The AD-Inbox: Answering your tennis questions
Welcome to the AD-Inbox, the USTA's monthly mailbag exclusively for The Grip, the player's newsletter.
Each month, The Grip offers some of the latest tips, tricks, news and instruction to help subscribers improve their tennis games, but in addition, we want to hear what you have to say.
Are you looking for some specific advice to help you take your game to the next level? Want to learn what to do off court to help you feel your best on court? The USTA's team of experts and affiliates can help. Have a hint that's helped you and could help someone else? We want to hear those, too.
On this page, you will find archived questions from previous mailbags answered by a corresponding USTA professional or adviser, or other pointers submitted by our readers from around the country.
Have a great tip to share or a game improvement question for an upcoming newsletter? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can you catch the ball with your racket after throwing the ball up to serve during a foul toss? - Cindy Jenista
If the server decides not to hit the ball, they are allowed to catch the ball with their hand or racquet, or let the ball bounce. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)
During a 10-point tiebreak, Player A is serving. As Player A hits the serve, the receiver yells, “Wait, wait, your partner is the server." All four players agreed that it was the server’s partner's turn to serve. How should we correct this situation? Does it make a difference that the server hit the serve?
Since the receiver yelled “wait” as Player A was serving, play should stop and the point should be replayed. The serving order error should be corrected immediately since it is still his partner’s turn to serve in the tiebreak, and that point should have been replayed with the correct partner serving. Additionally, if a fault was served by the partner of the team that served out of turn, the fault stands. Further information about correcting errors can be found in the Friend at Court - ITF Rules of Tennis #27. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)
Due to a shoulder injury, I can no longer play right-handed. I am now trying to learn to play left-handed. I would love to get any tips\advice you might have on learning left-handed as well as strengthening grip, arm and shoulder.
Sometimes an injury to your non-dominant side can help you discover a new love for the game in learning to play with your non-dominant side. Your "tennis IQ" may be high but your ability to execute needs a little work. I have two suggestions for you: green balls and Cardio Tennis.
Find a friend who likes to drill, or better yet, a friend who is newer to the game. Pick up some "green" balls (they often have a green dot on them) from your local tennis equipment store. These balls are roughly 75% the compression of the "yellow" balls you are used to playing with. Using the lower-compression green ball will slow the ball down, reduce the intensity of the bounce and increase your margin for error on your non-dominant side. This will increase your learning curve while affording you easy access to time on the court with friends! You will quickly find yourself having fun exchanging balls and will be better able to make small adjustments to find success. Cardio Tennis is a great format to get hundreds of reps, an amazing workout, meet great people and listen to some great music all while you work out the kinks on your non-dominant side. Most Cardio Tennis programs use lower compression balls to equalize levels and promote longer rallies so you'll fit right in no matter your skill level! - J. Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)
Does the back leg on the forehand and backhand groundstroke swing across to the front in line with the front leg at or after the swing, or kick up behind the player? I see videos online and find some players being trained where the back leg swings across and others where they don't. Some players are also trained where the back leg kicks up behind them. What does the current sports science say about how players are to be trained to hit more with their body transfer into the stroke?
The main goal of the back leg is to maintain dynamic balance throughout the stroke. This can happen in both scenarios, where the back leg pivots as the knee drops while maintaining contact with the ground and where the back leg kicks and propels the body forward. Both enable good weight transfer through the kinetic chain and are dependent on the preference of the player and the contact height of the ball. In regards to where that leg goes after the shot, it depends primarily on momentum. Sometimes, the weight transfer is manageable on the front leg and so the back leg stays back. Other times, the weight transfer drives the body more forward through the ball and then the back leg carries through in front of the body and the player pushes back. - Sean Bleau (Associate Pro, USTA National Campus)
I’m 61 years old, have been playing tennis on and off since a child and I’m an old school flat swing pusher and slicer at approximately a 3.5 NTRP level. I’ve changed my grip and swing to hit topspin forehand and backhand one-handed. What’s the best way to make the change, is it worth it and how do I not completely screw up my current game?
I think you are asking the right question here: is this change worth it for me? This is a question only you and maybe your personal coach can help you answer. When we decide to make technical changes in our yennis game, it does take time, and we need to start with a patient mindset as there is no quick fix to really making those changes in a couple of lessons. But the joy of tennis is that it is an open skill sport that allows the player to experiment with different grips, stances and swing paths which bring different results. I believe anyone can make changes to their game, but I do think it takes a different amount of time for each player. I think you should take time away from open play for some weeks, as you get out there with a coach or ball machine to really get some repetitions under your belt. The challenge with grip changes and major stroke changes with the weekend warriors is that they do not allow enough "closed" practice, just feeling the change they are working on. They tend to start competing too quickly after an adjustment has been made and they will automatically just go back to their original form.
