Lessons To Be Learned From Watching The Pros

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.

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.

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!

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