All Posts by Mehrban

2 TFP 039: Todd Ellenbecker On Injury Prevention and Recovery

TFP 039: Todd Ellenbecker—Injury Prevention and Recovery

Today I had the pleasure of speaking with Todd Ellenbecker, DPT, MS, SCS, OCS, CSCS (whew!). Todd is the Vice President of Medical Services for the ATP Tour and a Director of Physiotherapy Associates Scottsdale Sports Clinic in Arizona. He was kind enough to join me to talk about injury prevention and recovery for tennis players.

I received a ton of questions from all of you because injuries are a huge part of the game. We must take measures to prevent injuries, and properly recover when we have the misfortune of getting them. Otherwise, we will not be able to play the sport we love for very long.

Todd’s advice goes beyond helping your tennis game, and will help you lead a much healthier, more functional life. If you don’t make time to work on your physical strength and flexibility, you’ll never reach your tennis potential.

Todd, along with recent The Tennis Files Podcast guest Dr. Mark Kovacs and Paul E. Roetert, is a co-author of Complete Conditioning for Tennis. This book has been a life-changer for me and my game. I have used it to formulate my own periodized workout routine and am seeing fantastic results on and off the court because I am committed to the program.

Thanks so much to Todd for coming onto The Tennis Files Podcast and providing us all with such amazing value. His expertise in the area of physiotherapy is truly second to none!

Time-Stamped Show Notes

  • [1:49] How Todd became the VP of Medical Services for the ATP Tour and Director of a Physiotherapy Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ
  • [3:36] Todd’s degrees and certifications
  • [5:29] Three things most of the world doesn’t know about Todd
  • [6:20] Why do tennis players get injured?
  • [7:37] Can you get injured with good technique?
  • [9:09] Three of the most common injuries on the ATP Tour today
  • [10:52] Difference in injuries now versus previous generations of players
  • [12:20] What we can do to protect the shoulder
  • [13:53] Why traditional heavy lifting can be detrimental to tennis players
  • [16:20] The optimal time to train and perform exercises
  • [18:30] A case study on how Ram, a member of our audience, can recover from a rotator cuff injury
  • [21:09] The cause of hip pain and how to remedy it
  • [23:14] Todd’s duties as the Vice President of Medical Services for the ATP Tour, and how Todd and other ATP physiotherapists go out on the court to treat professional tennis players during medical timeouts
  • [25:00] The most common injuries treated during medical timeouts
  • [26:17] How often are medical timeouts used for gamesmanship, and how are trainers supposed to respond if they sense this
  • [27:41] Todd’s favorite tools that we can use to prevent injuries
  • [30:28] Three things that amateur players can do to prevent injuries
  • [33:45] How can Doug help his team deal with shin splints
  • [36:44] Where can our audience follow Todd online?

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Links Mentioned in the Show

Complete Conditioning for Tennis

Physiotherapy Associates Scottsdale Sports Clinic

Note: The link to Complete Conditioning for Tennis above is an affiliate link, so if you make a purchase after clicking, I make a small commission. Thanks either way!

If you enjoyed my interview about injury prevention and recovery with Todd, subscribe to The Tennis Files Podcast in iTunes or your favorite podcast app!

For more tips on how to improve your game, download a free copy of my eBook, The Building Blocks of Tennis Success eBook below! Thanks for listening!

2 How to Overcome Adversity When the Pressure is On

How to Overcome Adversity When the Pressure is On

CLICK HERE to download my free strategy guide.

There are many critical moments in a tennis match where you will feel pressure to succeed. Ironically, because of this pressure, it can be difficult for you to perform your best.

I know because I’ve competed for over 2 decades in tournaments against national and world-class competition. And I’ve failed so many times that I’d need extra hands to count them all.

But, these failures, along with my successes, have helped me learn what it takes to flourish in the big moments of a match.

Let’s examine the most pressure packed points during your matches and how you should approach them. By identifying these moments and implementing the advice that follows, you will be more prepared to succeed when the going gets tough.

1. The Beginning of the Match

There is a lot of uncertainty at the start of a match. You don’t know how you or your opponent are going to perform. You may not know how you need to play against your opponent to be successful. Nervous energy sets in because of all the unknowns.

Unfortunately, you can’t afford a slow start. It can be all the difference between a well-fought victory and a slow long climb up the 0-5 deficit mountain.

Uncertainty breeds discomfort and potential for suboptimal play. Luckily, if you develop a gameplan based on you and your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, much of this uncertainty will be replaced with confidence from the moment you step out on the court.

A little planning goes a long way. Formulate strategies for the match to keep you focused on executing the right plays before the first ball is struck.

2. You Lose Several Points in a Row

This can be a big confidence buster. You make a string of errors or your opponent comes up with big shot after big shot and starts going on a hot streak. Is it time to panic?

Nope. Time to go back to the basics.

Reset your mind and your game, and remember the solid strategic fundamentals that you’ve heard time and time again from coaches.

Deep cross-court balls, as many as you can in a row. Attack the short ball, usually down the line, and come to net. Nothing fancy. Just good, clean basic tennis.

If you play the percentages, run for every ball, compete with grit and determination, and still lose, then you deserve props for giving it your all and that bag of cheese puffs you’ve been craving since Nixon became president.

Remember, when you are in trouble, do what my college tennis coach Keith Puryear used to always tell me: go back to the basics.

3. Your Serve Has Just Been Broken

Holding serve is expected for intermediate and advanced players. The serve is the most important stroke in tennis. You start the point hitting your serve half the time, which gives you the opportunity to begin the point on your terms.

This is why practicing your serve is so critical to reaching your tennis potential. But even with all the practice in the world, your serve will get broken during matches.

If you lose your service game, take a deep breath and plan how you will break right back. Breaking your opponent’s serve right after you’ve been broken is the best time to do so for a couple reasons.

First, there is often increased pressure on the opponent to consolidate the break (i.e. hold serve). Second, if you can break right back, you can make your opponent feel like breaking your serve was somewhat of a fluke and a non-issue, since he or she was broken immediately. Third, it stops the momentum and evens the score as quickly as possible.

And sometimes your opponent will become too overconfident or lose focus after breaking your serve. Time to pounce on these weaknesses like a cat who just spotted a box of organic kitty litter from Whole Foods.

Instead of being discouraged at losing serve, look for ways to get back on track. Commit to having as strong a return game as possible. Get your returns in play, be gritty, and apply controlled aggression to put the pressure back on your serving opponent.

Momentum is huge, and the quicker you stop your opponent’s advantage, the quicker you can swing things to your advantage.

4. When You’ve Broken Serve

This is the other side of the coin. When you break your opponent’s serve, depending on your personality, you may either become too relaxed, be preoccupied with needing to consolidate the break, or get too excited and lose concentration.