From a USTA perspective, we talk about how we should go about doing this with players from all stages and ages, and it is simply to remember the "3 Ps" which are patience, progressions and practice. Patience with yourself as you make this change to your game, allowing yourself to give up some reliability as you make this change part of how you play. Progressions meaning start with simple skills, maybe close to the net, maybe hitting with some green dot balls, to keep feeling that change in a controlled environment. Practice more than competing, get a with a coach that you can plan to work on this specific change, have a friend feed some balls or use a backboard or ball machine. - Dave Colby (Associate Head Pro, USTA National Campus)
I hit a short cross-court ball, forcing the opponent way out of the court to return it. My opponent was unable to return the ball and hit the ball into the net. After the ball had already hit the net, she called my shot out. I disputed that call since the point was over. Who is right?
It is important for players to understand that calls need to be made promptly. A call must be made either before the player’s return shot has gone out of play or before an opponent has had an opportunity to play the return shot. In this scenario, the player had already hit the ball into the net when she made the call so the point should go to the opponent. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)
If a ball bounces on my side of the net but spins back over to my opponent's side before I can make contact, can I still hit the ball or is it my opponent’s point? - Mary Mekkers (Daphne, Alabama)
In this situation, you can reach over the net, without touching the net or your opponent’s side of the court, and hit the ball. If the ball bounces on your opponent's side or goes into the net before you have a chance to make contact, your opponent wins the point. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)
Are there any tennis specific drills that I can do indoors and solo on those rainy days? - Jennifer Yurcus (Tampa, Florida)
There’s something I like to call shadowboxing. Basically, you take a three-pound dumbbell or a can of beans, if you don’t have a dumbbell. If that feels too heavy, you can always just swing your arm and slowly go through all your swings in slow motion. That includes your serve, your volleys and all of your groundstrokes. Doing so in for the mirror ensures that you’re doing it with the correct technique. In terms of conditioning, jumping rope, jumping jacks, Burpees and other such exercises can help maintain or increase your conditioning when the weather doesn’t allow you to be outdoors. - David Hernandez (Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)
That's the spirit! Just because it is raining outside doesn't mean we cannot improve our game. Shadow swings in front of a mirror. Foam ball against an interior wall. Watching more pro tennis. Rather than try to emulate their swing, think about the patterns they play, watch them rather than the ball and observe the match statistics. How does this compare to your last match? - J. Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)
I played with a player who doesn't like to use pockets so she serves with both balls in her hand. If the first serve goes in - she hangs onto the other ball and plays with a ball in her hand. Is this legal? - Stacy Ludwig (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
A player is allowed to play with a ball in their hand so long as they are not hindering their opponent by dropping it during the point. If that occurs, the receiver may ask the server to stop discarding the second ball. Any further discarding would be considered a deliberate hindrance and the server would lose the point. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)
My opponent dropped her racquet as it fell out of her hand when she attempted to return my ball. In fact, her return did clear the net and came back over. I tried to hit it back, but with the disruption of the racquet falling and the unusual situation, I hit my shot into the net. Should I have called a hindrance and taken the point? - Carmen Flores
When a player’s racket comes out of their hand, a let cannot be called by the player or their opponents. You were correct in continuing to play the point and returning the ball back. A similar situation is if a player’s shoe comes off. Neither player or team can call a let for this scenario. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)
While the ball was in play, the ball rolled on to our court from the one next to us. We kept playing the point as it wasn't hindering anyone. Only after my partner hit an overhead winner, then the opponent called Ball-on. The opponent said we should replay the point, claiming that it was because the players on the next court were yelling. What's the call on this situation? - Risa Chung
When a ball from another court enters the playing area, any player on the court affected may call a let as soon as the player becomes aware of the ball. However, the player loses the right to call a let if the player unreasonably delays in making the call. Additionally, a player or team cannot call a let after the point has ended. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)
Our club plays outdoors for six months and often in windy, gusty conditions. What are tips for playing well in the wind? - Joy Conrad-Rice (Kamloops Tennis Centre; Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada)
Playing in the wind is like driving in the rain. You wouldn't test your cars top speed in a storm. You'd make safe choices, proceed with caution and give yourself more margin for error. Sure, the forehand down the line may be a staple of your game on a normal day, but with the wind, your margin for error drops. Focus on the little things like watching the ball, moving your feet and keeping your body balanced. Hit a little higher over the net, add a little more spin and be a little more patient. You may not like playing in the wind, but if you make smart choices, there's a good chance your opponent will like it less. And that's a win every day of the week. - J. Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)
What is the difference between grip and overgrip? And when do you need to replace either or both?
