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Charlie Garfinkel: Improving your game? You know the drill

I have been fortunate to have played and taught tennis for many years. I feel that some of the following tips could be helpful in improving your overall tennis game. 

1. Try practicing on a backboard or wall. Do you want to show improvement on your strokes and develop a steady rhythm on your ground strokes? Hitting on a backboard over and over will greatly help. A word of caution. The natural tendency when hitting against a backboard is to hit as hard as you can. Don’t!  Put a mark on the backboard that is 42 inches from the ground, which represents the highest part of the net. This will give you a better perspective as to how high you should hit the ball when you are hitting over the net on an actual tennis court. Putting targets on the backboard will greatly improve your accuracy. Hit at a nice easy pace that you can control. First hit forehands; then backhands. Next, alternate your forehands and backhands. In addition to improving your foot work you will also be focusing on developing greater consistency on your overall game

2. Using the ball machine. The ball machine is helpful for players of all levels and especially beneficial for beginners. Put the ball machine in a spot on the court near the baseline and strive to hit 10 crosscourt forehands in a row. If you miss a shot, start over. Keep practicing until you can get 10 in a row. Do the same drill to attain 20 shots in a row with your forehand. As you progress, try to hit shots down the line and crosscourt. Do the same drills on your backhand. Once you feel confident in your practicing choose a shot that you feel the most confident in and would like to use at the most important times in a match. After each shot move back to the center of the baseline and prepare yourself to hit the next shot. This will help greatly with your foot work and will also help you with your conditioning.

3. Control your toss on your serve. Lets face the facts. Double faults are killers; especially when you are serving a second serve at a crucial point in a match. What is probably the most important part of your serve? Most tennis pros will say it is the ball toss. To improve your ball toss try to place the ball in the same place every time. This allows you to stay balanced and develop control and spin. As your proficiency improves you can then concentrate on hitting  with more power. I have found that when my toss is too low I still try to serve the ball. Unfortunately, due to the low toss, I invariably start to double fault by changing my swing. One way to improve your toss is by taking lessons. A good pro will have you hit many serves at the same spot over and over. If he has access to  a video machine he could video your serving motion and then discuss the results. Another way is to toss the ball in front of a large mirror and strive to reach the same height and location every time.

4. Playing the score. Almost every tennis aficionado follows the pros on television. You will notice that when most pros are behind when serving or returning serve, they will play high-percentage shots. That is, if they are serving at  30-40 or receiving at 15-30 they will hit the serve or return of serve high and deep over the net. They are trying to give their opponent a chance to miss the shot. Of course, if you have an outright winner, then you could take the opportunity go for it. If your opponent knows that you can keep the ball in play for a 15-shot rally or more, he or she is going to feel great pressure as they know you are going to keep the ball in play until they make an error.

5. Play it safe and hit your ground strokes cross court. There are many reasons to return most of your ground strokes crosscourt. The net is 3 feet high at the center of the court and 3½ feet on the sidelines. Shots hit down the lines are 78 feet from baseline to baseline. Crosscourt shots travel 85½ feet from baseline to baseline. When you try to hit a crosscourt shot down the line that has been hit to you, you must change your foot work and timing, which could often lead to an error. The good news is that a crosscourt shot may have been hit so well that it will set up an easy groundstroke on your next shot that will allow you to put the ball away anywhere on your opponent’s side of the court.

6. Do tennis drills to improve your game. Regardless of your level of play, doing drills in a singles format can greatly improve your game. Although I primarily play doubles, I play singles at least once week in a game situation. After warming up for 10 minutes by practicing ground strokes and net play, my playing partner and I play upward of six 11-point drills. Whoever serves will serve the entire game until someone reaches 11 points first. (If it is 10-10 a player will have to win by two points).The other player will then serve a whole game to 11 points. We often serve three 11-point games each and the total workout lasts almost an hour and a half. How do these drills help your game? By serving upward of 16-20 times in the 11-point game, you are really focused on improving all aspects of your game, both mental and physical. And, you will be pleasantly surprised at your consistency in your next doubles match.