Extras - On Football And Tennis

Fred Perry, Wimbledon, 2014
Portobello Road Market, 2015
Internationals should be between NATIONALS; and, if managers are not important to the COMPETITON, why foreign managers? Also, not that long ago, club-football, in England, e.g., was mostly-locals in MEANINGFUL competition; and, as I suggested in WalkaboutsVerse 98 of 230, should be regulated back to that way. 

Furthermore, when I was a junior, females were not participating in football (many were, rather, involved in non-contact netball), and, having watched some Women's World Cup football, I tend, again, to agree with how it was..?

(Further to some of my verses on tennis; I played A-grade juniors - football, also - with a clubfoot, have studied ergonomics, plus watched and analysed the game quite a lot.  However, I tend now to question females playing tennis, as - unlike table tennis - it does put a lot of strain on the racket-arm..?  That said, technically, tennis is yet to peak:  when stretched on the backhand-side, for example, players should hit a forehand with their other hand - just as pro-footballers learn to kick with both feet.)

The best way to be fit for tennis is tennis - weights can cause injuries. However, there are some other useful exercises that can be done on-court (see below).

Bouncing and patting a ball with the racket every-which-way, plus swinging with cover on, improves racket-control and grip-strength. Use this, e.g., if you decide to learn a forehand with your other-hand (which improves court-coverage – see GROUNDSTROKES) or to practise pressure-serving (see SERVING notes).

Hopping or skipping on either leg also improves tennis-strength.

Play half-court tennis (with half-volley serves) to improve touch-shots; or, for mobility, a doubles-court versus singles-court set.

For balance and to warm-up the ankles and arm, do serve-to-backhand air-swings, while standing alternatively on one leg. (This can be used pre-play, after a delay in play, or during a doubles match, where it can be quite a while between serves.)

A practice session should last a bit longer than the average time for a match - so body and mind are used to it.

Every practice session, go through every shot. That is, forehand-to-forehand rallies, then forehand-to-backhand, etc.

Practice sets, with some pride on the line, are time well spent.

Occasionally, tally shots in practice rallies (including volley-rallies) to improve concentration.

At tournaments, practice-courts will almost certainly face the same way as the match-courts. Therefore, change ends during pre-match warm-ups to get used to weather conditions, etc.

Warm-up more gradually when weather is cold.

When practising drop-shots, watch that they bounce at least twice within the service-box.

Before a match, receive some of what you will get in the match - e.g., if next opponent hits a lot of slice, practise receiving slice.

Sometimes, it may be better to forget technique and let repetition, plus instinct, work out their own way of executing a shot.

Consider sun and wind, as well as serve or return, before coin toss.

Speed things up when up, and slow things down when down – within the rules, i.e.

Floating-balls, in general, should be volleyed away (as in days of old), rather than allowed to bounce.

Don't worry about losing a few set- or match-points - if a match is close, it's quite likely to happen. If you have just lost a set you should have won, again, be a bit philosophical: "Well, if I do come through, at least I'll be more used to these courts."

You can play matches with different attitudes: "Enjoy it"; "Fight"; I think "Calm and analytical" is the best, overall.
If your opponent appears upset, make sure you keep the ball in play, as they are a bit more likely to make unforced errors.

Whatever happens on court, keep trying to hit the ball well.

On grass: wrong-foot more (especially larger-players, as they have more momentum), volley more, and slice more.

Never ask a crowd for encouragement or show emotion for their benefit - excitement comes from good shots under pressure.

Make sure you have a hat and, maybe, sun-glasses in your bag; plus, if need be, something to keep hair out of the eyes when windy; sun-cream should be applied before the match, when hands can be properly washed.

Eat and drink first-thing at the change of ends, to give your body just a bit more time for digestion before you run again. Have a meal at least an hour before the match.

Even though it's good to have a coach to help with analysis, as players go through their careers they should themselves become better analysts - because it's their career. And the better our understanding of technique, the better we can plan tactics against an opponent – e.g., give big-back-swingers plenty of deep-slice.

It seems taboo to backtrack (rather than stand your ground) from the net but, if you hit a poor drop-volley or net-chord, it may be the right choice.

Watch match-videos, and other contests, to improve tactics.

A drop-shot from the back-court is risky, but a drop-shot off a short ball (especially when your opponent is well-back) tends to be safer than hitting a drive - with limited landing space.

If your opponent seems tired, get ready for a drop-shot.

Direct lobs to the backhand whenever you can.

Tall opponents, or opponents with high back-swings &/or very closed grips, should be given extra slice - particularly on grass and with new-balls.

Shorter opponents should be given extra lobs, top-spin, and kick-serves.

Tend to go to opponent's weaknesses on big points.

