Q. “Currently I am a 6-foot 3, 190-pound junior (16 years of age), who has been playing for about four months. I can hang around and get games off of players who have been playing for three or four solid years. My biggest problem is trying to corral my power – I have so much of it. An average shot, either on the run or off balance, is more powerful than other kid's baseline strokes. How do I control my ability/desire to hit the ball so hard?"
From Coach Brian:
I am a certified teaching professional. I like to tell my students to hit as many quality shots in a point as they can. In other words, three to five good solid shots is a better tactic than going for the winner on the first two shots. At 6-foot 3, this should work to your advantage. The more nicely hit balls in a point the more your height advantage comes into play. Another great way some teen beginner students win points against experienced players with refined groundstrokes is playing at the net. This should also play to your advantage at 6-foot 3.
From Nancy C., Rowland Heights, CA:
You are working under a misconception. You aren't hitting the ball with too much power, rather you just aren't hitting it correctly. You need a coach who will teach you how to use your power and speed by using topspin, which will cause the ball to drop in the court. If you watch the pros, they are probably hitting the ball harder and at a faster pace than you are, but they keep it in the court. My advice to you is get a good coach who will work on your strokes.
From Skip W., Columbia, MO:
It’s simple: Develop technically correct stroke production (a good pro is very helpful), then commit to endless hours of practice so that you consistently apply topspin to your groundstrokes. Without topspin, a hard-hit ball must have pinpoint accuracy to stay in the court. You achieve a much greater margin of error with topspin and can wallop the ball to your heart’s content.
From Coach David O., Baltimore, MD:
My name is Coach Owens. I am from Baltimore, Md. I have been a tennis coach both at the high school level and at the Division I college level for the past 20-plus years and a USPTR certified teaching professional.
What I am about to tell you is different from other folks, but here goes!
As a coach and teaching professional, I tell all of my players that I do not care how hard you hit the ball. It does not matter to me! What does matter is how well you hit the ball. The other position I hold is that no matter how hard you hit the ball it only counts if it’s in!
So, my advice to you is to hit the ball as hard as you want under control. Now, how you get the control is a matter of practice and timing. You may hit as hard as you want, as long as it is under control and in!
Lastly, I tell all of my players, "In order to keep what you have, you must first give it away." Be sure and give back to others what is given to you.
Peace and good luck in school and your matches!
From Jeff G., Morton, PA:
Here's a good opportunity to develop your slice game and your net game, as well. Obviously, you want to keep honing your skills, but if you made a chart of all of your strokes and traced it, you might find you were very proficient with your groundstrokes, as you have said, but may be off in areas like the net or doing specialty shots, like a slice backhand volley, for example. You have to develop the whole game.
Slice shots will take the tempo off the ball while enhancing your repertoire. And you won't lose a sparring partner by blasting them off the court, which is most important!
From Lindylou, Bensalem, PA:
John, John, John…
We must slow this freight train down.
The power game is fine, and I know that looks so cool on TV. But you must realize that the players you see have developed a solid foundation, and that is what you must do, too. You are going to get into big trouble when you start playing people who can get your balls back (and there are plenty of them). Power is actually the last element that is added to your game. The important building blocks of tennis are consistency, depth and placement; power is last. So unless your name is Roger Federer, here is what I want you do to:
1. Take a private lesson once a week with a pro.
2. In addition, take a clinic where you will be hitting with others of your ability.
3. Play an assortment of practice sets, matches and/or tiebreakers with some people who are better than you (25 percent), worse than you (25 percent) and about your ability (50 percent).
4. Do not play every day; play three to five times per week. The other time can be spent in the gym, conditioning and doing tennis specific drills.
5. Join your high school team. Since you've only been playing four months, this might not be as easy as you think, but this depends on the levels of the kids that try out.
6. Work especially on trying to develop a good, consistent serve. With your height, this could become a weapon. Keep in mind that this does not happen overnight – it could take years but is all worth it. Once you learn the basic mechanics of the serve (I want you to learn correct technique), than take a hopper of balls to the courts and practice, practice, practice. This is one shot you can practice all by yourself.
Do this for six months and after that, write back, and let me know how things are going.
From Kenny S, Highland Park, IL.:
One easy way is to make your string tension tighter, maybe 65 pounds. Also practice more of a topspin shot, from low to high, sweeping over the ball and from under the ball on through. Practice hitting 100 balls down the middle, cross court each way, and down the line. Make the ball go two feet over the net with a lot more spin action on the ball. On your serve try to remember Sampras or look at Federer, and see how they place the ball in different areas of the return box and how they mix up the speed of the ball, 80 miles per hour, up to the impossible 154 that Roddick has put up. Mixing up the pace on the ball and getting a lot of balls in the court will improve your game, but don't start hitting the ball in the net a lot. Slowing down your swing is not the answer, it is stop hitting such a flat ball, and putting topspin from under the ball on through.
Also you might want to start learning an underspin backhand and forehand and also an inside-out forehand with heavy topspin to the other player’s backhand corner. Also work on underspin drop shots and heavy topspin lobs. But don't give up your power game totally, just learn all the shots, Hitting in the net would be the worst way to go. Still hit out, just alter things a bit, and watch the pros and see how they do it.
Also congrats to Rick Sommer and Bill Lang for another big title, actually winning as the No. 2 seed!