OK, so what should I work on next?

Discussion in 'Adult League & Tournament Talk' started by Cindysphinx, Oct 27, 2011.

  1. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    I'm kind of at a weird place with tennis. I'm 3.5, but I will likely soon be 4.0. I play seniors, ladies and mixed.

    I take lessons, but I am feeling a certain lack of focus. I guess I need to figure out what new skill (or improved skill) will help me most in making the transition to a higher level as a doubles player.

    Options include:

    1. More action on the slice serve, and a better topspin serve. I do not hit a flat serve because I cannot generate enough pace to bother anyone.

    2. Heavier FH. I hit a topspin FH, but I really would love a ball that dives right before it hits the baseline.

    3. Slice groundstrokes. My BH slice floats and lacks directional control. My FH slice is great when I hit it well, but I can't aim it.

    4. Heavier and more accurate volleys, especially approach volleys.

    Any thoughts? I do prefer to focus on one thing at a time rather than trying to do many things at once in a lesson. This is especially since it gets hard to practice what is learned once winter gets here.
     
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  2. tennis tom

    tennis tom Hall of Fame

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    How 'bout letting your coach do his job?
     
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  3. tennismonkey

    tennismonkey Semi-Pro

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    two most important shots in the game are serve and returns. in that order.

    improve your serve and you don't have to hit any groundies or volleys.

    improve your returns and you won't have to hit any groundies or volleys.
     
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  4. athiker

    athiker Hall of Fame

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    Agree with tennismonkey. Some work on their serve but very few work on return of serve. This is really an area where you can put pressure on a 3.5/4.0 opponent b/c many do not have great 2nd serves. A lot to work on here too, not just "getting it back" in play. Receiving FH, BH, Body, Spin, blooper, even backspin...where to go...same direction hard or change direction and go for placement over pace, angle or depth, follow a strong return to net?...chip or topspin...etc., etc.

    From your list I would actually pick slice. This gives even some good players issues, especially as a change up shot. It can cause net rushers to dump into the net and it can cause hard hitters to overhit a low ball and groundstroke the ball long. It can make anyone pop the ball up for a put away.

    We play with a guy who basically hits slice off both wings. He's difficult to play when he is "on". Not much margin for error though. We also play with one guy who hits a slice serve due to shoulder issues, backspin serve is a better description, that stays very low...give people all kinds of trouble unless they slice it back.

    Finally, its a great shot to have to pick up a low short ball coming into the net and it will beef up your defensive skills b/c many go to the slice, even the pros, when extended on defense. Okay, one more. If you face a junkballer, kind of like the backspin server I mentioned, its a solid shot to counter their spin and actually keep on the offensive if done right.
     
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  5. skiracer55

    skiracer55 Hall of Fame

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    Bingo...

    ...what tennismonkey and athiker said. Serve and return, two most important shots in the game. Straighten them out, and a lot of other stuff will fall into place. Remember also that playing tennis...playing points...is a pretty wholistic thing. In doubles, I may have a point where I have to hit a good return, followed by good movement to the net (it's not just shotmaking...), followed by a good volley, and then end the point with an overhead. You can have a focus on one or two areas, but you should be working on all aspects of your game, all the time...
     
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  6. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    I will. I will ask him, but he is operating on limited information, after all. He doesn't see my matches.

    I thought of another possibiility -- the transition game. I seem to have difficulty attacki mid-court balls.
     
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  7. skiracer55

    skiracer55 Hall of Fame

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    Fine...


    ...transition game is always, as I said, one of many good things to work on.


    Interesting that you should mention your coach and the fact that he doesn't see your matches. My question to you is, Do you see your matches? I don't mean literally tape them and go watch them later (although that wouldn't be a bad idea), do you see, in terms of points won, points lost, matches won, matches lost, and in terms of overall strategy, what's going right and what is going wrong with your tennis? Past a certain point, and certainly from the 4.0 level on up, there's a level at which you are your own best coach. So drop the issue of individual strokes for a while and start figuring where you win points, and where you lose them, and reverse engineer your improvement plan from that.

