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TipsEnjoy these tips from some of our local tennis pros!

Three Keys to a Great Second Serve! - Jason Grigg
Break on Through with the Other Side - Thomas Johnston
The Approach Shot - Chad Peters
Four Steps Towards A Better Game - Ron Manilla
How To Relax On The Courts - Patrick Kearns
Topspin - Howie Fendley
Doubles Strategy - Brad Karen
High School Tennis - John Morris
Consistency, Control and Placement - Nancy Holt
Off-Season Tennis Workout - Howie Fendley
Half Volleys - Patrick Kearns
Learn to Move on the Court - Tom Sellman
Better Breathing Habits - Tom Sellman
Don't Take Your Racquet Back Early On Your Forehand - Jim Labinski
Volleys - Ron Manilla

"Three Keys to a Great Second Serve!"

by Jason Grigg
Director of Tennis, ACAC

Have you ever heard that saying "You are only as good as your second serve?" Having a good second serve can be the difference between winning and losing a tennis match. Three areas you can work on to help your second serve are spin, placement and confidence.

  1. Spin: Work on creating spin on your second serve to increase the margin of error. The more spin you can put on the ball the higher it can be hit over the net. Try relaxing your arm and carving or chopping the side of the tennis ball to create more spin. Maximize the margin of error by hitting up on the ball.

  2. Placement: Work on the accuracy of your second serve so you can hit it to your opponent's weakness. The more you can move your second serve around the service box the more you can keep your opposition off guard. Try setting up some cones or ball targets in different parts of the service box. Tell yourself which target you are trying to hit before you serve. It takes some time to develop this skill, but the more your practice the better you get.

  3. Confidence: Work on your confidence for those big points during a match. This takes practice, practice, and more practice. It takes time to develop a good confident second serve, so be patient. Take a bucket of balls and work on hitting both your first serve and second serve from both the duce and ad side of the court. (Just like you would in a real game) Hit your first serve and if you miss hit your second serve. If you miss your second serve, try hitting 5 second serves in a row before moving on. If you miss one of the 5, start over.  <top>

"Break on Through with the Other Side"

by Thomas Johnston
Director of Tennis, Wintergreen Resort (2010)

One of the easiest ways to improve your technique is to utilize your non-dominant arm correctly. The non-dominant arm is a crucial, but little taught component of most amateur tennis player's strokes. All strokes can be improved with a little assistance from the "other" side. It is also a good way of improving technique without being so "technical." One example of the usefulness of the non-dominant arm is with a right-hander's forehand groundstroke.

  1. By extending the left arm slightly across the body, the shoulders turn by themselves. Now you don't have to turn your shoulders consciously. The left arm does it for you.

  2. The second benefit of extending the left arm is for better balance. In sports, opposite limbs will synchronize for balance.

  3. Another use of extending the left arm is that it helps you find your contact point. This is similar to an overhead when an individual puts their arm up to track the ball.

  4. A fourth use of the left arm is to catch the follow through. By catching the racquet handle over the opposite shoulder and by the left ear, the follow through is "given" to you.

  5. Finally, you are in balance again. Although your hands are now together, your arms are opposite. You have now come full circle: starting balanced and ending balanced.

Although the example above is that of the forehand groundstroke, it does not take much imagination to see that the non-dominant arm is a crucial component from volleys to groundstrokes to serves and overheads. If you want to break through to another level, "break on through with the other side."  <top>

"The Approach Shot"

by Chad Peters
Director of Tennis, ACAC (2007)

One of the most important shots in tennis is the approach shot. My thoughts on strategy is to get to the net as soon as possible to put the point away. I am encouraged to see many players in the area charging the net and being aggressive; however, there are many times when I see the approach shot go long, wide, or into the net.

The important thing to remember is that the approach shot is used to set up your volley. Depth and placement are the keys for an effective approach shot. As you get better at depth and placement then you can think about pace and slice.

In singles play here are a couple of tips:

  1. Approach should be hit down the line. This cuts down on you court coverage and your opponents chances to pass you.

  2. Depth: this will give you more time to get to the net and your opponent less time to set up for a passing shot.

  3. Placement: As close to the corner where the baseline and singles line meet. The further away from the corner you go the easier it will be to get passed.

