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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!

8 Tennis for Beginners- The Ultimate Guide

Tennis for Beginners: The Ultimate Guide

There are a lot of people out there who want to play tennis, but they don’t know how or where to begin. 

So I decided to spend a few days putting together the ultimate guide on how to play tennis for beginners. Let’s get started.

Step 1: Use the Right Tennis Equipment

TENNIS RACQUET                       

The secret to finding the perfect racquet is a combination of two things: research and trying out the racquet for yourself. You can borrow a racquet to play tennis, but if you want to start playing on a consistent basis, you should invest in a racquet according to the criteria below.

Beginners should generally use racquets with a head size of 100 square inches or more. A bigger head size gives you a better chance at making contact with the ball. Racquets with a head size of 90 square inches or less are for advanced players and should usually be avoided by beginners.

A new tennis player should usually play with a lighter racquet, which is no more than 300 grams (unstrung, i.e. without strings in the racquet).

All players must use the right grip size for their racquet.  When you search for your racquet, try out different grip sizes and see which one feels right for you. For adults, the grip size generally ranges from 4 2/8 to 4 1/2. For kids, the grip size will be under 4 (unless you have a very large-handed child).

The standard length for an adult racquet is 27 inches. Racquets longer that 27 inches add power and reach but may decrease control and maneuverability. If the racquet is for a child (under 12), consider having him or her try a shorter racquet. Kids racquets range from 19 to 26 inches long.

The power level of a racquet will either be low, medium, or high. I advise that you go with medium: a low-powered racquet is tough to handle as a beginner, while a high-powered racquet may cause you to shorten your swing and rely on the racquet’s power rather than proper form. Once you learn the right technique, it might be difficult to control the ball with a high-powered racquet. Try to find out what power level feels best for you.

I used words like “usually” and “generally” several times when suggesting racquet specs. I did this for a reason: every person is different. One beginner might be extremely athletic and strong, and may find a heavy, small frame to be the most effective.  This is why you should demo racquets before you buy them.

Most online and local tennis stores allow you to demo a racquet for free or a nominal fee. The online stores will let you select racquets to demo, ship you the racquets to try for a few days, and then you ship the racquets back to the company.

Try a bunch of racquets out before you buy so you don’t end up purchasing a racquet that you don’t like because you didn’t have a chance to play with it.

RESOURCES FOR FINDING THE RIGHT RACQUET:

1. What Grip Size is Best (Essential Tennis)

2. Choosing the Right Tennis Racket (ehow)

3. What Size Racquet Should My Child Use (USTANorthern)

4. How to Choose a Tennis Racquet (Wikihow)

THE RACQUET THAT I USE:

Babolat AeroPro Drive GT

While I am not a beginner, the Babolat AeroPro Drive GTwill suit many players just starting out for a few reasons. First, the head size is 100 square inches, giving the player a decent amount of racquet to hit the ball with. Second, the Babolat AeroPro Drive GT weighs 10.6 ounces, which is a good racquet weight for a beginner. Third, this racquet makes it much easier to hit with spin.

Rafael Nadal has used the Babolat AeroPro line of racquets to win a staggering number of Grand Slam titles. I use the Babolat AeroPro Drive GT and I recommend you try it out because I have seen people of all skill levels use this racquet successfully. It is one of the most popular frames of all time.

TOP BEGINNER RACQUETS:

1. HEAD Graphene XT Instinct S: 102 sq inch, 255 grams, medium power.

2. Volkl V1 Classic 2015: 102 sq inch, 286 grams, medium power.

3. Wilson Blade 104: 104 sq inch, 289 grams, low/medium power.

4. Babolat Pure Drive Team 2015: 100 sq inch, 286 grams, medium power.

5. Wilson Roger Federer 21 Covered Junior Tennis Racquet (Juniors)

TENNIS SHOES

Tennis shoes come in different sizes, widths, cushioning, durability, and comfort levels. If you want to play a lot of tennis, consider getting a tennis shoe with an outsole guarantee. This means that if you wear out a shoe (i.e. sole worn through) within a certain period of time (usually 6 months), then you will get a new pair of those shoes (or a newer version) for free!

You need to use tennis shoes because they are made for both lateral and forward/backward movement. Running shoes, for example, do not allow for safe side-to-side movement. You risk injury by using a non-tennis shoe. As a beginner, you can get away with using a basketball or cross-training shoe, but I recommend you invest in a pair of tennis shoes.

SHOES THAT I USE AND RECOMMEND:

1. Adidas Barricade V

The Adidas Barricades are likely the most popular tennis shoes of all time. I have used just about every Adidas Barricade shoe out there, from the Barricade II’s up to the Barricade VII’s. The reason is because it is a very durable shoe, has a 6-month outsole guarantee, and has outstanding stability.

I have found the Adidas Barricade V to be the most comfortable out of the entire series. This is illustrated by the fact that Adidas brought back the Barricade Vs even though they are up to the Barricade 8+ and their newestshoe is the Adidas Barricade 2015. I can also vouch for the Adidas Barricade IIs as these are perhaps the most comfortable and lightest out of the series that I have tried, but I don’t see them on sale anymore these days (try ebay).

