3.5 to 4.0 Action Plan?

Discussion in 'Adult League & Tournament Talk' started by asked_answered, Sep 7, 2011.

  1. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Hi, folks. I moved from 2.5 to 3.5 last year, and I am now trying to figure out how to get from my low 3.5 level to a 4.0 level. I've played 32 matches (mostly singles) this year on a local ladder; in three USTA tournaments in the 3.5 singles draws (I lost respectably in my first tournament, won the consolation final in the next, but got dusted in the last one); and a spring 3.5 men's league where I won one doubles match and one singles match but lost the rest (and lost my other singles matches badly). I practice my serve at least three times a week, and I hit against a wall or use a ball machine about once a week. I also play casual sets in singles and doubles two or so times a week. I take a lesson every three months or so. I'm over forty and in decent physical condition: 6'1", 180 lbs. What else should I do to reach my goal? Any recommendations or recommended threads would be greatly appreciated. Thanks very much!
     
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  2. goober

    goober Legend

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    Analyze your matches. Ask yourself why are you losing them. Weak BH, serve , consistency? Usually 3.5s have some technical issues on one or more of their strokes.

    If you post a matchplay video it would probably give people the chance to see what you need to improve the most.
     
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  3. larry10s

    larry10s Hall of Fame

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    take more lessons if you can
    reinforcing bad habits only gets you "good at being bad"

    that will work at 3.5 but not at 4.0
     
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  4. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thank you, Goober. My most recent results tell me that I don't return heavy-topspin groundstrokes well, so I know I need to work on hitting such shots on the rise. I also tend to overhit my forehands (for a while I hit too softly), hit my net volleys right back to my opponent instead of angling them away, and rely too heavily on my slice backhand instead of hitting a strong one-handed shot. (I'm a lefty.)

    Video-posting is a good idea. I'll try and arrange for my next match to be recorded.

    Thanks!
     
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  5. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    I agree that I should take more lessons, Larry. (I know my strokes get glitchy when I'm on the move.) I've been thinking about taking a lesson for a couple of weeks now, actually. Thanks!
     
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  6. heftylefty

    heftylefty Hall of Fame

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    Read and re--Read Brad Gilbert's "Winning Ugly". Also keep a journal and write down how and why you lost & won matches.
     
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  7. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    I'm 3.5, and I've been working on my game. My results suggest I'll move to 4.0. So I'll weigh in on what has helped me improve.

    First, I would suggest getting a devoted practice partner. I hit pretty regularly with another woman who is trying to improve. This gives me a chance to practice what I am learning in lesson. We practice between 2-5 hours at a time. Warm up. FH crosscourt. BH crosscourt. Volley-to-volley. Baseline to volley. Crosscourt rally moving toward the net. Always finishing with overheads.

    Second, I think it isn't easy to improve without instruction. You mentioned taking "a lesson." Maybe a lesson will help, but honestly if you can only take one lesson it won't make a difference IME. Maybe find a friend and do semi-private lessons to keep the cost down?

    Third, I got huge benefit when I started drop feeding instead of hitting against the wall. I find that hitting against the wall makes the ball come back before you are ready. So you take short cuts to hit the ball back -- no shoulder turn, no takeback, no follow through. With drop feeding, you can take your time and get some muscle memory going without the pressure of the ball machine or the wall.

    Good luck. Moving up isn't easy.
     
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  8. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks, Heftlefty. I have read Gilbert's book, but I should definitely re-read it. :)
     
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  9. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks for your input, Cindy! I really like the idea of finding a good practice partner. I'm captaining my league team this fall, so maybe one of the guys will be interested.

    Also, I agree that taking more lessons (and not just taking an occasional one like I've done) is a good idea. Semi-private lessons is something I hadn't thought about, though. Thanks!

    I haven't tried drop-feeding. I'll give that a go.

    Thanks again, and I hope you move to 4.0 at year-end!
     
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  10. spaceman_spiff

    spaceman_spiff Hall of Fame

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    In addition to improving your strokes, you have to improve your perception skills.

