TennisTalk: Ask Glen
Ask Glen is a weekly article providing key tips on everything from rules to gameplay to court savvy...to even a little bit of history. "Glen", of course, is Glen Howe, USPTA Master Professional and superintendent of the Tennis Division.
Use the following form to "Ask Glen", and be sure to look here every week for more answers to some of our best questions.
This Week's Questions
While playing a doubles match, my opponents hit an aggressive shot. Upon my defensive response, I yelled to my partner to back up. My opponent hit the overhead into the net and said we should play a "let". What do you think?
There are two issues that come to mind with the opponent calling a "let". First, the opponent should call a "let" prior to the attempt of hitting the overhead. Second, the more important issue would be that doubles teams have the ability to communicate with each other. This is taking into consideration that this happens when the ball is on their side of the court.
I enjoyed very much your article on the most important points during a match. My question would to know if there is a most important game in a set.
It has been a much discussed point in the strategy of how to win a set of tennis. Most tennis experts agree that the seventh game is the critical juncture of a set. The strategy of the game is based on the concept of holding serve every time and breaking serve once. If this concept is correct, the seventh game becomes critical due to extending a lead toward the end of a set.
The thing that really makes tennis unique to other sports is that no matter how tactically the game is approached, a player still needs to win the last point to finish a set. There is no time clock and the winner is determined by the last point won.
When playing doubles and both players are at the net, who should take the middle ball?
There are a number of different schools of thought on this subject. First, some players believe the forehand should take the shot. Some think the stronger player should hit the ball. The best answer is the closer player to the net. This is the best answer because the closer player cuts the reaction time and has better chance to put the ball away due to the increased angles. In addition, if the closer player can't hit the ball, it could be communicated that his partner should hit the ball.
Whatever tactic a team decides, any of the above mentioned team tactics would work as long as both players are on the same page.
Looking at players on TV, they seem to be very superstitious and ritualistic. What are your observations and is this something that I should do?
It is my belief that superstitious actions don't really help players perform better, but they do create comfort and routine that can relax a player. Rituals are routines that can maintain good playing habits and rhythm that tend to produce consistent results. The rituals consist of physical actions, breathing, and consistency of the action.
In using the serve as an example, listed is a healthy ritual that can produce a consistent serve: Bouncing the ball the same number of times, a cleansing breath, determining the direction, a flowing backswing, and expelling the air (grunting) at the point of contact. Creating routines are the best way to have the outcome that you are looking for as a player.
Should the toss always be the same for the different type of serves? There seems to be some discrepancy to where the contact point is in relation to the body. What would be the advantage of one toss spot?
This is a very good question. The toss is the most difficult aspect of the serving motion. First, it must be understood that a very consistent toss is key to a good serve. Second, varying the toss can enhance spin creation on serves such as the slice, topspin, and kick serve. The down side at the upper level of play is that specific tosses can give away the intentions of the server.
My recommendation is to find a serving toss that can benefit all the serves that are hit. This will not only help create consistency of the toss, but will not help the opponent anticipate the serve spin or placement.
What is the best two handed grip for the backhand shot? It is very hard to see the prominent grip that is used on the pro tour. I would love to be able to smack the ball down the line for a winner against my opponents, but maintain the versatility of the one handed chip.
It may be surprising the information that I am about to give you. Of the top 100 players on the pro tour, 95% use an eastern forehand grip and the bottom hand is a continental. This allows the players to hit one and two-handed strokes.
Many female players on the WTA tour subscribe to a reverse eastern bottom hand of the stroke. World renowned teaching professional rick Macci subscribes to this method. This allows the player to hit the ball later and flatter. Many of the females on tour hit their backhands down the line better than their male counterparts.
My pro has been working with my focus or should I say "lack of". I have a tendency to think about what I did wrong or what I should do in the future. The key for me is to stay in the present. The bigger problem is my lack of anticipation. Do you have any suggestions?
Using focus techniques is a vital piece of the tennis equation. Keeping in the moment during play will make a player very mindful of the ball. True focus is maintaining awareness of the ball on both sides of the net. I would agree with your teaching pro because focusing of the ball is the "first" step to better anticipation.
I just came back from vacation and think I may have acquired tennis elbow pushing my suitcases through the airport. Is this possible? What would you suggest?
This is not uncommon for all tennis players over thirty years of age. Most tennis players acquire tendonitis of the elbow from a combination of activities that only make the elbow pain worse by playing tennis. Without regular weight work in the gym, the body loses 15% of its muscle mass per year. The short term answer is common sense medicine; Anti-inflammatory, ice, compression, and rest.
