We used to call them shock absorbers but I guess the correct technical term is vibration dampener. They are small rubber items fitted in between the base of the strings and they do exactly what they say on the tin which is dampen the amount of vibration of the strings after the racquet has contact with the tennis ball. It eliminates the “ping” sound you get from the ball coming off the racquet to become more of a thud. So, why is it that some players choose to use them and some don’t?. Well, most racquets produced nowadays will have in built dampening properties so the need becomes less apparent. Some people use them out of habit, some to incorporate their own little bit of personal style or character and some to reduce the onset of tennis elbow. There is no real scientific proof to suggest that they do reduce the risk of tennis elbow but they definitely don’t do it any harm. One thing is for certain, once you have used a vibration dampener, you will find it difficult to play without one.
These little tools come in all shapes, sizes and designs but the two most common are called button and worm. The button dampener is either usually round or square with grooves on the side to allow it to be placed inside the strings and the worm dampener is long and zig zagged through the strings with clips on the end to hold it in place on the strings. They cannot be placed anywhere inside the string pattern but must be put outside the pattern of the crossed strings so that basically means top left or right or bottom left or right. There is no limit to the amount of dampeners you can use on your racquet but nearly all find one sufficient to do the job.
Most tennis brands manufacture dampeners with their logo emblazoned across them which is another novel way of advertising. They range anywhere from about two euro up to five euro in cost and can all be applied easily enough to any racquet. I personally hate to play without one now that I’ve been using them for so long and I know many other players fell the exact same way. Perhaps that’s more of a mental thing now. My best advice is to test them out and see if you can feel (or hear) the difference and then go on to make your choice afterwards.
Either at professional or recreational level, when you have played against an opponent many times you get to recognise patterns in their play and shots they are most likely to play in any given situation. We are after all creatures of habit and when we recognise something that works for us on the tennis court we have a tendency to re-play that shot many times. When we see this in our opponent we can start to anticipate their next course of action and position ourselves accordingly. We don’t always get it right but it can make the difference in tight matches. When our opponents begin to recognise patterns in our play then we must learn to try and disguise our intentions and the most obvious ways we know we are successful in this endeavour is when we wrong foot our opponents or leave them flat footed on the court (stuck in the mud). So, how do we go about disguising our tennis shots? Here are some tips:
It may sound obvious but having a consistent toss during the service action regardless of the spin employed will not only disguise our intention but will keep our opponent guessing. I have a player at my local club who I play against regularly and whenever he is going for an excessive sliced serve it is very noticeable that his toss is exaggerated out to the right and that allows me to ready myself for the oncoming ball. A consistent toss should bring more consistency to your serve too but it may limit the amount of spin you can generate. On the overhead in general, varying your amount of wrist pronation will change the direction of your shot regardless of the stance you are using.
Return of serve:
It can be very hard to disguise your return of serve because you often get very little time and if your opponents serve is strong you may also have very little choice. Although not technically a disguise, the best way to hide your patterns on return of serve is to mix it up a bit. Go for the shot down the line eventhough you are aiming into the smaller part of the court and your recovery is a greater distance. It will break up the pattern of always returning back crosscourt and is a good ploy to use in doubles to test the servers partner to see if they are competent at the net.
In order to disguise a groundstroke it may be necessary to hit from a different stance. A lot of players will move from their usual open stance into a more neutral stance in order to hit down the line. By moving to this neutral stance you can convince your opponent that you are about to hit down the line but then hit crosscourt.
Another good trick is to use the classic “V” tactic and then hit back behind your opponent on the next shot in order to wrong foot hi/her. This strategy can be employed a number of times before your opponent becomes wise to it.
We should always try to disguise a dropshot. The most commonly used ploy is to backswing your racquet like you are going for a powerful drive at then at the last moment loosen your grip and bring the racquet forward slowly with an open face. Swing high to low to generate a little (or a lot) backspin to complete the execution. Federer is a master at reverse disguise in this instance. He will set himself up like he was about to hit a drop shot and then and the last moment he will slice the ball long after his opponent has committed himself to running forward looking for the short ball. I have also seen him look one way with his gaze and then go about hitting the ball in the opposite direction. This is a risky tactic as it involves the player taking their eye off the ball which could easily lead to a mishit. You need to be very confident that it’s going to work or otherwise you could look like a little bit of a fool out there.
A great volleyer is capable of disguising their volleys at will. Again, hitting back behind your opponent is a good tactic to use. The disguised drop volley can be a very effective shot to play if done right and at the right time providing you have the touch and softness of hands. The only way to disguise your volley really is either with the amount of depth employed or the choice of angle used. You can vary your pace but most drive volleys are hit with power.
