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Player to Player: Match Play vs. Practice

July 23, 2012 12:07 PM
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 Nguyen:
I've been having some trouble at the net. For singles, I can volley pretty well, but when it comes to doubles, I fall short. Literally. I miss a lot of volleys because the balls are either at my chest or directly in my face. I try to step into the rare volley I avoid, but they're also really fast compared to most singles points. How can I avoid being forced into a weak shot because they've hit a shot at my body, and how do I react smoothly when I get out of that situation so I can hit an aggressive shot?
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 Joe
(Please note: There is no need to send additional responses to this question.)
My tennis practice strokes are 100 percent different than my tennis match strokes. Mentally and physically, I tend to "freeze." What is the key to allow myself to produce the strokes I know I have and be able to do it in competition?
Player Responses:

Anne Meysenburg, Normal, Ill.
I also have been struggling with this problem, and it became progressively worse as this season went on. I seemed to have no control over when I played poorly in matches and when I played well. I began re-reading "The Inner Game of Tennis" by Tim Gallwey, in which he talks about the importance of not letting Self 1 (thinker) interfere with Self 2's (doer's) ability to hit the ball. I still couldn't figure out how to do this (maybe I just hadn't read far enough). Then during a recent drill, I tried to notice what was happening when I was hitting well. It seemed that I was focusing on the ball much more intently when I hit well than when I miss-hit.
At my next match against a friend, who for years has been a challenge for me due to her consistency, I tried just watching the ball intently when I was swinging and not "thinking" about anything else, such as how I was swinging the racquet. I was amazed at how I produced great strokes just like in practice without "trying" and how much better I kept the ball in play. Of course, there were still some terrible shots, but after most of them, I realized that I had not been focusing on the ball. I ended up winning that match -- my first win against her in many, many years! I just hope that I really have discovered the key to my ongoing tennis success!
Coach Leonard, Concord, Calif.
Playing better in practice vs. real matches? Here are the differences:
1) In practice, the primary focus is technique, not the score. Particularly if you doing drills.
2) Often you practice with friends. Match play often isn't as fortunate.
You know your friend's weaknesses and shot patterns.
Often excessive chatter is induced at practice, along with my least favorite habit... play the first serve in. In a real match, there's no small talk. All business. Imagine going to a party full of your buddies. Now go to a function with complete strangers. Different strokes for different folks.
3) If it's a team practice, your coach will correct you if he spots you losing a point. You're flying solo in a match. No control tower to guide you in.
4) Time for warm-up between points, and changeovers aren't enforced. Player sometimes feel rushed. This is usually why the slow starters lose the first set. Didn't get the regular half-hour warm-up, like in practice.
5) Practicing at a familiar facility may create more tension when playing elsewhere.
My recommendation is to practice "match play." Do your five-minute warm-up. Abide by the USTA time limits on changeovers and between points. Be sure to play two-out-of-three sets, too. At practices with large groups with less courts, shorter formats with faster rotations is common. Sign up for USTA Flex Leagues. This way, you will play various sites with unknown opponents. If you feel that it may be something else, invite your coach or pro to watch or have a video to show them for analysis. Best wishes in future match play.
Kenny Sommer, Chicago
Joe, you practice hard but seem to not be able to keep the ball in play during matches? You probably are going for bigger shots, running down a lot more balls, and just experiencing the stress that comes during match play rather than practice. I would say you need to practice harder and think of what shots you are missing during matches that you aren't during practice. The mental game also plays a key role, and you might want to find ways to relax better and not let one bad shot stay in your mind for too long.
*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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