2. Asics Gel Resolution 5

This year I decided to try the Asics Gel Resolution 5 shoe, and I am extremely happy with my purchase. The Asics Gel Resolution 5 required no break-in-period and was comfortable right out of the box. There is a reason why Asics jumped from the 11th to 2nd most popular shoe brand within a couple years. The GR 5s are light, pretty stable, and also offer a 6-month guarantee. The Gel Resolution 6 is the latest version that is currently sold by Asics. I will get my hands (and feet) on this shoe and put a review up on Tennis Files within the next few months. 

If you prefer a light and more comfortable shoe, I would go with the Asics Gel Resolution 5 or 6. For a more stable and durable, but heavier, shoe, go with the Adidas Barricade V

No matter what shoe you go with, it is best to try the shoe on before you buy. Do some research, test a few shoes with light footwork movements, and then pick one that best fits your requirements and is most comfortable. 

TENNIS BALLS

Selecting tennis balls isn’t nearly as complicated as tennis racquets or shoes. Most of the brands are pretty solid, such as Penn, Wilson, and Slazenger. I play with Penn Championship Extra Duty Tennis Balls. A can normally contains three tennis balls. They make tennis balls for different surfaces, but as a beginner, it won’t make much of a difference. There are also pressure-less balls and tennis balls for kids, but you can never go wrong with a regular can of tennis balls.

Step 2:

Play Tennis with a FriendGo to a tennis court and hit with a friend. Get a feel for moving on the tennis court and making contact with the ball.

Don’t think that just because you are not playing well you should give up. You are a beginner! Everyone starts somewhere. Roger Federer couldn’t beat many people when he first started playing tennis.

Have fun and try to remember what troubled you most on the court. And don’t worry about your level of play right now: the steps that follow will ensure that you keep improving your tennis game.

RESOURCES TO FIND A COURT OR PLAYER TO PLAY WITH:

1. Tennis Maps: Plug in your address or zip code, and presto. A map with a ton of flags indicating tennis court locations will pop up. Click the flag and then “more info” for a detailed map of the tennis court. Pretty cool, and helpful!

2. Global Tennis Network: This site not only lets you search tennis courts around your area, it also connects you with other tennis players. You can find tennis leagues, ladders, and tournaments on the Global Tennis Network as well. Pretty cool.

3. Tennis Round: TR makes it easy to find players to hit with according to skill level. You can send and receive text messages and emails to connect with other players on Tennis Round. You can report your scores, accumulate points, and see results of other players on the site.

Step 3:

Read Tennis BooksGo to the local library or bookstore and read tennis books. One of the best things you can do as a beginner is to immerse yourself in the game by reading about tennis.

As a beginner, I recommend you read books about tennis technique to learn the general principles of stroke mechanics and footwork. 

You can also read mental training and books about the pros, but as a beginner your priority should be to learn correct technique and practice it on the tennis court.

First you need to learn how to play: the mental game can come later.  And if you don’t know how tennis scoring works, reading books will help that too: most beginner tennis books will teach you the basic rules of tennis.

TENNIS BOOKS THAT I RECOMMEND:

1. Inner Game of Tennis (W. Timothy Gallwey): Arguably the most popular tennis book of all time. I love this book because it focuses on the mental side of tennis and shows us how to perform our best on the court, especially in high-pressure situations. The Inner Game of Tennis is a timeless classic. If you are having trouble overcoming mental obstacles or want to know how to properly approach the game, you need to get your hands on this book!

2. Tennis Fundamentals (Carol Matsuzaki): This book will teach you the basics about tennis. It has plenty of pictures and is easy to follow. A great book for those just starting to play tennis. It was published in 2004, so you may be able to find it at your local library.

3. World-Class Tennis Technique (Paul Roetert/Jack Groppel): This book was published in 2001, and has a ton of illustrations and explanations from several of the most legendary tennis coaches of all time. I remember reading this book in the library when I was a teenager. Hopefully they will have this book at your library too.

Step 4:

Watch VideosVideos are a fantastic way to learn how to play tennis. Most people learn skills faster when presented to them visually. 

When you watch tennis videos, take careful notes on how players use their entire body to hit a shot, and the position of the racquet throughout the stroke. Compare what you see to how you hit your strokes and figure out the differences. I especially like watching slow motion videos of pros because you can see each and every small detail.

However, as a beginner, make sure to watch high-quality instructional videos. Sometimes beginners make the mistake of trying to emulate professionals after seeing advanced techniques that are best implemented later on in a player’s career.

Here are my favorite youtube tennis channels that can help you learn proper tennis technique:

1. Feel Tennis Instruction: Tomaz from Feel Tennis Instruction emphasizes using your body’s natural mechanics to play tennis more efficiently. His philosophy makes sense and appeals to those who want to feel more relaxed and biomechanically sound on the tennis court. I interviewed Tomaz on Episode 6 of The Tennis Files Podcast, which you should definitely check out! He also has a fantastic online course called Serve Unlocked that will help you improve your tennis serve.