    There's another issue that I'll throw in, which is that, correct me if I'm wrong, you mostly play doubles. Look back to your thread on "Who takes the forehand down the middle?" You can have the best strokes in the world, but if you and your partner don't form an effective team on the court, it may not matter a whole lot if you can hit a slice half-volley...a shot that I consider essential to the transition game.

    Finally, per the above posts, I'm not clear why you're reluctant to put some heavy emphasis on serve and return. If you're moving up a level, my coaching advice is to look to the level beyond that for two reasons (1) I think it's a good idea to aim high and (2) Sometimes aiming for even just a little piece of the level above where you're going can help you succeed mightily at the level you're just reaching. Here's what it says about serve at the 4.5 level, for example: "Can hit first serves with power and accuracy and place the second serve." If I was your coach, that's where I'd have you spending most of your time...
     
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  8. skiracer55

    skiracer55 Hall of Fame

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    Let me just follow up...

    ...on the "serve and return are the most important shots" subtext in this thread.

    Here's another thread where a guy served, played out the points, and wanted to know what we thought:

    http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?t=401283

    He got a ration about how he needed to lose weight and his shorts didn't fit, but a couple of us said "You got game, bud." It'd be easy to say "Yeah, but all he did was hit serves and a few forehands." Guess what? That's all he needed and that's the idea. And if you notice, the guy returning is no slouch, he's got good movement, good strokes, but some of the serves he was facing were just plain unreturnable.

    JacK Kramer was an early advocate of the power game, which he called, oddly enough, percentage tennis. There's this notion that "pushing" is percentage tennis, which is only true if you let your opponent push you to death. You're a pusher? Fine, here's a service ace, push that.

    To an extent, the fewer balls you have to hit in a rally, the more likely you are to win the point...providing you control the point from the opening, on your serve or on your forcing return. I answer queries all the time in this forum where the situation goes something like "Okay...so I served, and it was a weak return, but my partner didn't jump on it, because she doesn't like to volley, and then I hit a forehand cross court, and they returned it back to me cross court, and then I lobbed over the net person and came to the net...but wouldn't you know it? The stinkers lobbed over me! So what should I do at this point?" And the short answer is "Don't let it get to that point. You're the server, put them in the hurt locker early and either hit an easy winner or force them into an error."

    When I watch 3.0/3.5 doubles, almost invariably the first two shots...the serve and return...are basically courtesy strokes. I plop a serve in, you plop a return back...to me, of course, because I know I'm never supposed to hit to the net person...and now you and I start playing singles on a doubles court while our partners go off to Owego until the point is over.

    Strong serves and returns can turn that scenario 180 degrees. I coach a 3.0/3.5 group in the summer, and at one of our sessions, after I was done having them work on whatever we needed to, everybody got back to playing doubles. There was one court that was a player short, so they asked me to fill on, which I often do at this point. Usually I'll just fluff in my serve and regturn, but they asked me to take the gloves off, for a change, and go full tilt. Not only did I not lose any points on my serve or return, the ball never even came back.

    I'm not telling you this to tell you how great I am, because I'm not, or how substandard my athletes are, because they're not. If you were to watch us all hitting groundstrokes, volleys, whatever, you wouldn't see all that much difference between their games and mine. When the serving and returning starts, though, it's like I'm in a separate universe from them.

    So as I said above...and this is for all of us...definitely work on all aspects of your game, but put the serve and return at the head of the "to do" list...
     
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  9. Nellie

    Nellie Hall of Fame

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    If you are going to play more singles, the topspin strokes are nice, but not very useful if you are just going to play doubles.

    Personally, I am going to work on slice/ drop shots this winter. I can't imagine the ugly glares you might get with a drop shot.
     
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  10. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    I'm surprised, Nellie. Topspin strokes in dubs are the bomb.

    I just did a clinic where we worked on dippers. The two ladies who hit topspin could put the ball on the service line. The flat and slice hitters? Not so much.
     