  4. Split step.

  5. Volley.

  6. Congratulations, you are up 15-love.

Remember, you may get passed and you may make a few errors, but please don't stop going to the net, because with practice you will be hitting winners left and right by using the approach as a set up shot for your winning volley!  <top>

"Four Steps Towards a Better Game"

by Ron Manilla
Tournament Director, Boar's Head Sports Club

Having developed your ground strokes, it is now time to begin stroking the ball with purpose. You should be able to direct all of your shots so that you can exploit the weaknesses of your opponents.

By getting your racquet back early, finding an ideal point of contact, and using your follow through to direct the ball, you can now apply pressure to your opponent. Try slowing down. You'll be surprised as to how much control you will have.

Develop consistency by trying to hit more than one or two shots in a row. In practice, rally with you partner for four or five shots before you are allowed to go for a winner. Try to always be one shot better than your opponent.

Depth is the name of the game. By hitting higher over the net, you will minimize your net errors. You will apply a lot of pressure to your opponent who will be faced with a high forehand or a high backhand. We all know how difficult these shots are.

Finally, begin to hit with power. If you develop your game around power, it is always at the expense of control, consistency, and depth. However, if you will follow these steps, you will become a controlled, consistent, and deep hard hitting player. Wow! That's tough to beat.  <top>

"How To Relax On The Tennis Court"

by Patrick Kearns
Head Pro, Farmington Country Club (2012)

Have you ever noticed how swimmers will "shake out" their arms and legs before they compete? The same with a baseball pitcher. These athletes know the importance of being relaxed when they perform. In tennis, you can relax by putting your racquet in your non-hitting hand between points and "shaking out" your hitting arm. Also, on your serve try to relax your wrist and hand by resting your racquet on your tossing arm before you start your motion. Finally, in between shots, relax your grip, by letting your opposite hand support the racquet. Learn to relax on the court, it will help you enjoy and play better tennis.  <top>


by Howie Fendley
Director of Tennis, ACAC (1999)

Developing the ability to hit topspin ground strokes will drastically improve your consistency, depth, and pace from the baseline. Topspin will cause a tennis ball to "dip" into the court at a faster rate than a  ball with slice or no spin at all. This means that you can hit your shots higher over the net with the confidence that the topspin will bring the ball down onto the court! Just as important, topspin causes the ball to "explode" off the bounce. This means your opponents will have a harder time returning topspin shots!

To hit topspin, there are three keys. First, your racquet must start below the ball with the face of the racquet "closed". Closed means that your strings will be facing directly down toward the ground when the racquet is back. Be sure that the palm is also facing down during the backswing to ensure that your grip is correct.

Second, swing from low to high through the ball as your weight transfers to your front foot.

Third, finish the swing with your racquet over the opposite shoulder (i.e. left shoulder for a right-handed forehand).

This is only a guide on hitting topspin. Consult your tennis professional for more information on how to crush your opponents with topspin.  <top>

"Doubles Strategy"

by Brad Karen
Head Pro, Forest Lakes Tennis Club

As a teaching professional, I have seen countless doubles matches played by pros, novices, and all levels in between. One major difference comes to mind: top players spend as little time in the one up, one back formation as possible. Why? Because this formation is viable only if your opponents cooperate! If they choose to come to net together, the one up, one back team is in major trouble! With one player up at net, and one at the baseline, there are several scenarios possible, none of them good.

If the baseline player tries to pass the two net players, there is a big hole between him and his partner for the net players to aim at; his partner is also very exposed at the net, and becomes a target for a hard volley or overhead smash. The net person in the one up, one back formation is pretty much a nonfactor, except as a target for his opponents!

If your team likes to play defense, great! Play both players back on the baseline. If one player is drawn to the net, his partner should come with him. When your team is serving, try to serve and volley! If that is too uncomfortable, serve and take the first opportunity to approach the net. Try to beat your opponent to the net, it gives your team the advantage. When returning, hit your return, and if at all possible, follow it to the net; if you beat the server to the net, your team has the advantage. Before the match, discuss these tactics with your partner so you are on the same page. Don't be discouraged with failure; you are learning to play better doubles!

