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Player to Player: Getting Tight

February 6, 2012 11:11 AM
Have a question? Receive advice from your fellow tennis players!
Real Tennis Players - Like You! - Asking For and Offering Advice on the Sport They Love
Player to Player is USTA.com’s regular feature in which everyday tennis players are given a forum to ask advice on the sport they love – and their fellow players will dish out advice. We’ll post a number of the best responses we receive to our question of the week.

Player to Player:
This week's question from Ted:
I have been playing erratically lately and have been struggling to get my confidence back. Has anyone else experienced this problem, and if so, how did you overcome it?
Please share your thoughts by e-mailing Player@USTA.com, and include your name and hometown.
Got a question of your own? Send that along, too!

Last week's question from Timothy
(Please note: There is no need to send additional responses to this question.)
I tend to overbrush the ball and not hit through in matches when the score/match is tight. How do I get around this? I don't want to do it, but it seems to always happen. I seem to revert to pushing the ball and becoming defensive rather than the aggressor. Any tips? In practice/warm up, hitting through the ball is a lot easier.
Player Responses:
Kellie, Hudson, N.H.

You're nervous, you tighten up, you don't swing freely. You have to find a way that works for you to release the nerves. Pros do it through the 'same' routines between points, for example. Two things help me:

1) I try to think about just the next point. I only ever need to win one point. Doesn't matter what the score is. One point is all you ever need. I think this puts my focus on the next point instead of all over the place.

2) I sing in my head. Then I can't be over-thinking the shot. My brain is occupied, and muscle memory comes more into play.

As you build confidence, this problem will lessen. Good luck!

Kenny S., Highland Park, Ill.

A great question that has been studied by doctors around the globe. A routine is good. Also breathing in and out. Focus on not winning, just having fun out there and learning. We all love to win, but losing can teach so much. Don't over-think; believe in your game. Look at the sky or your strings. Release yourself, and let your training do the playing.

Jake, Charleston, W. Va.

Unfortunately, tightening up and resorting to pushing is a mental problem, but fortunately it is something many of us suffer from, so many times your opponent will fall into the same trap. The trick is to work through the stress of the moment. Often times, it's the first two balls that are missed during these moments, so focus on getting the returns in and setting up the points using topspin to reduce your margin of error. And keep swinging. A loss of racquet-head speed is deadly to your game. If you can get a good rally going, usually the nerves fall away, and you can play more freely.

Coach Leonard, Concord, Calif.

Don't feel that you're alone in this dilemma. When a player is tense, it is common to swing instead of stroke the ball. What I'm referring to is have the arm do the work, rather than using the body to rotate in striking the ball. This will force the face of the racquet to close much sooner than expected. Here is an example...

Stand one step away from a fence. Now pivot your body as if you're making contact on your serve. Don't actually use full speed, as this may result in injury. Take your time. Your body and racquet should be square against the fence. Now turn your hip back while leaving the tip of the racquet to the fence. What do you see? The racquet face has changed from being square to face down. The same applies to overheads, volleys and groundstrokes.

A technique that can help is to use your non-dominant hand as a target for your follow through. Practice catching the racquet in front of you to help your body to pivot. I like, as a pregame ritual, to work my pivots by actually brushing up on the net. I call this "beating the rug." Warmups often can be misleading, since balls are coming right back to you. It is best to get a pre-warmup to get loose or to find a wall. Also, when you're practicing, play games with this new rule... If you hit the ball in the net, you lose two points. You'll find that hitting deeper will be worth the gamble. Also, you can practice being under pressure.
I've often heard pros say, "One point at a time." My philosophy has always been, "One shot at a time." You may rush yourself if you're thinking about points. If you make your shots, you'll win your points. Remember matches aren't tight. Matches are close. It's the players who are tight. If you're going to dive into tennis head first, be sure that it's more deep than shallow.
*Please note that any advice given out in this forum should in no way be confused with actual medical advice. Before starting any new exercise regimen or altering your existing one, we strongly urge you to consult with your regular physician.
Click here for USTA.com's Player to Player Archive.


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