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  11. kylebarendrick

    kylebarendrick Professional

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    I see this and I think "work on the flat serve". You've already identified a hole in what should be a standard shot in everyone's arsenal. I'd think this would help you much more than worrying about slice groundstrokes (as an example).
     
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  12. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    I dunno, Kyle. I haven't met too many women who can bother anyone with their flat serves. IME, spin serves win matches in ladies 4.0 tennis. By 4.0, the ladies have played mixed and see 4.0/4.5 men's serves all the time. I doubt a short middle-aged chick like me will ever get enough pace to be worth it.
     
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  13. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    Skiracer asked what costs me points in matches.

    I think I miss too many returns.

    I don't miss them in lessons, only dubs matches. I think I try to go for too much. I akso think I often stand closer than I should. It's hard to see ow private lesson time can help with these things. Maybe my practice partner and I should devote time to this.
     
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  14. kylebarendrick

    kylebarendrick Professional

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    I play plenty of 4.0 mens and 8.0 mixed. Spin serves are fine as your bread-and-butter for the reasons you suggest. I believe they are more effective, though, if you can throw in a flat serve now and then to keep people honest. You aren't going to blow people off the court with it (unless you really become Venus) but you will keep them from starting to really rip into your spin serves.
     
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  15. jdubbs

    jdubbs Hall of Fame

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    If returns are your issue, then think about your movement. Are you split stepping in anticipation of the serve, or do you (as almost all 3.5's I've seen) just stand there and wait for the serve to come.

    Watch what the pros do:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SG2q_U-XhRA

    See the movement, anticipation? This should help.
     
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  16. robby c

    robby c Semi-Pro

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    Many of my opponents think I hit two 1st Serves, but actually I'm hitting two 2nd Serves with aggressive placement.
    My college coach made me practice My A,B,C's.
    I had to hit my 2nd serve(6 out of 10 strength) going for Wide to the Alley, into the Body, and down the Center T Until I could hit all 3 locations in both Deuce/Ad Courts over 90% consistency. I had to count aloud as I went along.
    To start, hit 10 Serves to all 6 locations each time you practice.
    Remember Half Speed to go easy on your arm.
    Full extension on your toss.
    Easy wrist snap at the last possible moment.
    Good luck.
    Robby C
     
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  17. skiracer55

    skiracer55 Hall of Fame

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    Yep...

    ...and see what jdubbs says about movement on the return. Missing returns...or missing any shot...is not a good thing. However, if you're going to play aggressively and take charge, you're going to miss some balls. Serena Williams has some matches where she makes an ungodly amount of errors, but still ekes out the match because she keeps bringing it. You can hit every return back and still lose the match because all you're doing, see my post above, is handing the opposition a predictable courtesy stroke. The Bryans, who play power doubles, which is the model I think everyone ought to emulate, make some errors. They miss some returns. But in the long run, because of the fact that they're trying to get the upper hand with the return, they're gonna get the break sooner or later. So think about your overall strategy on the return. If you get every return back...is that going to make a difference, or is the other team just going to get grooved on a predictable return and win the overall war anyway? Remember, the objective is to win the last point. There are lots of different ways to get there, some more elegant than others, some logically more sound than others...but as long as you win the last point most of the time, whatever you did was, by definition, the right thing...
     
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  18. skiracer55

    skiracer55 Hall of Fame

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    Very good approach...

    ...to an overall strategy for making your serve count. I'd strongly advise everyone to (a) go out and review the fundamentals of your serve...because without them, this drill is meaningless and (b) go experiment with this drill, because it's an excellent way of both diagnosing what your serve is (or is not) doing, and what you need to do to make it better...
     
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  19. skiracer55

    skiracer55 Hall of Fame

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    Let much just...

    ...once again, follow up on my last couple of posts with some additional thoughts. There's kind of a notion floating around that you can either do damage with a shot or you can be consistent with it, but not both. Certainly at the higher levels, that isn't true. Djokovich had the kind of year he had because he hit some amazingly forceful shots and he hit a lot of them, too.

