TennisTalk: Ask Glen
Ask Glen is a weekly article providing key tips on everything from rules to gameplay to court savvy...to even a little bit of history. "Glen", of course, is Glen Howe, USPTA Master Professional and superintendent of the Tennis Division.
Use the following form to "Ask Glen", and be sure to look here every week for more answers to some of our best questions.
This Week's Questions
My opponents in doubles close the net very close to put the ball away. I usually go down the center, but this doesn't work well against aggressive closers. Is this when I should use the topspin lob? Are there other alternatives?
This would be a great counter to a net closing team. Recognize that the topspin lob is an offensive play and the criteria for this shot dictates that a player needs to have additional time to hit the shot comfortably. This shot would resemble a ground stroke and this would provide the best disguise for success. If a player is put in too much of a defensive posture, the best shot would be a defensive lob. This is hit by lofting the ball very high and as deep as possible.
Picking the right shot is the key to playing the percentages as well as giving your team the best chance for success.
I have noticed a lot of publicity on Master's Tennis in the past few months. Having not played in the past couple years due to mobility issues, is this something that I should consider? The only thing is that I don't want to use the foam balls and "baby" racquets.
Master's tennis can be the perfect transition for any player that has movement issues. We use the 36 foot court at Jake Gaither Community Center and foam balls. At the Senior Games, we used the 60 foot courts and the low compression balls. Master's tennis gives the ability for players to play the game the way they like best.
Having enjoyed your column that I saw online about improving the serve, what can I do to improve my placement? In addition, I seem to have numerous issues when it comes to producing power and placement at the same time. What do the pros do?
Jimbo from Gaithersburg, MD
Thank you for your continued support! First, lining up properly when serving can help tremendously when trying to maintain balance. Foot placement should start with the front foot pointed at the right net post. Second, look at your placement target before serving. Lastly, all your energy should be put toward that target. The toss, racquet swing, follow-through should all go toward the target. If all these elements of the serve are used, I believe placement will become easier to attain.
I am a good high school team player that performs well in matches, but my coach keeps me down the roster because he thinks my team mates are better than I. What can I do to prove myself and improve my place on the team?
It is my belief that your results will speak for themselves. If you beat most of the players during the season by a high margin, it will get noticed. Tennis coaches have a tendency to stereotype their players and make them play in certain position. Let your coach know where you want to play in the next season and I believe he will take notice. One other piece of advice would be to play in tournaments in the off season to improve your game play and to practice against better players.
During a doubles match, there was a long delay between the first and second serve? I told the server he still only gets one serve. Is this correct?
If the delay is created by the receiver because of a string break, eye contact problem or an outside interference, the point should be replayed. If the server causes the delay due to his string breaking, cell phone ring, or grunting on adjacent court, this does not constitute a "let".
I have been working on my high backhand volley and backhand smash. Do you have any tips for making this shot better? I have a two-handed backhand and lack a little mobility on that wing of my game.
As your namesake would do on her backhand side, I would recommend for you to hit two- handed swing volleys on the high shots. This can be practiced by a friend hand feeding to this shot or practicing on the ball machine. If the ball is above head height, I would recommend running around the shot and hitting an overhead.
I know that players on the tour have random drug tests on a regular basis. Since coffee is a stimulant, are there any restrictions to how much coffee a player can drink?
Coffee is not a banned substance, but it has been known to enhance athletic performance to a certain degree. With all the studies that have been done, there have not been a lot of negative feedback as far as drinking coffee. Vince Van Patten used to drink three or four coffees prior to playing at the US Open. In addition, he would drink coffee during the matches in the heat of the summer. Not for everyone, but in most cases, coffee will not work to your detriment.
My game seems to have plateaued and I'm not sure how to get out of this rut. I'm still a pretty decent player, but my ground strokes seem to be a little predictable. Any thoughts on how to spice my strokes up?
I spoke to a long time player and due to his skills and physical mobility declining; he has decided to stop playing. Many times as a player has competed for 20+ years, the motivation of practicing is not there and numerous injuries creep into a person's body over an extended period of time.
The single most important aspect of self-improvement is setting goals. Working toward a competition or playing a specific individual gives us the motivation to work on our game as in the younger years of the game. One has to be realistic that as a player ages, in most cases, play skills, reflexes, and speed will decline. The good news is that tennis has age categories that are in five year increments. This allows a level playing field for all players.
