Posts Tagged improving your tennis game

The Art of Poaching By Joe Marshall

Here is another article by Joe Marshall. You can see all of them by typing his name into the search box above and to the right. His doubles tennis strategies are really worth applying to your game.

Poaching, I believe, originally referred to stealing game by hunting on someone else’s property. In tennis, poaching refers to the art, in doubles tennis, of a person leaving the side of the court he is protecting, to slant in to his partner’s side, and steal a point by putting a volley away.

Most of the time, the partner of the server stands on the alternate side of the court from the server, near the net, covering the opposite side of their half of the court, hoping for a weak, or poorly placed, return of serve, that he can easily put away. In club doubles, the net man rarely poaches unless he has an easy floater. He is so concerned about “covering his side of the court” that he rarely ventures off his real estate, for fear of the embarrassment of the returner hitting the ball right where he HAD been, for an easy winner.

Let me say something before we go any further……Winning tennis, at all levels, is about playing the percentages……if you ain’t poaching, you ain’t helping. In many cases, you’d be better off back at the baseline with your partner, trying to win the game with ground strokes and lobs, rather than just sitting there and never poaching. The whole purpose of the net position is to play aggressively. To “boldly go where no man has gone before,” picking off what the returner thought were good returns, making them take their eye off the ball with dramatic, but subtle fakes, putting away overheads, and, in general, making their returning lives miserable.

In a tournament match, I like to poach on my partner’s first serve of the match. And I mean POACH. Set up in the middle of the service box (middle from side to side, AND from front to back), and SLANT IN QUICKLY, performing a split step as the ball bounces (moving forward and sideways), with your racquet raised high, anticipating a return halfway between the net strap and the sideline.

Now the big question…..where do you hit the sitter?

Many volleys are missed because the volleyer hasn’t anticipated what he would do with the volley before he got there. Read the rest of this entry »

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Thoughts About Serving In Doubles (Including The 27 Different Serves) By Joe Marshall

This advice has helped my game enormously. I have about 5-6 different serves I use in a game that keeps my opponents guessing. And playing with Joe is a constant reminder to poach and fake. It works! This is Joe’s sixth article. Check them all out by typing Joe’s name into the search box at the right above. Then make some adjustments to your game and enjoy your improved performance…

The most important thing in a doubles serve is to get the first serve in. Sounds simple, but we all forget it. You can’t serve a double fault if you get the first serve in.

Opponents are less likely to attack a first serve, because they are expecting something big….they are more likely to hit an aggressive shot on a second serve, when they are expecting something slower and closer to the middle of the box. In addition, your net opponent will usually feel more confident poaching on your return to his partner’s first serve as well.

Assuming you are getting a decent percentage of first serves in, what different kinds of strategies can you try in order to make your serve more effective? The answer requires some thought.

What SHOULD you be trying to do with your serve, especially your first serve? The answer is not “trying to knock the racquet out of my opponent’s hand.” It should be, “Serving in such a way that my opponent will be likely to hit a return that my partner or I can hit aggressively (or put away).” In other words, “Set up the net man” as much as possible.

Tell your partner you want him/her to be aggressive. Poach a good percentage of the time (30% sounds about right, depending on the opponents). When he is not poaching, he is faking a poach, or moving forward, or anticipating a lob. Any movement at the net is distracting to the returner, especially when it occasionally leads to a put away. If they beat you down the line once in a while, don’t be upset. Tell your partner, “Good poach,” and encourage them to continue to be aggressive. The next time you serve to that opponent, have your partner fake a poach. See if they don’t get the ball hit right to them or into the net.

To add to the returner’s misery, mix up your first serves with different placements, spins, and PACES OF SHOT (in other words, change speeds…just a little is often enough.) This summer I got to play a set of doubles against a gal in her 20′s. She was on the pro tour at one time, and had top 20 potential, until her career was derailed by injury. Now she is a full time pro teacher. I had a good partner, and her partner was no better than I.
Every time I served and volleyed to her partner in the doubles court, I won the point. Every time I served to her, she took my serve early and wailed it for a winner (at my feet, into the doubles alley, handcuffing my partner). I served it to her backhand, she pounded it. I spun it on the mid line to her forehand, she creamed it. But I was able to stay in the game by winning the points against her partner. I just didn’t have enough pace on my serve to phase her, even on a fast indoor court.

After the third or fourth deuce, at our 4th game point, I tried an old trick. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Week Of Slaying Tennis Dragons

After changing to a grip that Nadal uses, and then beating my coach for the first time, I was anxious to test my new game on others. Last week I played tennis all seven days for 18 ¼ hours, sometimes in high 80’s, low 90’s temperatures. I was tired, hot and sore. But people kept calling me to play, and I accepted their challenges.