Although it’s a non contact sport there are still a number of ways a player can injure themselves when out on court and none more infamous than tennis elbow. This is caused by overplaying, wrong equipment or poor technique. Normally we see it in recreational players who may have been playing for years or recently increased their frequency of play who are most likely to display symptoms of tennis elbow or lateral epicondilitis. It has been called many things over the years including writers cramp, washer woman’s elbow until it was noticed in a number of tennis players and it became tennis elbow.
It is a damaging of the forearm’s muscles and tendons that lead to a soreness around the elbow. Simple tasks like opening a door or trying to grip something can lead to severe pain around the elbow and if not treated can lead to big complications. Although it is found in many professions that employ repetitive stress on muscles in the arm like carpenters for example, in tennis terms a good coach should be able to give you guidelines as to why it’s happening. A coach will look at the racquet to check for tension strength, vibration dampeners and the size and condition of the grip, the first point of contact with the racquet. Too small a handle in diameter and our grip becomes too tight and so more strain. A look at a players technique will give some insight as to whether or not that person is putting excessive strain on their forearm muscles through poor technique. They may be swinging from the elbow instead of the shoulder. Maybe you have started playing 3 times a week instead of your normal 2. It could be a recurring injury that pops it’s ugly head up from time to time. Either way, you must get rest and if the symptoms continue then you should seek professional medical help. There is no evidence to prove that any creams or lotions, deep muscle wonder potions actually work. The best advice is to just give it rest and try to avoid any lifting, carrying or general use of the arm as much as possible. Should the pain extend down into the wrist then you should see a doctor.
Make sure your shock absorber, vibration dampener is present in your strings even if your racquet already has a built in device. These really do make a world of a difference by softening the vibrations caused upon impact with the ball. If you’ve never used one, get one. If you’re used to using one then you know you’ll never go back. Use tacky overgrips to slightly increase the diameter of your grip and this might ease the strain in your grip. Experiment with your string tension to find the one that suits you best. Don’t leave strings for too long in a racquet as they become dead and lose their tension over time. Give yourself plenty of rest in between matches or even recreational play. Allow at least one evening of rest before you pick up the racquet again.
I’ll pretty much play in most weather but not heavy rain or high winds. Some might call me a fair weather player well they would be right. I don’t mind a little drizzle or even that continuous wet mist that lingers but when that vapour condences into particles and forms rain drops then it’s either move inside or give up play. I play for fun in my recreational time and getting soaking wet for the sake of my pastime just doesn’t compute with me. I understand that if you have entered a tournament then you must play regardless of the weather or otherwise it may never get finished and that is especially true in this country. Many a winter league did I have to play in torrential rain and gusting winds and neither is it fun or safe. That is the reason tennis professionals don’t play in the rain, because it is not safe to do so. Not only that but it destroys the court and could then render it unplayable. You are certainly not doing your technique any good, nor your body for that matter with all the jerking you will have to do because the wind is pushing the ball about the place or the ball has landed in a puddle on your side of the court and just dropped dead. On the other side of the spectrum we often hear players complain about the heat out on court. Melbourne in January and New York in August have been known to hit the mid thirties in terms of degrees Celsius and that’s hot to laze around in not to mention a five set match.
In my opinion, with heavy rain it’s obvious that tennis should be cancelled but when it comes to increased wind speed it can be harder to draw the line between playing or not. Both conditions are total levellers of players are the person/people that can deal with the elements the best normally come out the victors. If you must play then make sure you are prepared with all the necessary equipment. Especially your grip as this is your contact with the racquet and you definitely don’t want it slipping all over the place. See the article I wrote about how to play in the rain and the wind. Nobody likes to think they caught a cold from something they could have avoided and not getting drenched to the bone standing out on a windy tennis court in the middle of winter is perhaps something you should try to avoid. Again, this comes down to correct equipment and attire. Your pastime shouldn’t make you ill. That’s when it’s not worth it for me. Of course you will find the diehards out on the all weather artificial grass tennis courts in the middle of a storm sometimes having the greatest craic they’ve ever had but they are welcome to it. They aren’t harming anybody and hopefully not themselves. I prefer to hear the splashing of sun cream to the splashing of rain.
