In learning how to play tennis like a pro, players make the mistake of believing it is an overnight process, only to find out that the learning process of tennis is much longer than they had previously thought.
Only a handful of tennis players and elite junior players worldwide know the true formula behind how to play tennis like a pro.
Recently, in a business venture I met a man that was curious about the process of becoming a professional tennis player. I told him I played competitive tennis on a state and national level. Right away, he perceived that since I played competitive tournaments, it was only a matter of time before I reached the ranks of professional tennis (a la the Williams Sisters or Roger Federer).
I smiled, and told him that the process of how to play tennis like a pro was not nearly that simplistic. I reminded him, that in fact millions of junior players are training in academies nearly every single hour of the day, but out of those millions only the best of them will reach the top. Likely only a few hundred out of several million prospects.
In reality, how to play tennis like a pro was more than just a time consuming process, it is a lifestyle change in addition to the rigorous tennis training schedule required to even maintain a slight hope to play professional tennis.
Everyone who loves to play tennis also wishes that they could play like their favorite tennis pro. Everyone has their own idol. They buy the clothes, shoes and accessories they wear. They use the same racket they use, or at least a version that looks like it. They also try to copy the way their favourite pro hits the ball.
Frequently, they think that they got it all down, but somehow, the serve isn’t quite as fast nor as accurate, the forehand not quite so reliable and the backhand downright ugly.
How to Play Tennis Like a Pro: More than just the good looks
How to play tennis like a pro is less about trying to look like your idol and more about doing the things that you know your idol does, especially off the court. All tennis pros spend a lot of time practicing, training and working out.
Most club players only go to the court and play without doing any of the above. What the pros do off the court enable them to do what they do when they get to the court and play the matches that get televised and watched by mere mortal players.
Taking Reality into Perspective in Becoming a Tennis Pro
Power is the first thing that comes to mind when talking about how to play tennis like a pro. The pros hit the ball so much harder on a far more consistent basis than any regular club player. If you want to play like a pro, you will have to learn how to hit the ball real hard.
This goes against the conventional wisdom of learning control first before power. But if you’ve been playing for a few years now, you probably know a little already about how to control the ball. The next step is to add power.
Sometimes though, players who could have developed their games a little more get stuck in a certain level because they get so comfortable with the set of skills that they already have. Learning something new becomes a lesser priority. Pros are pros because they weren’t satisfied with merely learning how to control the ball.
Many junior players now seem to do the opposite thing, which is learn how to hit hard and then figure out how to control the ball later. This approach didn’t seem to have a detrimental effect on the careers of the Williams sisters. But you can’t go back to being a junior nor are you probably anything like Venus or Serena. So the best thing to do is to learn how to hit with power.
Working on the Most Critical Element: Tennis Technique
The first way to hit with greater power is to improve your technique. Sometimes, we are amazed at how some 10 or 12 year old kid can hit so much harder than an adult. This is because of correct stroke mechanics. The swing is full with a long follow through and they really hit through the ball with proper weight transfer. The timing of the hit is perfect.
These things can be practiced. However, to relearn each stroke, you have to be willing to spend time and effort and be patient with your progress. Adults usually learn at a more gradual pace than children.
You have to be willing to look like a beginner again, being fed balls from a basket or a ball machine. But this time, instead of just trying to get the ball over the net, try hitting it as hard as you can. If the ball is not going where you want it, analyze what you are doing wrong.
Are you late or perhaps too early? How far is your distance from the ball? Are you hitting through the ball and following through completely? Are you balanced and transferring your weight? Repetitive drills will improve your stroke production and make hitting with power come more naturally.
Another Method of How to Play Tennis Like a Pro: Using Tennis Video Analysis
Correct stroke mechanics can also be learned by video analysis. If you think your serve looks like Pete Sampras’ you might be surprised that the only thing you successfully copied was the toe-up thing he did at the beginning of the motion. Seeing your actual form will help you correct mistakes in form.
The second way to hit with greater power is to get stronger physically. This is part of the job that the pros do that we don’t get to fully appreciate. Developing your tennis fitness is one of the keys in how to play tennis like a pro. Work out in the gym and pay special attention to key muscle groups that are important in the kinetic chain involved in proper stroke production.
Developing a Tennis Training Program like a Tennis Pro
These are the legs, core, shoulders (especially the rotator cuff), arms and wrists. Another way to increase power is to use a bigger, heavier or stiffer racket. Stringing at lower tensions also enhances power. However, if you really want to know how to play tennis like a pro, equipment comes secondary to training and developing better strokes.
Aside from having greater power, the pros have much more speed and agility than regular club players. You should add speed and agility training with sprints, shuttle runs, footwork drills and plyometric exercises. On the court, keep your feet moving throughout each point and be sure to make adjustment steps on each shot. When you find yourself hitting uncomfortable, awkward, off-balanced or simply weak shots, tell yourself to move your feet.
Take a few skips to wake them up again when they start getting lazy. To really get this in your mind, try watching a video of a professional tennis match and train your eyes only on the feet of the players playing. You will be amazed at how many steps they take and learn to truly appreciate how improving your footwork and movement are truly vital in learning how to play tennis like a pro.
How to Play Tennis Like a Pro: The Mental Game
Professional players are also much better at focusing on the ball and keeping their concentration at a high level. They do this through rituals and by playing their matches at a certain pace and rhythm. Mental training is as much a part of their workout as physical training.
For club players, mental training by developing rituals and relaxation methods is also applicable. But the best way to stay positive and mentally tough is simply to have fun on court. But don’t take the match as a joke. Instead, be serious enough to play your best game. Concentrate enough so that you also look like your favorite pro during a point.
How to Play Tennis Like a Pro: Tennis Strategy Standpoint
Knowing how to play tennis like a pro is also about knowing how to put away easy balls. At the club level, there are a lot more flubbed overheads and put-away shots. This is because these shots aren’t really practiced at all.
It is important to practice hitting overheads and volleys as much as ground strokes. You should also be doing drills where you try to hit winners off short balls.
These drills will improve your ability to anticipate and properly move forward for short balls. A lot of club players can get to these short balls but they arrive not having proper balance. This can be corrected. Other common mistakes are being too eager or too careful with the short ball. This results in awkward technique, trying to muscle the ball or not having a proper follow through. Again, these errors can be rectified through repetitive drills.
How to Play Tennis Like a Pro: Developing an aggressive net game
Volley and overhead drills are also important. On overheads, turn sideways immediately as the lob is thrown up in the air and take the racket back. Shuffle backwards if the lob is going deep and then go forward to hit it. If the lob is short, shuffle forward to put it away. Practice hitting overheads in all directions – straight ahead, to your left and to your right.
Practice spiking it down into the court if you are close enough to the net. Try to make it bounce really high and out of reach. This goes back to the principle of learning to hit with more power. Pros also know that if they are playing against a fast opponent, even their hardest hit balls can come back.
Club players must realize the same thing and be ready for the next shot no matter what. If you are truly focused on the ball and have practiced putting away short balls, weak passing shots and lobs, you will look more like your favorite pro.
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