The key is to have a gameplan in place that you can keep implementing against your opponent. Understand what point patterns will enable you to exploit your opponent’s weaknesses while utilizing your strengths.

CLICK HERE to download my free strategy guide.

Then focus on sticking with what works through the entire match.

Instead of putting pressure on yourself to win your service game after breaking, think about the strategies you need to implement to win the match. Then execute these strategies.

Focus on the task at hand (winning each point) rather than on accomplishing something that hasn’t happened yet (i.e. winning the match) and your won’t create openings for your opponent to get back on track.

5. In the Late Stages of the Set

We often feel the pressure during the latter part of a set. Most players will settle into the match and play their game after a while, but staying mentally tough late into the match takes a lot of focus and experience.

A common scenario is when you are serving at 4-4 or 4-5. A break of serve on your end can spell doom for the set or the match.

Not to worry, because you have a couple things to fall back on: your gameplan and high-percentage play.

Your gameplan got you this far, so keep executing the point patterns that have helped you get to this point. Set up the points so you can use your strengths in your game as much as possible.

By definition, your strength is something you excel at, so going to it as much as you can during tough situations will give you the best chance of winning.

And if you feel the pressure, play the percentages. Once again, hit deep, solid groundstrokes until you get a short ball you can approach to the net with. Use your grit and determination to take the set from your opponent.

When things get tight, it is critical that you not let your opponent dictate the match (unless you know they “dictate” for a couple shots and then will make an error). If you do, he or she will gain confidence and you will expend way more energy retrieving balls all day instead of controlling the rallies.

6. During The Tiebreak

The pressure in a match peaks during tiebreakers. Both sides have battled to a stalemate, and the tiebreaker hastens the revelation of who will win the set and/or the match.

To help you succeed during tiebreaks, keep your opponent’s weaknesses in mind. Any part of your adversary’s game that you can put pressure on during the tiebreaker that may break down will give you a huge advantage.

Remember your game plan and keep sticking to what has been winning you points. Keep calm and relaxed during the tiebreak and focus on executing strategies and point patterns, rather than getting caught up in the situation.

Why do you think players who are in the zone are so successful? They are not thinking about the outcome, but executing and enjoying the process of playing the match.

7. The Start of The Set

This juncture of the match is quite different from the beginning. At this point, you’ve either won or lost the previous set, and need to start strong to build momentum for the next one.

The big mistake here that I have made many times myself, is to actually focus too much on the concept of “starting strong.” So many times in my junior and adult career, I have overemphasized the strong start in my mind and even verbally to myself. Unfortunately, the opposite usually happens when I have done this.

Once again, the reason for this issue is focusing on the results (bad!) instead of the process (good!). When it comes time to perform, think about what you need to do to get to win each point and make it happen.

Don’t get me wrong; positive thinking certainly can help your performance. But don’t stop there. Think more deeply about strategy and you will increase your chances of playing optimally. This way, you will start a set off strong without stressing out over it.

8. Closing Out the Match

As tennis players like to say, “there is no shot clock in tennis.” We can’t wait for time to expire or a referee to blow the whistle.

What you can’t do is think about winning the match. When you do this, you will forget what go you in the lead. You’ll start thinking about how you need to win, or how much the win means to you. Then nerves will set in, and you won’t be able to perform your best when it matters the most.

Instead, you must seize victory when the opportunity arises. Stick to the gameplan and you will be victorious.

It is normal to struggle during the above moments when playing a match. I hope that by identifying them and how to approach each one, you will perform more confidently and persevere when it counts the most.

You may not magically start winning every single match after reading this post. But through practice and experience in these competitive situations, you will get better at managing the pressure and will win more matches.

Formulate and execute your gameplan, go back to the basics when you start to struggle, and everything else will take care of itself.

To learn how to formulate a rock solid gameplan to help you win more tennis matches, download a free copy of my strategy guide by filling out the short form below!

TFP 038: How to Choose a Racquet with Wilson Sales Manager Preston Lemon

TFP 038: How to Choose a Racquet with Wilson Sales Manager Preston Lemon

On today’s episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Preston Lemon, a Territory Sales Manager for Wilson Sporting Goods Co. in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Preston, a former college tennis player at Virginia Tech, joined me on the podcast to give you some fantastic tips on how to choose the best tennis racquet for your game.

Afterwards, we examined 6 of Wilson’s newest racquets on the market: the Blade 18×20 Countervail, Blade 16×19 Countervail, Blade 98S (Spin) Countervail, Pro Staff 97, Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph, and the Ultra 100.

Preston and I spoke about each racquet’s specs and then discussed our experiences playing with them. Preston was kind enough to send me the six racquets above to playtest, and I have really enjoyed hitting with Wilson’s latest sticks.

In addition to the racquets, Preston also sent me several packets of Luxilon 4g string 125mm and Wilson Revolve 16g strings.  We gave our thoughts on the 4g and Revolve as well.

I really appreciate Preston coming onto the show, and for sending me the latest Wilson racquets and strings to playtest.  Preston has been a pleasure to work with, and I can only hope that the majority of racquet reps are as good as he is at what he does!

Tune in to Episode 38 of The Tennis Files Podcast to enhance your knowledge about racquets and find out which one of them is our hands down favorite!  This episode will help you learn how to choose the best racquet for your game, and whether one of Wilson’s racquets may be right for you.

Here’s a short video of me hitting with the 18×20 Blade:

Time-Stamped Show Notes

  • [2:49] How Preston became a Sales Manager for Wilson
  • [4:49] What Preston loves the most about being a Wilson Rep
  • [5:59] Three things most of the world doesn’t know about Preston
  • [8:03] How should players approach choosing the right racquet for their game?
  • [9:53] Ideal racquets based on your style of play (baseliners, serve-and-volleyers, etc.)
  • [12:16] What does flex mean in a tennis racquet?
  • [14:07] The impact of weight in a tennis racquet
  • [14:38] Should beginners use a bigger head size?
  • [16:00] Heady-heavy vs head light racquets
  • [17:53] How much do strings affect the playability of a racquet?
  • [19:50] Blade 18×20 Countervail review
  • [24:02] How does the new Blade compare with the older version?
  • [24:37] Countervail technology in the new Blade racquets
  • [26:21] Blade 16×19 Countervail review
  • [29:10] Blade 98S (Spin) Countervail review
  • [32:49] Pro Staff 97 review
  • [38:25] Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph review
  • [42:58] Ultra 100 review
  • [46:44] Other racquets in Wilson’s lineup
  • [48:24] A funny story about receiving the racquets
  • [49:13] Wilson’s relationship with Luxilon
  • [49:55] Luxilon 4g string 125mm review
  • [53:56] Wilson Revolve 16g string review
  • [55:49] Resources to enhance your knowledge about racquets and strings
  • [57:20] One key tip to help you improve your tennis game
  • [58:43] Where can we follow Wilson’s products

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Links Mentioned in the Show

Blade 18×20 Countervail

Blade 16×19 Countervail 

Blade 98S (Spin) Countervail

Pro Staff 97

Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph

Ultra 100

Luxilon 4g string 125mm

Wilson Revolve 16g string

Wilson Homepage

Wilson’s Twitter (@wilsontennis), Instagram, and Facebook pages

Note: Several of the links above are affiliate links, so if you make a purchase after clicking, I make a small commission. Thanks either way!

