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
During a doubles match, there was a long delay between the first and second serve? I told the server he still only gets one serve. Is this correct?
If the delay is created by the receiver because of a string break, eye contact problem or an outside interference, the point should be replayed. If the server causes the delay due to his string breaking, cell phone ring, or grunting on adjacent court, this does not constitute a "let".
I have been working on my high backhand volley and backhand smash. Do you have any tips for making this shot better? I have a two-handed backhand and lack a little mobility on that wing of my game.
As your namesake would do on her backhand side, I would recommend for you to hit two- handed swing volleys on the high shots. This can be practiced by a friend hand feeding to this shot or practicing on the ball machine. If the ball is above head height, I would recommend running around the shot and hitting an overhead.
I know that players on the tour have random drug tests on a regular basis. Since coffee is a stimulant, are there any restrictions to how much coffee a player can drink?
Coffee is not a banned substance, but it has been known to enhance athletic performance to a certain degree. With all the studies that have been done, there have not been a lot of negative feedback as far as drinking coffee. Vince Van Patten used to drink three or four coffees prior to playing at the US Open. In addition, he would drink coffee during the matches in the heat of the summer. Not for everyone, but in most cases, coffee will not work to your detriment.
My game seems to have plateaued and I'm not sure how to get out of this rut. I'm still a pretty decent player, but my ground strokes seem to be a little predictable. Any thoughts on how to spice my strokes up?
I spoke to a long time player and due to his skills and physical mobility declining; he has decided to stop playing. Many times as a player has competed for 20+ years, the motivation of practicing is not there and numerous injuries creep into a person's body over an extended period of time.
The single most important aspect of self-improvement is setting goals. Working toward a competition or playing a specific individual gives us the motivation to work on our game as in the younger years of the game. One has to be realistic that as a player ages, in most cases, play skills, reflexes, and speed will decline. The good news is that tennis has age categories that are in five year increments. This allows a level playing field for all players.
When volleying at the net, I get very nervous when a ball is coming at me. This causes me to grip the racquet too tight. What is the appropriate tension that I should hold the racquet?
This is a very good question. Many players grip the racquet too tight and this doesn't allow the proper reflection when the ball hits the strings. In addition, a tense grip creates slow reaction time to the ball as well as premature fatigue.
If a player thought of their firmness of grip on a scale from 1-5 (1-very loose, 5 death grip), I like to have my students stand in a ready position at 2. As the ball comes toward the student, the firmness is determined by what shot is trying to be hit and the speed of the oncoming ball. If finesse is being attempted, moving to a level 3 firmness just before contact is suggested. On occasion, balls will come at a player very rapidly. The player should go to a level 4 firmness to keep the racquet from torqueing.
Upon finishing the shot, the player should return to level 2 firmness in the ready position. Practice the different firmness with a practice partner. This is not an exact science.
In looking at my serving motion, I was curious why you start sideways when going through the serving motion. The groundstrokes and volleys start facing the net.
The main reason a player faces an opponent on the groundstrokes and volleys is that they need to be ready to turn and move to whichever direction the ball may go. When serving, the best position resembles a baseball pitching position. Starting sideways assists with the concept of coiling and uncoiling to create power on the service motion. Power does come from the ground up on a serve, but the combination of these two forces creates a tornado effect on the ball contact of the ball. Watch a professional server or baseball pitcher and it is easy to see the kinetic chain.
I am a long time follower of your column and recognize that you emphasize the importance of a good ready position. It seems as though there are more important parts of the stroke. Tell me again why it is so important?
The ready position is the foundation of the entire stroke production. If a player is not in a consistent ready stance, a different outcome can be expected. In addition, being poised to move and hit the ball is essential to good balance and mechanics of the stroke.
My partner and I thought our opponents were hindered during a point that was being played. We both stopped playing and they hit a winner. Did this constitute and hinder?
According to rule 26, the point shall stand unless the opposing team calls a hinder prior to striking the ball. If a deliberate act of your opponents or your team creates a hindrance, the person creating the act loses the point.
