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We have such fickle fall and winter weather in south Texas; it can be a perfect 80 degrees one day and a frigid 40 degrees the next.
Last weekend I played a fun yet competitive match in windy, 40-degree weather, and because my partner and I used the following tips, we kicked tennis butt!
Give some (or all) of these a try, and you’ll see more success on the courts this winter!
What to Wear
The bod: For those who don’t have access to warm-n-cozy indoor courts, it’s important to dress appropriately for playing tennis outdoors when it’s cold. Wear several thin layers of clothing so you can take them off as you warm up. Thin layers won’t hinder movement in case it’s too cold to remove any. Last weekend, I wore a thin long-sleeved thermal top over my sleeveless tank (I really hate playing in sleeves), and over those I wore a thin fleece jacket. Fortunately, it warmed up enough for me to wear just the sleeveless tank.
You can layer your bottoms too. I start out wearing sweat pants over a skort with separate leggings, and finish up wearing the latter. FYI – the skort with built in leggings is not ideal to layer with sweats as it looks terrible if you pull the skirt part over the sweats, and even worse if you tuck it all the way inside the sweats.
The hands: While it’s important to keep your body warm, it’s equally important to do so for your hands. It’s a sad fact of winter tennis that the colder your hands are, the harder it is to find the correct position for your grip. Some players wear gloves to keep their hands warm, but I just can’t; I’ve got to feel my grip. However, I always keep a pack of Hot Hands hand warmers in my tennis bag that I can put in my jacket pockets and use between points. They are the BEST!
The eyes: Something else to consider wearing is a pair of polarized sunglasses, like these by Bolle. The winter sun sits lower in the sky and is more likely to be a bother during a match. If you aren’t used to wearing sunglasses, they might take a little getting used to. But if they can keep the sun out of your eyes so you can see the ball clearly and rip a winner, it’s well worth it!
The head: Covering your head will also help keep you warmer on the courts, whether with your favorite knit or fleece beanie or even some ear muffs or ear covers. These little ear covers are great because they don’t slip, and you can still clearly hear your partner and all calls made.
If you only take away one thing from this post, it must be this: be sure and get your muscles ready before you get to the courts. Our muscles take a lot longer to warm up in the cold, so it’s important to properly warm them up before putting them through the rigors of a tennis match. If not done correctly, you risk all sorts of muscle injuries, which could keep you off the courts for a long time.
Before stretching, you should start with a quick 5-minute aerobic exercise. Do some jumping jacks or dance around your living room to your favorite upbeat songs on Spotify to get your heart rate up (check out our Spotify channel). It only takes 5 minutes to get your body ready for the next step in your warm-up — stretching.
Dynamic stretching is a must before playing tennis in winter conditions. Dynamic stretching is stretching while moving a specific muscle group repetitively. Examples of dynamic stretches are leg kicks and arm circles. This not only stretches your muscles but also gets your blood flowing. Once you complete your aerobic routine and dynamic stretching, your body should be ready for your winter match!
Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you should reduce your water intake. Your body actually uses water to help maintain its core temperature in both summer AND winter. You won’t feel as thirsty playing in the winter, but your body still needs water to stay strong, fast, and healthy. Drink plenty of water before you go outside, and bring a bottle of water with you to the courts.
Most Effective Shots in Cold Weather
Without the sweltering summer heat and humidity, you’re more likely to make it through that third set and play longer rallies without feeling like you’re going to pass out. And while it’s important to keep in mind that the colder weather will impact the way you play, it will also affect the ball: the colder the weather is, the less bounce the ball will have. That being said, these are the three most effective shots you can play in cold weather:
- Slice: Incorporate more slice into both your groundies and approach shots. This will keep the ball extra low and force your opponent to get under the ball and hit a passing shot, which is easier said than done. Since the ball is a little flatter, you’ll need to aim deeper and hit harder. If the ball lands too short, your opponent will be able to step into the ball for a much better shot.
- Drop shot: On a warm day, a well-placed drop shot can be challenging to return; on a cold day, it can be lethal. Take advantage of the heavier bounce and use the drop shot often.
- Flat and slice serves: These serves will also force your opponent to get down for the lower balls. Topspin serves will be less effective due to the heavier bounce taking away much of the kick. As with the slice, hit you serves harder and deeper.
These are great tactics, however, you need to realize that your opponent can also use them against you. Make sure that you prepare for your shots early and stay on the balls of your feet in case you need to hustle to get to the ball. Lastly, make sure you bend at the knees to get down and under the ball and slice it back.
Always Be Ready to Move Forward
If your opponent uses the above shots against you, always be ready to move forward so you can quickly get to those drop shots and short balls. Also, bring your racket back early for good preparation. Start your backswing a little lower than you normally would to adjust to the lower bounce.
Restring Your Racket
The pace of a ball is determined by several factors, including the ball’s bounce. With a diminished bounce in colder temps, the ball will naturally come off the racket slower, making it harder to generate more pace. I recommend stringing your racket 2 pounds lower in winter to offset that.
I can hear you now, “Why would that make a difference?”
In general, rackets strung on the lower end of the tension range provide more power than tightly strung rackets. When you hit a tennis ball, the impact causes the strings to stretch. Energy from that impact is stored in the strings and then returned to the ball as it rebounds off your racket. Loose strings stretch more than tight strings and store more energy, so you have a more powerful shot when the energy is returned to the ball.
These are just a few quick tips that will help your winter tennis. So, stretch, hydrate, layer up, and get out on those courts… and win more winter matches!