If you enjoyed my interview about racquets with Preston, subscribe to The Tennis Files Podcast in iTunes or your favorite podcast app!

For more tips on how to improve your game, download a free copy of my eBook, The Building Blocks of Tennis Success eBook below! Thanks for listening!

How Luca Corinteli Became an Elite College Tennis Player

TFP 037: How Luca Corinteli Became an Elite College Tennis Player

On today’s episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Luca Corinteli from the University of Virginia Men’s Tennis team. Luca is an elite tennis player and was ranked as high as #2 in doubles in the country with partner Ryan Shane. Luca has helped UVA Men’s Tennis win the NCAA Division I national championship the past two years in a row.

Brian Boland, head coach of UVA Men’s Tennis and a recent guest on The Tennis Files Podcast, highly recommended that I interview Luca when I asked Coach Boland who he might suggest I speak to from his team.

Coach Boland was right on the money (per usual). The senior Wahoo with proud Georgian roots gave us a truly fantastic interview on the life of a college tennis player at the #1 college tennis program in the country. Luca is mature well beyond his years, and we wish him and UVA Tennis all the best this season and into the team’s professional careers.

Time-Stamped Show Notes

  • [3:15] How does the championship ring feel?
  • [4:13] How Luca got his start playing tennis
  • [5:57] How judo helped Luca’s tennis game
  • [7:12] Luca’s first tournament experience
  • [7:59] Role models growing up as a junior
  • [9:34] How Vesa Ponkka has helped Luca’s tennis career
  • [11:08] An overview of Luca’s junior career
  • [12:54] How Luca overcame a low point as a younger player
  • [14:42] Luca’s biggest accomplishment in his junior career
  • [15:49] How Coach Boland recruited Luca onto UVA Men’s Tennis Team
  • [16:57] Luca’s biggest improvement since joining UVA Tennis
  • [18:36] Overcoming adversity in college tennis
  • [20:51] Best advice from the coaching staff
  • [23:08] Luca’s favorite drills in team practices
  • [24:18] Ratio of on-court to off-court training
  • [26:50] What part of Luca’s game did Luca have to improve the most when he came to UVA?
  • [28:28] Luca’s most memorable moment at UVA
  • [30:16] Rivalries in college tennis
  • [31:45] What went through Luca’s mind when Henrik Wiersholm clinched the 2016 National Championship for UVA Men’s Tennis
  • [33:15] Funniest moment with the team
  • [34:50] The sickest match that Luca has played in college
  • [36:33] Luca describes how he held serve down a break point at 5-5 30-40 in the national championship match at #1 doubles against Oklahoma
  • [37:27] How Luca calmed himself down after shaking before serving down break point in the national championship
  • [38:29] What makes Luca a great doubles player
  • [39:50] How Luca decides when to poach in doubles
  • [40:57] Winning point patterns in doubles
  • [42:46] Difference in levels between college tennis and ITF Futures events
  • [44:05] Luca’s plans on whether to play professional tennis after college
  • [45:20] Three things that most people don’t know about Luca Corinteli
  • [47:27] Luca’s favorite tennis book
  • [49:07] Where can we follow Luca online
  • [49:52] One key tip that will help us improve our tennis games

Special shout out to UVA Men’s Tennis, as Luca is the 3rd guest I’ve had on the show in 37 episodes that has ties to the program. Coach Brian Boland (Episode 34) and Treat Huey (Episode 7) have also been on The Tennis Files Podcast.

Treat just qualified for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in doubles with Max Mirnyi, which is an incredible accomplishment! Go Treat!

Thanks again to Luca for coming onto the Tennis Files Podcast and speaking about his experiences as a player on UVA’s Men’s Tennis Team!

Subscribe to automatically download new episodes!

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Links Mentioned in the Show

Winning Ugly – Brad Gilbert

UVA Men’s Tennis Team Homepage

UVA Men’s Tennis Twitter Page

Luca’s Twitter and Instagram Pages

Note: The link to Winning Ugly above is an affiliate link, so if you make a purchase after clicking, I make a small commission. Thanks either way!

If you enjoyed my interview with Luca, subscribe to The Tennis Files Podcast in iTunes or your favorite podcast app!

For more tips on how to improve your game, download a free copy of my eBook, The Building Blocks of Tennis Success eBook below! Thanks for listening!

8 Simple Tests to Analyze Your Tennis Progress

The 8 Most Critical Tennis Skills and How to Test Them

In a world of cookie-cutter programs and one-size fits all solutions, analyzing your game is the first real step to progress.

Trying to find the “best” fitness program or the “top” tennis drills without knowing what areas you need to work on to optimize your play is a waste of time. What are your deficiencies? What skills or attributes will most improve your game if you focus on training them?

After interviewing some of the best tennis coaches in the world on my podcast, including Brian Boland, Martin BlackmanAllistair McCaw, and Dr. Mark Kovacs, I’ve heard a common theme about producing great tennis players and athletes. Knowing the individual—the strengths, areas that need improvement, and what makes the person tick, to name a few—is critical to maximizing the player’s performance.

Before we get into the skills and tests, I need to give credit where it is due. I learned many of the fitness tests and average scores below from Complete Conditioning for Tennis (2nd edition). I can’t stress enough how much this book, and my amazing podcast guests, have helped me improve my tennis conditioning and my game.

There are several skills which you need to assess before confidently creating a training program that best suits your individual needs. They are the following:

1. Technique

Biomechanically efficient technique is highly determinative of your tennis potential. Deficient technique will cause errors, especially in pressure situations. It can be even more destructive when you have bad technique and know you do, because your confidence in your game will be compromised. More importantly, biomechanical inefficiencies can lead to undue stress on the body and eventual injury. There’s a good chance that there is a stroke or two in your game that you can improve.

Action Step: Record your play with a camera or cell phone and examine your strokes to determine which shots need the most improvement from a technical standpoint. Even better: have a coach grade you on each of your strokes.

2. Footwork Speed/Agility

If you aren’t in position to hit the ball, everything else (technique, power, endurance, etc) is irrelevant. Many players incorrectly attribute a bad shot to incorrect technique when the culprit is often suboptimal footwork. Your footwork speed, intensity, and efficiency is a critical aspect of your game that needs to be developed. Your footwork affects every single shot in your repertoire. It is the difference between a powerful, offensive, and balanced strike, and a short, defensive, attackable one.