    Pretty much everyone has strengths and weaknesses (very few are equally good/bad in all areas). You need to learn how to recognize your opponents' strengths and weaknesses in order to avoid the former and exploit the latter. If you hit everything to a guy's strength, he's probably going to beat you. But, if you can focus on his weaknesses, then your chances go way up. (If he can beat you with his weakness, then he probably should be rated higher.)

    For example, you should be able to use your lefty serve to exploit weak backhands. But, you need to recognize when players have strong backhand returns and direct your serve the other way.

    You can hit solid shots all day long and still lose if they all just go right to the other guy's strength. You can also win a lot of points with mediocre shots that all go to a guy's weakness. (Of course, solid shots to the weakness win the most.)
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2011
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  11. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Oh, and I like the match results journal idea, Heftylefty. Thanks!
     
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  12. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    I certainly need to analyze my opponents better, as I play them, Spaceman_Spiff. I tend to just react and get too self-focused, rather than figure out what my opponent is up to and think ahead.

    Thanks!
     
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  13. beernutz

    beernutz Hall of Fame

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    I am in a similar situation to you asked, except I have been a 3.5 since I started league play in 2005. I am trying to give it my best effort to move up to 4.0 and one thing that has helped me is to play more against 4.0 or better players. I'm in a 7.5 league and I also have two 4.0s who will hit with me regularly. One even likes to practice more than play which is great for me. Unfortunately I've only won 2 of 12 sets played against one of the guys but I'm 1 of 3 against the other 4.0. Not stellar results but at least I'm able to squeeze out the occasional 6-4, 7-5 or TB win.

    I'm also taking some weekly group lessons but may try some individual ones after this session is over.

    The last thing I'm doing is trying to get fit and drop body-fat, which also meant in my case dropping a lot of weight (25 lbs). That has really helped my mobility but it still has a ways to go to be 4.0 competitive.

    I also practice on my ball machine, primarily shots which are weaknesses. I used to hit overheads erratically at best but I try to regularly hit several hundred of those suckers with my SP Star and that has helped me immensely so that they are no longer a weakness at least.

    Good luck and keep us posted on your progress. I had a 3.5 teammate get early season bumped to 4.0 and we are about dead even when we play social singles so sometimes it is the luck of the draw (who you play that is) on whether you get bumped up or not, imo.
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2011
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  14. mightyrick

    mightyrick Hall of Fame

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    This.

    OP, if you are a 3.5, then you already know what you stink at. If you don't, then you need to think about it. The question is simple: "What shots result in winning your opponents the most points?"

    Serve? Backhand? Forehand?

    Once you've answered that, then work on those areas. Either in drills, or get a coach to help you.
     
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  15. jdubbs

    jdubbs Hall of Fame

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    I'm in a similar position, going from 4.0 to 4.5 though. I'm tending to focus on specific things...good, cagey 4.0's love to drop shot so I'm working on improving my forward movement. Weak 2nd serves don't work, so I'm working on developing a consistent kick 2nd serve.

    I'm almost there. I've had a decent record in tourneys (over .500 and one final in 5 tourneys this year) at 4.0 but I want to make at least a couple more finals and win one before moving up.

    Consistency goes way up at 4.0, some of the top players don't use much pace but place the ball well and will run you ragged. You should be able to run hard for a long time, fitness is so important.
     
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  16. MNPlayer

    MNPlayer Semi-Pro

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    Don't think this has been mentioned yet, so I'll throw it in there: keep in mind the 2 most important shots in the game (by far) are serve and return, in that order. I'm a strong 4.0 working on getting to a 4.5 level, and one of the biggest improvements in my game lately has been the serve. This by itself has gotten me much closer to beating 4.5 guys. I don't get many aces but many more missed/weak returns, making it much easier to hold. Once you have some ability to do what you want with the serve in terms of placement and spin, work on backing it up. Construct points, don't just get it in and hope. The better players will be doing it to you.
     
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  17. mightyrick

    mightyrick Hall of Fame

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    With an over .500 winrate and decent tourney performance, you're going to get bumped up whether you like it or not. Probably soon.

