Until I started this blog I was keeping notes of lessons learned in a tennis journal I’d carry around in my bag, which as you can see from the photo below was getting a little out of hand (a Feb 2012 photo of my journal’s front-page “summary”). This page is my attempt to organize the clutter electronically into a running list of key “Reminders to Self”– vital things I try to keep in mind in practice and matches. I tweak it often.

To be clear, I do not try to keep all this stuff in my head while practicing– and certainly not when playing matches! But I find it really helpful to scan this list periodically to remind myself of key things I might be forgetting, or to review it when I find myself encountering a roadblock or setback.

Note: Keep in mind that I’m a righty when you see references to my “R” or “L” arm/side.

EVERY TIME I PLAY
  • Play loose, relax the arm and body. Scan the body for tension. When playing tight, try focusing on relaxing the wrist first– that tends to help relax the entire arm, which translates into more looseness overall. When particularly tense or nervous, try shrugging the shoulders tensely with a deep breath then drop them and exhale. Remember how much power is generated by swing speed versus “muscling the ball.”
  • Act confident, use positive body language even when I’m feeling down on myself. As Jeff Greenwald has pointed out, if you start “acting the part” even when you’re not feeling great, you’re more likely to feel what you’re acting.
  • Stay grounded, bend the knees, athletic position. Nick Bollettieri said on one of his videos, “Good things happen to players who bend their knees.” Remember how much power comes from the legs. Be sure to “stay with your shot” long enough (think “One thousand one”).
  • Keep the head still. Think Federer, whose head stays still and relaxed upon impact.
  • Keep racquet speed up–don’t push the ball: When things aren’t clicking, my tendency used to be to “push the ball.” Not anymore. Now I think about generating more spin and accelerating through the shot.
  • Breathe. Critical to rhythm and to eliminating tension in the body (and mind).
  • Embrace the “good” mistakes. Go easy on yourself when things aren’t perfect. Give yourself credit for “good mistakes” that are helping you move in the right direction.
  • During points: “Watch the ball, Move your feet, Trust your swing… Focus on INTENTION–where you want to place the ball–not stroke mechanics…” Saif Syed and Yann Auzoux have reinforced this great advice to apply before matches, which also is a good reminder to bring into practices when I’m tight.
  • Be grateful for your ability to be playing at all. Put things in context.
  • When things aren’t clicking consider the following:

* Is your wrist tight? Relax it.
* How’s your spacing?
* How’s your timing?
* Are you seeing the “fuzz/seams” of the ball?
* Are you decelerating and “pushing” the ball?
* Are you bending your knees?
* Are you finishing the swing and “staying” with your shot?
* Stop thinking about technique and VISUALIZE the outcome you want. Then just do it.
* Think “BOUNCE- HIT” to find your rhythm again – don’t just say it as the ball comes to you, do it as it bounces and hits your opponent’s racquet too