Action Step: Perform a 20 yard dash and record your time. Between 3.3-3.4 seconds (men/women) is an average time. Evaluate your lateral speed by shuffling sideways from the middle of the court to the right doubles line, left doubles line, and back to the middle. A time of 7.0 seconds is an average score for men and women. Analyze a match or practice session and see how consistently you are prepared and in position to hit each shot.

3. Power

Tennis is an explosive sport. A fast start makes a crucial difference in your ability to strike the ball in a comfortable versus a compromised position. Both the quickness of your initial reaction and sustained speed will determine how much time you will have to hit your shot. If you train in the gym to improve your game, you can’t ignore the explosive part of weight training if you want it to translate on the tennis court.

Action Step: Stand sideways next to a wall or tennis fence, reach up as high as you can, and mark that spot with tape or any adhesive. Then jump as high as you can, touch the wall, and mark that spot. Measure the difference between the two points. Between 12-16 inches for females and 21-26 inches for males is an average score.

4. Mental Fortitude

Mental strength in the face of adversity is one of the most critical skills for all tennis players. You can have picture-perfect strokes and unparalleled athletic ability, but if you do not have self-belief, a competitive desire, and the ability to overcome adversity, you will not be successful on the tennis court.

Action Step: Evaluate your results over the past year. How do you perform during critical points? Are you winning most of your big matches?  Do you think about forces out of your control while playing? If you find yourself underperforming in pressure situations, you need to make mental fortitude a priority.

5. Flexibility

If you are not flexible, you increase your chance of pain, injury, and a short career in the sport. In addition to reversing these issues, by training your flexibility, you will be able to retrieve more balls and return shots from uncomfortable positions. If you want a healthier body and a hugely improved tennis game, you must work on your flexibility. On my podcast, Allistair McCaw remarked that flexibility is the main reason why Novak Djokovic became #1 in the world. Watch the Serbian at work, and you will have little opportunity for argument.

Action Step: Assess your flexibility with a trained professional. You can also perform basic stretch flexibility tests, such as measuring how far you can reach toward your toes (2-4 inches past the toes for females and 1-2 for males is an average score) and the internal shoulder flexibility test.

6. Endurance

Sustaining a high-level of play for several hours on the court is critical for any competitive tennis player. The most crucial period of any match is closing out the win, and if you cannot perform optimally because of fatigue, you are doing your game a huge disservice.

Action Step: Assess your endurance by considering how your perform at the end of matches relative to your intensity and focus at the beginning/middle of play. Run 1.5 miles and record your time. Around a 14-15 minute time for females and 11-12 minutes for males is average.

7. Strength

We can all agree that the best tennis players don’t look like powerlifters or football players. That said, players often severely underestimate the impact strength plays in improving a player’s game. Dr. Mark Kovacs explained that while flexibility is very important, a muscle that is not strong enough and overstretched can cause injury. The stronger you are, the more you will be able to develop your speed and power from your base of strength.

Action Step: See how many pushups you can perform in one-minute. Based on Complete Conditioning for Tennis (2nd edition), around 30 push-ups for females and 35 for males represents an average score.

8. Strategy

Creating and implementing a solid strategy for your matches will result in more wins. As I discussed in my article on how to formulate a winning game plan, formulating strategy based on your game and your opponent’s game offers many advantages, including helping you stay focused, handle pressure, and play matches more optimally.

Action Step: Analyze how often you plan and implement strategy before tennis matches. Do you usually feel outplayed or controlled by your opponent (i.e. you are reactive rather than proactive)? If you want to learn how to formulate winning game-plans before your matches, download my free match-strategy guide below!

CLICK HERE to download my free strategy guide.

Periodic Re-evaluation

To gauge your progress, perform tests on the skills above periodically. It depends on how often you’d like to know your numbers, but every couple months is a good baseline. Try to replicate the same conditions as when you took the first test for a more accurate sense of your progression (i.e. same amount of sleep, rest, food, etc).

Complete Conditioning for Tennis

The last thing I want to emphasize is that you pick up a copy of Complete Conditioning for Tennis (2nd edition). It contains hundreds more self-assessment tests, exercises, and advice on how to analyze your capabilities and create your own fitness program based on your individual needs.

I give a huge amount of credit to Complete Conditioning for Tennis (2nd edition), Dr. Mark Kovacs, Todd S. Ellenbecker, E. Paul Roetert, and all of my amazing podcast guests for helping me become a better tennis player.

(Note: the links to Complete Conditioning for Tennis are affiliate links. If you click them and make a purchase, I make a small commission. Thanks either way!)

Final Thoughts

The key takeaway here is to assess your strengths and weaknesses of the skills above, and formulate your tennis goals and training regimen according to your findings.

And I’ve heard from a lot of you asking about my training program since I posted a sneak peak of it on instagram recently, so I will be discussing it soon in a future post! 🙂

Analyze your game and let us know what skills you need to improve in the comments section!

To help you plan and create your fitness and training goals, download your free copy of my SMART Goals guide below!

Kim Selzman Tennis Quick Tips

TFP 036: 6 Quick Tips to Improve Your Tennis Game with Kim Selzman

On Episode 36 of TFP, Kim Selzman from The Tennis Quick Tips Podcast and tennisfixation.com joined me to give you some of her best tips to help you improve your game.

Kim started playing tennis at 40 years old and fell in love with the game immediately. She is a super passionate tennis player that enjoys sharing what she knows and learns about the game with her audience. Well that sounds a little familiar! 🙂

Kim does an awesome job of giving her audience value-packed tips that are quick and easy to implement, and can really boost your game. She has produced over 140 podcast episodes and it was a lot of fun to speak with her on the show. I also included her podcast in my article The 41 Best Tennis Resources Every Player Should Know.

Time-Stamped Show Notes

  • [2:58] How Kim got her start in tennis
  • [5:34] Kim’s website and podcast
  • [9:09] 3 tips to improve your serve
  • [15:35] One tip Kim follows every time she plays tennis
  • [18:52] Why Kim changed her mind about lobbing
  • [22:43] Resources that Kim uses to improve her game
  • [26:03] Favorite tennis books Kim would give as a gift to someone who wants to improve their tennis game 
  • [30:33] One key tip to improve your tennis game
  • [34:06] Where can we find Kim online

A big shout out to Kim for coming onto the podcast and giving us some great tips on how we can all become better tennis players!

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Links Mentioned in the Show

A special gift from Kim for our listeners!

Winning Ugly – Brad Gilbert

Arthur Ashe on Tennis

Tennis Beyond Big Shots – Greg Moran

Interview with Dr. Mark Kovacs

Complete Conditioning for Tennis Players

Note: The links to the books above are affiliate links, so if you make a purchase after clicking, I make a small commission. Thanks either way!

