Tennis is a technique game. Too many errors are what get most people beaten, and you will reduce them by ingraining mechanically efficient techniques as habits. Now, everybody knows that more practice leads to stronger habits and better execution during play. But many players are not aware that practicing “smart” in addition to practicing “long” leads to the best execution of all.
What do I mean by this?
Practicing “smart” means applying constant, concentrated thought to your game during practice sessions. This is hard mental work, and most people are reluctant to do it because it either requires too much effort, or they just neglect to think about it as an issue. They are content to simply hit balls and let their minds wander, exemplifying Henry Ford’s famous quote, “Thinking is the hardest work anyone can do, which is probably the reason we have so few thinkers.”
And to what should this focused thought be applied? It should concentrate on producing the perfect stroke on each repetition.
Each one increases the strength of a habit, and your objective is to program into your bank of habits the most mechanically perfect stroke you can.
Often there will be multiple things wrong with your last stroke. Recognize that you can only fix one of these at a time. (This is because the mind has great di culty focusing on two things at once.) Since practice is to ingrain habits, remember that your practice strokes should mimic your ideal match strokes. This is accomplished easier with groundstrokes than volleys. In matches, you hit the volley on the move forward whereas in practice most people hit them standing still or just taking one step. To better replicate a match volley in practice, it’s best to start out at or behind the service line and move forward as you hit. Then, as you get too close to the net, back up and start over again, moving forward during the stroke. The objective is to integrate leg motion into the stroke.
If you decide to work on your net game, you might want to practice hitting a great many more overheads than usual. Most players, in practice, hit a half-dozen, think they’ve worked on their overheads, and wonder why they miss them in matches. To develop a really deadly one you need to hit 40 or 50 of them a day for a good number of days.
If you are working short-term to get ready for a specific match or tournament, it’s wise to spend a good deal of practice time on your strengths. You will need to have them functioning soundly to perform at your best.
If you are looking for long-term improvement, it is wise to spend more time on your weaknesses as they have more room for improvement, and shoring them up can boost your overall performance the most.
Modifying a long-held habit, like a grip, requires that you focus continually on executing the new technique until it becomes a stronger habit than the technique it is replacing. This usually takes longer than you might think because you’ve had a lot of repetitions of the old habit that must be overbalanced by the new one.
Practice should ideally be a combination of drilling and point/set play. During a drill you can hit four or five times as many balls per hour as you can when playing a set, so it’s particularly good for honing mechanical habits. Sets, on the other hand, teach you how to use your strokes effectively. A good balance is to spend about half of a practice session on each.
Finally, make a point to enjoy the process of practicing and focusing on your techniques.
In addition to improving your game it will provide you with a short vacation from your worldly cares.