The ladies at the Australian Open have had some terrific singles matches. Of course, so have the men, but I digress. What was particularly fascinating regarding the semi-final match between Caroline Wozniacki and Li Na was how the match momentum swung one way and then went 180 degrees in the other.
For us mere amateurs, this is something we can use in our own game. Caroline (I feel as if I can call her by her first name since I follow her on Twitter!) was in complete control of the match in the first set. Li Na, whose forehand is brilliant, kept hitting long.
Woz used brilliant footwork to get to every shot Li Na hit towards the sidelines. This forced Li Na to go for more than she wanted, and she kept sailing the balls long.
Me and my friends are a mixture of beginners and intermediates. We used different kind of racquets and have different types of skills. That is why it is very important for us to learn from the pros. Oh and by the way, here is an awesome guide from Swing It Big regarding intermediate racquets.
Practice Good Tennis Footwork
What are the lessons we, as over forty recreational athletes, can glean from the first set of this match? First and foremost, practice good footwork! If you have a coach or instructor, have him or her work with you on footwork drills. If you do not have a coach or tennis pro to help you, all is not lost.
Purchase some plastic cones, or use empty tennis cans if you want, and set them up along the baseline. For this first drill, you really only need two cones. Set one cone halfway between the service mark and the ad alley. Place the other one in exactly the same spot towards the deuce alley.
Lean with your head towards one of the cone. Your head is one-seventh of your body weight, so wherever that noggin of yours goes when it is off center, your body is going to follow. Now trot towards the cone. Circle it by straightening your body and leaning the other way.
Do figure eights like this until winded. As you progress, you can run faster and spread the cones further apart. At first, however, you just want to trot and keep the figure eight relatively close. No need in pulling a hamstring during practice!
Obviously, there are many, many more footwork drills for tennis. Your tennis footwork practice will develop over time. Don’t worry. I have plans on posting many more footwork drills as this site develops. Videos will be coming soon, too!
One more thing regarding Caroline Wozniacki’s footwork. Notice how when she goes for a ball, she leans in that direction and allows her body to follow along. She isn’t forcing or trying to power her way to the ball. She’s letting gravity be her friend!
You should do the same. Hey, you and I are over forty (I’m over fifty!) and we should take any help we can get! What I found amusing was listening to the commentators. Here in the US, the Australian Open is broadcast on ESPN.
The women’s matches are usually covered by Pam Shriver and Mary Jo Fernandez. Both of these ladies were great during their time, but the game has changed so much from when they played. Anyway, they were both marveling at Caroline’s “anticipation.” I beg to differ. Sure, she did anticipate some.
From her position on the court, she knew where the ball should be hit and she headed that way! However, oftentimes, she would wait for Li Na to strike the ball, then she leaned that way and allowed her momentum to carry her to the ball. No ESP required!
Use Topspin To Keep The Ball In
The second lesson we can learn from the first set is to use topspin. Li Na kept hitting “flat” on her usually reliable forehand. Part of this had to do with nerves, part of this had to do with Wozniacki’s consistency. Consistency is Wozniacki’s main weapon. She is a backboard!
Remember this mantra, “Consistent Tennis Is Winning Tennis.” Li Na wasn’t playing consistent tennis in the first set. She kept going for the big forehand. Since she was flattening out her shot, she missed long and wide.
The commentators had it right when they said she should give herself some margin when going for the sidelines and she should use more topspin to keep the ball in. Apparently, Li Na must have read their thoughts. Now for the second set!
Make Small Adjustments But Stick With Your Game Plan
I’ll give Li Na a lot of justly deserved credit. She knows her strengths and she stuck with them. As previously mentioned, one of her biggest strengths is her outstanding forehand. Even though she was down a break and Caroline even served for the match, Li Na kept whacking away with that forehand.
She brought it more inside the sidelines and used more topspin to keep the ball inside the baseline. And those balls that Caroline was running down in the first set and the first few games of the second set? She was now running out of steam.
Admittedly, she had played a fantastic three-setter against Francesca Schiavone the match before. Obviously, this had an effect on her legs. She even started to get wrong-footed! So much for the anticipation.
What lessons can we learn from the second set? Stick with your strengths and make micro-adjustments if your game is slightly off.
Topspin Is Your Friend!
Use topspin to keep the ball in. Then, as you get more comfortable, start going for your big shots. In the game of basketball, when a player known for his three-point shot is missing, often the player will go inside or step closer to the basket just to get a shot to go in.
But he never hesitates when given an opportunity to take a wide open three-pointer. The same applies for tennis. If your shots are sailing long or into the net, use more topspin to get them over and in. As you settle in, start taking the big cuts when the opportunity presents itself.
The second point to take home from this is to develop a weapon. Caroline’s weapon is her defense and consistency. However, the main reason she has yet to win a major is because she has no huge serve or big forehand or crushing backhand. Li Na, on the other hand, is also very consistent but she has a forehand that wore Caroline down.
As for me, I have some pop on my first serve and the last thing any of my playing buddies want to do is leave a ball short to my forehand. I will crush it! You should develop a shot that you can rely on, even under pressure, too.
Work On Your Tennis Fitness
The third set was sad for me to watch, since I am a Caroline Wozniacki fan. She lost the third set as badly as Li Na lost the first set (both scores were 6 games to 3). You could see the defeat in her face towards the end. She kept fighting but she was completely gassed.
What had been her weapon, her footwork, now let her down. She wasn’t getting to balls that weren’t even that far for her to run. That is the toll heavy topspin will put on your opponent. It takes effort to lift the ball, especially if it is hit out wide and the opponent has to keep hitting it on the run. To keep this from happening to you, work on your tennis fitness.
As you may know, I am logging my workouts so that I will be fitter this spring. As I have aged, I have found that I need to challenge myself more and more to keep up with the rigors of tennis. What we as tennis players over forty need to do is make sure we get a nice balance of strength training, joint mobility training, and both endurance and interval training.
Don’t roll your eyes at me just yet! You don’t do these all at once. You train certain aspects periodically. This is called periodization. One month or so you train more for strength, the next more for endurance, etc. It doesn’t have to take all your time to do, either. You will be much healthier and a much improved tennis player!