Recall yourself rallying with your opponent or partner. One shot, two shots, three shots and poom! You hit the ball out or dumped the ball into the net. But you felt ok.
Then you played again. One shot, two shots, three shots and poom! The ball sailed out to the fence. You shook your head.
Third point. Poom! Back into the net. You felt like smashing the racket to the ground.
Do you have this kind of frustrating experience?
Is there something wrong with me?
Tennis is a ‘simple' game. All you need to do is hit the ball over the net to your opponent and keep the ball within the lines. Yet many of us struggle to do that! You might often scold yourself during the game: “Joel, you stupid fool! You can't even get the ball over!” The more you play, the more frustrated you get.
What is consistency in tennis?
Well, to put it simply, it means returning the ball to the opponent the way we want it, every time, until the opponent makes an error. But why is it so difficult, and why do we end up being the one to commit the error? Is there a ‘cure' to increase your consistency?
Well, there is no magical pill to turn you into a consistency warrior but there are tips that you can follow to increase your consistency by 100%.
Strategies to increase your consistency
I want to break the code for you. To me, if you want to increase your consistency, you just need to practice the following tips until you get them right.
UYT Consistency cycle: Repeat these steps to achieve high consistency
Preparation: Your footwork
Coach Nick Bollettieri likes to teach players to "reach the ball with your feet, not with your racquet." What does it mean? You must move, and move efficiently. The first thing that you must do, when the opponent hits the ball, is split step. By doing the split step, it allows you to change direction faster and more efficiently. It is not difficult, but many players don't do it. Therefore they are often late to the ball, and the ball is not in their strike zone.
You must be puzzled; who doesn't breathe? What I want to share with you is your need to find the rhythm to breathe in a rally. This is critical to your consistency!
What is the correct breathing patterns?
After you have performed the split step and you’re running towards the ball, you are preparing for the back swing. At this moment, you should be breathing in through your nose. As you swing forward to make contact with the ball, this is the point where you breathe out through your mouth. Breathing out as you make contact with the ball helps you to release the tension. You have the sense of ‘letting go’. Have you heard Sharapova grunting when she plays? The grunt is the result of her breathing out as she hits the ball. Of course you don't have to grunt like her. But you do need to consciously take note of your breathing patterns as you play.
Find your target
As a good tennis player, knowing the risks of the shots helps greatly in your consistency. Before you hit a shot, you should have an idea where to place the ball. For example, if you receive a cross-court shot, return a cross-court shot, to avoid changing direction unnecessarily. Aim one to two feet away from the sidelines so that you have a margin of safety. If you want to hit deep, aim to land the ball after the service line. Watch closely how the pros play in a rally. They seldom go for the lines right at the beginning. They will wait for the opportunity to hit angle shots to open up the court and then go for the open space or sneak in to volley.
Recover to the best position and recover smart
Stop dreaming after you hit that shot. Move!
Your recovery to the centre, or close to the centre, is crucial for the next shot. Typically, after you hit the shot, you want to move to the centre by shuffling back. But depending on the patterns of the shots, it is not necessary to move to the exact centre. For example, if you are engaging in a forehand cross-court rally, chances are you have to prepare for the next cross-court shot. Therefore, you need only shuffle back near to the centre but geared towards the forehand side. In this way, you are more efficient, as you are playing high percentage tennis.
I want to share this technique that I learned from Timothy Gallway’s book, “The Inner Game of Tennis". When you are rallying with your opponent, I want you to focus on the bounce of the ball and the striking of the ball.
When you see the ball coming from the opponent, whisper, “Bounce,” when the ball bounces on the ground. As you are going to hit the ball, whisper, “Hit,” when you strike the ball. Do the same thing when the ball goes to the opponent’s side. Whisper, “Bounce,” when the ball lands on his court and whisper, “Hit," when he strikes the ball.
By being captivated, watching the bouncing and hitting of the ball, you will not fear hitting the ball hard. You are truly focused and your consistency will soar.
Adjust the length of your swing
As you get better, you must know how to adapt your strokes to the different shots that come to you. Ideally, we want our strokes to be smooth from the back swing, to making contact, to follow through.
However, when you play with different opponents, their shots are all very different.
For example, if you are playing against an aggressive baseliner, every shot is a bullet coming at you. You either stand further behind the baseline to buy more time or shorten the back swing to block the ball back if you are not in a good position.
If you’re scrambling to retrieve the damn drop shot, you need to sprint forward and get ready to put your racket under the ball to lift it over the net.
Knowing how to adjust the length of your swing in different situations will make you a better and smarter player in the long run.
Achieving high consistency in tennis takes tons of practice. Use the strategies that I shared with you and you will surely notice that the number of shots that you can sustain with your opponent will increase dramatically.
Go and try these strategies and let me know your results. Share them in the comment box below.