I guess you could say there are two types of slide on a tennis court; the intentional ones and unintentional ones. If the former action is taken correctly then you can look graceful and powerful but if you unintentionally slide, or slip, then you end up looking pretty foolish out there. Okay, so we are pretty much talking about clay courts and relatively good ones at that. Yes you can slide on grass and even artificial grass provided it’s well sanded but it the main we refer to those terracotta crushed vases and bricks. I’ve even seen Djokovic slide on the acrylic courts of Melbourne and Flushing Meadows, NY. If the courts are well maintained then there will be a powdery dust sitting on top of the clay and it is this semi fine material which enables extraordinary slides. All players nowadays need to be able to execute a controlled slide on clay. When we say “controlled”, we mean well balanced throughout and correctly positioned to project. Although techniques will differ somewhat the basics of the slide are pretty much the same and they include firstly getting up some speed from a run to the oncoming ball and secondly by putting your lead foot onto the ground and letting the momentum from the run carry over into the slide on the front leg. The back leg and foot help to keep balance and sometimes to regulate speed or distance. The length of the slide will depend upon the speed and momentum you have built up, the slipperiness of the court, the grip on the sole of your shoes and the atmospheric conditions on the day. When a slide goes wrong and they occasionally can then it is imperative that you drop your racquet at once so that it won’t hinder any impending fall. No tennis court is perfectly flat and so you are going to come across some imperfections and these are the ones that will cut short your slide or gently throw you off balance. Make good use of your non playing arm to further help keep your balance at the start of the slide and then to pull the playing arm through faster during the swing. The silty clay will build up on the soles of your shoes and so almost after every point you will see a player bang their feet with their racquet in order to dislodge the fine clay and especially so directly after a slide. Sliding is useful but grip is essential. A good deal of power is needed to be generated to speed up a run and then strength takes over when that lead foot is placed down and all of this is coming from the legs. Children should be taught from an early age how important it is to start with the legs and feet. If these are right to begin with then the whole rest of the shot won’t be right or at best you are limiting your choices on court.
Before you step onto the tennis court in a competitive fixture, you must have some idea as to what your strategy for success is going to be in order to win. This is your game plan. Your game plan will change slightly from opponent to opponent but some true core values will remain the same. How many times have you heard on court from a coach or a partner that we should play our own game no matter what. Well, what if your own game matches up poorly against two other similar standard players; surely we must take steps to try and turn the game in our favour and that will include changing our tactics when out on court. A strategy is a game plan that we have devised before the match whilst tactics are decisions we take out on court to sometimes change the strategy. Some people are unaware of their playing style and these will find it hard to strategize. You must first know your own game; your strengths, weaknesses, Opportunities and threats before you can begin to form your own game plan. Your SWOT analysis now will pay dividends in the future. Of course we must play our own game and that means utilising our strengths as frequently as possible but that is only winning the battle. To win the war we must neutralise any threats they pose to us and at the same time we are looking for opportunities to exploit their weaknesses. A singles game plan will differ from a doubles one like day is to night which is further testament to the fact that they are two totally different games. What do we do if our game plan isn’t working and when do we change an obvious failing route. Well, we probably need to give a game plan a set though we should know anywhere from the middle towards the end of the first set. In order to know what to do we need to know who’s doing what to whom. Where are we losing the majority of points from, from whom and how. We may need to address our positioning on court or our choice of shot selection. Having a plan B is necessary if plan A goes to pot. Here is where an understanding of the game will really be to your advantage and there’s no replacement for experience. Some players will be very meticulous in carrying out their plan and on the other hand other players will have just a general game plan and hope for the best. We can over analyse a situation where maybe a little more intuition would be more beneficial. Professional players that seem to stick to the original game plan regardless of the outcome never achieve sustained success. Anna Ivanovic seems a little one dimensional lately. Then there are players who will always find a way to win and that may mean scrapping plan B and moving onto plan C or plan D. Djokovic and Murray spring to mind here.
Would you say a match was evenly balanced if I told you every game in the match went to deuce? What if I added that the eventual score was 6/0 6/0, is the match still evenly balanced? The answer would have to be no. The winner in this case is clearly the superior player as they were able to win the big points, the points that hold/break serve, the points that turn matches, the points that win championships. Some big points in a match are obvious like set point or match point but we have big points in games too. Breaking an opponents serve who relies on it as their primary weapon is extremely satisfying on court and gives you the motivation to serve well in the next. Break points are good news for the returner but pressure on the server and these are the mini battles that you need to win in order to win the war. How a server produces a second serve at break point down late in the first set is a true test of his/her mettle. Not being able to play the big point here could result in a double fault from the server or a wild slap out of the ball from the returner. If it’s not in, you can’t win.
Other important big points to win would be the longer rally’s as these can sometimes turn out to be momentum changers and it’s always better to have that in your favour. Perhaps games where there may have been many times when the players may have reached deuce and to finally win two successive points can be a crushing blow on your opponent. A seemingly nothing point can turn into a big point if you can produce a fantastic shot or display some great athletic feat like successfully chasing down a well hit drop shot. It sends a message to the other camp that we have weapons and we are going to use them. Nerves will try and creep doubt into your game but this is the time to believe in the game plan. The extra adrenaline pumping around your body should keep you up on your toes but don’t use it to overcook your serve or return. Champions somehow always find a way to win the big points even if they sometimes do leave it a little late and they are the ones who have us screaming at the television. Mini breaks within tie breaks are big points but I guess it could be argued that every point in a tie break is a big point. As coaches, we try to teach our students about the importance of winning successive points in a game but we also realise how difficult this is. Breaking a string of successive points against you becomes a very big point for you. It can be all too easy to let a match get away from you very quickly or even get steamrolled by your opponent if you are having a bad day.