Friday, January 21, 2022

Is your game versatile or are you stuck in a rut?

Doug Browne

Doug Browne

If you are a typical southwest Floridian tennis player, most of your league matches are played on soft courts. However, it is not uncommon to play on a different court surface. So, if your team travels to facilities that feature hard or grass courts, is your game ready for major changes or do you always play the same style? For example, with the matches being played on faster courts, the service return will be an adventure unless each team spends considerable time on the practice court.

First, as the skill levels rise, (especially from 3.0 – 3.5 and higher) the serves amp out at much greater speeds and it is imperative to spend hours working on an effective crosscourt return of serve. Second, with the tempo rising dramatically, players must be able to react quickly and go.  Hard court doubles teams prefer to win from the net and will do almost anything to get up there. Whereas, Floridians who routinely play on slow soft courts, are more apt to play long drawn out points dominated by excellent groundstrokes. Juniors who frequently train on slow clay courts often possess semi-western loopy forehand topspin groundstrokes and prefer to win from the baseline. It is not unusual to view a top Florida junior tennis star stand three or four feet behind the baseline as he rips his reasonably complicated forehand drives from baseline to baseline.

Due to the slow court surface and thick humid air, groundstrokes drives are encouraged as a style to overpower the opponent. However, the hard court California player offers a distinctive change: he prefers to utilize a more conventional stroke (a shorter backswing) and implement it as he attempts to move closer to the net and volley away his foe. Therefore, when Floridian tennis players travel out west, they are faced with stiff changes and must be prepared or they will have problems. My number one piece of advice for all Florida tennis players is to work on their service returns, shorten the backswing, and meet the ball out in front. If the Floridian begins to return serves with regularity, their confidence will flourish and they will not struggle the rest of the match.

The key to any type of change is to realize that most talented people need only to ‘tweak’ little items here and there. When the great ATP players move from the slow French Open courts to the swifter Wimbledon courts, the top players make simple modified revisions. It may be something as basic as coming into net once a game to show their opponent that if they hit too short, watch out, I’m coming to the net. Or, the player eliminates their large backswing for a shorter one that is equally effective.

So, if you qualify for the USTA Nationals in another city with different court surfaces, be ready to alter your game to meet the demands. Remember the old saying: Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. If you win the Florida state title, you are equipped to win the National Title.  Good luck.

Doug Browne is beginning his 26th year as Director of Tennis at Hideaway Beach Club on Marco Island. He has been associated with the USPTA for 25 years, and has been playing, talking, and teaching tennis for most of his life.

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