Tennis fans all over the world are rejoicing because the first Slam of 2023, the Australian Open, is finally here! As the world’s greatest tennis players converge upon Melbourne Park, many of us will have our eyes glued to the TV screen, rooting for our personal faves. Not only is the Aussie Open a great time to enjoy the thrills and chills of the game of tennis, but it can also serve as an excellent “classroom” for students of the game.
As you’re checking out the action over the next couple of weeks, be sure to watch for the following tennis skills that the pros regularly employ, so you can work on adding them to your game.
In many ways, footwork is the foundation of your tennis game. After all, you can’t hit the ball if you can’t get to it. But footwork encompasses more than just sprinting or lateral movements; you also have to work on developing the skill of quick directional changes in order to respond to difficult shots.
Footwork also plays a part in how much stability you will have to perform your return strokes; if you’ll notice, the pros always position their feet to establish a “base” as the ball is making its way toward them. Take time to develop footwork drills that encompass a variety of movements: Forward, backward, lateral, diagonal, short-burst, sudden stops, and quick changes of direction.
Have you ever noticed that 3-time Grand Slam champion Iga Swiatek hardly ever seems rushed or caught off guard? She’s always right on time, in position, and ready to respond. Great tennis players have what appears to be a knack for anticipating their opponent’s shots, but it’s actually a well-disguised skill they’ve developed through countless hours of practice.
Anticipation is basically the ability to analyze the movements of your opponent in order to get clues as to what type of shot might be coming your way. For example, observing closely how your opponent hits the ball–including factors such as force and direction–will give you a decent idea as to whether you should be setting up for a forehand or backhand stroke or whether you should fall back to the baseline or rush the net.
When you practice anticipation, you’re making split-second predictions that estimate the likelihood of certain outcomes based on what you can observe about your opponent’s movements. Learn to judge the speed and spin of the ball as it’s coming off of your opponent’s racquet, and practice adjusting your position to be deep or short as early as possible when your opponent hits the ball. Sharpening your anticipation skills will give you a competitive edge during matches.
It’s important to observe not only what the pros are doing but why they’re doing it. While no one can read minds, you can gain some decent insight into the strategy of certain tennis pros by paying close attention to their serving habits, as well as how they construct their points.
For example, when your favorite pro is serving, do they try to go wide on their first serve or straight down the middle? Do they choose a serve-and-volley approach, or do they stay behind the baseline to hit long groundstrokes? Are they going for power shots, or are they trying to wear their opponent down with extended volleys?
If possible, record their matches (or watch them again on YouTube) to pick up on the other details you may have missed the first time around. Take note of the subtleties of their playing habits, and then figure out how you can incorporate some of those strategies and skills into your own game.
You can learn a lot about proper form and technique by observing the way the pros hit the ball. Carefully observe your favorite player’s strokes and take copious notes regarding their stance, grip, body position, speed, etc. You’ll discover that although the pros can execute strokes in what seems to be an effortless manner, there’s a “method to their madness”; they have a specific form and technique that they use every time they perform a shot, and it represents the accumulation of thousands of hours of practicing a combination of certain movements. Review and study videos of their shots, especially in slow motion, and modify your own strokes accordingly.
To be sure, the 2023 Australian Open will provide plenty of entertainment for lovers of the game, but it’s also a great way for you to sharpen your own tennis skills. Keep the above points in mind as you tune in over the next two weeks, and leverage this knowledge to take your tennis game to the next level.