What is the easiest yet hardest thing to do in tennis?
Hint: It’s probably the most common link among us mere mortal tennis players that separates us from the very best.
Give up? Answer: Watching the ball.
Trying to execute this one simple task is likely the cause for more bad shots and resulting lost points than anything else in the game. So why is it such a problem to keep our eye on the ball and hit in the center of the racquet? And, how do we learn to become more focused?
First: We have to identify where the ball is going so we can get in position to hit it cleanly, in the racquet’s “sweet spot.” As the ball travels toward an opponent, our focused vision, about 10 percent of our total 180-degree field of vision, should be on his or her movements. This will give us cues as to where the opponent might hit the ball back, allowing us to anticipate the shot.
Second: At the exact moment he or she strikes the ball, our focused vision must get on the ball and stay on it through impacting the center of our racquet. In fact, it’s best to keep looking at that contact point for an instant after the ball leaves the strings.
This will also help you keep your head still and not look up too soon, more aptly insuring we’ve struck the ball cleanly.
As easy as all this might seem, the vast majority of mishit or bad shots are the result of taking our eye off the ball at the instant of impact. Whether we look at our target or opponent instead of watching-tracking the ball completely, the result is usually the same: a badly missed shot.
So how do we make this easiest task stop being the hardest? If you take a lesson or clinic now and then, have the pro work with you to better your ball tracking skills.
If you have access to a ball machine, set up a target to hit at and discipline yourself to not look at the target until after the ball has left your racquet. A hitting partner and a basket of balls can also do the trick.
The process of repetition is key to helping you watch the ball correctly and eliminate the “No. 1 paradox of tennis” from your game.
Lou Marino is a USPTA Cardio and youth tennis coach who lives, teaches and provides racquet service in the Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area. lwmarino@ hotmail.com