We always hear about developing our forehand as a weapon or our first serve, etc. Can you give us something more philosophical, strategic, or abstract?
The concept of time is probably one of the most underutilized strategies and concepts in tennis. Time can be your biggest weapon on the tennis court. When playing a match, it is often a good idea to keep the tempo and momentum going when you are winning. Whether you are serving or receiving when you are on a streak try to keep the play as continuous as possible. Don’t take big breaks between points or between games if you don’t need it. Try to capitalize on your upward stride.
On the flip side, if you are losing take your time between points and try to slow down your opponent’s rhythm (within legal parameters). Fix your strings, wipe your hands with your towel, take a couple extra breaths. The biggest mistake players often make when they are losing is they rush. They double fault and then serve again without taking a chance to calm down. When you miss don’t dwell or beat yourself up, but don’t rush right back into the fire. Tennis ebbs and flows and you need to know when to put your foot on the gas pedal and when to put your foot on the brake.
One of my favorite games to practice the mental aspect of this concept is tug of war. The score starts at 5. When one opponent wins the score goes up and if the other opponent wins the score goes down. The first player to get to 10 or 0 wins. This drill can work on the mental toughness needed to finish a match and learn to endure the rollercoaster of emotions tennis can provide at times.
The other concept of time that is a huge weapon is while the point is being played. All players have one goal: give yourself more time and give your opponent less. Now how do you do that?
Step 1) Never let a ball bounce that you could take out of the air! This is especially critical at the net. If you are at the service line you must not let the ball bounce ever. Your next goal is to never let the ball drop below the net, which makes your volley more aggressive and higher percentage. Take your overheads out of the air, and from the baseline anytime your opponent hits a loopy ball take it out of the air as a swinging volley.
Step 2) Work on taking the ball on the rise. When you have the chance to attack (but the ball cannot be taken out of the air), move forward and take the ball while it is traveling upward not down.
Step 3) On rally shots take the ball at the peak or on the rise not on the drop. The longer you wait to hit the ball the more time your opponent has to get ready. Your strike zone can be at your waist, your chest, even your head height if needed. Strike zones at our kneecaps and shoelaces should be avoided unless it is an emergency and we are barely getting to the ball. Besides giving your opponent way too much time, strike zones below the waist are low percentage because as the ball drops it drops fast, and this can result in a lot of net errors.
Step 4) Last but not least, try to position yourself on the court in a favorable spot so you are not in a defensive position. For example, if your opponent lobs you and you shuffle backwards to return the shot you are now 10-15 feet behind the baseline, and have given them a ton of time. If you stay at the baseline and take the ball on the rise, or move inside the baseline and take the ball out of the air you have accomplished two things: one your positioning is not defensive it is neutral or even offensive, and secondly you took time away from your opponent.
I hope these tips help you next time you are playing! Try to find opportunities to steal time away from your opponent. Every advantage in tennis no matter how minimal can result in big rewards. Good Luck!