If you enjoyed my interview with Kim, let me know by leaving a review for The Tennis Files Podcast in iTunes or your favorite podcast app!

How to Choose the Right Tournaments for Your Game

How to Choose the Right Tournaments for Your Game

Choosing what tournaments to play can be tricky. You shouldn’t be getting blown out every match, but you don’t want to win every match without a challenge either. Your goal should be to compete in tournaments where at some point, there will be a player there to make you work hard to win. This is how we learn to be better competitors and improve our tennis games.

Here are the steps you should follow, in order, when trying to navigate the world of tennis tournaments:

1. Determine Your Skill Level

You need to honestly assess where you are in your tennis career, what your strengths are, and what areas of your game need improvement. Look at your match results over the past year. What NTRP rating (i.e. 2.5-5.5) are you? You can also ask your tennis friends and instructors who have watched you play on their opinion of your skill-level. Based on their feedback and your own self-analysis, you can figure out what level of tournaments will most effectively challenge your game to improve.

2. Write Down Your Goals

Figuring out your short and long-term goals will help you choose what tournaments to play. For example, is your goal to become a 5.0 singles player, improve your doubles game, or practice competing in preparation for a bigger tournament? To help you figure out how to create SMART Goals, check out this post. Your goals will help narrow your focus to the tournaments that will accomplish your goals in the least amount of time. For example, if your long-term goal is to become a 5.0 singles player, you will realize that you should concentrate mainly on playing singles tournaments. You can download my free guide (with fillable worksheet) on how to set SMART Goals below.

CLICK HERE to download your free SMART Goals Guide

3. Find Out What Tournaments are Available

Figure out what local, sectional, and national organizations run tennis tournaments, go to their websites, and familiarize yourself with their tournament search site. For example, the USTA is the organization that manages the majority of tennis tournaments (via tennislink) for players in the United States. If you are a member of a tennis club, ask a pro or fellow player for advice on how to enter tournaments. It never hurts to ask! And many tennis clubs host tennis tournaments by age and skill-level. Choosing what tournaments to play can be daunting with so many options, so now let’s figure out how to do it.

4. Register for Tournaments at Your Skill Level

Start testing the waters of tournament play by entering ones that correspond to your skill level. For example, if you are a 4.0-level player, enter tournaments that say “NTRP 4.0” or something similar. The ratings/skill-level nomenclature can vary depending on what region or country you are from. Play these tournaments and track your results. I recommend playing a minimum of three of these tournaments before you can accurately assess your next steps. I would also stick with tournaments in your age group in the beginning. And the tournaments you play should align with your goals that you determined in step 2 above.

5. Assess Your Results and Reevaluate

If you are consistently reaching the semi-finals or better, then mix in tournaments into your schedule that are one-level higher. For example, if you reached the semifinals of two out of your last three 4.0 level tournaments and won the other one, make 4.5 level tournaments a substantial part (around 1/3 to 1/2) of your schedule. When I first started playing tennis, after three junior futures tournaments (beginner-level at the time), I knew it was time to move to the next-highest level of tournament play after my results: win, semis, win.

Once you are dominating tournaments at your skill-level, make the permanent leap to the next one, assuming your goal is to become a better tennis player and not just to collect trophies. This will ensure you keep challenging your game so you can improve, just like the weight lifter gradually increases reps or weight to build strength and muscle. Conversely, if you have been struggling to get past the first round, consider playing lower-level tournaments (if allowed), or work on your game for a few weeks and come back stronger for the next one.

6. Sparingly Mix in Tournaments That are Substantially Above Your Skill Level

I believe that occasionally playing tournaments that are a full point (i.e. you are a 4.0 and play a 5.0 tournament) or skill-level (i.e. intermediate to advanced) above what you currently are can help your game. Sure, you are likely to get blown out, but there are huge benefits to sparingly playing at a very-high level relative to your skill-set.

First, playing against extremely good players will give you extra motivation to see where your game has the potential to be if you train smart and hard. Second, playing against this level will fill you with an intensity and focus that you have never felt before, because if you don’t push yourself to the limit during these matches, you will get clobbered. Third, by establishing relationships with these high-level players, you may find a new hitting partner or friend that can help mentor you (remember, you need to be friendly and talk to players to make this happen!). You can learn a ton by sitting down and watching these players. It wouldn’t hurt to take a couple video clips, play them in slow-motion, and see the differences in your strokes and footwork, either!

On Episode 21 of The Tennis Files Podcast, I talked about my experience playing an ITF Futures Tournament at The University of Virginia in Charlottesville. While I am a 5.0 player, I wanted to really push myself to the limit and experience what it was like to play against professional tennis players who are trying to make it on the ATP Tour. I played the 11th seed in qualifying who was ranked around 1100 in the world at the time, and I lost 6-1, 6-0. While my opponent beat me pretty handily, it was a thrill and a big eye-opener to be around such amazing players. It filled me with intense motivation to train and helped me figure out what I needed to improve in my game to confidently perform against this level of players without being exploited. It’s been a few months since the tournament, but I am still pumped thinking about playing it again next year and coming back stronger.

How Frequently Should You Play Tournaments?

The most important considerations for this question are your physical fitness and enthusiasm to compete. When you keep playing tournaments, you acclimate to the environment of competition, intensity, and pressure situations. The best way to become more comfortable in a new setting is by repeatedly putting yourself in that same situation. Therefore, if you are in good physical condition and have the passion to compete, then fit as many tournaments as you can, within reason, into your schedule.

For a serious tennis player, playing two tournaments a month and reevaluating this frequency after three to four months is a reasonable way to figure out the optimal frequency for tournament play. It is critical to reevaluate your body’s capacity to perform at high intensity after each tournament to prevent injury and burnout. Additionally, if there are major parts of your game that need improving (especially technique), this can be another factor in potentially reducing the frequency of your tournament play.

When Should You Reduce Tournament Play?

Tournaments are an integral part of any serious player’s development. However, there are times when playing tournaments can stunt a player’s growth. Here’s when you should reduce or suspend tournament play:

1. When You are Changing Technique

The bigger the technical change, the more you should be willing to suspend tournament play until you are comfortable with implementing the change in pressure situations. When a match gets close, you will feel the pressure to win and will revert back to what is most comfortable. This wastes all the time you spent trying to change your technique in the first place. Because we are competitive, it takes a huge amount of discipline and focus on our long-term goals to maintain a new technical change during crucial points in a match. Instead, you can accelerate the mastery of your new technique by practicing it in a pressureless environment (i.e. practice with a coach or fellow player) and then gradually move to point, set and match play when you are ready.