2. Jeff Salzenstein: Jeff Salzenstein is a former Top 100 ATP pro who has a bunch of short but helpful videos on tennis technique. He also has specific tips like “elbow the enemy” and “the buggy whip” that you may find to really help your game. I also recommend that you listen to my interview with Jeff on Episode 28 of The Tennis Files Podcast

3. Fuzzy Yellow Balls: Will Hamilton has put together a bunch of fantastic instructional videos that breaks down stroke mechanics in an easy to understand fashion. He also happens to live around my neighborhood! 

Step 5:

Focus on 3 Areas

To maximize your tennis game, it is vital that you have correct technique.  If you have bad technique, it will take a lot of time to fix later down the road (see #10 of this article). Make sure you develop efficient stroke mechanics so that your strokes will not break down under pressure. Find optimal technique and practice it as much as you can (especially your serve!).

When you first start playing, remember that it helps to use a shorter backswing. Many players like to overcomplicate strokes by taking big backswings. However, as a beginner, a longer backswing can make it harder to time your shots. Once you get the timing and mechanics of hitting a stroke down first, then you can add in a lengthier backswing if needed, but only if it helps make your shot more effective.

You also need to focus on excellent footwork. The foundation of tennis is getting into position to hit the ball. If you can’t get into position, then you won’t have a chance to use the strokes you learned.

Lastly, it is important to have fun while you play tennis, especially when first starting out. If you aren’t having fun playing tennis, you might as well do something else. Don’t stress on the fact that you aren’t very good at tennis. Instead, enjoy the challenge, health benefits, and different skill-sets that you will develop and improve by playing tennis. You are a lot more likely to keep playing tennis if you can enjoy it.

Step 6:

Find a Tennis Coach

If your budget allows, find a good tennis coach and take lessons. Having a coach to examine your technique and give you live feedback can accelerate your tennis growth immensely.  Instead of spending hours to figure out a flaw and the solution, a coach can spot issues in your game and give you a solution instantly.  Without a coach, you may never recognize your technical flaws, and you will have a tough time changing your technique later down the road.

You have two choices when it comes to coaches and lessons:

1.  Private Lessons – One-on-one. More expensive but you get all the attention from the teaching pro. Highly recommended if you are serious about your tennis game.

2.  Group Lessons – Two or more students to one coach. Cheaper. Recommended if you want a more social atmosphere or cannot find players to hit with. Allows the instructor to analyze your play against other players.

HOW TO FIND A TENNIS COACH:

Talk to other tennis players and get recommendations.  Call a tennis club in your area and ask them for their best or most popular coaches.  If possible, watch the tennis coach while he teaches a lesson to figure out if he is any good.

I suggest that you first find the name of some coaches that interest you, and google/facebook/linkedin research them to see their resume. Chances are a more experienced and successful coach will be better for you than one without as strong of a record.

You can also use PlayYourCourt and CourtPlay to find tennis coaches. After answering a couple questions, you’ll be matched up with tennis coaches in your area. PlayYourCourt (use code “TENNISFILES” for $25 off a lesson package) and CourtPlay provide players with a quick and easy way of finding a good tennis coach using the internet or a smartphone.

Step 7:

JOIN A TENNIS CLUB

Tennis clubs offer group clinics for all skill levels. This is an excellent way to start learning how to play tennis. There will usually be multiple instructors at a tennis club who teach group and private lessons.

The great thing about tennis clubs is they make it easier to find other players to play with. It is also nice to feel like you are part of a community when you are a member of a club. At some places, you must be a member of a club in order to participate in private or group lessons, or to use the club’s courts.

However, some tennis clubs can be pretty pricey. If you can afford it, join a tennis club. But only after you inspect the facility, find out about the coaching staff and amenities, cost, and make sure the location is a good fit for you and your schedule.

You can find tennis clubs near your area on tennismaps.com (search results show tennis courts and private clubs). As a beginner, I don’t think it is absolutely necessary to join a tennis club. But if you think it will benefit your game, go for it.

Note: If you click on the above product links and make a purchase, I earn a small commission off the sale. I only recommend products that I have used and found to be of excellent value. The only exception here is the Wilson Junior racquet and the Volkl V1, both of which I found to be highly rated after extensive research. If you make a purchase through my links, I really appreciate it! And if you don’t, I appreciate you too 🙂

I hope you found my ultimate guide to tennis for beginners helpful. If there are other things you want to know about as a beginning tennis player that were not covered in this article, comment below or email me at mehrban@tennisfiles.com and I will add them to this guide!

If you enjoyed this post and think it is worth sharing, please click here or on one of the share buttons below.

And subscribe to my newsletter below to get my free eBook, The Building Blocks of Tennis Success, to help you improve your tennis game!

I wish you all the best in your tennis journey!

2 Mehrban at Citi Open 2015 Tennisfiles

My Experience Sports Reporting at a Professional Tennis Tournament

It was a privilege to be part of the media at the 2015 Citi Open. A lot of people asked me about my experience sports reporting at a professional tennis tournament, so I want to share it with you.