Grip, often called base grip or replacement grip, is what comes on the racquet when you purchase it. It's usually a thick, cushion grip which is the only layer between your hand and the handle. It can also be leather, which is used less often than cushion. The handle of a racquet is completely solid, so these cushion grips provide some softness and usually do enough to prevent blisters or discomfort. Overgrips are thin wraps that you put over the base or replacement grip. Grips tend to become slippery when you sweat, so overgrips are used to absorb sweat and prevent your hand from slipping while playing. Since they are so thin, they need to be replaced far more often than base grips. Overgrips are essentially disposable.
Telling someone how often they should replace their grips is very challenging because it really depends on how often they play and how much they sweat. Different grips also have different characteristics, which might make them more or less durable.
Some easy rules:
If your [base] grip is leaving any marks on your hands or even falling apart slightly, definitely time to change it.
If your white overgrip is gray or black, time to change it.
Your black overgrip gets just as dirty as your white overgrip! Make sure you change it even though it doesn't look as dirty. Do you wear your black socks 3 times longer than your white socks?
- Most people don't change their overgrip nearly often enough. If you play once a week for an hour, I would probably change it once a month. If you play several times a week, I would recommend changing it every week or two.
- Players in warmer climates will generally have to change more frequently than players in colder climates.
- Sean Prokes (Operations Manager, Fromuth Tennis)
I have been playing tennis for many years. I always have trouble finding a proper overgrip that won’t slip and is comfortable as well since my hands are really sweaty. Any suggestions? - Gianfranco Lira (Boca Raton, Fla.)
This answer is fortunately and unfortunately straightforward: players simply have to change their overgrips way more often. Almost all tennis players change them way too infrequently. These overgrips are thin, and basically, should be treated as disposables. Most people who play multiple times a week try to keep an overgrip for months, but really, it should only be for about a week. It really depends on how much you sweat. Some players can go through an overgrip in two hours of play, and others could make it last a month. Climate usually plays a big role, too, so players in Florida will likely replace their grips way more often than players in New York.
Some products that help with grip are rosin, tacky towels, or topical applications that dry your hands (ex: Carpe). These will help with grip and sweat, but don't necessarily extend the life of overgrips. - Sean Prokes (Operations Manager, Fromuth Tennis)
When I'm on the run, I try to take a hand off my backhand and hit a slice, but it always seems to go in the net. Do you have any tips on how to get my slice over the net? - Colleen Percival (Aiken, S.C.)
The reason for the ball going into the net could be one of two things: either the racquet is not open enough to create the loft necessary to clear the net, or the player’s wrist is breaking at the last second causing the racquet to hit down on the ball. - David Hernandez (USTA National Campus Professional)
In doubles, can either partner return the serve if they are both standing at the baseline? - Mary Jo Wright (Boardman, Ohio)
The receiving order is a rotation and, therefore, only the partner who was due to receive can return the serve. To determine the order of receiving in doubles, the team that is due to receive in the first game of a set shall decide which player shall receive the first point in the game. Similarly, before the second game starts, their opponents shall decide which player shall receive the first point of that game. The player who was the receiver’s partner for the first point of the game shall receive the second point, and this rotation shall continue until the end of the game and the set. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)
Can a server call his or her first serve out? If I hit a winner, my opponent usually calls their own first serve out and negates my shot. What is the correct call? - Bob Long (Coconut Creek, Fla.)
The serving team cannot make a fault call on the first serve, even if they think the ball was out. The receiving team may be giving their opponents the benefit of the doubt by playing their serve. The only exception is if the receiver plays a first serve that is a fault and does not put the return in play. In this case, the server/serving team may make the fault call and hit a second serve. The server and the server’s partner must call 'out' any second serve that either clearly sees out. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)
Whenever I get to a short ball, I have a tendency to hit my shot in the net. What are some tips to getting the ball over the net? - Nathan Knepper (Lakewood, Colo.)
The short "candy ball" that you have worked so hard to earn is often one of the hardest balls to deal with. This can often be attributed to two factors:
1) Your expectations for the outcome of the point go up. "This is an easy ball, I should be ending the point," causes you to over-hit. With a typical rally ball, a player is likely to be simply building the point or hitting for a target.