A normal progression would be something like this: spend two weeks practicing your new service motion with your coach and by yourself, then play practice points and games with your training partners for two weeks. If you can maintain your new service technique throughout the practice games, then start playing practice sets and matches with your training partners. If you are comfortable with your technical change at this level of intensity, then consider playing tournaments. If not, go back to one-level lower of intensity (practice) and reevaluate after a week or two.

The most important consideration is that you prioritize your long-term goals when you make a technical change in your game. This will help you concentrate on implementing the change in your game even if it means playing less tournaments for a while and losing more matches in the beginning.

CLICK HERE to download your free SMART Goals Guide

2. When You Are Injured

No matter how passionate you are about tennis, it is not smart to play tournaments and matches with an injury. The severity of the injury and the importance of the tournament are highly determinative of whether you should play. But injury is a signal from your body that you need to rest and recover. Unless the tournament is of extreme importance to you and your injury is minor, will not become worse, and is manageable, you should not play the tournament.

3. When You are Burned Out

There’s no point in playing a tournament unless you are ready and capable of giving 100% effort. This all starts in the mind. If you are mentally exhausted, you need to take a break and do something fun. Take a week off tennis and play a different sport. Try a less intensive format of tennis like World Team Tennis or a charity event. Go paint some pottery (yep, I did this last weekend, and it was awesome)! You will come back refreshed and ready to rock it the next time you are back out on court. A true passion for tennis will give you the best chance of excelling in this sport, and when that passion runs low, go have some fun to rejuvenate your body and mind. The courts will always be there for you.

4. If you are a Beginner

If you just started playing tennis, you should first get to a level where you can competently play a match. If you can’t hit more than a couple balls across the net at a time, then playing a tournament and getting blown out can potentially discourage you from playing the game for good. And a beginner lacks many basic fundamentals and techniques that need to be developed before competition. When you start competing too early without these fundamentals in place, you will start ingraining bad habits into your game that can become permanent and take a long time to fix if not monitored and corrected by a coach or self-corrected.

Check out my Ultimate Beginner’s Guide if you are relatively new to tennis. It will show you how to improve your skills to the point where you will be ready to start competing. And my free eBook, The Building Blocks of Tennis Success, will show you how to maximize your tennis development.

Tools to Organize Your Tournaments

Here are three simple (and free!) tools you can use to help organize your tournament schedule which I have recommended in previous posts:

Mind Meister  – Free mind maps (aka organizational diagrams) to chart out the steps you need to take to reach your goals. Click here to learn more about mind maps, and here to get started creating them!

Trello – Another awesome free tool to organize your workflow and track your progress on projects and tasks. I use Trello (not to be confused with Trollollo 🙂 ) to ensure my blog postspodcasts, and tennis training gets done on time. You can add notes, checklists, attachments, and even pictures to your entries.

Google Calendar – Just open up google calendar through your gmail account on the interwebs and schedule all your appointments and set alarms to help keep you working towards accomplishing your goals.

ACTION STEP

Take the first step at the top of this post right now: determine your skill level. 

Starting is the hardest part to accomplishing anything in life. Once you know your skill level, progress to the next step of figuring out your SMART Goals in tennis, then find and register for tournaments at your skill level and stay focused on continually improving your game.

CLICK HERE to download your free SMART Goals Guide

I hope this post has helped you figure out how to choose what tournaments to play and encourages you to get out on the court and compete. As you can see, selecting the right tournaments isn’t that difficult, either. Playing tournaments will improve your game and teach you how to become a strong competitor. Now that you know what steps to take, make it happen! If you have any questions about tournaments, feel free to email me at mehrban@tennisfiles.com.

For more advice on how to improve your tennis game, get a free copy of my eBook, The Building Blocks of Tennis Success, by filling out the short form below!

TFP 035: Martin Blackman USTA Player Development

TFP 035: Martin Blackman—USTA Player Development

On today’s show, I had the pleasure of speaking with Martin Blackman, General Manager of the United States Tennis Association’s (USTA) Player Development Program.

Coach Blackman is responsible for partnering with the U.S. tennis community to identify and develop the next generation of world-class American tennis players. The former ATP pro and college tennis coach spoke to us about the USTA’s player development program that has recently seen a lot of success and a ton of top-ranked American talent.

The current head of USTA PD was one of the top juniors in the world and eventually climbed to a ranking of #158 on the ATP Tour. He also played Davis Cup for Barbados. After his pro career, Blackman coached the American University tennis team and top junior players at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in Maryland.

On Episode 35, Coach Blackman speaks to us about what the USTA is doing to bolster the development of top American tennis players. We can adopt many of Coach Blackman’s and the USTA’s principles into our own way of thinking to help us improve our tennis games.

Time-Stamped Show Notes:

  • [3:44] How Martin Blackman started playing tennis
  • [5:00] Coach Blackman’s college and pro tennis career
  • [8:00] The most important part of the evolution of a tennis coach
  • [9:35] How Martin figured out to have a stronger connection with his players
  • [10:50] Advice Coach Blackman would give to his 20-year old self
  • [11:50] The importance of embracing the process
  • [13:11] How does Coach Blackman define player development?
  • [18:57] What key characteristics or traits need the most development among top tennis players?
  • [22:40] Knowing the long-term vision for the player and sacrificing short-term gain
  • [23:11] Why Pete Sampras switched to a one-handed backhand, and Martin’s victory over Pete in the juniors
  • [25:10] What our audience can do to help improve their tennis games

A huge thanks to Coach Blackman for coming onto the show and for speaking with me about how the USTA, and you all as players and coaches, can better develop into successful tennis players.

I hope you enjoy my interview with Coach Blackman! Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Subscribe to automatically download new episodes!

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Subscribe on Android

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Links Mentioned in This Episode

Free Guide to Setting SMART Goals

Complete Conditioning for Tennis (2nd edition)

Interview with Dr. Mark Kovacs

Interview with Coach Brian Boland (UVA Men’s Tennis)

Note: The link to Complete Conditioning for Tennis above is an affiliate link, so if you make a purchase after clicking, I make a small commission. Thanks either way!

If you enjoyed my interview with Coach Blackman, do yourself a solid and subscribe to The Tennis Files Podcast!

To get a copy of your free guide on How to Set SMART Goals, subscribe to my newsletter below!

4 TFP 034: Brian Boland—Turning College Tennis Players into Leaders

TFP 034: Brian Boland—Turning College Tennis Players into Leaders

On Episode 34 of TFP, I had the honor of speaking with Brian Boland, Coach of the 2013, 2015, and 2016 NCAA Division I Championship University of Virginia Men’s Tennis program. Coach Boland shows us how we can produce better leaders and human beings through college tennis. This approach is ultimately what determines whether coaches and players are truly successful in life.

Coach Boland’s approach of focusing on developing his players have resulted in incredible accomplishments, both on and off the court. Virginia Men’s Tennis has been ranked in the top five of the ITA’s final rankings in 8 of the past 10 seasons, and they’ve also won 5 ITA National Team Indoor Championships, 14 conference championships and 18 NCAA and ITA individual national championships.