What is the downside? Only one! You MUST practice hitting overheads!!! The only viable answer to a team owning the net is to lob! If you can't deal with the lob, you won't be very successful at the net. Your overhead will not improve by ignoring it, so practice hitting overheads often. Practice getting back for overheads, practice hitting them, practice taking the net at all costs, and see your doubles game explode!  <top>

"High School Tennis"

by John Morris
Coach, Charlottesville High School Girls' Tennis Team; Coach, Jefferson Junior Tennis League - UVA Team

Suggestions for parents who have a child who would like to be on a high school tennis team.

As a current high school tennis coach and USPTR tennis pro, a father of two high school tennis players, and former college tennis coach, I have a few suggestions to help your child succeed in trying out for the high school team.

  1. Physical conditioning is a necessity - sprints, sliding, crossovers, jumping rope, etc. Work on developing fast feet. Go to a local tennis court and practice the various movements needed to be competitive. This will give the player "court sense".

  2. Coaches generally do not have the time needed to give lessons during practice because of the time limit and number of players who try out. It is highly recommended that the player have some private or group lessons with a local certified teaching professional, and participate in the summer Jefferson Junior Tennis League.

  3. Read and understand the rules of the game and scoring. This will allow the coach to spend the needed time working on strategy and tactics, challenges and competitive drills.

  4. Above all, have your parents or friends toss balls or hit tennis balls to you to improve your eye-hand coordination.

  5. Remember, whether your long range goal is to play collegiate tennis or meet new friends, give it your best effort. Allow enough time in your schedule to succeed.  <top>

"Consistency, Control and Placement"

by Nancy Holt
Head Pro, Keswick Club

Ground Strokes are the meat and potatoes of every players game, especially when playing singles. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced player, consistency, control and placement are the 3 most important elements for your game.

How do you achieve CCP?

Consistency comes from a consistent, fluid motion of the racquet. Try it!  Work on the same starting point and finishing point with your swing. Ideally, the racquet should move low to high, keeping the head perpendicular to the ground.

Control comes from being able to move into position with poise and balance to execute the stroke.

Placement is achieved when you can effectively swing the strings of the racquet in the direction you want, time and time again..

Once you accomplish CCP then you can add the last P that everyone is dying to have!! Power, Power, Power! Add power through smoothly accelerating the head of the racquet and transferring your weight at the right time. TIMING is a whole other tip.

Excel at CCP and I guarantee your game will escalate.  <top>

"Off-Season Tennis Workout"

by Howie Fendley
Director of Tennis, ACAC (1999)

No indoor courts? Don't worry! It can be frustrating to be a tennis player in Charlottesville due to the lack of a public indoor tennis facility. Maybe you are just starting to master that spin serve or slice backhand and now it is time to stop for the winter. You can do some things now to help your game when the spring rolls around.

Weight training is an excellent way to keep your muscles strong and toned throughout the winter months. If you have a gym to go to, there are several exercises that are great for tennis. To help the power on your serves and overheads, try the tricep pushdown and bicep curls. For flexibility and injury prevention, the back extension and seated row are excellent. For explosive speed and footwork, try the leg press, leg curl, and calf extension.

If you do not have a gym, try squeezing a tennis ball and relaxing over and over. This can be done while at work or watching TV. Push-ups and sit-ups strengthen the triceps, back, and abdomen. Jogging and wind sprints improve speed and agility. Consult with a personal trainer for the specifics of these exercises.

Just as important is cardio-vascular training. Healthy heart and lungs are key to having the stamina to play well for an entire match. Jogging, treadmills, stair climbers, and cross-training machines are great ways to improve cardio-vascular health. It is important to elevate your heart rate at least three times per week for a duration of at least 20 minutes per day. These kind of exercises ensure that your body is operating at peak efficiency. Make sure that you consult with your physician before beginning any exercise regimen.