In watching the Men's Australian Final, I could empathize with playing against and injured player. The tendency is to change your strategy that got you to the point in the match. Do you have any suggestions concerning this situation as it has happened to me before?
Every competitive player has had this experience at one time or another in their playing career. It is difficult because of the change in rhythm and the speed of play. The focus level diminishes and the tendency is to change your strategy that got you to a point of winning. We have always been told to never change a winning game, but there would be a strong urge to move the injured player more to get him or her to retire.
The danger is that because of the wounded animal not giving up, this player could come back unless you are willing to finish the job. The key is to stay in the moment and maintain the momentum that got you to a place of finishing the match.
During a doubles match, my opponent looked ready to return a second serve. She made no move to the ball. Does this constitute a "let" for the point?
The server wins the point if the returner had no reason not to be ready. If the returner had a broken string or contact lens problem, then the server would get two serves. Both players should make eye contact prior to the point being started. This is the best possible way to create seamless play.
How close to the net should a player be to approach the net effectively? I hit the ball rather hard and find that I am cutting my own reaction time.
There are numerous variables that come into play with approach shots. For the most part, a player needs to advance at least halfway in the no-man's area to be an effective net rusher. This will allow the player to move approximately four more steps and allow him to hit an effective volley. If a player is inside the baseline, I would recommend being aggressive with the approach shot and going for a winner. In most cases, the only advance would be for an easy sitter when this shot is implemented correctly.
I have heard that you are a big proponent of mental techniques to maintain focus during points. My problem is that I think negative thoughts in between the points. How do I stop this practice and what ritual should be maintained as a replacement?
Having a very positive ritual will lead to a good outcome during games and matches. The first key is to process what has taken place on the past point. Whether the outcome is good or bad, move on to a breathing technique and ritual recovery such as toweling off or bouncing a ball. Next, focus on what tactics will be tried on the next point. And lastly, portray a very positive person ready to play the next point prior to its start.
Follow this routine as you see players on TV do point after point and it is my belief that the outcome will be positive.
I seem to have a lot of difficulty returning a kick serve. This is especially difficult when playing doubles because of the additional pressure of a player at the net. Do you have any suggestions of how to better return this shot?
The kick serve is one of the most effective doubles first and second serves for numerous reasons. First, this serve has a high efficiency of going into the court due to the height the shot can be hit over the net. Second, if the return is not taken early, the ball will be out of your best hitting zone very quickly. And lastly, the serve allows the opponents to close the net for effective second shots.
The kick serve is unpredictable due to the rotation of the spin. It would be my recommendation that this is worked on by your local teaching professional in a lesson so specific return concepts could be implemented.
What do you think about playing racquetball during the winter to work on my fitness level? My sprinting speed could sure use some work and I don't like the cold.
I think it is a great idea to cross-train using racquet as a fitness tool. Not only will you get in better physical shape, but racquetball tends to be a game of a lot of sprints that will be helpful for improving reaction time.
When serving in a game of doubles, where should my partner station himself when serving wide to opponents? My partner is constantly getting burned down the line and I feel he should stand more in the doubles ally. What do you think?
The best way to position for doubles as the server's partner is to start in the middle of the service box and then move with the flight of the ball. Where ever the serve is hit the net person should move with the angle of the shot. This gives the best chance of intercepting the return of serve.
I would not recommend standing in the alley for several reasons. First, hitting returns consistently down the line is a very low percentage shot. Second, if you camp in the alley, your partner has to cover the rest of the court. As far as placement of the serve, the server should place the serve down the center to eliminate angles and provide poach attempts and all but eliminate the down the line shot.
I have a left handed partner and was wondering which side would be better for the left hander to play? Why is it so hard playing against lefties?
Being a left hander, I have played both sides for returning serves. I found at the beginning of my tournament play career that I was more effective returning from the ad-court side. As I improved my level of play and started attacking more, the deuce court worked better for the team. With my partner and me at the net, our forehand volleys were down the center which created more opportunity to finish points. Both are effective tactics and it doesn't hurt to change return sides if you lost the first set.