I have always enjoyed watching great players hit explosive two handed backhands from the midcourt area. This is something that I would truly like to do well, but a jammed motion usually takes place with little consistency and a lack of power. Do you have any ideas that could help me with this shot?
I have seen this many times in my teaching career. Most players run too fast up to strike the ball to hit the backhand. This causes the two-handed stroke to be jammed and off balance. My recommendation is to run a slower speed that will provide a better balance. Upon getting within ten feet of the ball, sashay steps will occur for rhythm and spacing in relation to the ball.
There is an invisible semi-circle that a player shouldn't step into when hitting this shot because the ball will tend to come to the player with its forward momentum. Take a look at YouTube to observe this area and the proper movement to the ball.
One of the more difficult areas of tennis to contend with is the sun. I really don't serve well when I can't see the toss. Why does it seem that it doesn't affect my opponent?
There are several things that you can do to battle the sun. First, improvement would take place if sunglasses were worn when the sun is directly in line with the toss. Second, adjust the height and placement of the toss. This can make the biggest difference. The worst thing that could possibly happen is to be blinded by the sun and try to pick up your opponents return of serve. And lastly, adjusting your position on the baseline can help to a certain degree.
During a match is not the time to figure out how to serve looking into the sun. Practice on your own when the outcome is not at risk.
I know the split step is important, but not sure of the timing. When should I use this footwork when playing the game?
The split-step or as I call it the centering-step happens a split second before your opponent strikes the ball. This will allow a quick movement in any direction that the ball is hit. Not making the centering-step creates an abrupt movement and will limit your possibilities of effective returns. Resembling a bouncy action of the body will keep you poised for a cat-like reflex to the next shot.
During doubles play, my balls tend to hit shallow in the court. How do I keep the ball deep in the court and stop my opponents from attacking and coming to the net?
There are a couple of aspects to hitting the ball deep in a doubles situation. In most cases, it is easier to hit the ball deep in the court if the elevation is increased over the net. The bad news is that this will make the ball very poachable for the opposing net player. If we are talking about doubles with a formation of one up-one back, the best tactic is to hit deep by striking the ball harder, lower, and earlier. This is a lower percentage shot, but will be effective when trying to cut the reaction time of the opposing team.
I was playing in a 55's tournament last week in Miami and had a complication. Playing in this USTA sanctioned event I would have relied on a referee if possible, but there wasn't one on site. During a point, a spectator called my baseline shot out. Upon this taking place my opponent called a "let". What do you think since my ball landed on the line?
According to USTA rule 26.5, the actions of a spectator in an area designed for spectators is not a reason for replaying the point. The point would be yours.
As you already know about the serve, the toss is the most difficult part of this shot. Under pressure, my toss becomes very erratic and my level of play deteriorates. What can I do to better to maintain my toss?
Practicing a solid routine or ritual would be the ticket to maintaining a consistent toss. Watch players on TV and observe how consistent the ritual leading up to the serve. Breathing is a big part of the process and will help relax a player. As far as the toss, hold the ball with your finger tips and open your fingers as the arm extends. Follow these simple concepts and I believe the toss will become more of a relaxed part of your game.
I have been told that the basic strategy of tennis is to get the ball over the net and stay within your personal limits. How many times will balls cross the net before a winner or error takes place?
The game is based on errors and the avoidance of making errors. Bjorn Borg's strategy as one of the greatest players of all time was to get the ball over the net one more time than his opponent. Most rallys don't extend more than a couple of shots so staying within personal limits is paramount. As a practice routine with a partner, play points with a minimum numbers of hits prior to the point being played out. This will create confidence in a player that has the ability to maintain a point for a longer period of time.
How do you hit a crosscourt backhand when the ball is hit deep to the backhand corner? I know that I'm supposed to go back crosscourt because it is a higher percentage shot and my opponent's backhand. The problem is that I tend to hit late and get jammed. Any ideas?
If you're are hitting a two handed backhand, this shot can be difficult if the ball is taken late or hit with a good deal of pace. Many players in the modern game have gone to an "open stance" backhand. This technique allows the most flexibility to hit crosscourt with the added feature of better balance and power source.
The other alternative would be to release the second hand and slice the ball. This will not only buy time to recover, this will give very little pace for your opponent. Practicing with a partner on the crosscourt angle can build sill and confidence. One last piece of advice would be to take the ball as early as possible. This practice is a key to hitting the ball aggressively.