Happy workouts!  <top>

"Half Volleys"

by Patrick Kearns
Head Pro, Farmington Country Club (2012)

You are approaching the net wishing to make an offensive volley. About halfway to the net you realize that it will not be possible to volley the approaching ball. The ball is going to bounce close to your feet, thus forcing you to hit a half volley. Here are several tips to make hitting the half volley easier:

  1. Prepare quickly with a compact backswing.

  2. Flex your body and knees to get down to the shot and stay there through the stroke.

  3. Move the racquet head smoothly to lift the ball over the net.

  4. Let the your racquet continue naturally in the direction of the ball.  <top>

"Learn to Move on the Court"

by Tom Sellman - USPTR
Director of Tennis, ACAC (2002)

Learn to move on the court: You have two feet, therefore you should move in twos. Your two feet should complement each other so when you run, the feet should work in pairs. That is: steps I and 2 are taken, then 3-4, 5-6 and so on.

Tennis is a game of movement. Bipedal rhythm indicates there should be 2 steps prior to execution, which means you take step number 1, step number 2, then bit the ball, not pivot, step and hit. When one foot pivots, and the other one steps before the hit, that's only I step prior to contact and not 2. The same if one foot drags, or slides while the other steps. When hitting the ball on the right side of your body, your left foot will be the front foot that steps into the ball prior to contact. This means your right foot takes the first step. With the ball on the left side of the body start with the left foot.

The other important aspect of movement is direction. How often do you take a drop step or the back foot moving first in the direction opposite the ball, followed by the front foot? This is counter-productive. You need to MOVE and INTO the ball, and it should be done efficiently. Work to improve your footwork and you will be doing a victory dance more often!  <top>

"Better Breathing Habits"

by Tom Sellman - USPTR
Director of Tennis, ACAC (2002)

Relax and play better tennis or play better tennis and relax - which comes first? The answer may be in your breathing. Yes, we may have to learn how to breathe to perform at a higher level because if we bold our breath we tighten our muscles and that prevents us from being loose and performing at our best. Never hold your breath. Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your month. And by becoming a nose breather, you breathe much more efficiently.

Here's why: the nose heats up the air and prepares it for the body. And your nose hairs filter the air of pollution and dirt and create a turbine effect causing the air to circulate and go deeper into the lungs. By exhaling through your mouth, you empty the lungs more completely and therefore can take in more oxygen. So relax, have fun, play better and blow away the competition with better breathing habits.  <top>

"Don't Take Your Racquet Back Early On Your Forehand"

by Jim Labinski
Head Pro, Fairview Swim & Tennis Club

For years, pros hounded their students to "get your racquet back early." Taking the racquet back early promotes inconsistent timing and poor contact on most groundstrokes, especially the "modern" forehand.

The quick, arm-oriented, straight backswing is outdated, as shown by the top pros of today. The forehand of today is created in large part from the drive and rotation of the lower body. If the hand, arm and racquet get separated from the lower body too much they get out of sync.

All good players have an "instinct" for the ball. They can "find the ball" easily--they know when and how to make their move on the ball.

Instead of focusing your attention on the racquet preparation, concern yourself with a balanced finish and complete follow-through. Develop this "instinct" for the ball.

"Rehearse" your balanced finish with very slow repetitions. Start very slowly with a looping shot that clears the net by 4-6 feet. Keep both hands on the racquet longer and "invent" the racquet, hand and body work as you go along so as to make the your new signature follow-through position. If you find yourself unable to stand still for a second at the end of the shot, get lower and swing slower.

Remember, more often than not you will miss a shot because you are anxious and too early. Learn to wait for the ball and realize that you have much more time to hit the perfect shot.

With a good, balanced and rhythmic stroke you will be able to develop more confidence in the forehand, and hopefully you will be able to then execute the shots in the pressure situations of your matches. Good Luck.  <top>


by Ron Manilla
Tournament Director, Boar's Head Sports Club

You've just approached the net, have the perfect setup and bam, you hit the volley 10 feet wide.  Chances are, you over played the ball or tried to do too much. I always tell my students less is best. Keep it simple, no backswings, try just to block the ball. Always move the racquet first toward the ball and then step in behind the contact. If you step or turn your shoulder first, you will always hit the ball late. Volleys hit in front of your body use very little effort and most of the time are winners. In practice, avoid the classic volley to baseline drill with your partner. Instead, try hitting all winners, practicing better angles and consistent depth. Soft hands always win more points. Ball machines are great for practicing volleys. Remember, keep it simple and have fun hitting more winners.