Tennis, like many other sports, is a game that offers constant opportunities for improvement. Even the most accomplished tennis players in the world will tell you that there are areas of their game they're still trying to develop and take to the next level. If you're seeking to improve your tennis game, it has to start with making an honest and thorough assessment of your current skill level. There's a lot of truth to the old adage that before you can get to where you're going, you first have to identify where you are. Below are three steps to assessing and making a careful analysis of your tennis game, for the purpose of becoming a better tennis player.
1. Analyze Your Physical Fitness Level
The sport of tennis requires a combination of several key physical skills including hand-eye coordination, agility, speed and footwork. Assess the following areas:
- Footwork (forward, backward and lateral movement) - How's your footwork? Are you able to lunge forward quickly, and back up quickly without losing balance? How well can you move side-to-side?
- Endurance/stamina - Do you have a point during matches where you feel like you physically give out? Can your body hold up during long, grueling volleys?
- Strength/power - Can you put adequate power behind your serve and ground strokes? Do you need to work on increasing your strength and power?
- Weight and body composition - Do you need to lose a little weight so that you can move around quicker and more freely? Do you need to gain a little muscle to increase your power?
- Flexibility - Is it difficult to extend your body to reach tough shots? Do you find yourself pulling or straining muscles whenever you have to make quick or sudden moves? Remember, flexibility is a key factor in maintaining injury prevention.
- Diet - What fuel are you giving your body to work with? Are you adequately nourishing your body before and after your matches and practice sessions?
- Speed and agility - Can you make explosive movements to return shots? Are you able to change direction quickly, and remain nimble when reacting to shots?
Improving Your Fitness Level
The best way to improve your tennis fitness level is to identify which areas need improvement and then perform the corresponding exercises or drills that will address those specific areas:
- Footwork - Various tennis-specific footwork drills (spider drill, side shuffles, back-peddles, cross-overs, etc.)
- Endurance/stamina - Sprints, aerobic exercises, shuttle runs
- Strength/power - Strength training or weightlifting in the gym
- Weight and body composition - Establish a target weight and body fat percentage, then modify your exercise routines and diet accordingly
- Flexibility - Various stretching exercises, yoga, pilates
- Diet - More organic fruits and vegetables, vitamin and mineral supplementation
- Speed and agility - Footwork drills, interval sprints, agility drills, shuttle runs
2. Analyze Your Tennis Strokes
- What are your "bread-and-butter" shots (i.e., the ones that you consistently execute well)?
- Which shots do you always seem to have trouble with?
- Which shots to you execute fairly well sometimes, but then not so good at other times?
- How powerful and accurate is your serve? What gives you the most trouble with your serve?
Improving Your Tennis Strokes
As wonderful as it would be to wave a magic wand and cure all of your problems with your strokes, unfortunately it just doesn't work like that in real life. Correcting your tennis strokes requires constant practice, performing drills over and over again until you see a measurable improvement.
One of the most important steps you can take to improve your strokes is to clearly identify the problem, and then perform drills that specifically address that problem. For example, if you have trouble hitting return strokes on high bouncing balls, analyze whether or not you need to come in earlier, or adjust your swing in order to get more on top of the ball. Whatever shots give you the most trouble, those are the very ones you need to attack with constant practice drills, until you eliminate that weakness in your game. If you have trouble producing power with your shots, you may need to spend more time strength training with weights, focusing on building your shoulders, biceps and triceps in particular.
3. Analyze Your Mental Fitness
This is one of the most important--and also most overlooked--elements of your tennis game. Many tennis players are defeated in their mind first before they are defeated on the court. Assess your mental fitness in the following areas:
- Keeping your cool under pressure
- Battling back from a point deficit
- Allowing an opponent to get into your head
- Dealing with adverse playing conditions (e.g., weather, slight injury, etc.)
- Fighting off distractions
- Dealing with fear, self-doubt, nervousness, etc.
- Remaining sober when you're winning (e.g., not allowing yourself to slack off or get over-confident)
- Guarding against emotional ups and downs during intense matches (e.g., constant lead changes, etc.)
This is perhaps the most difficult area to change, because the mental demands and pressures that come along with playing such a highly competitive sport are difficult to rein in at times. Elite tennis players have mastered this and approach their games with a calculated mental evenness; they know how to recognize when their emotions are trying to get the best of them, and they have learned to keep those feelings at bay so that they can focus on execution. Make a quality decision to remain positive no matter what, and always show the proper respect to your opponent, as well as the other personnel who are part of the match (e.g, your coach, line judges, umpires, ball boys, etc.).
Once you've taken the time to identify the areas in which you need to improve, you can then develop a strategic plan to address those areas. You can set clear goals and then direct all of your work and energy towards those ends. Set measurable, time-specific goals, and then work hard to accomplish them. Becoming a better tennis player will require persistent effort, commitment and a healthy dose of self-discipline, but if you stick with your plan and don't quit, you will be well on your way to dramatically improving your tennis game.