The Citi Open is an ATP500 and WTA International professional tennis tournament that featured world #3 Andy Murray, #4 Kei Nishikori (2015 champion), and #29 Sloane Stephens (2015 champion).

I have been to the Citi Open tournament with my parents and friends since I was a little kid. With the launch of Tennisfiles earlier this year, it was only fitting that my first live reporting experience at a professional tennis event would be here in the DC area.

Securing Media Credentials

Many people asked me how I secured media credentials for the tournament. On the Citi Open website, there was a link to apply for media credentials. I provided my website and contact information on the form and waited for a response.

My request wasn’t granted at first. But I contacted Sheena, the media director, and informed her that I wanted to provide in-depth match reports to my readers. Sheena understood my goals for reporting at the tournament and graciously granted my request. This is an example of how persistence pays off.

I honestly had no clue what to expect as part of the media. I didn’t even know where the press box was until I arrived on the first day of qualifying! But I didn’t let the lack of sports reporting experience deter me from the privilege of full media access to a big-time professional tennis tournament.

Learning the Ropes

I arrived at the Citi Open for the first day of qualifying on Saturday, August 1st and headed to the media tent. It was located behind the row of non-stadium hardcourt practice courts and the player’s tent.

There I introduced myself to the media director, Sheena from Reingold. She is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, which made my experience really enjoyable. Sheena, along with Molly, Cindy, and the rest of her staff, were extremely helpful and all-around awesome people.

It definitely helps to be on the good side of the media staff, as they are the ones who help you land interviews and take care of your requests during the week.

I learned how to do my job as a media person with a tried and true method: asking questions. I asked Sheena and fellow media colleagues where the press box was, how to request interviews, the procedures for entering stadium court to take photos, and so on. The whole process made sense and I found it pretty easy and fun to report on the matches for my Tennisfiles readers.

Requesting Interviews

Another question I get asked frequently is how I was able to land interviews with the pros. The process was as follows: for the ATP players, I went through Sheena to request an interview. If I wanted to interview a WTA player, I had to fill out a short form with my name, contact information and the player I wanted to interview.

I am not sure why there was a difference in procedure, but the ATP and WTA are different organizations, and in any case neither process was much of a burden.

The players were not obligated to grant interview requests, but most of them did. Here is a golden interview tip: request an interview for the winner of a match, rather than requesting a player win or lose. When a player loses, they usually do not want to stick around to give an interview. There were certainly a fair share of exceptions, but there is a much higher chance of landing an interview if you request the winning player.

The Media

It was a great experience to meet other sports reporters at the Citi Open. I met people from big publications like the Washington Post and New York Times, to fellow bloggers like Tennis Atlantic and Tennis Column. I really enjoyed talking with my colleagues and found several to be extremely knowledgeable about player results and the history of tennis.  Engaging in conversation with my tablemates was a tennis nerd’s dream.

I also met Scoop Malinowski, an author who has written books about high-profile individuals, including Marcelo Rios, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. We discussed his latest book, Facing Nadal, and he gave me a copy to read. I am enjoying the read so far, and I will post a book review on Facing Nadal within the next couple weeks.

Interviewing the Players

My first one-on-one interview was Alejandro Gonzalez of Colombia. You can probably tell in the video that I was a bit nervous, as it was the first time I had ever interviewed a professional tennis player. But it didn’t matter, because the only way to learn and get better is to go out and do it!

I did 9 one-on-one interviews at the Citi Open, and you can check them all out on the Tennisfiles homepage or youtube channel. After Gonzalez, I interviewed Ryan Harrison, Go Soeda, Yoshihito Nishioka, Naomi Broady, Jack Sock, Alexander Zverev, and Marcelo Melo/Ivan Dodig twice.

I felt like I improved with each interview and asked some interesting questions like how Melo/Dodig bounced back from a tough patch in their careers or Naomi Broady’s favorite food before a match.

Besides interviews, I recorded a bunch of press conferences with my camera and audio recorder of the top players including Nishikori, the Bryan Brothers, Ekaterina Makerova, and John Isner.

My Workday

Each day I would report to the media tent, grab some food (lunch, dinner, drinks and snacks were free to the media, sweet!), and figure out which players I wanted to interview. I also chose which matches I would personally watch and takes notes on for my match report.

The big matches took place in the stadium court, so I camped out in the press box to take notes. The Citi Open press box is at the very top of the stadium next to the TV box and the largest scoreboard.

While up there, I took notes on the points, especially for crucial games, and also took pictures and a couple videos. On a couple occasions I sat on the photographer’s bench on the stadium court to get courtside pictures and video, which was really cool. I wish I had done more of that, even though I didn’t have much time to do it.

Most of my work was done in the media tent, where I would write my article for the day, upload, edit, and post video and audio to youtube and tennisfiles.com. I did it all without any help, which made for long nights. I was usually up until 3am each night since the matches ended pretty late during the week.

My Favorite Part of the Experience

Without a doubt, my favorite part of the media experience was interviewing the players. It was really cool to get match analysis, mental tips, and a glimpse into the lives of the best players in the world.

