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Racket Sports by Charlie Garfinkel: Practice routines that should improve your game

Having taught tennis for many years, I have found that there are certain drills or strategies that could prove very helpful to improving your overall tennis games. Some of these drills and strategies follow:

Practicing with backboards or ball machines: It continues to amaze me how many people don’t try hitting against a backboard or using a ball machine to improve their overall games. Rev. Bob Hetherington, one of the area’s all-time tennis greats (who I won two national Public Parks Doubles titles with) was a firm believer that hitting against a backboard or wall could really improve your game.

You will find that hitting against a backboard or using a ball machine to improve your strokes is one of the best ways to feel more comfortable when you strike the ball. In addition, you will be able to hit many balls in a short period of time.

If you try to practice on a backboard or wall don’t try to slam the ball as hard as you can. Pretend that you are trying to hit each and every shot into your opponent’s court. To help you hit your shots you could put a mark on the backboard or wall that is 42 inches high from the ground which is the same height as the highest part of the net.

Trying to aim consistently at least 3 feet above this height on the backboard will greatly improve your accuracy.

Try to hit at a pace that you are comfortable with, hitting forehands first, then backhands, and then alternating the shots.

From there follow the same procedure on your volleys (shots that are hit in the air), hitting moderately paced shots in order that you have time to set up for each volley. In addition to feeling more at ease with your strokes you will also find that you are also focusing on improving your footwork.

Use a ball machine to hit continuously to the same spot on a court. For instance, try to hit 10-15 forehands crosscourt. If you miss one, start over. Keep hitting until you reach your goal or come close. From there, proceed in the same manner by hitting forehands down the line, crosscourt backhands, and then backhands down the line.

Once you achieve your goals, try for 20 in a row for each stroke. Take note of which stroke or strokes are the ones that you are having the most success with. These shots should be your “bread and butter” shots when you are playing an actual match, especially in crucial situations.

Once you have achieved success in this manner by hitting in a stationary position, try moving to the center of the court after each shot, and then move back to stroke the next ball after each shot.

A word of caution: If you find yourself getting tired or winded take a brief rest before you continue hitting.

Most workouts with a ball machine will run from 30-60 minutes. You should start with 30 minutes and gradually work yourself up to 60 minutes. However, you can accomplish a great amount in 30 minutes.

Controlling the ball on your service toss: What is the worst thing that can happen when you are serving? If you said, “Double faults,” you are correct.

Be honest. Giving your opponent a free point because you faulted on both serves is one of the worst feelings in tennis.

Unfortunately, almost every player, including myself, go through patches of double faulting, especially at crucial times.

Regardless of your level of play, but especially for beginners and intermediates, a consistent ball toss is a must.

Placing your serve in the correct spot every time, will allow you to stay balanced and develop consistent control, spin, and eventually more power on your serve. One strategy you could try is to place the ball slightly to your right and forward.

Practicing in front of a mirror will allow you to see exactly where you are placing the ball on your toss. It should be at the same height and location every time. Once you have learned the correct distance and feeling to hitting the serve you will find fewer double faults.

If you are still having trouble with your service toss my advice is to invest in a few lessons from one of the many fine teaching professionals in the Western New York area.

Play the Score: One of the most noticeable strategies that separates us from players such as Roger Federer and Serena Williams and others is that pros know how to play the score.

For example, if you are serving or receiving at 30-40, be smart. Don’t try to hit a 100 mile an hour serve or hit a crushing return on the serve. Hit the serve with plenty of room to spare over the net with a great amount of spin.

On the return of serve do the same thing. Hit the ball high and deep over the net. Keep the ball in play until your opponent makes an error. Believe me, if you can sustain a 15- or 20-hit rally you will put pressure on your opponent to come up with a great shot because he or she will feel the pressure by your keeping the ball continuously in play.

More tips in the next column in two weeks.