system in tennis is genius and was possibly invented by a psychopathic mass murderer with a sadistic streak! This area is just huge but here are a few key tips that might help you deal with the mental challenges that our wonderful sport produces.
1. Please respect the scoring system and remember that the most important point to win is the last one. This will help you to never give up and accept the ups and downs of any tennis match. The great news is that we can make lots of mistakes but only if we learn to recover our focus for the next point. Positive self talk and routines can help here enormously.
2. Never make excuses for losing after a match. Be prepared and take responsibility for your preparation which is all you can do. "Control the controllables" is one of the best and most often used quotes for high level sports performance. The winning and losing is not always in your hands as there is an opponent trying to win as well! Roger Federer said that when he learned to "accept the possibility of losing" that only then did he learn to relax , stay in the moment and truly compete.
3. Learn the extremely important skill of breathing out when you make contact with the ball on every shot. At the beginning you may need to grunt just to make sure it's happening and again at the right time (on contact). I can't remember one shot when Federer didn't obviously exhale when you saw a slow motion of his shots and this has now become common for the vast majority of players. Not only does this help with a more relaxed execution of the shot but can help distract you from the huge desire to win in the most important moments of a match. This could be a good tip for the England football team if they need to take penalties against France? I'd put money on Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray converting a penalty under pressure!
4. Read one of your favourite mindset books and adapt your learning to the game of tennis. The importance of what we say and think about ourselves in everyday life has a serious impact on our confidence. Try to become more aware of what you say to yourself before, during and after any match that you really want to win and where necessary make changes to your thoughts and words. Most club tennis players only practice their physical skills but without a serious effort to improve our mental skills we will always be in difficulty. This is not only for tennis but is a valuable life skill. Who wouldn't like to improve their self belief and confidence?
Finally - use the medium of tennis to help develop your self-confidence and increased level of humility e.g. always give credit to your opponent if they win and even if you've played badly. Just listen to Nadal whenever he loses - he always praises his opponent and generally talks about improving his own level by training hard and not giving up. This is a true competitor and more importantly a decent human being!
To finish .....
Who to look out for in 2023?
Next year could be really exciting with so many new young players already making an impact in the slams and master events. I would also say that we are in a great place with so many good guys as positive role models for young players at the moment. Humility seems to be spreading amongst the younger generation which is great for the sport and we still have one or two "characters" to keep the tabloids happy! Amongst the younger players Alcaraz, Rune, Sinner, Musetti, Ruud, Aliassime and hopefully Jack Draper will all be at the forefront of all the main events next year I'm sure. And then we have the more established ones like Berrettini, Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Rublev, Tiafoe, Norrie and I think Coric, Kyrgios and Fritz will also be in the frame. I sincerely hope that Nadal will continue to win the French Open if his body survives yet another season or at least part of it and Novak has shown at the ATP tour finals in Turin that he is still the man to beat. The Oz Open will be extremely interesting to say the least especially now that the joker is allowed back! Marmite he may well be to many people but tennis is better with him in the big events.
I will miss Federer terribly but he showed such class in his farewell event at the Laver Cup even if it made for a more tearful ending than any sad movie I have ever seen. Roger and Nadal holding hands trying to cope with the moment was just too much for me to watch. (Yes I'm a softie!)
My big hope for 2023 is that Andy Murray manages to get to the latter stages of the slams as I just love watching him compete even with a metal hip! He brings something to the game with his variety of play that very few modern players are able to do.
In the women's game we really need to see some new characters breaking through and I would love to see Raducanu become more consistent and prove all the doubters wrong. She is a fabulous all court tennis player and with her new, improved physicality helped by Jez Green (great guy and ex trainer of Murray & Zverev) I'm sure that 2023 will be a great year for her. I would expect Swiatek, Jabeur, Garcia, Pegula and Sabalenka to be the main contendors but I also hope that Gauff can go far in the big events as she is a great character. At the recent Billie Jean King event in Glasgow all the ball kids said that she was the nicest by far. The importance of good role models cannot be under estimated.
TTH special hosted trips in 2023 are filling up!
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16th to 23rd September - to be confirmed soon
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As you can see our hosted weeks are filling up so please contact Laura if interested. I hope that you all have a great holiday season and make sure to keep working on your tennis in the off season using some of my tips. Looking forward to helping you with your game in 2023 somewhere in Italy and a glass of wine too!!
Merry Christmas & Best Wishes!
Ian & Laura