    So don't get sidetracked into a "pure numbers" approach to tennis. To a large extent, Vic Braden was right. In lots of instances below the ATP level, if you can hit three balls over the net, you'll be famous by Friday. However, that only works if your opponent (1) Can't hit 4 balls back over the net, which a lot of people in the mid-levels of NTRP can and/or (2) can't figure out a way to take plain vanilla play and find a way to make it into a winning play for their side.

    My advice, for every shot, is to try to optimize the stroke mechanics so that you (1) are producing a stroke that will hurt your opponent and, maybe more important (2) give you more than one choice and then figure out to hits lots of them in a row.

    An example would be I'm returning in the ad court. My standard reply is a chip cross-court, but the other side is getting onto that, so I decide to hit over the ball, hard, with just enough top to keep it in...and I'm not going to worry about whether it goes to the netperson or not. You need a go-to version of any shot, but you also need some other variations. Andy Roddick still has a great serve, but it's totally one dimensional, and everybody's caught onto it, which is at least one reason why he hasn't had a sniff at a majors title in some time. Djokovich, on the other hand, has plenty of MPH on his serve, but he can do a whole lot more things than Andy. And you saw the result.

    The first objective of any shot in the game should always be to hurt your opponent and take control of the point. If you have to play a defensive ball, fine. But your mindset should always be to play aggressively, and to do that, your stroke mechanics and court movement need to be the best that you can make them...
     
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  20. Fuji

    Fuji Legend

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    Hey Cindy! I've skimmed a bit so I am sorry if I repeat what has already been said.

    I've been working with a bit of a coach lately, and the biggest thing we have done is make my return game superb for my level. My whole tennis is about making you feel awful. I do everything I can to make you question, "why am I even out here right now? I could be at home watching TV instead." I play pretty demoralizing tennis, as has been noted by quite a few people I play against. I figure it this way, what can I do to make the person fall apart? Sometimes it's serving big to them for the "intimidation" factor to make them try and hold their service games, other wise they loose. Recently however, (Last couple months), it's been my return game giving me more wins and confidence then anything.

    If you can rattle a persons serve, quite often their whole game will follow!

    If you can get a few returns down that either...

    A) Pressure them to such an extent to try and serve out of their means to beat you, you already have an advantage.

    B) Are CLEAN and near the line it causes even more pressure!

    These are the two things I really try and aim for, whether it is a chip/slice or a full on cut at the ball, I'm trying NOT to get into a rally. I find rallies boring during matches, so I try my best to avoid them! Often if you have decent hands at the net, if you can get a good return and follow it to the net, you'll more then often win the point.

    Which brings me to my next point; Transitional Game. I think the biggest thing that separates players in level their transitional game. You can have the ugliest strokes in the world, (Even at a pro level) but if you can transition to the net with confidence, you can really pull the match into your pace.

    This is just my humble opinion of course! :D

    I have followed your serving oddesy on here for a while, and from the sounds of it you have a solid serve that's not over whelming, but you can place well and it wins you points. To be honest, that's all you really need! Sure you can aim for more pace, but if your not going for a flat bomb, and your serve is good as is; work on the rest of your game! Consistency is the best thing for serving! :)

    -Fuji

    EDIT: As for your list, the thing I would work on is a predictable and heavy slice! IMHO volleys don't need to be heavy to win, placement is key! This is a bit biased as slice is one of my favorite shots! ;)
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2011
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  21. Torres

    Torres Banned

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    @ Cindy.

    It's hard to suggest specific goals without seeing your game, where the weaknesses lie and what's realistic within a reasonable timeframe based on how often you play and how committed you are etc.

    I started playing mixed leagues in the last few months and of the women that I've seen, which range from 1st team 1st pairs, to 4th team 3rd pairs, I would make the following observations:

    1. Develop a good 1st serve, rather than just plopping the ball in. It will give you such an advantage.

    2. You need to be strong off both wings and be able to hit deep and/or at pace; preferably both so work on shoring up any holes.

    3. Speed and movement around the court. The number of women that I see who cannot run is frankly, shocking. Equally are those women who do not move with their partner and don't cover spaces or think about recovering court positions.