People asked me who I enjoyed interviewing the most, and it’s tough to decide, so I’ll give you my top three, in no particular order:

1. Marcelo Melo and Ivan Dodig: I interviewed these guys twice: once after their quarterfinal win and again after they lost to the Bryan brothers in the final. Lots of great doubles strategy and mental toughness advice from the Brazilian and Croatian 2015 French Open Champions.

2. Naomi Broady: She was by far the most enjoyable interview that I had. I felt very relaxed because of her easygoing demeanor. We ended up laughing a lot because of her answers to my questions.

3. Ryan Harrison: He was my second interview, but made me look like a pro because of his thoughtful and in-depth analysis of his match and career. Harrison will make a great tennis commentator someday. Just avoid fighting the young Aussies and you’ll be set, Ryan!

I also really enjoyed making connections with fellow media members. They asked some great questions and have a ridiculous amount of knowledge about players and past matches. I felt like I was working among a cauldron of human encyclopedias.

Closing Thoughts on Sports Reporting at the 2015 Citi Open

Sports reporting on the 2015 Citi Open as part of the media was definitely an unforgettable experience. It was awesome having access to the players, matches, food/drinks, and being in a professional tennis tournament environment for nine days.

Writing match reports is definitely not easy if you want to provide great material for your audience. I was up until 3am most nights editing video/audio and writing up reports. But it was all worth the effort, because I really enjoy bringing my readers match reports and awesome tennis content.

The positive feedback, likes and shares that you guys give my articles makes me feel great about what I do and keeps me going, so huge shout out to you guys 🙂

And I want to give another shout out to my friend Alex and the credentials staff, who helped me get in and out of the credentials trailer in record-time.

I will definitely report on more professional tournaments next year. And I am very excited for the ideas that I will be making reality in the coming months. I can’t wait to report on more professional tennis tournaments next season!

If you have any questions about my experience reporting on the 2015 Citi Open, ask me in the comment box below! Take care.

Stan Wawrinka vs. Tommy Robredo - USOPEN 2014

How to Hit Deeper Groundstrokes

John, one of my subscribers, asked me a great question yesterday about how he could hit deeper groundstrokes. In my latest Newsletter, I discussed why doing so is critical to your success in tennis.

John emailed me back and said that he has trouble hitting the ball deep.  He can hit deep groundstrokes when he plays aggressively, but if once he gets tired or is pulled out wide, he hits shorter balls.  He has also tried adding weights to his racquet, which hasn’t helped him very much.

I emailed John back with three tips on how to hit deeper groundstrokes.  And now I am going to share these tips with the rest of you.

Thanks for your question John!

Here are three tips to help you hit deeper groundstrokes:

1. Focus on Height

Increasing the height of your shots is my favorite tip for hitting deeper balls.  It also ensures that you have enough clearance to avoid hitting in the net. You need to hit higher balls with spin so that the ball comes back down into the court.  Visualize the path of a rainbow, and try to hit your shots in that same path.  If you hit higher, loopier groundstrokes, your shots will land deeper into the court and you will have less unforced errors.

2. Relax Your Arm

You don’t have to muscle the ball to hit deep.  The more you keep your arms and muscles loose, the easier it will be to hit a deeper ball.  You have probably noticed that the pros appear to hit deep groundstrokes with little effort. This is because their strokes have become second nature, which results in loose and relaxed muscles. On the contrary, those of us who are trying to learn new strokes or implement new strategies often tense up our muscles because we are consciously trying to do something new and unfamiliar.  As John pointed out, when you are tense you will get tired quicker and the result will be shorter groundstrokes.  A more relaxed arm will result in deeper groundstrokes with less effort.

3. Use Your Entire Body

Think of your body as one unit and use it to execute your stroke. Otherwise, you will end up “arming” the ball. Using your arm alone takes away all the potential power you could be using from your entire body.  And it will also get you injured because of the extra stress that your arm has to endure. Utilize the hip and shoulder turn, legs, core, and arms. Use your entire body to help you hit deeper shots.

 

Drills to Hit Deeper

(1) Tie a piece of string several feet above the net (or imagine it is there) and then force yourself to hit your shots above the string.  This was a drill we did in college to help us hit deeper.

(2) Get someone to feed you balls from a hopper.  You must hit every ball past the service line.  A successful shot is +1, hitting into the net is -3, hitting short is -1, and hitting out is 0.  You have to get 20 points to finish the drill.  Adjust the point scheme to your liking.  I suggest hitting your shots crosscourt.

I hope the above tips help you hit deeper groundstrokes.  Try them out and let me know if they help.

Do you have any other tips or drills for hitting deeper groundstrokes?  Comment below!

 

How To Hit Effective Approach Shots

Do you have trouble winning points at the net? Find yourself getting passed or hitting very difficult volleys most of the time?

The key to winning points at net is hitting an effective approach shot.

Most players, including me, were taught to hit the approach shot down the line every time.  There is a valid reason for this: cutting off the angle.  As a result, many tennis players hit the approach shot down the line without even thinking.

However, this strategy may cost you valuable points that could be the difference between winning and losing the match.