When volleying at the net, I get very nervous when a ball is coming at me. This causes me to grip the racquet too tight. What is the appropriate tension that I should hold the racquet?
This is a very good question. Many players grip the racquet too tight and this doesn't allow the proper reflection when the ball hits the strings. In addition, a tense grip creates slow reaction time to the ball as well as premature fatigue.
If a player thought of their firmness of grip on a scale from 1-5 (1-very loose, 5 death grip), I like to have my students stand in a ready position at 2. As the ball comes toward the student, the firmness is determined by what shot is trying to be hit and the speed of the oncoming ball. If finesse is being attempted, moving to a level 3 firmness just before contact is suggested. On occasion, balls will come at a player very rapidly. The player should go to a level 4 firmness to keep the racquet from torqueing.
Upon finishing the shot, the player should return to level 2 firmness in the ready position. Practice the different firmness with a practice partner. This is not an exact science.
In looking at my serving motion, I was curious why you start sideways when going through the serving motion. The groundstrokes and volleys start facing the net.
The main reason a player faces an opponent on the groundstrokes and volleys is that they need to be ready to turn and move to whichever direction the ball may go. When serving, the best position resembles a baseball pitching position. Starting sideways assists with the concept of coiling and uncoiling to create power on the service motion. Power does come from the ground up on a serve, but the combination of these two forces creates a tornado effect on the ball contact of the ball. Watch a professional server or baseball pitcher and it is easy to see the kinetic chain.
I am a long time follower of your column and recognize that you emphasize the importance of a good ready position. It seems as though there are more important parts of the stroke. Tell me again why it is so important?
The ready position is the foundation of the entire stroke production. If a player is not in a consistent ready stance, a different outcome can be expected. In addition, being poised to move and hit the ball is essential to good balance and mechanics of the stroke.
My partner and I thought our opponents were hindered during a point that was being played. We both stopped playing and they hit a winner. Did this constitute and hinder?
According to rule 26, the point shall stand unless the opposing team calls a hinder prior to striking the ball. If a deliberate act of your opponents or your team creates a hindrance, the person creating the act loses the point.
In watching the Men's Australian Final, I could empathize with playing against and injured player. The tendency is to change your strategy that got you to the point in the match. Do you have any suggestions concerning this situation as it has happened to me before?
Every competitive player has had this experience at one time or another in their playing career. It is difficult because of the change in rhythm and the speed of play. The focus level diminishes and the tendency is to change your strategy that got you to a point of winning. We have always been told to never change a winning game, but there would be a strong urge to move the injured player more to get him or her to retire.
The danger is that because of the wounded animal not giving up, this player could come back unless you are willing to finish the job. The key is to stay in the moment and maintain the momentum that got you to a place of finishing the match.
During a doubles match, my opponent looked ready to return a second serve. She made no move to the ball. Does this constitute a "let" for the point?
The server wins the point if the returner had no reason not to be ready. If the returner had a broken string or contact lens problem, then the server would get two serves. Both players should make eye contact prior to the point being started. This is the best possible way to create seamless play.
How close to the net should a player be to approach the net effectively? I hit the ball rather hard and find that I am cutting my own reaction time.
There are numerous variables that come into play with approach shots. For the most part, a player needs to advance at least halfway in the no-man's area to be an effective net rusher. This will allow the player to move approximately four more steps and allow him to hit an effective volley. If a player is inside the baseline, I would recommend being aggressive with the approach shot and going for a winner. In most cases, the only advance would be for an easy sitter when this shot is implemented correctly.
I have heard that you are a big proponent of mental techniques to maintain focus during points. My problem is that I think negative thoughts in between the points. How do I stop this practice and what ritual should be maintained as a replacement?
Having a very positive ritual will lead to a good outcome during games and matches. The first key is to process what has taken place on the past point. Whether the outcome is good or bad, move on to a breathing technique and ritual recovery such as toweling off or bouncing a ball. Next, focus on what tactics will be tried on the next point. And lastly, portray a very positive person ready to play the next point prior to its start.
Follow this routine as you see players on TV do point after point and it is my belief that the outcome will be positive.