    4. Consistency and solidity is everything at 3.5-4.0 level. The majority of games at this level are won by those who make fewest forced/unforced errors.

    5. Work on developing a good lob and being able to neutralize the rally when you're in trouble or under pressure. Even the top players do this and are very good at doing it.

    6. Linked to 3 above, but if alot of your opponents hit with no pace, or hit ploppy serves, and can't run, being able to hit drop shots well can often lead to free points or forced errors from your 'cant run, no pace, ploppy serve' opponent who simply won't be able to get there or will be stretching outside of their comfort zone.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2011
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  22. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    Ok, this is helpful.

    As I look over Torres' list, I am trying to think of things that are a good use of lesson time. Well, there things that my 5.0 pro can do that I can't replicate with a practice partner. Like dealing with pace and spin.

    I have to say, hitting with New Pro has done me a world of good because we rally live a lot. Maybe that is what I need.

    This is good. I feel like I am ready to have the conversation about next steps.
     
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  23. Fuji

    Fuji Legend

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    Awesome job Cindy! For sure there are things that Pro's can do that others can't. They are great for getting returns down, especially if they hit with some pace towards you. I think that's one of the greatest things Pro's can do for your game.

    BTW, good luck on moving to 4.0! I can't wait to see your results! :D

    -Fuji
     
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  24. skiracer55

    skiracer55 Hall of Fame

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    Yep, a good list...

    ...and, as torres points out, it's really hard to give specific suggestions on your game without seeing your game. You've made a bazillion posts, but not one video that I know of. It would make life a lot easier if you could come up with one of those.

    Where torres is headed with this list is a good thing. To me, it kind of gets at two major division, which are the following:

    - I just became a 4.0...how do I win matches? It's entirely possible to do so by (1) Continue to push the same old strokes you already have, (2) Do a little work in the gym, because it'll make you a better athlete, and (3) Find a better partner...because NTRP is pretty much all doubles, right?

    It's not quite that simple, but you get the joke. I spend a lot of time on the court, and I get to watch a lot of NTRP players, league matches, round robins, and so forth. The predominant one I see is women's 3.5 doubles, and it's pretty much cookie cutter tennis, and I'll bet it doesn't vary much through the USA. While I was working out with my regular hitting partner the other day, I was also watching a 3.5 women's doubles match on the next court, and I have to say it was really disheartening. The funny thing was, they were all good athletes, moved well, there were some decent strokes among the not so decent strokes...but overall, the play was pathetic. Player 1 had an excellent serve, which she would crank in...and then stand back waiting to see what would happen next, which often led to her team's losing the point. Player 2, on the other side, had a great return...which she never followed up on. I could coach 2 never evers who would listen to what I had to say for 3 days and they could beat either team.

    - The second way of looking at this is, Okay, I just became a 4.0, and everybody in the world seems to be following the exact same path...which doesn't make any sense to me, because insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results...so what do I have to do to distance myself from the crowd?

    The answer to that, I believe, is three part:

    - Play more singles, less doubles. Doubles is a great game, but you'll only know what you can do, and where you can go, if you're the only one on your side of the net.

    - Play fewer matches, train more. What you do has to be informed...if you're just practicing your mistakes, it doesn't matter how much time you spend on the court.

    - Adopt an aggressive mindset. Think about tennis as a game where you win the match rather than a contest where you do a bunch of stuff and hope the your opponent takes gas and hands you the match.

    There's this whole theory, called "The 10,000 Hours" about how athletes become the top level. It's not what I keep seeing in the TW forums, which is "How many hours will it take me to become a 5.0?" There's no single answer to that question. If what you're doing is practicing poor stroke production, if you're not the athlete you should be, if you have no clue about what strategy is and what you're game is, you can spend 100,000 hours on the court and not be any better than you are right now..and maybe be even worse.

    The idea of the 10,000 hours is that you first learn to do the right things, then you ingrain them over 10,000 hours worth of practice so that the winning moves are instinctual. You don't have to think about them any more. As some of the Zen and martial arts people say, "Don't think, just do." Or, as my avatar says "Watch the ball, hit it hard, and don't think."