Your goal when hitting an approach shot is to make it as difficult as possible for your opponent to pass you. And you don’t necessarily accomplish this goal by hitting down the line every time.

Instead, you must consider the strengths, weaknesses, and position of both you and your opponent.

Go through each of the criteria below to help you hit effective approach shots that will set up an easy volley (or even better, no volley at all).

1. What is Your Opponent’s Weakest Shot?

The number one question you should ask yourself before deciding where to hit the approach shot is this: What is my opponent’s weakest shot?

The obvious way to think about this is whether your opponent’s forehand or backhand is weaker.  That is a good start.

However, think about this question at a deeper level with more variables: Does my opponent have trouble hitting shots on the run?  Does he struggle hitting a pass off a low slice?  Does she move slowly to short balls?  Does my opponent have more trouble with topspin, flat, slice, high or low balls, or shots at the body?

These are the questions you should ask yourself to maximize your effectiveness on the approach shot.

As touched upon in my article about 6 Tips to Improve Your Tennis Game, use the warm-up and beginning of the match to find out your opponent’s weak points.

If you can find a certain shot that your opponent struggles with, apply even more pressure to that shot by making him or her hit it when you approach the net.

Similarly, you should avoid hitting an approach to your opponent’s strongest shot.  It makes no sense to direct your approach shot where your opponent has the most confidence he can pass you from.

I firmly believe that making your opponent hit his or her weakest shot to pass you is the number one criteria you should use when deciding where to hit your approach shot.

2. Where Are You and Your Opponent on the Court?

Tennis is like chess: a game of position.  Before you hit your approach shot, recognize (1) your position, and (2) your opponent’s position.

Assuming that your opponent does not have a significantly weaker stroke (criteria #1), you should hit your approach shot based on where you and your opponent are on the court.

If your opponent is pushed far wide to one side of the court, your best play usually is to hit into the open court (ideally with the approach spinning away from your opponent). The reason being that a running passing shot is one of the most difficult shots to hit in tennis, especially when stretched far wide.  It requires a lot of speed, balance, and precision which is noticeably absent at the amateur level.  And the potential of you hitting the approach shot for a winner in this situation is obviously at its highest.

If your opponent is in good position to track down your approach shot (i.e. not way off to one side of the court), and does not have a noticeable weakness, then you should usually approach down the line. You don’t need to move as far to cover the passing shot off a down the line approach, and you force the opponent to hit an extremely good crosscourt angle or down the line pass.

The ball also has less distance to travel before reaching your opponent (compared to a crosscourt approach), giving the opponent less reaction time before hitting the passing shot.

If you approach crosscourt and the opponent is in good position to get to the ball, you give the opponent a wide open pass down the line and you have to move much quicker to cover that area.

To reiterate: make sure that if you approach down the line, you aren’t hitting it to your opponent’s major strength (criterion #1). Otherwise, you will have a very low success rate at the net and must change your approach shot tactics.

3. Your Strengths

If you have confidence in a particular shot, and know it is lights out every time, hit that shot when you approach.

For example, you may not have a good down the line backhand, but you have a killer crosscourt backhand.  Or you may have a wicked forehand slice approach that you can practically make with your eyes closed.

It is much better to come to net off a shot that you are confident hitting than a shot that you are unsure you can execute successfully, because you are more likely to make the approach and hit it strongly.  The result: a tougher passing shot for your opponent.

Being comfortable hitting your approach shot will lead to a more comfortable experience at the net.

4. How Quick Is Your Opponent?

Analyze the speed of your opponent. Most quick players start sprinting toward the open court the moment you hit the approach shot.  As a result, I like to hit behind quick opponents, which usually results in a winner or weak reply.

Quick opponents usually excel at hitting great shots while on the run. By hitting behind this type of opponent, you take away the opponent’s strength.  The opponent also has to stop all of his or her momentum, which is very difficult and time-consuming.

The hit-behind tactic will cause your opponent to second guess where you are going to hit your next approach shot, and then you can hit the next one crosscourt while your confused opponent is forced to guess where the ball is going.

Obviously, if the ball floats to you and the court is wide-open for a winner, by all means hit the approach shot in the open court. Likewise, if your opponent is slow or has a weak running forehand or backhand, hit to the open court.

Otherwise, try hitting behind a quick opponent to increase your success at the net.

5. Vary Your Approach Shots

If you haven’t found an approach shot that works for you, try changing it up.  Hit heavy topspin, slice, hit it at your opponent, short, deep, and behind him or her, and see what works best.

For example, low and short approaches can work well because you force the opponent to move both laterally and forward to hit a low ball.

By varying your shots, your opponent does not know where you are going to hit the ball and has to guess.

Pretend that you are a soccer player going for a penalty kick. The goal is to kick the ball where (a) the goalie does not expect it to go, or (b) to the goalie’s weaker side (i.e. he has more trouble defending his right side than his left side).

Two additional tips to try on the approach shot: (1) Get to the ball as quickly as possible (fast footwork), and (2) hit the ball on-the-rise. By getting to the ball and hitting it earlier, you cut down the reaction time of your opponent.  Many times, this will involve you hitting the approach shot off the bounce (aka “on-the-rise”).