SERVE
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  • Use Jeff Greenwald’s “B, P, R” routine (Breath, placement, relaxed arm). (1) Take a deep breath as I walk to the line to establish my presence and decide on type of serve and placement; (2) Imagine the ball traveling toward my target; (3) Scan and release excess tension from my shoulders and arm.
  • Visualize a winning trophy position; remember this involves relaxed opening of the shoulders towards the back of the court (think Jeff Salzenstein’s “elbow the enemy!“), which is a key to getting maximum power. (Think “bow and arrow” position too during the loading/cocking phase).
  • Think of a “place” of the ball not a “toss.” Ball should not be spinning if “place” is correct.
  • Relax the non-dominant tossing arm as you place the ball in the air: this will help keep the rest of your body loose
  • Start with a slow, relaxed tempo– which will help keep your arm loose.  Practice using Florian Meier’s “Fluid Motion Drill.” Aim for Vic Braden “Spaghetti arm” on serve.
  • Keep the L arm UP and watch the ball carefully as you “place” it (think “ATP pose”)
  • Never hit a bad toss- break that habit!
  • Rhythm is key. Think “Place (slow)…DropReach (fast)!” so that the racket head accelerates
  • On takeback of racket, keep elbow closer to body with R arm RELAXED and elbow bent.
  • Slight lag in working arm upon toss
  • Allow the racquet head to drop completely prior to impact: To do that, be sure shoulder and elbow are relaxed and not doing anything to restrict range of motion
  • Racquet Drop Jan 2014Racquet drop position is NOT “scratch your back” like you were told as a beginner (terrible advice). It’s along the right edge of the body and racquet comes up on edge to set up properly for pronation. Practice shadow swings with mirror, or back fence, slowly until feels natural then increase speed. Also practice trying to come up on edge and hit ball with edge of the racquet.
  • Hit UP with fully extended arm at point of impact. Think of shoulder “rolling over” as Nick Saviano talks about.
  • “Admire” the ball (i.e. really watch it) and keep the head up and focused on the ball during impact! Do not shift focus into the court
  • Keep upper body facing towards R net post a little longer. Power doesn’t come from rotation in serve.
  • Toss around “12:30/1:00pm” and more into the court and go after it! Practice serve and volley drill to make sure momentum going INTO the court.
  • Don’t shuffle the feet! If you need to move around, the toss is bad and you shouldn’t hit it.
  • Let it rip through the finish – don’t decelerate upon impact!
  • Finish movement with momentum INTO THE COURT, not trailing to the left! (Think Mark Kovacs tip about left arm to prevent over-rotation after contact)
  • Watch this video by Tomaz Mencinger for reminders on practicing the fundamentals and looseness

FOREHAND (TOPSPIN)

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  • Early preparation and shoulder turn: Use L hand to initiate shoulder turn and set up racket at 45 angle
  • Keep the racket moving, the loop never stops
  • Use L arm like the pros: don’t let it drop upon impact. Your entire upper body moves as a unit (shoulders and hands)
  • Keep the “C” loop relatively compact: Don’t let the racket get too far behind you. The racket should be ready to execute the “HELLO” movement the instant the ball is in my “zip code”
  • Racquet head stays closed (think of palm facing more towards ground) through the preparation/C until HELLO (Do not do old habit of rotating/opening wrist to the right before that!)
  • Remember that power comes hugely from LEGS and from the chest/shoulders working as a UNIT with a loose arm
  • Racket speed brings power, not muscling the ball with the arm
  • The hip initiates the racket drop (“Hello“) and moves first, and everything follows
  • Stay grounded! Knees bent. Don’t pull up on the shot.
  • Don’t break wrist on impact and follow through: Think “Goodbye”/Check your watch/windshield wipers

BACKHAND (TOPSPIN)

  • Early preparation, full shoulder turn, aim shoulder at the ball
  • Racket all the way back!!
  • Accelerate during swing
  • Arms should be extended during swing, not bent
  • Think forward on impact
  • Back leg pivots so shoelaces pointing to opposite wall, weight on front foot and into the court
  • Stay with your shot– grounded! Count “One thousand one”

VOLLEYS

  • Knees bent, stay low– but on balls of feet
  • Split step just before opponent hits the ball
  • Meet ball out in front – think catching and going for the ball
  • Don’t over-turn the shoulders or bring the racquet back too far… Think of a simple wrist movement R or L to initiate so the racquet is forced to stay in front of the body (Milos)
  • Keep elbow somewhat close to (and slightly in front of) body on FH side so arm can only move forward on the volley. But keep it loose: don’t want to be robotic.
  • Power comes from the legs/body moving into the shot
  • Keep wrist firm
  • Think placement before making contact

RETURN OF SERVE

  • Split step a split second before opponent makes contact with the ball
  • Meditate on the ball as your opponent tosses, and watch what happens to it.
  • Shorten the backswing

SLICE

  • Shoulder turn!
  • Start racquet high (think kind of “hidden” behind head)
  • Lean into shot on balls of feet
  • Follow through with crossover step behind as you move into the court
  • Long, smooth finish (some coaches say slightly slower racket speed than regular BH, others say the opposite…??)
  • Swing finish is more across the body than old-school teaching (came to same conclusion after working through this on my own but had doubts until I saw this great video from Jeff Salzenstein validating it)