Right after I’d played my usual Monday doubles games for two hours—one set was a long 10-8 victory—I played singles with a 33-year-old who was fresh and whom I’d never beaten. As usual, I lost the first set, 3-6, but I took the second one 10-8. I kept thinking of Isner and Mahut to inspire me to stay with the effort. It was very hot and humid, and I was weary.

Another man who’d only lost two sets to me in over two years went down on Wednesday 6-2 and 6-0. He was obviously having an off day, but my game was clearly improved, if not great.

I think my teams on Monday and Thursday doubles won three out of four sets. On Tuesday I played another man I’d never beaten, and I continued to lose…all three sets. But in the first I went down 4-6, and winning that many games is a rare achievement against him. After the Thursday game, I lost to that same 33-year-old in a revenge set, 5-7. I was just too hot and too tired.

On Friday I participated in a mixed doubles tennis tournament and came in 6th of 26 teams. Each team played three 8-game sets with three different pairs, and my team won 23 games out of a max of 24—we lost the last set 7-8. Of course I would liked to have done better. I still don’t have that killer instinct and major aggressiveness that I see others project.

But I am encouraged that I am now able to hit the ball lower, harder, and in the sweet spot more often. It’s very very exciting.

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One New Technique And I’m Playing My Best Tennis!

I’m still exhilarated, incredulous and giddy. Yesterday for the first time ever, I won a set against my tennis coach, who was really trying. He’d won the first set we played 6-3 and assumed he would coast to a predicted second set victory. After all, I’d never taken more than four games from him in a set during two years of competition. But I triumphed 6-2, breaking him three times (he broke me once).

It’s not my win that I want to emphasize. It’s the idea that one tiny variation in technique can lead to such astonishing improvement and success. In all pursuits, whether making money, career advancement, personal relationships with spouse/partner/child, we all wish it could be so simple as merely making one small change that is a tipping point to achievement. Well I had it, and it made me speechless.

It was all so random: a friend who is a far superior player invited me to be a last-minute fourth for his doubles game—I accepted happily. This was the first time he’d called, and we played against his club’s pro and teacher. After two sets, the pro left to give a lesson, and my friend found another player to fill in: this 20-year-old used to play on the University of Michigan tennis team.

You may have guessed that I was frustrated with my performance—I was way outclassed. I wanted to hit better, more powerfully, in the court more frequently, use top spin. I wanted to compete at this higher level with guys in their 50’s or under 25. WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO IMPROVE ???

That night I finished a book about Nadal and Federer’s great Wimbledon final in 2008, when Nadal won the cup for the first time in the fifth set. In one of the later pages, I read about Nadal’s grip that has his hands perpendicular to the strings. The next morning I grasped a racket, and it looked like a Western grip that my coach had said I should avoid. He and my original coach had both insisted that I use a Continental grip that is more like shaking hands with the racket. But what did I have to lose? I defied my experts, challenged their experience and authority, and forced myself to suck up the awkwardness of this new approach.

various tennis grips

It was miraculous. Suddenly I was hitting the ball with the sweet spot 80% of the time. The vibration I was putting up with for each shot disappeared. I had top spin on my forehands and a hard hit ball without backspin on my backhands. The balls were falling INTO the court much more often. And I was feeling like a player. I couldn’t believe it. Everything had come together.

I opened some cans and practiced serving. I was accurate and delivering a faster ball. I hit with a friend, and I felt like I could execute my vision. At my regular Monday doubles game, my partner was surprised how much better I was playing. He said I was hitting balls with confidence. We won two of the three sets.

And then Tuesday I played Frank Adams, who has been guiding me for two years and others for over 50. He had taught me his unique style of play, and I loved it. But now I was modifying his approach, and I was excelling beyond my belief and imagination.

He helped me figure out that by changing to a Western grip, I was hitting the ball sooner and at a lower angle. The ball’s trajectory was closer to the top of the net and falling down into the court consistently. He acknowledged that clearly with the stroke that I had, these alterations were perfect for my game. What a discovery. A revelation. A thrill. And a victory.

So there are lots of lessons here. Sometimes the answer to a problem can be a simple solution. Sometimes you have to question the experts and what they are saying. You always read about people discovering their own style. Writers breaking through tradition to create their own original and personal voice. Famous painters who stop copying their predecessors and uncover their unique use of color and brush. Well I had jumped to my highest level of tennis skill so far. Fantastic.

Of course this is only a tennis game. But it feels sensational. I can’t wait to take on more players and see how I do. Sort of like a young gunfighter, I will seek out the challenges. Frank said I had improved more than 100%. Three friends assumed that Frank was sick or injured. But he wasn’t. He just said he was surprised and that now his juices were flowing. He can’t wait for a rematch next week.

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