    If you don't like it, get ready to challenge the bump. :)
     
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  18. ian2

    ian2 Semi-Pro

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    Not necessarily. Many more factors in play as you know. I had around .750 W/L in league and tourneys last year, with several semi and finals appearances, and didn't get bumped from 3.5 to 4.0. I fully expect to get bumped up this year even though my W/L sucks (around .250 (?) as of today but I only played 4.0 leagues/tourneys, no 3.5).

    Anyhow, the OP seems to be more interested in improving to 4.0 level as opposed to being bumped... related but not the same. Lots of good advice in this thread. I have no recipes but will mention one random thing: I find hitting self-fed shots (drop-and-hit) very beneficial, more so than wall or even ball machine drills.
     
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  19. spdskr

    spdskr Rookie

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    As OP mentioned, you must construct points at 4.0 rather than living off the errors of your opponents at 3.5. I can't stress how important it is to have a practice partner with dependable strokes. Do not play matches with them, rather, play rally points. Practice setting up your shots based on each of your court positions, pace and spin of incoming balls, and the desired outcome of your shots (approaches, buying time, winners....etc). You will not always get consistent practice with these stragies by only playing matches as most of your emphasis there will be on serving and returning serve.
     
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  20. JRstriker12

    JRstriker12 Hall of Fame

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    I went from being a 3.5 to a 4.0 about 3 years ago. It was a big jump in my game, but here are some of the things that I think helped me the most.

    1. Working on consistency - A 4.0 will pick on your weak side all day. You have to be consistent enough on your weaker side to keep the ball in play and construct a point to your advantage. Maybe you don't hit a winner from the backhand, but you're not giving up easy points either. As a one-hander, the slice is still very relevant and handy - just learn to hit it deep with penetration, not floaty so it gets punished.

    2. Develop a consistent top-spin/kicker second serve - I've gone from about 2 double faults a game to maybe 1-2 double faults in a set max. It took me a long time to get it right, but developing a good top-spin second serve helps me prevent giving away stupid points. A good top spin second serve lets me hit a decent second serve with confidence and got me out of dinking it in.

    3. Work on approaching / putting away mid-court balls - this is where a lot of 3.5's get killed by pushers. They get that mid-court ball and commit an error (over-hit, put it into the net, push it back and get lobbed.) I've worked on angling these balls off, or approaching deep with pace or low-skidding slice and try to knock off the next volley.

    4. Don't "just hit" - it's fun to hit, but it's much more effective if you use a drill or hit with a certain purpose. Also, using games like 21 or playing tie breakers can help simulate the pressures of match play.

    5. Find a partner who is better than you and hit with often. I was lucky to find a few guys who were a lot better than I was, but willing to hit. I learned by watching and asking questions.
     
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  21. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    +1!

    Ian, we may have to be the charter members of the drop-feeding club.

    So. How do you drop feed, and what shots do you work on?

    Me, I'm currently trying to ingrain something I'm supposed to be doing on my 2HBH: Pointing racket butt at the ball, like shining a flashlight on it. A perfect skill for drop feeding.

    I also have made a lot of progress with crushing short balls using drop feeding. I spend a fair amount of time with this, as I have a tendency to hit them long. I'm trying to hit topspin angles bringing the ball up and down. On the rare occasions I pull it off in a match, it is a beautiful thing.

    I also like working on running around my BH, especially to hit DTL.
     
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  22. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    I like the idea of hitting with a 4.0 player, Beernutz. There's a guy who was on my team last season who received an early season rating of 4.0 who might be willing to hit with me. Thanks!
     
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  23. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    My serve was my biggest weakness until just recently, Mightyrick. I had a strong but inconsistent first serve and a second serve that was identical. (I sucked at blooping the ball back on my second serve, so I just hit another first serve.) I now have a dependable kick/slice second serve that I sometimes use as a first serve because of its effectiveness.

    Now I just need to work on everything else!

    Thanks!
     