 

16 Comments

  1. David Yasui
    Jun 21, 2017 @ 06:42:01

    General
    1. Watch the ball.
    2. Move after serving and hitting the ball. Don’t look to see where it went.
    3. Strike zone for forehand and backhand is between hips and lower chest
    4. To apply topspin (FH & BH), aim at bottom of the ball and hit up i.e. 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock. Just aiming at the ball results in more of a flat shot. Try to “lift” the ball over the net
    5. Use the shoulder with forehands and serves – very important because it is a large muscle and can help produce power and topspin.
    6. Do not stand and watch serves and strokes. Move behind the baseline immediately and prepare for the next shot
    7. Watch the ball before it crosses the net and set-up for a return. Don’t wait until the ball bounces on your side of the court
    Forehand
    1. Use arm and shoulder to hit the forehand. Shoulder adds power and topspin.
    2. Cock the wrist on the backswing – adds topspin
    3. Down the line – take ball away from the body. Too close to the body and ball tends to go cross court. Watch the ball carefully. Tendency is to look up too soon

    Short Ball Approach
    1. Windshield wiper stroke – forearm and wrist
    2. Use heavy topspin – hit firmly but not too hard
    3. Don’t hit ball too close to the body i.e. keep elbow away from side
    4. Practice regularly
    High Bouncers
    1. Try continental grip on backhand side (opens up racquet face)
    T- Serve to Ad Court
    1. Aim slice to mid-court not to inside corner (ball goes too far left)

    Return of Serve

    1. BH – start low and swing up – no loop
    2. Watch the ball from the toss into the racquet
    3. Do not jump before hitting the ball. Keep feel on the ground until after the hit.
    4. Serve to BH in deuce court – try slice return
    5. Slice to FH side e.g. Fred’s serve – try slice return or flat on outside of the ball
    6. Use continental grip on fast serves – try to hit like a volley

    Serve

    1. Keep left arm up. Turn the hand so the palm faces the net when the arm is extended
    2. Deep back scratch for maximum upward torque to generate topspin
    3. Put right shoulder and upper back into the serve for power and more topspin
    4. Aim for a spot above the net as an indicator of where the serve should land
    5. Keep tossing arm, serving arm and grip loose and relaxed until contact

    Second Serve

    1. Aim for corners – longer distance, less margin for error – serve from close to sideline
    2. Use shoulder and upper back for increased topspin
    3. Aim about 2 feet over the net so ball drops into the court and not into the net

    Drop Shot

    1. Watch the ball esp at contact
    2. Hit with a closed stance
    3. Aim 2 feet over the net
    4. Ball should bounce at least 2X in the service court
    5. Soft hands – similar stroke to hitting a volley

    Backhand

    1. Hit topspin backhand with a brushing up motion. Aim the ball to go over the net by 1 -2 feet. Visualize the ball going up and over the net

    Reply

    • P.J.
      Jun 22, 2017 @ 17:31:42

      Very cool, David, thank you for sharing! P.J.

      Reply

  2. Kris Tuttle
    Mar 13, 2016 @ 15:32:33

    I’ve got to do this with all my notes too. Yours are great! If I actually get it to a decent state I’m happy to share a link here to compare mine with yours. I’m a USTA 3.5 but close to a 4.0 so 4.5 is a great goal to have in the next year or two. Kris

    Reply

    • P.J.
      Mar 13, 2016 @ 16:02:16

      Hey Kris, great to hear from you. Keep me posted on your training! P.J.

      Reply

  3. Carlo Colaiaco
    Jun 15, 2015 @ 18:04:11

    PJ,
    grazie mille! I’m working on it and it feels right. More topspin. I think that you should just let the “hello” happen after hips rotation but thinking this way is of great help for stabilizing the wrist in the proper position. Great trick!

