25 January

Ten simple tips that could be a game changer for you

Rafa Nadal's outstanding performance at the Australian Open shows that however good a player you are, you can always improve. Here is a ten point plan to enhance your game

Rafa Nadal’s serve has been one of the talking points of this year’s Australian Open.  “We’re looking to maximise damage from the onset, and one way to do that is with a faster, more aggressive serve," said Carlos Moya, Rafa’s coach, before the tournament. "We’ve been working out the mechanics of his serve; his motion now is more fluid. Before, the ball he served lost power immediately after bouncing. That isn’t the case anymore; his serve maintains speed now after making contact with the court, making it that much more potent.” 

If you have been watching, you will have noticed the difference. While you are unlikely to have a whole team who can look at the bio-mechanics of your own strokes, there are plenty of things that you can improve, especially if, as Ian Price says in his book Head Start, you identify the things that matter. (Remember Pareto's Principle that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes).

1: Tennis begins off court...

...says Brad Gilbert in Winning Ugly. “Your body will do what your minds tells it to do.” So before any match, think what frame of mind works best for you in a match (motivated, calm, focussed etc), work out what you want to make happen on court and clearly visualise yourself doing it. Include in your visualisation exactly what you can see, feel, smell and touch.

2 Get organised

Get your racket bag ready for the next match as soon as you come back from the last one. That way you will remember what you need and all you need to do before the next is to top up your water bottle.

3 Take two rackets

If you can, take two rackets to the match and don’t change into your tennis shoes until you get there. It will make them last longer and you will feel they are part of your winning kit!

4 Make the most of the warm up

In the warm up, hit a few balls down the middle and see if your opponent hits it with his or her forehand or backhand. It’s a clue to which side they prefer.

5 Never serve first if you have THE choice

Another Gilbert mantra... It seems counter intuitive but he reasons it might psych out the opponent; the serve is weakest earliest, serving is easier when you are warmed up, the first serve is the easiest time to break and if the opponent holds serve, hey, that’s what’s supposed to happen. You haven’t lost anything. (The only exception to this rule is if you know someone has a thundering serve).

6 "Racket back" is not all

Instead of thinking ‘racket back’ on your forehand, think ‘unit turn’. "The secret to a successful forehand is to turn your hips and upper body as one unit when you're preparing to hit the ball," says USTA.com

7 Stick with your game 

Stick to your style of play. It’s very easy to ‘mirror’ an opponent and to start hitting like he or she does, even if it’s not what you like to do. As soon as you become aware that you are doing this, go back to your own style instead.

8 Watch the ball!

Don’t just look at the ball, look for the lines on the ball. A tip from the Inner Game of Tennis, it really helps improve your focus.

9 Placement is king

Think placement rather than power. It’s usually more important says Brad Gilbert who also advises: “Hit with your racket, not with your ego”.

10 Practise mindfulness

If you feel nervous or discouraged mid-match, just note the feeling. Simply acknowledging it, helps it go away.