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  24. mightyrick

    mightyrick Hall of Fame

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    Just make sure to be very humble and appreciative of a better player who is willing to hit with you. For a better player, hitting with a worse player can really be frustrating sometimes. So thank them a lot. Be nice. Don't get frustrated. Stay positive. Ask them if there's anything specific they'd like to drill on, work on, or whatever.
     
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  25. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks for the tips, Jdubbs! I definitely need to work on my forward movement, as well. I tend to hit as I run forward, rather than split-stepping then hitting, which leads to a lot of rocketing half volleys and volleys. Ah, consistency. My holy grail.

    Good luck with your goal of moving up to 4.5!
     
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  26. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks, MNPlayer! I've just recently worked my second kick/slice serve into good shape, and now I need to construct some points around it, as you suggested. (I still have a tendency to pause and think "Yay! It went in!" before I begin to prepare for my opponent's response.) My return, though, is very much a work in progress: often a cannon shot into the fence or a pathetic puff into the net.
     
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  27. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks for the self-fed ball tip, Ian! You and Cindy are on the same page there. :)
     
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  28. athiker

    athiker Hall of Fame

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    Good list and is basically the list I've been working on personally...at least 2, 3 and 4. #2 - I rarely double fault but do not have a "good" second serve. #3 - I am pretty consistent but need to work on ending the point when it is supposed to be over. The mid-court ball the point should be over in the next 2 shots...in my favor. A volley at the net...the point should be over with the next shot. #4 - Don't just hit to open court. Work the opponent over to the side a bit w/ a few cross courts in a row and then change direction and go down the line to open court only if you get a softer manageable ball or a short ball.

    When I do the above decently well I'm a 4.0 and can beat a 4.0. When I don't I'm a 3.5 and lose to 4.0s. I play with and against both 3.5s and 4.0s in singles and doubles all the time and that's what I see different.
     
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  29. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks, Spdskr! I'll try and get someone to practice constructing points with.
     
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  30. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks for the tips, JRStriker12! Consistency is something I'm working on, and the same goes for my shots from mid-court. (My slice is usually only floaty when I'm buying myself time.) I've got the serve part in okay shape now, but I need to find a partner (two perhaps: one better; one at my level) to practice productively with and to work on constructing points from my serve.

    And I'm glad that your goal of moving to 4.0 was met!
     
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  31. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    I'll definitely make any better player (or any player!) who hits with me feel appreciated, Mightyrick. My serve is one thing that almost everyone I hit with (4.0's, 3.5s) finds challenging, so at least I can provide productive return-of-serve practice for a better player.
     
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  32. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks for the points, Athiker! I have an effective down-the-line forehand that leads to winners or weak responses that I can put away with an angled volley or half-volley. (I can't do the half-volley/volley shot as consistently as I'd like yet, but I'm working on it.)
     
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  33. sphinx780

    sphinx780 Professional

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    There are a lot of good points here to keep you occupied and focused on improving for quite some time.

    Since you feel confident in your serve but face inconsistency in your return, here's a suggestion that may or may not help you.

    I find that many times returning begets errors from indecision. Before the serve, you may want to tell yourself, "If I get a forehand, I'm going to hit it here and if I get a backhand I'm going to hit hit here".

    If you're not quite to the point where you want to start thinking that far ahead, the other option to build return consistency would be to aim for a single spot on the other side of the court and only hit returns there (I'd suggest hitting at the T or middle of the court and focus on good net clearance).

    The idea of both is to eliminate the hesitation and doubt of what to do with the serve return. The more balls you get in play, the more often you have an opportunity to break serve.
     
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  34. MNPlayer

    MNPlayer Semi-Pro

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    Sounds good, if your serve becomes a consistent weapon for you, you will not have to worry about it going in. You can immediately set up for the next shot, anticipating the return based on the serve you hit - looking for that 1-2 or 1-2-3 punch ideally.

