Friday, June 1, 2012

Tennis Talk with Ed


Anne spoke with her brother, Ed Kelly, about his passion: Tennis.
Ed is a healthcare administrator by day, but nights and weekends, tennis is his passion.  He is a long-time teacher and coach and is a certified tennis instructor, USPTA Level 1.

Anne:  I’ve been hearing about these larger tennis balls that people are playing with.  They slow the game down so you can learn to hit the ball the correct way as the ball speed is significantly slower.  The idea is to get longer rallies going and focusing on your technique.
Ed:  Yes, I have played with them myself.  A bigger ball is easier to see and doesn’t move as fast.  It makes for a “slow motion” type of tennis game.  Especially for someone starting out, or getting back into the sport, it is a great way to learn and re-learn the game.   It assists with the eye/hand coordination.   It’s also great for people who are injured or have limited mobility.  The ball has about the same weight, but it reacts more to the air (topspin and underspin are more pronounced).  It’s a lot of fun.

Anne:  What can a person do to slow the game down with regular balls?
Ed:   Use a short court game.  The service line (or, the middle, horizontal line of the court) becomes the baseline.   Service is underhand.  It’s a great game for kids and for adults.  I picked up this strategy watching the pros at Indian Wells, CA.  When they are warming up, they start rallying in the middle of the court, to get the feel for the ball.  That’s what it’s all about, getting a feel for how it comes at you, the trajectory, the spin.   By slowing down the game, either with the big ball or a short court, people master the basics of body mechanics much more quickly.  You are forced to hit lightly and the have the time to think about what you are doing and what to do.  Remember to watch the ball hit the strings.  Most people look up or away at the moment of impact resulting in mishits and “framings” (hitting the frame of the racquet).  The short court game also works on the drop shot game.  It’s a touch game rather than a power game.

Anne:  Why are body mechanics so important?
Ed:  Students often ask: What do I have to do to get the outcome I want?  The know what they want to do yet the outcome is often frustrating.  That’s the challenge for beginners.  How to get beyond that challenge and have that “aha” moment.  It will come, guaranteed, with a little tenaciousness and proper body positioning relative to the ball.
The short court teaches you that if I want to hit down the line I have to turn my shoulder parallel to the sidelines, and the same thing for a backhand down the line.   Look at the pros, watch the shoulders, they turn their shoulders EVERY time.  Their feet may be open or closed stance but they must turn their shoulders every time to cleanly strike the ball. That’s what short court helps with.  You can focus on the mechanics.  When practicing, you can only work on (and think about) one thing at a time.  When working on my groundstrokes, just like the pros, I’m often only thinking about turning my shoulders.  Once that feels smooth, ask your partner to move you back from short court to ¾ ways back.  Continue to hit at ½ pace.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of correct body positioning relative to the ball.  By turning the shoulders, every time, you:

  • Ensure proper racquet preparation
  • Hitting the ball cleanly and early
  • Go to (after!) the ball; it does not come to you (and you hit the ball late or get jammed)

If you turn your shoulders every time, it all happens naturally.  If you turn you can lean into the ball hitting it early, textbook style and the ball goes where you want it to go.  Pretty soon you you’re getting into the groove (It WILL happen for everyone).  It’s a great feeling like when you first ride that bike without training wheels. Later, this control and mastery = FUN!

Keep it up and then, when you can then hit under pressure, Zut alors!  Powerful stuff.

That’s what the short court teaches.  

Once you get grooved over several hitting sessions at ½ to ¾ speed and you want to challenge yourself and see where you truly stand, try my “Z” drill.

Anne:  What’s a “Z” drill?
Ed:  It’s a very simple drill for two players-but it is not necessarily easy to do.  You must be patient.
One person hits down the line and the other hits cross court. Simple, right? Not always so.
Start this on a short court to get a feel and go as slowly as you can.  You are barely tapping the ball.  If you hit the ball late, the ball will go out or off to the side.  (BTW, players who hit late often have trouble with tennis elbow. Hit it early and you will not likely have tennis elbow.)
Work your way into this drill and slowly drop back to the baseline.  The emphasis is CONTROL of the ball.  Get into the rhythm - stay ahead of the ball – this is a rhythmic drill.  Once you get the flow, it’s a lot of fun (and you’ll be puffing in no time – this is a GREAT workout) and is directly transferable to matches.  Changing the direction of the ball is key to match play.  Make your opponent run!

Key to this drill and to match play: do NOT beat yourself.  Reduce unforced errors as much as possible even if you have to “shovel” the ball and in an ugly fashion over the net one more time than your opponent!  Former top ten player Brad Gilbert made quite a career by “winning ugly” (also the same name of his book).  He simply did not beat himself and drove his opponents nuts.


Anne:  How important is being able to hit a ball really hard?
Ed:  This is way down the priority list.
In tennis it has been proven at every level for decades, the priorities are:

  1. Consistency
  2. Getting the Ball Deep
  3. Placement
  4. Pace


Story: I was in Hawaii on vacation and was at beautiful resort with some nice tennis courts.  I had at the time a ranking of 29 in the Open Division of the Pacific Northwest region (WA, OR, AK, WY, ID).
I met up with a 65 year-old who recently won the national grass court championships.
He asked me if I wanted to “play a few sets.”  I said sure. I thought to myself this is a mismatch.  Yeah, he has great control f the ball I’m sure but I can hit the ball the ball a ton, I’m also consistent and I have a 125+ MPH serve.
Upshot: we split sets.  This guy used my heat of shots to his advantage.  He did not have the speed but his hands were unreal.  I had a lot of winners but any easy or semi-easy ball was a passing shot by me or a topspin lob that landed (consistently) within a few feet of the baseline.  I was humbled.
I had a newfound appreciation for consistency and not being oneself.  This guy did not have big guns and was not quick around the court but he RARELY had an unforced error.  His consistency became a weapon and weighed on me as we played more games.  I felt I had to play beyond my level to beat him which caused me to make unforced errors.

Stay tuned for more from Ed!

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