Practice the on-the-rise approach shot: it takes a lot of focus and great timing (keep your eye on the ball!).  If you can master this shot, you will have even more success at making your opponent hit a very difficult passing shot off your approach.

Ultimately, I want you to choose where to hit your approach shots based on a totality of the circumstances: the strengths, weaknesses, and position of both you and your opponent.

Don’t just hit your approach shot down the line every time.  Use the criteria above to hit the optimal approach shot and make life at net as easy as possible.

Let me know what you think!  And if you like this article, please SUBSCRIBE to my newsletter for even more tips and strategies to improve your tennis game. Take care everyone!

9 David Ferrer backhand

How to Beat a Pusher: 5 Surefire Tactics

I would like to establish that I have all the respect in the world for pushers.  While they tend to lack firepower, or may have ugly strokes, they often persevere through sheer willpower and an I will not miss a ball attitude. That’s a tough player to beat.

So let me put it to you this way.  The pusher is the guy with plastic wrap as his shield.  If all you have are small pebbles to throw at the shield, then the pebbles will not penetrate his defense. However, if you use bigger stones or rocks, then the plastic wrap shield will be destroyed.  And if you don’t have these stronger weapons, you can throw your pebbles at a closer distance to give your shots more effect, and less time for your opponent to raise his shield.

What does all this mean?  The best ways to beat a pusher are to develop a consistent weapon and get to the net!!!

The pusher is tough to play against if you don’t have the right tools to implement the proper strategy.  Sure, he seems like he can get every ball back.  But that’s probably because your groundstrokes move slower than rush-hour traffic.

Here are my 5 surefire tactics to beating a pusher.

1. Develop a Consistent Weapon

Pick a stroke.  Any one you want.  And make a weapon out of it!  A big serve.  A huge forehand.  A down the line backhand.  You always hear someone complaining that he can’t beat a pusher.  Look, I can complain that I can’t fix my toilet (this is accurate).  But if all I have in the toolbox is a screwdriver and a wooden hammer, how could I do the job?

Instead of complaining, you need to develop a consistent weapon.  This will be the main tool that defeats the pusher.  The cannon ball that barrels through the pusher’s defense. When I play a pusher, I push (pun intended) the opponent around the court with my forehand, and at the sight of a short ball, I pummel it into a corner.

I will also often hit behind a pusher, because pushers are usually fast and will start running to the other side of the court, thinking the ball will be hit where they aren’t (gotcha!).

The superior velocity, spin, and placement of my forehand makes it a weapon. However, in the event that you can’t finish points from the baseline, you might want to…..

2. Work on your Volleys

Some pushers are not going to let you hit winners.  These advanced humanoids protect the baseline like it was their last meal or their life savings.  Or perhaps you aren’t at the stage (yet!) where you can blast serves like Milos Raonic (watch out, audience!) or hit massive groundstrokes winners.  Then you must either get to the net or tap out after a couple consecutive hundred-ball rallies against your pusher opponent.

You need to develop a good first volley that forces the pusher to hit a passing shot from an uncomfortable position.  What you can’t do is pop up or float your volley, or you set up an easy passing shot against you.  Once you get the pusher on the run, look to close into the net for a second volley that you can hopefully put away.

Remember, tennis is more like a chess match than arm-wrestling.  You don’t have to go for a first volley winner.  Set up the point and close the net.  If the pusher opts to lob you, then you need to……

3. Practice your Overheads

Especially at the lower levels, the pusher will resort to the lob.  If you are at the net and the pusher lobs you, having a good overhead is all the difference between winning the point or chucking your racquet over the fence after you smashed the first 5 overheads in the net and long, and shanked the sixth one next to the 7-11 across the street.

The most important thing for overheads is footwork.  You must quickly get into position: first with a split step and sideways turn, then sidesteps to the ball, and finally with small fast steps right until you get under the ball.  If you do not get into position, then you cannot leverage your weight properly and will be stuck hitting an awkward, weak shot.

While the footwork is paramount, as soon as you turn sideways, you must bring your racquet arm up, and non-hitting arm up to track the ball. Focus your eyes on the ball, point your left hand at the ball, load by bending your knees, and then uncoil into the ball. It’s just like the serve except with movement, and you generally want an abbreviated take back for the overhead rather than a full backswing.

Remember, you don’t always have to go for the flat boomer; use some spin and place your overhead where the pusher isn’t (or hit it straight at him if you’re angry….nevermind, not classy).  Otherwise, to beat a pusher you’re going to have to….

4. Work on your Fitness

Fitness is everything in tennis.  There is no game clock.  A tennis match would go on forever if no one could string together two measly points in a row.  And if you play a pusher, naturally you would have a longer match than against Johnny-2-Shots-and-I-go-for-a-Winner-on-the III (Johnny only I II matches last year!).

If you get tired, then your footwork intensity lessens, your technique can break down, and you lose the power and placement that you had earlier in the match.  I’ve seen many-a-pusher beat technically sound players because the latter got tired, or the pusher just plain wanted to win more than his opponent (unacceptable!).

