11 October 2019

Ready, steady, go: how to warm up and why it matters

[Pic by Kate T through CC

There are two types of warm up (on court and off court) and it is easy to neglect them. But get them right, and you will be more prepared, less likely to get injured and have a head start in the match

Before you start a match, you want to get your body warmed up. Then when you meet your opponent, you need to warm up your game. Here is how to do it.

The off-court warm up

It is all too tempting to start a tennis match straight from work, with no warm up at all. But tennis is tough.  If you want to get the most out of your match and avoid injuries, at the very least, try to jog or cycle to the court. Ideally, you want to work up a light sweat. Even better, when you get there, do some dynamic stretching (ie move while you stretch). These things help get your cardiovascular system ready for the stresses to come and get your muscles attuned to the idea that some serious work is on its way. For specific exercises, check out Judy Murray’s warm up video for Miss Hits here or for a more comprehensive warm up, see USTA’s very helpful video here. Don't worry if you can’t remember it all. It has a list, designed to be printed off here so you can keep it in your racket bag for future use.

The on-court warm up

There are no rules about the pre-match warm up with your opponent. You do not even need to have one at all, but if you skip this, it should be a joint decision. That said, warm ups are highly recommended as a way of getting your eye in, of re-familiarising yourself with movement patterns and checking out your opponent.

While there are no rules, there is an etiquette and trying to hit an outright winner in the warm up is definitely not cricket. This is all about getting a feel for the surface and conditions and allowing your opponent to do the same. It is not the time to start showing off. 

Here is our top ten list of things you should bear in mind.

  1. In the pro game, the players toss a coin to decide who serves first, then begin the warm up on the same side of the net as they play their first game.  It is not essential to do this, but it might be useful, especially if one end is especially sunny or tricky. The more you can practise there before you start, the better.
  2. Pros warm up on court for 5 minutes, but will have already got themselves fully warmed up off court. As a rule of thumb, take 10-15 minutes, while being mindful of the time available. If you are late arriving or one of you needs to go early, trim the warm up accordingly. 
  3. Many a right handed player can get well into the second set before they realise they are playing a leftie. If you do nothing else in the warm up, make sure you notice if your opponent is left or right handed.
  4. Start gently in the service box and gradually move back. Not everyone likes starting short, but it makes sense to graduate the strength of your shots and the distance you have to hit them.
  5. Make sure you do backhands and forehands and watch to see if your opponent has a preference for either side or runs around one type of shot. They could be displaying a weakness you can exploit.
  6. If you are playing doubles, make sure you hit cross court as well as up and down. You are going to be hitting a lot of balls cross court!
  7. If you are playing singles, you might skip practising volleys, especially if you are short of time, but don’t skip them before a doubles match. They are essential for success.
  8. Don’t forget to warm up your serve and to practise your return when your opponent serves to you.
  9. If you are a club player and used to certain conventions in a friendly, do not take them into a match! These conventions might be ‘‘first serve in’, ie in the first game, you can keep hitting a serve until you get one in; or that you can double fault once and get two more serves. These are not allowed in a match!
  10. The pros can tell how well a player is playing in the warm up. At an amateur level, it is much more difficult. Players who look like beginners in the warm up can turn out to be very effective in a match, while the reverse is also true. Observe what you can in the warm up but don’t take anything for granted. Be on the look out for strengths and weaknesses in the first few games.

Want to get playing? To find your nearest league see http://localtennisleagues.com/leagues