What is so striking about Coach Boland is that he doesn’t focus on the results so much as the development of his players. That his favorite moment at Virginia Men’s Tennis has been attending weddings of his players, rather than winning titles, speaks volumes about his values. Coach Boland was also the very first contributor to one of my most popular articles, 30 College Tennis Coaches Reveal Top Character Traits of Successful Student-Athletes.

Huge thanks to Coach Boland for coming onto the show! This episode is a must-listen for any coaches and players who want to get the most out of themselves and their players. Coach Boland shows us how we can do this through leadership, integrity, and character.

Time-Stamped Show Notes:

  • [1:44] How did Coach Boland become a head coach at UVA?
  • [5:03] One thing that the world doesn’t know about Coach Boland
  • [7:06] How do you keep motivated after winning everything there is to win in college tennis?
  • [9:37] How did UVA bounce back from adversity this year to win the NCAA Championship?
  • [13:06] How do you deal with players who aren’t in the lineup
  • [16:43] Challenges in maintaining an elite team year after year
  • [18:42] What did Coach Boland mean when he said “It takes a village to be the best at what you can do.”
  • [23:38] What systems do you have in place to ensure that your players succeed?
  • [26:42] How and where Coach Boland recruit players
  • [29:49] The success of local mid-atlantic players at UVA
  • [34:25] How UVA tennis player Thai-Son Kwiatkowski is skyrocketing up the ATP rankings
  • [40:04] Shout out to Dr. Mark Kovacs (guest on Episode 33 of TFP)
  • [40:51Treat Huey’s rise to the top of the ATP doubles ranks
  • [47:02] What’s the goal for UVA during the fall college tennis season?
  • [52:07] UVA’s individual and team practices in the fall and spring
  • [54:12] The structure of individual practices
  • [55:31] Difference between fall and spring seasons
  • [58:42] Drilling during practices
  • [61:20] Coach Boland’s favorite drills
  • [64:14] How to determine UVA’s lineup
  • [67:34] Coach Boland’s toughest and most enjoyable moments at UVA
  • [74:02] Sanam Singh’s wedding
  • [78:28] How has UVA Tennis changed over the years?
  • [79:54] How can we save our college tennis programs?
  • [81:40] Coach Boland’s morning routine
  • [85:26] Books that Coach Boland would gift someone looking to improve their tennis game
  • [86:51] The importance of tennis coaches and experts sharing information with the community
  • [89:15] Best advice that Coach Boland has every received
  • [90:31] Where can we follow Coach Boland and UVA Men’s Tennis online
  • [92:08] One tip from Coach Boland that will help us improve our tennis games

I hope you enjoy my interview with Coach Boland! Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Subscribe to automatically download new episodes!

Subscribe on iTunes Button

Click this icon, click the blue “View in iTunes” button, then hit “Subscribe.”

 

Subscribe on Android

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Links Mentioned in This Episode

The Inner Game of Tennis

Lead For Godsake

Success is a Choice

UVA Men’s Tennis

Interview with Dr. Mark Kovacs

Complete Conditioning for Tennis (2nd edition)

Note: Some of the links above are affiliate links, so if you make a purchase after clicking, I make a small commission. Thanks either way!

If you enjoyed my interview with Coach Boland, be sure to subscribe to The Tennis Files Podcast! Next up on the schedule is Martin Blackman, Head of Player Development at USTA.

For more tennis tips to improve your game, download my free eBook, The Building Blocks of Tennis Success, by subscribing to my newsletter below!

A Guide to Formulating Optimal Match Strategy Picture

How to Formulate a Winning Game Plan

CLICK HERE to download my free strategy guide.

Most tennis players underestimate the importance of strategy and preparation. But the deeper you think about your game, your opponent’s game, and how you can exploit your opponent, the more optimally you will perform. And having a game plan helps prevent many of our biggest mental distractions, from getting nervous to a lack of concentration.

Why Do You Need a Game Plan?

Think of yourself as a general leading your troops (your tennis game) into battle.  A general prepares its army by thinking about its own capabilities and all information about its adversary. Every single detail is analyzed before the battle begins.

Similarly, you must consider your game, your opponent’s game, the conditions, and then formulate a winning strategy based on that information to give yourself the best chance of winning your match.

When you have a game plan in place, it serves as your roadmap to success. You can play your match with one simple objective: to execute the strategies in your game plan. I will go into detail about the numerous advantages of having a game plan in the next section.

If you are still skeptical, I encourage you to read Brad Gilbert’s insightful book, “Winning Ugly” (affiliate link). Gilbert had what many considered “ugly” strokes, but he maximized his capabilities (and his bank account: $5.5 million in prize money) by thinking his way through matches and executing superior strategy to defeat his opponents. Gilbert reached #4 in the world and has coached several grand slam champions, including Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, and Andy Murray (if your first name starts with “And” and you are a top tennis player, Brad is coming for you!).Gilbert takes his readers through his thought processes while preparing for big matches, including wins over Boris Becker and John McEnroe. Gilbert’s pre-match considerations of how to play his opponents was the key reason for his victories. Gilbert would not have stood a chance against his more talented and athletic opponents without formulating and executing the optimal game plan against them.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, this sounds great and all, but I won’t know who my opponent will be, so a game plan is pointless.” While your contention deserves a soft, slow clap at best, you must still prepare for matches by considering your game, what you do best, your weaknesses, and then apply a strategy that will optimize your capabilities.

You Will Win More Matches with a Game Plan

Answer this question: How many matches have you lost that hinged on one break of serve or were decided by a tiebreaker?

You’ve probably replayed the crucial points in your head countless times, wishing you had played them differently. Maybe you should have hit the approach to the backhand or played more aggressively on the key points.  I bet you could live with some of these losses easier if you had tried to execute the optimal strategy.

Strategy is especially crucial when two players are evenly matched. When this is the case, the player who executes the superior strategy will win.  A one or two point swing is all you need to win these matches. And a well-thought out game plan will make a huge impact in your match results.

If you haven’t been formulating a game plan before matches, I don’t blame you. I used to be that guy who heard he had a match and just showed up, 30 minutes removed from a pleasant nap. However, I realize how huge of a difference it can make to analyze your game, your opponent’s game, and formulate a strategy based on that knowledge to help you win.

Now that you know the importance of a game plan, let’s examine the specific advantages of having one.

Advantages of a Game Plan

1. Helps you play under pressure

Do you get nervous during crucial points in your matches? That’s because your mind isn’t focused on strategy, but instead on winning and losing. You need a game plan to fall back on to prevent this from happening. If you know what you need to do to win points, and you focus on executing your strategy, you will block the results-oriented thinking that causes you to get nervous. I have interviewed several top coaches, players, and performance coaches on The Tennis Files Podcast, may of whom suggest that focusing on the process is the key to optimal performance, especially in high-pressure situations.