In any case, do some on-court conditioning and your body and win-column can thank me later.  My two favorite conditioning drills are suicides (do that for a court or three; you might want to bring a trash can to puke in after a few of these), and the spider drill (place a ball on each intersecting line, begin by bringing each ball to the serve hash, and then put each ball back where they were to begin with).

I once told my tennis coach that the spider drill was too easy, so he made me do 2 in a row in front of the other players in junior camp.  I then proceeded to lay on a bench and experience that dizzy feeling you get when you bang your head into an invisible wall. Improving your fitness will help you to…….

5. Be Confident that you WILL Defeat the Pusher

Don’t psyche yourself out with such phases as “this guy gets back everything”, “i hate playing pushers”, and “what time is Family Guy on tonight”.  Ok, I know we aren’t playing the “which one of these does not belong” game, but keep yourself on track here!

As long as you have diligently practiced developing a consistent weapon, sharpened your volleys and overheads, and improved your fitness, you are in prime position to beat the pants off your pusher opponent.  “Practice breeds proficiency which in turn fosters confidence” (Jay-Z…….just kidding, that’s my quote).

You will believe in yourself and your ability to use the tools you have developed to blast through the plastic shield.

I hope that you follow my advice on how to beat a pusher.  These surefire tactics will have you dominating not just pushers, but most of your opponents, for years to come. Have fun crushing the competition, my friends.

Rock 1, Plastic Wrap 0.

Do you have any other winning strategies to defeat pushers?  Comment below!

How to Become a Tennis Ball Boy in 3 Easy Steps

Several people have asked me how they or their child can become a tennis ball boy. And with good reason.  Tennis ball boys (or girls) enjoy their share of perks: free clothes, free shoes, access to the tennis venue, and the best seat (stand?) in the house.

But before you can become a tennis ball boy, you need to know how to become one. And contrary to belief, its actually pretty easy.  Below are three simple steps on how to become a tennis ball boy and set foot on court with your favorite tennis pros.

Step #1: Watch Ball Boys Do Their Job

While becoming a ball boy may not seem that difficult, you still need to know what to do. The best way to learn is to watch other ball boys at work.  The next time you watch a tennis match on television, pay attention to what the ball boys are doing.

There are two basic positions: the net, and the back court.  The ball boys at the net retrieve balls that are hit into the net or which are closer to them than the ball boys at the back of the court.  The ball boys at the back of the court also retrieve balls close to them, and they hold and throw tennis balls to the pros when the pro needs them.

Ball boys send the balls to their colleagues on the other side of the court when the other player has to serve.  Ball boys will also retrieve a towel for the pro when asked, or hold an umbrella on changeovers to shield the pro from the sun.  If a pro asks you to do something (within reason), do it!

If you ever happen to meet a tennis ball boy, ask him or her about the job and the things they find most difficult so that you can be prepared for them.

Step #2: Find a Professional Tennis Tournament and Sign Up for Tryouts

How do you ball boy for a tournament?  Well, first you have to find a tournament!  Once you do that, you can either call the tournament number and ask about the process, or the tournament website will have a ball boy information page with an application and/or waiver.  Here is an example of a ball boy application from the Winston-Salem Open.  And the information page for ball boys at the U.S. Open.

The tournament staff will review your application, and if they like it, you will be invited to the tournament site.  However, unless you are a veteran, there usually are tryouts held for ball boys.

The tournament staff will have you attend the tryouts anywhere from one week to a couple months prior to the event.  They will analyze your speed, accuracy, and proficiency at the duties required of a ball boy.  If you are lucky enough to be selected, you are in!

Step #3: Enjoy Being a Ball Boy, and Survive The Cuts!

As the tournament progresses, there will be less and less matches.  What does this mean? It means that the tournament will need less ball boys.  The best performing or veteran ball boys will be kept, and the more novice or underperforming ball boys will be cut.

If you are cut early, do not be disappointed.  Be happy that you got the opportunity of a lifetime to ball boy professional tennis matches and enjoyed the amenities and free access to matches that few others can enjoy.

Funny Story: I was a ball boy for a professional tennis tournament years ago and ended up lasting until the round of sixteen.  Although I was cut, I learned that I would be a ball boy for the Bryan Brothers (#1 doubles team in the world!) during a night match.  This meant I got extra clothing and shoes! Sweet!

However, the shorts they gave me were too big. Ruh roh!

During the match I was a net ball boy.  I ran with one hand holding up my shorts and the other picking up tennis balls.  After one of the Bryan Brother twins saw me pick up a ball, to my surprise, he looked at me, hiked up his shorts to his belly button, and the crowd laughed.  I was stunned.  One of the Bryan Brothers had just made fun of  me!!!  I was a bit embarrassed (damn you Fila and your oversized shorts!), but it makes for a great story.

I had a wonderful time living the life of a ball boy, and if you follow the three simple steps above, you can become a tennis ball boy too.

One last piece of advice: don’t forget to pay attention while you’re out there…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5dx-oCupC0

 

Have you ever been a tennis ball boy?  Tell us about it: Comment below!