Time to Play!

This May, it’s time to …

Watch (and Learn) from the Best

This is when tennis on TV starts to heat up. The European swing leads into the French Open and Wimbledon, and right after that, another season of Olympus US Open Series play unfolds on the North American hard-court circuit. Of course, we all love to watch the game’s greatest playing the sport at a level only they can approach, but if you watch carefully enough, you may be able to raise your own level of play.

“The one thing I think recreational players can learn from watching the best players play is a better understanding of the tactics of the game,” says Patrick McEnroe, who calls the sport on TV for ESPN and CBS Sports. “You’re never going to serve like Andy Roddick, but what you can gain is an understanding of why, for instance, he might hit that big kick serve out wide vs. an opponent with a limited reach on his backhand who hates the ball up high.

“These men and women are the best at what they do, and what we do as analysts is try to help you get inside their head so you can understand why they hit the shots that they do. These players are so good that you might not realize there is a tactical purpose to everything that they do. You may not be able to hit the same shots, but you absolutely can employ the same tactics. At every level, tennis is about matching your strengths to your opponents’ weaknesses. Watching how the best go about that can help you improve your own game.”

Get a Kid Involved

Anyone who’s made tennis a part of their life knows of its lifetime benefits. National Tennis Month is a perfect time to introduce a kid to those benefits, so that he or she can get an early start on a lifetime of enjoyment.

Getting a child involved in tennis can be as simple as rallying with them in your own backyard, using modified equipment that’s tailored to children. Kids’ racquets, for instance, are smaller so children can grip and swing them more easily. A ball made of soft foam bounces lower and moves slower, allowing them to make more consistent contact. Both of these things promote rallying, which will build confidence in the child and make things more fun for you both.

The QuickStart Tennis play format is the ideal tool for getting kids under 10 involved in the sport. QuickStart is designed to get kids playing immediately, even if they’ve never held a racquet. By utilizing scaled-down equipment, slower and lower-bouncing
balls, and shortened courts, QuickStart Tennis has made the sport accessible for all ages.

There are dozens of programs across the country that currently offer programming with the QuickStart format. To find one in your area, go to quickstarttennis.com.

…Volunteer

Becoming a USTA volunteer is the ultimate way to give back to the game. From delivering USTA programming at the local, district, state and section level, to helping in myriad positions at the US Open, volunteers are the backbone of the USTA.

There are thousands of volunteers throughout the USTA’s 17 sections. USTA President Lucy Garvin got her start as a volunteer more than 30 years ago, and the current list of volunteers includes a vast cross section of society, everyone from teachers to bankers to former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and 13-time US Open champion Billie Jean King.

Becoming a USTA volunteer starts in your community, and the best way to get started is to contact your district, state or section association. The USTA is composed of 17 sections spread throughout the U.S. that serves all 50 states, British Columbia and the Caribbean, meaning there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer close to home.

Entry points for volunteering include local programs such as community tennis associations (CTAs) and National Junior Tennis League (NJTL) programs, as well as local schools, public park and recreation departments and USTA Pro Circuit events. Behind the scenes, you can serve tennis at the grass-roots level by working in resource development and advocacy to bring more tennis opportunities and additional courts to parks and schools near you.

Regardless of how you get started, or at what level you participate, your work as a volunteer will leave an indelible mark on tennis for generations to come. To find out how you can become a volunteer with the USTA, go to usta.com/GetInvolved/Volunteers.aspx. To find your section office and see what you can do to help grow the game today, visit usta.com/USTA/Home/AboutUs/Sections.aspx.

Get Your Racquet Restrung

When it comes to buying a new racquet, tennis players will spend hours trying out all the latest brands and models looking for the one that might give their game a boost. But most aren’t as discriminating about their strings. They should be. It’s the strings, not the frame, that come in contact with the ball. Short of buying a new racquet, the surest way to see a difference in your play is to experiment with different strings.

One popular trend is stringing with a hybrid—i.e., putting two different types of string in one frame. By doing this, you can accentuate the best qualities of each string. If you’re someone who breaks a lot of strings, you may be using a durable polyester now. But an endurance string can feel overly stiff and unforgiving. If you try a hybrid, you can put a hard-to-break string in the mains (the strings that go up and down and typically break first) for longevity, and a softer synthetic or natural gut in the crosses to soften the feel and enhance playability. On the other hand, if you want a more comfortable frame, you can put the softer string in the mains and the tougher string in the crosses for some added stiffness and control.

The different combinations you can use are only limited by your imagination. It’s always a good idea to consult with your stringer and use groupings that reflect your style of play. Even if you’re not sure which strings to put together, many manufacturers are now packaging a half set of two different strings together to point players in the right direction. This provides the convenience of not having to buy full sets of strings and cutting them in half. It’s never been easier for players to reap the benefits of stringing with a hybrid.

Get Fit for the Court

When you’re excited about an activity, there’s a tendency to want to go all out right away. But when it comes to tennis, if you don’t have a base level of fitness, you’ll get tired on court easily and be prone to injury. So before you jump into a regular playing routine, you should start a regular fitness routine, says Todd Ellenbecker, M.S., D.P.T., the ATP tour’s director of sports medicine and the chairman of the USTA Sport Science Committee.

