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Instruction: The Need for Speed

January 23, 2013 12:03 PM
There is more than one kind of speed and you can improve your quickness around the court.
By Nick Bollettieri
The tennis court is getting smaller. Every match these days, especially in professional men’s tennis, the rallies are long and the retrieving is outrageous. Top men now routinely hit full-stroke shots from the doubles alleys or outside of them, sometimes for winners—when they’re playing singles.
Why? Because speed and athleticism are greater than ever in our sport, and that trend looks likely to continue. For an ordinary player, this can be disheartening. You’re probably thinking, "I’m just not that fast, and I never will be." There’s more than one kind of speed, though, and you can improve your quickness around the court with practice.
CLICK HERE for a video of Bollettieri's explanations and recommendations.
Positioning: If you lack pure foot speed, you can make up for it with great court positioning. Find the ready position that works for you. For example, if you hit a lot of inside-out and inside-in forehands, you’ll stand to the left of the center mark on the baseline and dare your opponent to hit a backhand down the line, one of the toughest shots in the game. Try to establish your position early in points and dictate from where you are most comfortable.
Anticipation: Pay attention to your opponents. Do they like to hit drop shots? How often do they slice? Do they like to loop the ball or hit it flat? And in what situations do they tend to do any of these things most often? If you learn your opponents’ patterns and habits, as well as how they react to your shots, you can often cheat a few steps and arrive at the ball sooner.
Geometry: Even fast movers can look slow if they take the wrong path to the ball. Take the shortest route possible to the place you need to be to hit your shot. If your opponent hits a great shot, you might have to run parallel to the baseline, or even run at a slight angle away from the baseline, so you’re moving away from the court and the ball. But if you have time, practice running to the ball on an angle so you’re moving both sideways and toward the ball at the same time. This saves time and puts pressure on your opponent.
Hitting on the rise: Andre Agassi was not the world’s fastest mover. So what did he do? He hit the ball extremely early, as soon as it bounced, so his shots would be on top of his opponents before they had time to recover. The result? Agassi often held his ground in the middle of the court while his opponents ran like crazy. To do this, shorten your backswing and use a semi-open or open stance. If you give your opponents less time to move by hitting on the rise, you won’t have to move as much, and the game will seem slow to you.
Nick Bollettieri, of the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy, has trained many collegiate and professional players, including 10 who reached the world No. 1 ranking.


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