    The converse of this is that whatever you do for 10,000 hours, or maybe even a lot less, is what will be ingrained in your muscle memory and in your instincts, so it's what you'll do in a quick fire tennis point. As Peter Burwash noted, "Tennis is a series of controlled emergencies," and your job is not to think your way through those emergencies, but to ingrain bomb-proof reactions to those emergencies that happen without conscious thought.

    So that's the sermon for today: Stop thinking about your next league match at a new level. Stop thinking about how you can make a 2% improvement on what you already have, especially if it's flawed. Instead, figure out what it means for you to do it right, make that happen, and then make it automatic...
     
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  25. Off The Wall

    Off The Wall Semi-Pro

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    1. Work on a power slice serve. It's an excellent basis for your other spins.
    2. Yes, a good dipping TS is a good doubles shot; keep them low.
    3. Slices are a good transition option. Start by not going for Fed-type spin. Open the racquet a bit and swing on a small decline. It crosses the net low and stays low.
    4. Work on volleys. If you and your hitting partner can stand halfway in the service box and make each other hit volleys up, well, you'll have excellent touch.
     
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  26. Maui19

    Maui19 Hall of Fame

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    My pro would tell you this: work on getting to the net. Period. Because that is where the game of doubles is won. Obviously there are a lot of components to this, but for starters, being able to serve and volley is the first thing. And this largely comes down to being able to make that first volley effectively. Can you hit that first volley deep all the time? Can you dig out that return that comes back at your feet? Can you do it every time? Can you serve effectively enough that your opponents hit a fair number of soft returns back to you? (FWIW, I hit about 85% kick serves in dubs. I find at my level, 3.5-4.0, returners have more trouble with that than a hard flat serve. I mix locations and speeds, and when I do hit the heater, it looks a lot faster because I don't use it much.) Can you put away the soft returns when you see them? And when they start to lob their returns, can you put those away as well?

    Once you have that package in your repertoire, I would work on a max topspin FH that you can hit consistently deep. This is a shot you can come in behind because 1) it gives you more time to get to the net than a hard flat shot, and 2) players have trouble hitting this shot back effectively. So you'll be closer to the net and getting more soft shots back at you. Win-win.

    However I wouldn't even think about the FH until your S&V is absolutely bulletproof. When that happens, you should be knocking on the door of 4.5.
     
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  27. Torres

    Torres Banned

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    This isn't Cara Black and Liezel Huber. This is womens 3.5 recreational doubles. Whilst I don't disagree with the principle of what you're saying, I don't think what you're suggesting is realistic. Even at mens 4.5 level, the majority of players do not have a "absolutely bulletproof" S&V game, so I don't understand how you can say forget about working on groundstrokes when 3.5 womens doubles is largely played off the ground.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2011
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  28. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    Yeah, this is a good plan also. I am doing a clinic this year with these goals in mind. Right now, it's all about the approach volley.

    Funny thing about the effectiveness of using spin to get to net. The spin serve goes slower, and most players return it more defensively. Win win. The world seems to be filled with people who can block back hard balls or thrive on pace. I haven't met anyone yet who thrives on spin.

    I'm starting to think doing the net work in the clinic coupled with working on returns and transitions in occasional private lessons might be a nice combination. I can work on service returns with my practice partner.
     
    #28
  29. Maui19

    Maui19 Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Sep 18, 2010
    Messages:
    1,655
    Okay, how about "bullet resistant."

    The reason 3.5 tennis (not just womens') is played off the ground is because no one can serve and volley, and no one makes it a point to follow their aggressive shots into the net.
     
    #29
  30. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2006
    Messages:
    15,070
    I played a junkballer in dubs today. I had all kinds of problems handling her funky spins and suchlike.

    The one thing that worked darn well was S&V. If someone has weirdo strokes (little slice angles and slice lobs), the one thing they probably can't do well and bust a passing shot. We won pretty much every point when I came to net.

    Yeah. Gotta keep working on that S&V.

    Cindy -- thrilled that she didn't miss a single approach volley
     
    #30

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