The definition of anticipation according to Webster’s is “realization in advance; intuition; foreknowledge.”
Wouldn’t it be great if you could see just enough into the future to know where your opponent is going to hit the ball?
Well, you can – by learning how to harness this rather abstract tennis concept.
I’m sure most of you have had the experience to play against, or with, someone who always seems to be ready and in the right place on the court to hit the ball back. That’s what anticipation is all about.
To start, I believe anticipation is learned by doing something opposite, or against the grain, of the most basic task of playing tennis – namely, keeping your eye on the ball.
As the ball is coming toward you, your focused vision (less than 10 percent of your total 180 degrees of vision) is entirely fixed on the ball until it leaves your strings. Your mission is to stay in balance, keep your head still, and make clean contact.
I’m not suggesting you stop watching the ball altogether. It’s knowing that once the ball leaves your racquet, your anticipation factor needs to kick in.
This is when your focused vision should lock on to your opponent(s) and you start gathering information from how he or she is reacting to your shot.
There are three basic things to look for as your opponent is in process of hitting the ball back:
Position: Where is he on the court?
Balance: Is she comfortable or uncomfortable as she gets ready to hit, i.e., able to hit a powerful shot, or a weak reply?
Preparation: Is he taking his racquet back for a drive or topspin (offensive) shot, or is the racquet face more open, meaning a better chance for a defensive shot?
These aspects can be categorized as “tendencies” or playing traits your opponents reveal as you play.
Looking for how and what they like to hit, and how they react to different shots and situations will reveal what they’ll tend to do and help you get a jump on being prepared to hit your next shot.
As you get better at this, it becomes more automatic, perhaps as automatic as getting your racquet back, since that should be done within milliseconds of looking into your newfound “tennis crystal ball.”
Lou Marino is a USPTA Cardio and youth tennis coach who lives, teaches and provides custom-hybrid racquet service in the Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area. firstname.lastname@example.org