2) The geometry changes. You are closer to the net so you'll need to hit up more to clear it. You're also closer to the opponent's side of the court so you'll need the ball to come back down sooner. This means that you'll likely need to send the ball through the air a little more slowly than you would if you were behind the baseline.
Think of that short ball as an opportunity to build for a putaway volley. Execute a higher arcing ball with more spin than speed and follow it forward. - J. Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)
How can I hit a deep shot without hitting a lob? - Joel (Location Unknown)
There's a reason why topspin is so important in tennis. It builds in margin for error and helps us get the ball up and over the net and then pulls the ball back down on the other side. Flattening your stroke a little is one way of keeping the trajectory of the ball lower and get the ball landing deeper. Your margin for error will be reduced, so just beware of hitting it too hard. - J. Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)
We play against an opponent each season who refuses to play if there is a ball anywhere on our side of the court. If I double fault and my partner sweeps the ball to the side, the opponent demands that the ball is retrieved before I can hit my second serve. This can take quite a while. I have reminded her that the rules suggest that I should be able to hit my second serve at my pace and readiness. What do I do? - Betsy Nelson (Sarasota, Fla.)
Each player is responsible for removing stray balls and other objects from the player’s end of the court. Whenever a ball is not in play, a player must honor an opponent’s request to remove a ball from the court or from an area outside the court that is reasonably close to the lines. The time it takes to clear a ball between first and second serve is generally not long enough to justify giving the server a first serve. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & White Badge Chair Umpire)
What constitutes a foot fault? What is the best way to let an opponent know they are foot faulting in a recreational match? - Mindi Weaver (Woodstock, Fla.)
It is a foot fault if the server does any of the following during the service motion:
Change position by walking or running, although slight movements of the feet are permitted; or
Touch the baseline or the court with either foot; or
Touch the area outside the imaginary extension of the sideline with either foot; or
Touch the imaginary extension of the centre mark with either foot.
It is a foot fault when a foot touches the line during the service motion, even when the player does not follow the serve to the net. The receiver or the receiver’s partner may call foot faults only after all reasonable efforts, such as warning the server and attempting to get an official to the court, have failed and the foot fault is so flagrant as to be clearly perceptible from the receiver’s side. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & ITF White Badge Chair Umpire)
I have a one-handed backhand. My best shot from that side is the slice. When I want to hit the flat backhand, how much should I change my grip from a regular (continental) grip? - Mike Hicks (Raleigh, N.C.)
A good slice can be a great change of pace, but the ability to drive the ball (especially in doubles) becomes more critical as your opponents get stronger. The change you are looking for is a small one. From a continental forehand (index finger knuckle at bevel 2), you just need to rotate back to bevel 1 for an eastern backhand grip. Keeping your non-dominant hand on the throat between shots can help you quickly make this change. As with most things in life, there is always nuance and personal preference. The location of the pinky knuckle or angle of your hand on the grip is more in this category. During your next practice session, play around with your grip and make subtle adjustments to see what feels best for you! - J. Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)
My opponent has a habit of shouting after they hit a ball they consider a poor shot, effectively giving me an easy winner. However, this very often disrupts my execution causing an error instead. I explained once the ball is traveling in my direction, this is considered a hindrance. What are my rights in this situation? What is the best way to handle this matter without causing tension? - Joan Macderment (Lake Winola, Pa.)
Your opponent’s bad habit constitutes a deliberate hindrance under Section 34 of the Code, which clearly states: “Any talking that interferes with an opponent’s ability to play a ball is a hindrance.” If your opponent commits a deliberate hindrance, then you are entitled to stop play and claim the point so long as you do so promptly. You do not play a let in this situation. So the next time your opponent shouts during a point as the ball is moving toward you and you are distracted by the noise, you should immediately stop play, before attempting a return shot, and claim the point. Politely explain the rule to your opponent and I suspect the unsportsmanlike shouting will soon come to a stop. - Eric Perkins (USTA Chair Sportsmanship Committee)
My string-breaks always occur on the crosses, never on the mains. Is this typical? In a related question, do stringers strive for the mains and crosses to be equal tension? Or is it typical for the crosses to be about 15% lower for a given tension specification? If my crosses typically run 15% lower for a given spec, would that be the cause of the crosses fraying and breaking before the mains? - Richard Wood (Charleston, S.C.)
