Monday, December 6, 2021

Never Arrive too Soon to the Ball or Else!



Doug Browne

I absolutely love when my students are diligent and prepare quickly. In most cases, this studious player will be in excellent position to strike the ball. However, inexperienced tennis players can be too anxious and then must cope with a variety of issues.

For example, amateurish tennis players often move to the ball so fast that they land on the wrong foot and then lose balance. As I coach this new player, I continually remind them of one basic rule: When a player moves right, plant on the right leg, and as they go left, gather balance on the left leg. The problem is that the untested player is so worried that they don’t have time, they cannot slow down, and tend to land on the front leg, and as a result, lose their balance.

Other characteristics of an inexperienced tennis player is when the person is too impatient. This player wishes to put the ball away too early and makes foolish choices. If the person has not logged a lot of time on the tennis court, it is virtually impossible to hit winner after winner.

When the new player hits a solid forehand drive and has moved the opponent out of position, it does not mean that the foe is not going to be able to recover. For example, when players compete on a slow clay court surface, it is common to be able to fetch ball after ball and always stay in the point for the duration. The new player might feel that there is an opening or a keen opportunity, but this is a false read!


Due to the slower court surface, most good tennis players are able to recover and get back into position with ease. Therefore, when the young competitor hits one solid groundstroke, do not get ahead of yourself and think the point is near completion. It is prudent for all tennis players to be patient and learn to cultivate each point and begin to learn their opponent’s tendencies.

As each point develops, sooner or later, the inexperienced player will learn the foe’s weaknesses and then be able to formulate a plan. Case in point, one of our current students is so restless that she will rip a big ‘groundie’ when it appears there is an opportunity. However, her rival quickly recovers and is now back to the middle of the baseline ready for battle. Unfortunately for our untested player, she over reacted when she spanked a big drive, and is now out of position for the next ball.

Due to her lack of experience, she continually misjudges the situation and hits to her opponent’s strength. Due to her lack of court intelligence, she is unable to adjust and continually drives her best strokes to her foe’s strength.

When she finishes the game and has her customary 90 second time-out, (players switch sides after odd scoring games or the completion of a set) she has to reassess her tactics. Whether she is down 2-5 or loses the first set, she has to come to grips that her current plan is a loser and must make drastic changes.

If she only makes one change and no longer hits her best shots to her foe’s strength, the match could change significantly. The moment we alter our plan and devise a better plan, our entire outlook will change for the better. Not only will the mental game improve but it will be a huge uplift for the physical game as well. In simple terms, if she begins to attack the weaker wing of the opponent, she will not have to run all over the court chasing balls.

Once the younger player gathers some tournament experience, she will learn about new patterns and strategies. To me, one of the best plays in the game of tennis is the “back door” pattern. The “back door” or “wrong foot” strategy is when we hit behind our opponent. In other words, instead of constantly hitting to the open areas of the baseline, we go right back where we hit our last shot.

When we utilize this successful play, the opponent no longer has a jump on the ball. The moment a player practices this different but effective “back door” pattern, the opponent will have to make big modifications. Remember, earlier in the match, this foe was able to track down just about every groundstroke and clearly had the edge.

With this game plan, the match could change 180 degrees; the player who is implementing this proven strategy is energized and the foe is potentially confused.

Yes, I thought that I would never say it, preparing too early can be a detriment. When playing on a clay court, the ball may bounce erratically and we must be able to make this correction at the last moment. If we committed too soon, our feet are now inflexible and unable to produce a good stroke.

If we are playing in windy conditions, arriving to the ball too early can be devastating. The key is to keep moving as long as possible so when the ball moves in another direction, we will be able to flow to this new placement.

Tennis is a game of rhythm, and when we move to a spot too early, we tend to be immobile. Tennis players need small rhythmic steps to groove through the stroke. When tennis players emulate the moves of a graceful dancer, they can produce beautiful flowing strokes.

Throughout the world of tennis, there are far slower court surfaces today and we must be able to play enduring tennis. Remember, as the point wears on, we not only learn about our opponents but we learn so much about ourselves. Therefore, after the completion of the first set, we will be more suited to make changes because we have so much more knowledge. Good luck.


Since 2000, Doug Browne was the Collier County Pro of the Year three times, and has been a USPTA pro in the area for 28 years. Doug was also honored in the International Hall of Fame (Newport, Rhode Island) as Tennis Director during the 2010 summer season. Doug has been writing about tennis for the last 19 years.


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