When well-down in a set (0-5 or 1-5) tactics may depend on whom you are playing: if opponent is very fit, you might go for your shots and save energy yourself; if, however, your opponent is not so fit, you should still run everything down and stretch-out the match, in order to wear them down.

Umpires and lines-people are human - be polite with them and the ball kids, and perhaps learn a few words in the lingua franca, e.g: "Towel, please."

If opponent is obviously using delaying tactics on your serve, then be happy to take a bit more time yourself - the serve is the shot that uses the most energy, so you don't mind the extra rest. You can prepare for this, too (see SERVING).

If a few in the crowd are persistently bad, ask the umpire to move a security person toward the problem area.

Nylon does not have the feel of gut but it is less changeable (nowadays, some use a combination).

When players get a strain, they nearly always start stretching it; but what's probably needed is the opposite - rest.

At golf, it may be helpful to breathe in during the back-swing and out during the follow-through; but not at tennis - it's much faster and we grab air when we can.

From the standard service-return position (that is, one foot on the singles-court's corner), move slightly (sideways &/or longways) to take away your opponent's most-effective serve.

When new to clay-courts, practise sliding on both sides - with air-swings at first.

Other than the serve, tennis allows very little time to align and aim - so sometimes use, as guide lines, the doubles-alley, and the corner of your eye (i.e., peripheral vision), to quickly gauge where you (and your opponent) are at.  (P.S:  this is one reason why I think the full doubles-court, and net, should always be produced - even for singles-only tournaments.)

Hold racket loosely between points to give hand a rest.

If you are about to fall on the court, clench your fists so that you don't ruin your grip by landing on your palms: a graze on the outside of your hand will not affect your play.

Servers who stand far from the service-line leave a lot of open court, so, sometimes, try to get that angle on your return.

Drop-shot a bit more against a poor-volleyer.

Collar the hot-dog - it's never the best shot.

There is serving and there is serving under pressure. Practise bouncing and patting with racket (as above) until your arm feels a bit tired, then try and get a decent serve in. (But don't overdo this exercise or your arm will stay sore.) Similarly, you can do sprints (tapping racket in either doubles-alley) before practice serves. (This also helps with the fact that the serve, and anything overhead, are the most difficult shots to hit when tired.)

However, in matches, why bounce the ball, at all?  Imagine darts-players spending the majority of their preparation-time looking down at the oche, before just a fleeting glance at the board.  I accept that nearly all tennis players do bounce first, but still think it's better to only have a quick look down for alignment of the feet, then have a good look at the spot in the service-box you are aiming at (rather than your opponent), having said to yourself as you walk up to serve, e.g.:  "Okay, now a flat serve to the body," or "Okay, now a kick to the backhand."  That is, clearly letting body and mind know what they have to do.

If ball-toss is inconsistent, try starting with ball/hand just apart/free from the racket-head; &/or try turning the tossing arm fully around so that the fingers are directly under the ball for better control; &/or hold ball further down the fingers, and spread them out at release, to avoid snatching. (Practise toss by simply watching where ball bounces.)

As darts-players practise by going "around the board," go "around the court" with your serves. That is, first-serve to forehand, body, and backhand on deuce court, then do the same on ad-court; before going back across with second-serve. (See how many attempts to get all twelve in.)

Another serving competition - for two - involves one person stating which serve on the deuce court (e.g., "Flat serve to the backhand"). If first-person makes it and the second-person fails, its one-nil and first-person keeps the call/honour on the ad-court, etc.

Jump as high as you can, unless front-foot (which everybody lands on, these days) has been sore/injured in the past.

It seems the majority of pro's start with their feet well-apart, then slide during the ball-toss - the "pinpoint serve"; the rest start with their feet already in a nice jumping-position (with enough gap for balance), and keep them there until the jump - the "platform serve". (Platform servers tend to jump mainly off their back-foot, while pinpointers tend to jump mainly off their front-foot.) Try both - it's easy to change as, when smashing, the feet are in all kinds of positions. (The shoes of platformers are likely to last longer and/or wear-down turf less!)  But either way, to avoid foot-faulting, always keep front-foot still.

Before McEnroe, hardly anybody had a closed stance; for a while after McEnroe, nearly everybody chose a closed stance. In this case, I think the old way is better (especially on the shoulder and back), and nowadays players plus coaches do seem to be going back to it. Also, closed-stance servers do tend to stand a lot more closed on one side (the deuce-court for R-handers) than the other.

Coil and fling - like a spring. (An upward movement of ball and racket at the start can help with this.)

Sometimes, put your second-serve in first and, sometimes, put your first-serve in second - e.g., at 40-love.

Prepare for grass-court tournaments by playing a practise-set where you have to serve and volley on every first-serve. (And chip-and-charge on each received second-serve, perhaps.)

Changing service position may help to avoid the sun but, otherwise, stand so that you finish the serve in a central position - i.e., stand close to the centre-mark for singles, and between it and the doubles-alley for doubles (see below).