    I had a coach tell me recently I should be trying to dominate from the 1st shot on service games, and trying to start return points at least neutral (meaning get the return deep and away from the middle, generally). I like this way of thinking about it because it's a fairly realistic goal against an opponent of similar level. Obviously if you are playing a player with a poor serve, you can attack on the return. Dominating on service points in my case means hit a good serve and set up for a big forehand. Assuming your forehand is your best shot you should be trying to hit as many forehands as possible, at least 2/3 of the court. If you watch the pros these days, they mostly play this way. You see lots of inside out forehand to backhand crosscourt rallies which I have also found a useful pattern because most guys I play have a comparatively weak backhand. I try to pin them in the backhand corner until they cough up a short ball or make an error. The idea is to keep your opponent on the defensive somehow until they make an error our you can finish with a winner.

    This is one philosophy anyway, there are other ways to play of course, like serve and volley, which is even more aggressive. Your primary patterns should depend on your particular strengths and to some extent your opponent's weaknesses.
     
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  35. heftylefty

    heftylefty Hall of Fame

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    Regarding your volley. Try and do what Nadal does: Not be spectacular, just work on being solid and use you first volley as your set up shot. Then, with the second volley just go opposite way.

    It works for me. Good luck fellow Lefty.
     
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  36. MNPlayer

    MNPlayer Semi-Pro

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    This is so true. Amazing what just getting returns back can do, at least at 4.0. Also it puts pressure on the server to serve bigger which often causes them to start double faulting.
     
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  37. heftylefty

    heftylefty Hall of Fame

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    +2 I am a member of that club too. I go through 3 basket just drop and hit. It is amazing how much that helps.
     
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  38. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks for the return-of-serve tips, Sphinx780! I'm probably only at the "shoot for one target" stage, so I'll try that first. Getting the ball back effectively is definitely my goal.

    And, yes, I have lots of good stuff to think about and work on, as a result of all of these great responses. :)
     
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  39. sphinx780

    sphinx780 Professional

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    This is just as true at the 4.5 and 5.0 levels in my experience. As your level increases, the quality of return will also increase incrementally in most cases.

    As my coaches always said way back when: 'Make 'em play'
     
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  40. ian2

    ian2 Semi-Pro

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    Hey Cindy, I small club I'd think. Well, I do quite a bit of drop-feed drills... sometimes an hour a week combined from 30 min, 20 min, or even 5 min sessions, and sometimes two hours in one session. I either focus on a specific shot (i.e. sharp angle forehand cross-court) and go through a basket of balls (or two, or three baskets) doing just that, before moving on to another shot; or I focus on tuning up all basic groundstrokes, by hitting several FH (i.e. 3 DL + 3 CS), followed by several topspin BH (again with specific targets in mind), followed by slice BH, etc.

    I often start with hitting rally speed balls down-the-line into doubles alley, on both sides (FH and BH), and making sure I hit six in a row inside the alley before moving on... start over if I miss one long or wide; kick myself and start over if I miss one into the net :)

    The more exotic varieties are drop-shots from different positions inside the court (from just inside the baseline, to service line, to 3 feet from the net), "crush the short ball off high feed", and self-fed overheads. The latter involves hitting the ball vertically and high, letting it bounce, and then hitting an overhead... not easy, requires some serious attention to footwork.

    I try to make drop-feed drills as dynamic as possible making sure that: a) footwork is involved, and b) I'm hitting specific targets consistently.
     
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  41. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    I think my play style is more suited to the strategy you're adopting, MNPlayer. After some self-assessment and discussion with others who have seen me play, I've determined that I'm not a serve and volley type but an aggressive baseliner working on getting comfortable with approach shots and net play.
     
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  42. JRstriker12

    JRstriker12 Hall of Fame

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    No prob. Keep working and playing. Most of all have fun playing tennis.
     
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  43. sphinx780

    sphinx780 Professional

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    No problem, hope it helps!
     
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  44. dcdoorknob

    dcdoorknob Hall of Fame

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    I'm not to 4.0 yet but I'm much closer than I was a year ago, or even 6 months ago. For me the only real secret was taking lessons regularly, once a week, and then just playing frequently (3-5 times a week).