In general, it's a little bit more common for the main strings to break, but it really depends on the kind of strings that the player is using. In a hybrid setup with the polyester in the mains, for example, it is more common for the soft string in the crosses to break sooner. We generally recommend stringing the mains and crosses at the same tension if the player is using one string throughout the entire racquet. Players who do have different tensions for the mains and crosses (any setup) usually only have a difference in tension of about 2-3 pounds. 15 percent is a huge difference. I don't think the 15 percent difference is what's causing the crosses to break sooner, but it's possible that they move more at a lower tension which creates more friction. - Sean Prokes (Operational Manager, The Racquet Bar at the USTA National Campus)
What is the correct rotation for a tiebreak in doubles? What is the serving order and when do doubles players change ends? - Brian Lloyd (Adelaide, South Australia, Australia)
In doubles, the order of service continues in the same order as it was established for that set. The player whose turn it is to serve shall serve the first point of the tiebreak game. The following two points shall be served by the opponent(s) (in doubles, the player of the opposing team due to serve next). After this, each player/team shall serve alternately for two consecutive points until the end of the tie-break game. In a traditional 7-Point Tiebreak, players change ends every six points. If using a Coman Tiebreak, players change ends after the first point and thereafter after every fourth point. This keeps doubles players serving on the same end of the court that they have been in the set. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & ITF White Badge Chair Umpire)
"Can you follow through over the net with the racquet? When does reaching over the net result in a loss of point? Who makes that call?" - Kay Hutson (Garland, Texas)
A player is allowed to follow through over the net as long as the ball has crossed his/her side of the court first. If a player reaches over the net and hits the ball before it crosses the net, the player loses the point. The player who hits the ball before it crosses the net must concede the point. - Cristina Brace (Manager, Community Pathway, USTA Officiating & ITF White Badge Chair Umpire)
I am experiencing finger pain on my dominant hand. Could I be doing something wrong with my grip? - Jacob & Anne (Adamstown and Frederick, Maryland)
A tense grip of the racquet could be the issue. Try loosening your grip as if you were cradling and bird. Overuse of the wrist and fingers could also be the issue. Picture hitting or rallying a ball with your hand. Your interaction would be entirely about what the palm of your hand was doing. The same is true for your strokes. Rotation of the forearm is important in tennis, but the wrist should be kept in check. - Benjamin Zaiser (Head Tennis Professional, USTA National Campus)
What are some stretches and strengthening exercises or weight lifting I can do to help prevent injuries? Are there programs for younger players I could follow? - Jacob & Anne (Adamstown and Frederick, Maryland)
It is very hard to make recommendations or suggestions without knowing players. However, this injury prevention exercises video library on the USTA Player Development website should give you a good idea of what tennis players should be doing. I recommend consulting with your local certified professionals, preferably someone who is familiar with tennis players and/or young athletes, for assessments and more specific exercise recommendations. - Satoshi Ochi, MA, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, RSCC*D, CTPS, MTPS (Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, USTA)
What are some of the best nutrition tips I can follow as a competitive tennis player? Should I be eating more fruits and veggies? - Jacob & Anne (Adamstown and Frederick, Maryland)
A balanced diet is the best fueling strategy for competitive tennis. Here are some tips. - Ed Ryan, ATC, LAT (Director, Athletic Medicine, The Andrews Institute/USTA National Campus)
For players up north who have long and cold winters like here in Minnesota, what are the three biggest things you can work on right away as soon as the weather is warm enough to get back to playing tennis? - Hayley (Bloomington, Minn.)
Take the time during the winter to prepare to play tennis. a total body program to improve mobility/flexibility, strength, cardiovascular and muscular endurance, and movement and stability will provide the foundation to return to the court. Ensure that shoulder, trunk, and leg warm-up programs are thorough. Begin by moving around the court as in a match, without having to hit a ball and gradually add strokes. - Ed Ryan, ATC, LAT (Director, Athletic Medicine, The Andrews Institute/USTA National Campus)
This Month's Player-to-Player Tip
With COVID-19 and the closing of indoor tennis facilities here in the Midwest, we've had to continue our outdoor summer season into playing outdoors even in winter or not play at all. What our group has learned: air temperature of low-to-mid 30s and up are playable, if you dress properly. Wear layers. Lightweight, breathable, skin-tight compression pants under heavier-weight sweatpants for the bottom half is about right. For the top, same deal: lightweight long-sleeved compression top under a sweatshirt and add some sort of vest with pockets for easy ball access. If wind is 10+ mph, a vest is important. Finally, gloves and a gaiters for neck that can be pulled up over face. A slouchy beanie or stocking cap to cover ears. If sun is shining, you'll want a visor that fits over headgear. Keep your equipment and balls indoors, not in your car. Cold balls don't bounce well. You'll be a little cold at first but as you get active, it's surprisingly comfortable. - Ed, Midwest Section
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