Swing just as hard on the second-serve - it's only the grip and the amount of spin that change.

Kick-serve by tossing over your head; and slice by tossing away from you - with same grip for both.

Some say it doesn't matter how the racket gets to the top/"hammer-postion" of the swing (i.e., place it or swing it there), but I find a full/wide back-swing adds to the wrist-snap and, thus, the power. Either way, don't take too long getting to the "hammer position," because then the ball has to be tossed that much higher – sometimes into strong wind.

When practising serves, do go through your full routine. And (as said in TACTICS) sometimes practise pausing a while in your ready-position - so you're used to it should opponent make you wait.

If opponent is a bit hyped-up, a slower serve may cause them to swing early. And, if opponent is blocking your serve back well, serve-volley occasionally to cause doubt. Also, if you are serving hard and your opponent has moved well back, possibly try a drop-shot serve - that is, start racket back as usual, then serve a slice-forehand in short. (Done well, it might be an easy ace, but some may consider this unsporting..?)

Spin-serve, away from their backhand, more often to two-handers – i.e., to test their poorer reach; and serve into the body more against tall/long-limbed players.

Placing forefinger down the grip a bit improves control.

When standing to receive, save strain on your back by only crouching over as much as you would when hitting most groundstrokes; and, until you get to know a service, placing outer-foot on the singles-court corner is a good default position.

Learning to hit a reasonable forehand with your non-racket-hand is not easy, but does improve court-coverage: take a two-handed-backhand grip, then take-off the racket-hand and, without moving the other hand from its grip-position, you will immediately see the extra reach. (To gain the strength required, use the racket-drills noted above, under PRACTICE.)

Try to get the ball at its highest point (jumping into shots if necessary), because there is a net, of course, and it's better to be hitting shots downwards.  And, by the same token, tend to approach the net with low slice, so that opponent hits upwards/you volley downwards.

Length of back-swing should be opposite to the pace of the ball and, when facing a deep high ball, we need to swing particularly hard.

Soft mid-court balls are best hit with dipping topspin (there's less room to bring the ball down and in), which requires getting the racket below the ball in a closed position - either by grip-change or wrist-twist. (Slice requires the opposite - i.e., above and open.)

Those who take the racket straight-back, and early, are less likely to be late on a shot - especially on grass. Closing or opening the racket early in back-swing also helps prevent being late on the ball - although it does tell your opponent whether you're preparing topspin or slice and, therefore, whether or not they can "ghost-in," as one should sometimes.

When, on the backhand, a two-hander decides to hit a one-handed slice, it's better if they don't move the left-hand up the racket (as this, also, telegraphs the shot selection).

It's a strange thing, ergonomically, in tennis that it's easier to hit slice with one-hand on the backhand, but with two on the forehand. And, if your opponent is really struggling to take slice, it's good to be able to hit a slice-forehand…try a two-hander?

Practice both blocking and driving returns regularly.

Landing slices short, and topspins deep, can be effective - especially with angles.

I think one of the main changes in technique - along with closed-stance serving, above - over the last couple of decades is the number of ground-strokes hit off the back-foot/open-stance; and this is wise, because court-coverage is improved by being able to quickly push-back toward the centre of the court.

On clay, slide before and until - not after - contact, so that you can reposition for the next shot more quickly.

I, myself, by the way, use two hands on both sides whenever I can reach, and take either hand off when I can't; so, as a right-hander, sometimes I hit both left-handed backhands (with ball well in-front) and left-handed forehands (ball well to side), as well as conventional single-handed forehands and backhands with my right hand. And the same applies when I'm at net.

Two-handers usually use one hand on volleys (perhaps to meet the ball further out in front), but two-handed volleying may be better for some - try both.

For floating-balls, it's better to hit a drive-volley, but, otherwise, volley with a short back-swing, firm wrist(s), and some under-spin - which may be increased for drop-volleys.

Instead of hitting a backhand-smash (one of the most difficult shots in tennis), the more-ambidextrous may like to try smashing with their other hand - held down the grip, in its usual two-handed-backhand position (as above).

In general, keep moving toward the centre of the gap between your partner and the rest-of-the-court.

Relative to singles, serve more conservatively; and it's better to be at the net more because, even with the wider doubles-court, there's less room to get past two; accordingly, receivers should often try to get the ball down at the volleyers feet.

P.S:  most tennis courts I've seen in England - including at Wimbledon - run roughly north-to-south; but, trust me, if they ran roughly east-to-west, rather, players would look into the sun a lot less.  Also, although I certainly don't agree with Americans on all things, every set should be decided by a tie-breaker, in my opinion - tennis is enough of a test of stamina without the Isner/Mahut experience!

(C) David Franks 2007

Dubai Tennis Stadium; September 2015