    The lessons were important because I had issues (especially on the forehand) that just weren't going to get better without outside help, and not just a time or two but I needed that consistent feedback and instruction, as bad habits die very hard most of the time, and honestly I wasn't acutely aware of exactly *why* what I was doing wasn't working or even exactly *what* I was doing wrong in certain situations. I'm sure it's possible for some very self-motivated people to get some help in other ways like posting videos and getting feedback on the internet, but I'm not optimistic that would have worked for me at all.

    The hitting was also essential to work on those changes that I was implementing from the lessons, and also just because there is no substitute for court time as one tries to improve. I think 'just hitting' 100% of the time is probably not ideal, but I have no problem with doing that some of the time. Drills, practice sets, etc. can also be very useful.

    So for me it's not that complicated. 1) Take lessons 2) play alot. If you do those 2 things I think you are very likely to keep improving.
     
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  45. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    Thanks, DCdoorknob! I think lessons are important, too. I just need to make the time and spend the money to take them. I'm sure there are many aspects of my stroke mechanics that are screwed up.
     
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  46. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

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    And good luck on getting to 4.0 soon, DCdoorknob!
     
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  47. jdubbs

    jdubbs Hall of Fame

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    To be honest, at my age (39), it's very difficult to play 4 matches in a weekend at 4.0. Foot and knees start acting up.

    I'd rather play 1-2 really great matches at 4.5 then the typical 4.0 tournament of a really easy match, a somewhat harder match, and then a 4.0 master i.e. counterpuncher/lobber/dropshotter.

    Those aren't really fun matches to play, but the guys at the top of the tourney charts ALL play that game. I've won a couple, lost a couple, but didn't really have fun either way in those types of matches. I'm not calling them pushers, just "light hitters" who really know how to maximize match play.

    I had a lot more fun at the Open Tournament where I won my first match, and got blown away in the 2nd round. Played really fun, hard hitting tennis and enjoyed going for my shots without worrying about winning.

    Winning is important, but its definitely not the only thing. I'm getting worn out from playing the same 4.0 type game.

    That being said, I need to develop a couple of more shots to really be able to compete at 4.5 instead of just showing up and getting blown off the court.
     
    #47
  48. escii_35

    escii_35 Rookie

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2008
    Messages:
    210
    1. At 6'1, 180 and lefty get that serve working. If you can hit the lefty swinging slice and the T serve at will it will earn you oodles of free points. 3.5's and low 4.0 lefties tend to rely on the swinging serve to the righty BH so much so that folks can sit on it.

    2. Get to a point on either your FH or BH where you have no fear unleashing on mid court balls.

    3. When playing most 3.5's and junkballing 4.0's footwork, footwork, footwook, and don't get impatient.

    4. As for return of serve just worry about getting the point started in a way where you are not at a severe disadvantage. Giving away free points in singles off the return of serve is just bad.
     
    #48
  49. MNPlayer

    MNPlayer Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2008
    Messages:
    420
    Location:
    Minneapolis, MN
    It's good that you are aware of your own personality and how you like to play. Don't forget to practice S&V though. It's pretty critical in doubles and also a great change up in singles. And every once in a while you'll get an opponent who just pops back your serve every time. Then you really want to have the S&V play to force him to go for his returns. I once practiced nothing but S&V against my regular practice partner for a couple months because my first volley sucked. I rushed through the shot instead of splitting early enough (still have some trouble with that...) This kind of skill is useful for attacking the net in general anyway. Sometimes you have to commit do something you're uncomfortable with for a while to make it feel more natural.
     
    #49
  50. asked_answered

    asked_answered Rookie

    Joined:
    Dec 17, 2009
    Messages:
    332
    Thanks for the tips, Escii! I'm working on varying placement on my serve. Right now, I tend to serve into the body or to a righty's backhand, so I am working on serving wide and down the T on demand. I definitely want to be able to smack mid-court shots, and I am working on my footwork and patience. And, yes, getting the ball back on a return is really important to me. :)
     
    #50

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