    PS happy to hear that you had good times in Italy. If you happen to swing by Rome we can set up a match (or just say a regular “hello”). 🙂
    Ciao da Roma

    Reply

    • P.J.
      Jun 15, 2015 @ 21:03:23

      Carlo, so glad to hear it helped!! Ditto if you come through NYC! P.J.

      Reply

  4. Carlo Colaiaco
    Jun 13, 2015 @ 00:47:39

    PJ,
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience and for the great tips.
    I keep a list in my bag that really looks like the one of yours in the picture (even if it wasn’t supoposed to, I thoroughly studied your old notes…great. And yes, I’m obsessed)
    I’d like you to explain better the “hello /goodbye” reminder on the forehand. I feel like it might be the key for my fh but I’m not 100 percent sure I got it right. If you have time, will you go through it, please? I’d really appreciate that.
    Ciao
    Carlo (Rome, Italy)

    Reply

    • P.J.
      Jun 13, 2015 @ 16:14:07

      Ciao Carlo, come stai?! I spent a year in grad school in Bologna many years ago – one of the best years of my life. 🙂 As an amateur and not a pro, I’m hesitant to get too much more specific because I don’t want to steer you down any wrong path… But the 2 keys for me (which I stress in the italicized paragraph in the post I did on the topic http://www.roadto45tennis.com/modern-forehand/) were: (1) thinking of waving “hello” to someone on the ground (with your palm facing down to the ground) at the very last moment right before accelerating the racquet forward to make contact with the ball while (2) keeping a very (VERY) relaxed grip and wrist.

      To be clear: my palm does not stay literally face down to the ground throughout the motion… but the concept helped me stop an old wrist motion habit I had that made me open up the racquet face too much before impact (and hence hit the ball flat).

      I hope that helps a little? Let me know how you make out! P.J.

      Reply

  5. Peder Jakobsen
    Nov 27, 2014 @ 16:53:18

    Hi PJ, I just discovered your blog today. I particularly like this post. I’m relieved to see that I’m not the only obsessive note taker.

    Everyone will have a different list, and different feelings and priorities that they are working on, but the important lesson here is that the internal dialogue must be highly conscious:

    “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein quotes from BrainyQuote.com.

    Reply

  6. Justin
    Jul 10, 2014 @ 01:34:50

    Amazing tips, and I’m glad im not the only person who does this too xD.

    Reply

  7. P.J.
    Dec 23, 2012 @ 16:53:42

    Kim, I’m so excited you found my blog site so I could learn about yours! I just took a quick look – we’re clearly soul mates. Can’t wait to dive in and read so much of the rich content you’ve put together. And very much loo forward to staying in touch. Do you have a Facebook page for the blog? Mine is http://www.facebook.com/roadto45. Happy holidays! P.J.

    Reply

  8. Kim
    Dec 23, 2012 @ 10:31:08

    I love your site because it reminds me of my own! I also didn’t come to tennis until later in life and have become totally obsessed with it. I started my blog to help me improve my game and take others along for the ride. And I also carry around a “cheat sheet” on a 3 x 5 card of reminders that I try to look at before and often during my matches. And I have a journal I write in after every match and lesson trying to list the important things I learned. AND I keep a list on my iPhone of the opponents I come up against so hopefully I’ll remember something about them next time I play them. So, yeah, I’m into tennis too. I look forward to keeping up with your journey to 4.5 (and maybe even 5.0!).

    Reply

  9. Theresa
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 21:48:24

    I have one of those lists as well. I am up to different items. Earlier this summer I started to redo the list and try to organize like yours into categories. Think I will just print off yours.

    Reply

    • P.J.
      Oct 04, 2012 @ 23:16:59

      Theresa, would love to hear which things on your “list” differ — probably things that I should have on mine, which I keep updating!

      Reply

  10. John Harris
    Aug 04, 2012 @ 19:20:36

    Love the forehand tips. “Hello Goodbye” is a fun way to remember the stroke. And the photo of the wall of tennis notes made me laugh. Looked so familiar…

    Reply

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