“If you’re coming back to tennis, you need to evaluate your fitness level,” he says. “If you’re out of shape from a cardiovascular perspective, your enjoyment of the game will be significantly enhanced by increasing your cardiovascular fitness.”

How should you do that? Start by doing 20 to 30 minutes of continuous exercise on a bike, elliptical machine, stair master or in the pool. Pounding on a tennis court can be hard on your body, so Ellenbecker doesn’t recommend running.

If you already have an aerobic base and you want to do some more tennis-specific training, try interval workouts. Ellenbecker says you should do a 1-to-3 ratio of hard effort to recovery effort to emulate a 5–10 second point during a match with a 20-second rest between points. A good start would be to do a 20–30-minute workout, switching between going hard for 30 seconds and then at a recovery pace for 90 seconds.

Cardio Tennis is another option to help you get in shape for the court. The group workout integrates interval work and cardio exercise, all on a tennis court, so you’ll be ready to play.

Join a Team

Whether it’s a 5-year-old or a 95-year-old, people love playing on teams. Teams provide the competition and exercise so unique to tennis, but allow for the fun, group-oriented atmosphere that draws people to sports in the first place. As proof, USTA’s flagship for adult play, USTA Leagues, registered more than 700,000 participants in 2008, and another 86,000 took part in Jr. Team Tennis (for kids 5–18).

In USTA League, players compete at NTRP ratings ranging from 2.5 to 5.0 and in four national divisions—Adult, Senior (50-plus), Super Senior (60-plus) and Mixed Doubles—all of which feature a national championship. That’s in addition to section league programs, which include combo doubles, mixed seniors and more. And if you’re restricted by your schedule, check out the USTA’s Flex Leagues. The Flex League format allows players to sign up online and schedule singles, doubles or mixed-doubles matches at a mutually convenient time.

Jr. Team Tennis is the perfect format to get kids started. It stresses fun first and foremost, hoping to foster a love of tennis that will keep kids playing through high school and beyond. Jr. Team Tennis is for all kids at all skill levels. There are five age groups: 8-, 10-, 12-, 14- and 18-and-under. For kids 10 and under, Jr. Team Tennis utilizes the QuickStart Tennis play format. For those in the 14- and 18-and-under age groups, there are two skill levels, Intermediate and Advanced, with national championships.

Both USTA League and Jr. Team Tennis are easy to join, and it is equally easy to start a team in your area. For more information on USTA League, go to usta.com/LeaguesAndTournaments; and for USTA Jr. Team Tennis, visit jrteamtennis.usta.com. Don’t forget to check with your local section office to see what clubs and teams already exist in your area, and go to USTA.com to find a partner, program or court near you.

Go to Tennis Camp

This year, why not start your season by shedding your weekly routine and immersing yourself in the sport? A week, or even just an intensive weekend, at a tennis camp can give you a new foundation that you can build on throughout the summer.

You’ll get tips to improve your technique so you don’t spend another year making the same mistakes. You’ll learn drills you can take home and use with your friends or your doubles partner. After spending five or six (or more) hours a day on court, you won’t have to worry about “playing your way into shape” this time around.

There’s a wide variety of tennis camps from New England to California, and they range from deluxe destinations to bare-bones boot camps. Several resorts and camps across the country offer USTA members special deals and discounts. To check out a list of those camps and see their member-exclusive offers, simply log on to usta.com/membership and click on Resort & Camp Program.

Fix Your Biggest Weakness

It’s spring, but your game hasn’t quite thawed. Maybe your forehand keeps flying long, or your backhand lands in the net over and over again. Don’t fret, because Rick Macci, who trained the Williams sisters and Andy Roddick when they were kids, has some advice you can apply to any stroke that troubles you as you get ready for the spring and summer.

“Whenever something breaks down, the first thing you should do is slow down and aim higher,” Macci says. “A tennis court is long, so take the net out of the equation and put more balls into the court. The more you do this, the more confidence you’ll have.”

Macci says you shouldn’t be too quick to blame your swing—whether it’s a forehand, backhand or volley—for your mistakes.

“At all levels, people make mistakes most of the time because of their feet,” he says. “If you’re rusty or missing a lot, don’t say, ‘My stroke is wrong.’ Make more of an effort to get in position. Tennis is a movement sport.”

Macci has a few tips on preparation, too. The old adage about preparing early is true,
but it’s also possible to prepare too early. “Preparing early doesn’t mean, ‘Take your racquet back right away,’” Macci says. “Your strokes need to be rhythmic.” Make sure your grip is loose, rather than tense, Macci says. You want to hold the racquet tightly enough that it won’t fl y out of your hand, but that’s about it.

Last but not least, don’t expect too much from yourself when you first get on the court after a long winter. “People want to master things with one swing of the racquet,” Macci says. “It takes time to get over a winter layoff, or to adjust to playing outdoors. If you have that mindset, tennis will be more enjoyable.”
 
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