So, as I mentioned in my last post, I decided to get back into taking private tennis lessons. After today’s lesson, I am sure I made the right choice.
For now, I am going to skip the Wednesday tennis clinic. I am going to replace it with a private lesson. I think the one-on-one instruction is a better bang for the buck and I learn so much. Both private lessons and clinics have their merits. As I said above, private lessons offer a full hour of intense instruction. The learning potential and cardio workout is awesome and personally, I walk away with a lot to think about. Clinics are great to get out there and hit the ball around with some other people. There is some light instruction, but the tennis pro is honestly incapable of getting into the nitty-gritty of every ball each player hits.
I was really pleased with today’s lesson and it lifted my spirits after Monday’s terrible loss. I know Mike feels the same way after he loses, so I don’t feel all that bad.
Okay, so I thought I would give you a little breakdown of what we did. First, we warmed up “short court.” That’s typical to get the arms and legs functioning. Basically, that is simply standing on the service line and gently (and cooperatively) hitting the ball back and forth to each other. Then, we backed up to the baseline and hit some forehand shots back and forth for about five minutes. Then, Jim (the tennis pro) said something I found pretty entertaining and quite welcomed. He said, “Okay, I think I’ve seen enough.” That was exactly what I was looking for.
For some strange reason, whenever I try to learn something, I think that I have to walk in and guide the instructor on how to teach me. I have a faith issue. It’s weird. I guess you know when you are with one of the “good ones” when they can totally pick up on what you are doing wrong and what you need help with all by themselves. I really liked his style. Also, I wasn’t in the mood to do a horrible job trying to explain what I need to work on.
So, as it ends up, I needed some fundamental changes with the way I have been hitting my forehand. The way I used to used to (before today) hit it was to have my chest facing the net. My arm would extend to the side and do most of the work. Jim very kindly explained to me that I needed to rotate my shoulders to the right, so I was completely facing the side of the court. Then, as I swing my arm forward, move my shoulders and torso with the racquet. Makes sense to me, but it still feels pretty strange. The reason I am having so much difficulty, is because I am trying to shed years of hitting a terrible forehand. As I explained it to the ladies at the front desk, “I am like a piece of taffy that keeps trying to twist back to the way I always was.”
Jim didn’t care about what grip I was using, as long as I was comfortable with it. Also, I can still use my open stance, I just need to turn my shoulders more. After I tried this for a while, I was hitting some pretty solid forehands.
Take a look at this video. Ignore the “Eastern grip” part that he is talking about. Just look at the way his body is facing when he hits his forehand.
Also, I needed to loosen up on my racquet grip a bit. I was squeezing too hard and it showed.
Next, we talked a bit about the mental side of the game. I explained that I have a bad habit of totally falling apart during a match if I start losing some games. It’s not a good scene. Jim told me that the reason for this is that I (and everyone else out there) start to get nervous and start over-correcting everything I think I am doing wrong. Once that happens, there really is no chance. He said that once I am playing a match, forget about what I learned, about form and all that. Those things will start to show naturally during a match, once I get proficient at them during the lessons and the clinics. Again, that made sense to me.
Next, we went over what to do if you are experiencing some low, fast balls being hit towards you. I told Jim that when that happens to me, I just pop them back over the net to keep them in play. The problem with that is that the other player is sitting at the net waiting for them. He told me that what I was doing was correct because it’s a defensive shot, I just need to lob the ball over my competitor’s head to neutralize the play. Basically, I want to take the other guy away from playing offense and myself away from playing defense. If I can lob the ball over the other player, we will be on equal footing again. This holds true for the backhand and the forehand.
After we got that squared away, we went over where exactly on the court I was supposed to be when the ball is in play. Jim hit me a few balls and watched as I returned them from behind the baseline and stayed there. The way it is supposed to happen is, I am supposed to start on the center of the baseline and move back if I need to return a deep ball. After that, I need to get back on the baseline, where I started. That was a stupid mental block for me. Also, if I am trying to return a shot from in between the service line and the baseline (approach shot), I need to move up and hit into the ball, then get back to the baseline, unless I feel really good about where I hit the ball and in that case, I can get up to the net. If I am returning a ball that is hit before the service line, I need to get up to it and then play the net. I told Jim that the whole idea was just genius. One of my main problems was that I relied on my wonderfully powerful hits that I would stand there and admire my work.
Lastly, something was discovered as we were going over our little court strategy. Jim noticed that I wasn’t hitting the ball at the peak of its bounce. I was waiting for the ball to fall too far and then trying to grab it as it neared the ground. The better way to do it is to smack it before it starts falling and move into it.
I am starting to notice that playing tennis is a lot like trying to land a plane…you need to think about and do 20 things at the same time. I guess this is why it takes so long to get proficient at either.