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asked_answered 09-07-2011 06:50 AM

3.5 to 4.0 Action Plan?
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!

goober 09-07-2011 06:56 AM

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.

larry10s 09-07-2011 07:00 AM

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

asked_answered 09-07-2011 07:12 AM

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.


asked_answered 09-07-2011 07:15 AM

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!

heftylefty 09-07-2011 07:21 AM

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

Cindysphinx 09-07-2011 07:38 AM

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.

asked_answered 09-07-2011 07:41 AM

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

asked_answered 09-07-2011 07:48 AM

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!

spaceman_spiff 09-07-2011 07:49 AM

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.)

asked_answered 09-07-2011 07:50 AM

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

asked_answered 09-07-2011 07:59 AM

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.


beernutz 09-07-2011 08:32 AM

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.

mightyrick 09-07-2011 08:34 AM


Originally Posted by goober (Post 5970612)
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.


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.

jdubbs 09-07-2011 08:41 AM

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.

MNPlayer 09-07-2011 08:45 AM

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.

mightyrick 09-07-2011 08:46 AM


Originally Posted by jdubbs (Post 5970925)
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.

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. :-)

ian2 09-07-2011 09:11 AM


Originally Posted by mightyrick (Post 5970949)
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. :-)

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.

spdskr 09-07-2011 09:46 AM

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.

JRstriker12 09-07-2011 10:14 AM

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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