2. Helps you stay focused

Having a game plan keeps you mentally engaged in matches. Many of you have emailed me and said that your number one issue is they have trouble focusing during matches. My response has always been that if you formulate a game plan with strategies and point patterns that you can use during a match, then it will be a lot easier to stay focused. It doesn’t matter whether you are down 0-5 or up 5-0.  Concentrate on sticking to the strategy that got you to 5-0 and keep using it until the match is over. If you are down 0-5, keep fighting and consider whether you are losing because you aren’t executing your strategy, or if you need to adjust your strategy based on what has happened in the match.

3. Helps you start the match off strong

If you know the point patterns, strategies, and tendencies that you can take advantage of during the match, you can start using them immediately. This is the direct opposite of how most players start off “feeling out the match.” Playing without a game plan will often result in a slow start. Making a comeback from way down is difficult and a royal pain in the rear. Why not have a game plan in place and use it to dismantle your opponent from the beginning? 10 minutes of planning is much easier that spending 40 minutes grinding your way back down two breaks of serve.

4. Helps you feel in control of the match

If you play a match with no game plan, you might feel lost or uncertain on what to do. This will negatively affect your performance. It is like running through a forest with a blindfold. All you are doing is reacting to the play of your opponent. If you have a plan of attack in place that you can execute, you will be comfortable and in control of your play because you know that you need to do X, Y, and Z to be successful. A game plan will make you feel confident about your game and provide you with a direction to follow during the match.

5. Helps you become a smarter player

As you practice analyzing your game, your opponents’ games, and formulating successful strategies, you will become a more intelligent tennis player. And you will become better at dealing with all sorts of different players. Your mind will be engaged, your problem solving skills will improve, and you’ll keep adding strategies and point patterns to your repertoire. Who the heck wouldn’t want this to happen to themselves? Keep formulating game plans and you will become a smarter tennis player.

CLICK HERE to download my free strategy guide.

When Should I Formulate a Game Plan?

You should formulate your game plan as early as possible so that you can practice implementing it before you play your match.  Tournament draws usually are released several days before the first round matches, so you’d have time to practice your game plan. For those who play league matches, you often don’t know who you are playing until a couple minutes beforehand.

In the latter case, you should still think about how you can play the match in a way that takes advantage of your strengths and masks your weaknesses. Then, as soon as you find out who your opponent is, you can start to think about strategies and point patterns you can use to exploit his or her game.

If you have time, you should definitely write down your game plan. Writing down my game plan helps me remember what I need to do much easier than just thinking about it.

You can even go the extra mile and store notes of players on your computer. This may sound hardcore, but it will help you later down the road when you have to play the same player again. I highly recommend you download my free guide on how to formulate winning game plans, so that you can create and keep records of each player you face on your computer.

If you don’t have time to write out your strategies, use your time while driving to the match to think about how you should play against your opponent.

When I played a kid in Texas at a national open many years ago, he had a piece of paper with notes on it that he would read during changeovers. I remember questioning the kid, thinking he had done something wrong by having secret notes on me. But he prepared for the match well and it paid off. He had a written game plan in place, executed it well, and won the match.

How do I Formulate a Game Plan?

The key to formulating an optimal game plan is to ask yourself a series of questions about your game and your opponent’s game. Even if you don’t know who you are playing, you can still think through how you can set up points to favor your strengths and minimize exposing your weaknesses.

1. Answer The Following Questions About Your Game

    • What are my strengths?
    • What are my weaknesses?
    • How do I win most of my points during matches?
    • What is my biggest weapon on the court and how can I use it the most?
    • What shots do I hate hitting the most?
    • What style of play am I most comfortable with?

2. Answer these Questions About Your Opponent 

    • What do you know about this player?
    • What are this player’s strengths?
    • What are this player’s weaknesses?
    • If you have played this player before, what made you successful against him/her?
    • How was this player successful against you?
    • Is my opponent a mentally tough player?
    • What shots bother or annoy my opponent?
    • What style of play does your opponent primarily use (i.e. baseliner, serve/volley)

You may have heard people advise you to “not look at the draw.” This is not entirely optimal. Sure, you shouldn’t look at the draw to predict who you are going to play in future rounds. You have to focus on one opponent at a time.

But one reason that people advise to not look at the draw is so you don’t get psyched out by who you are playing. I don’t think this is good advice. To debunk this claim: if you are going to get psyched out about your opponent, wouldn’t it be even worse to find out right before you are about to play him or her as opposed to beforehand?

If you know who you are going to play, and you have played that person before, seen them play, or gotten advice from a coach or friend on your opponent, you should ask yourself several questions.

3. Formulate Your Game Plan

Once you ask yourself the questions above, it is time to formulate a plan based on your answers. There are a couple main things you have to focus on when formulating your strategy

    • How can I use my strengths to exploit my opponent’s weaknesses?
    • How can I minimize my opponent’s ability to exploit my weaknesses?
    • What point patterns can I use to win a lot of points?
    • What point patterns will frustrate my opponent the most?

An Example of How to Formulate a Game-Plan

Here’s an abbreviated example of how I used a pre-match game plan to effectively dismantle an opponent.

At a US Open Sectional Qualifying tournament in New Jersey, I decided to research my first round opponent. My friend suggested that we check if my opponent had any videos of himself playing on Youtube. We found a video of my opponent, and learned that he rarely attacked serves and would often block back his backhand return.

I also knew that my forehand is my strength, I am an aggressive baseliner, and I prefer not to hit as many backhands. Based on this information, I knew that I could go for more of my first serves and throw in serve and volleys to his backhand. I also knew that if we got into a backhand rally, I could hit a safe topspin or slice backhand down the line to get the point back to hitting my forehand. My game plan was to hit as many forehands as possible (my strength) to his backhand until I got a short ball which I could attack, preferably to his weaker backhand.

Since I had a game plan, I felt a lot more comfortable about what I needed to do against my opponent. I started the match off strong and won much more handily than I would have without considering this information and formulating strategies to take advantage of it.  Without the game plan, I would have been more nervous, have had to take a few games to discover my opponent’s tendencies, and had no direction as far as what I should be doing in the match to maximize my strengths against my opponent’s weaknesses.

Final Thoughts

The pre-match game plan is one of the most underutilized and overlooked advantages that a tennis player can use to win tennis matches. The smarter, more strategic tennis player will win far more often than the one who shows up to the court without a roadmap for success. I encourage you to ask yourself the questions above and then think of how you should play points to give you the best chance to succeed.  Thinking about what to do before each match is well worth your time and effort.  Think like a general, and your game will salute you no matter what the result is in the end.

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