I think that possibly the oldest and most overused (and in my opinion, the worst) phrase ever heard in tennis instruction is “get your racquet back.”
Unless we are hitting a volley, we should always be getting our racquet back! With that said, I believe that getting our racquet back too early can cause more problems than getting our racquet back too late.
Getting the racquet back too early means we must stop in the middle of our stroke and wait for the ball, which breaks the rhythm of our stroke.
In the photo sequence, touring professional Alexandr Dolgopolov demonstrates proper timing to get his racquet back in relation to the incoming ball. Notice that in photo 1 his racquet is going back, but the ball is not yet in the picture.
In photo 4, the ball is just coming into the photo. His racquet is not actually fully back until photo 8, where he begins forward swing of the racquet, and making contact with the ball well out in front, as shown in photo number 11.
As we know (from reading one of my previous articles) proper timing with our feet is a vital part of executing a proper stroke, and we should be striking the ball while we are on our toes, not standing flat-footed. Notice that in photos 1 through 8, that while Dolgopolov has his weight planted on his right/back foot until he begins forward swing of the racquet, he is always on his toes during the entire sequence of photos.
I have a phrase that I call out to my students as we are rallying the ball back and forth to one another, which is: The racquet goes back, as the ball comes in, as the swing goes through. This helps the student keep in timing and cadence with the speed of the rally.
While racquet head speed is an important part of the formula of a proper tennis stroke, the timing of contact with the ball is actually the most important part of the formula. At any speed, the stroke should be one continuous motion, and we need to make sure we are contacting the ball well out in front.
The quality of timing of this contact is directly related to having a continual fluid swing. The swing needs to be in time with the speed and of the ball.
Natural instincts tell us that we need to swing faster at a faster moving object, aka the tennis ball. The fact is, we need to swing earlier at a faster moving object.
As an instructor, if I am rallying with an advanced level player, I must swing faster in order to deal with the speed of the moving ball generated by this player. However, even though I may be swinging faster, more importantly, I am swinging earlier. I must swingearlier in order to keep the integrity of the speed, rhythm and coordination of my stroke intact.
If I am hitting with a beginner or intermediate level player, since I am swinging slower and not striking the ball as hard as I would with the advanced player, I adjust how early I swing (not as early), to again, keep the integrity of the speed, rhythm and coordination of my stroke intact.
With both level players, my main focus is on my timing of contact with the ball in order to comfortably sustain a rally with that player. Whatever the pace or speed of the ball may be, I always make sure that my contact is out in front.
This ability to change gears, so to speak, is actually a vital part of advanced level play. When the pros on TV are rallying, they are always hitting the ball with a great deal of spin and pace. However, during these rallies, they are constantly changing the speed and spin on the ball in an attempt to throw their opponents off balance. This whole theory and strategy of changing gears and speeds is much like a Formula One racer, constantly having to deal with different speeds in regards to where they are on the race course.
Most club level players do not have the ability to consistently change the speed and spin of the ball every time they strike it during a rally. At this level, most changes in speed and spin on the ball are unintentional. With a proper understanding and execution of the ability to control the integrity and quality of our own swing speed, on different speed balls from our opponent, we can improve our consistency in keeping the ball in play.
So whatever the speed, spin and pace of the rally you are engaged in might be, try to find “your” rhythm.
Just like a Formula One racer, the more they can keep the RPMs of their engine at a constant level, the more efficiently they can make their way around the track.
The more you can keep the integrity of the speed and rhythm of your swing at a constant level, the more consistent you will be in your strokes, and the more consistent in your strokes that you are, the more points you will win!
Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 25 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. He has been the head instructor at the Marco Island Racquet Center since 2001. The Racquet Center offers clinics, private and group lessons for both tennis and pickleball. Coach Wayne’s Island Kids Tennis juniors program runs year round, and has classes for players from kindergarten through high school.
Contact Coach Wayne by email at WClark@cityofmarcoisland.com, by phone or text at 239-450-6161, or visit his website at www.marco-island-tennis.com.