Table of contents:
Technical changes to your swing can take months to master but tactical changes, court awareness and simple technical improvements can transform your game instantly. These are 10 of the most common mistakes that recreational players make. See if any of these are present in your game and make some positive changes.
10 COMMON MISTAKES TENNIS PLAYERS MAKE
The racket dangle
This is just as it sounds! Have a look around the court next time you play and see how many you can spot. It's common for adult players, especially those who haven't had any lessons, to forget to return to their ready position. The racket then dangles down by their body after every shot. The ready position is part of the game for a reason. Not only does it give you more chance of being prepared in time for the next shot, it also helps prevent injuries by relaxing your grip and arm between hits. If you hold your racket in your dominant hand all the time, that arm never gets a rest. This leads to overuse injuries. Think about how common tennis elbow is with recreational players. Once you finish your swing the racket should be straight back to the ready position with two hands on the racket, both with a relaxed grip. The only time you should have one hand on the racket is for the forward portion of the swing. This may be tough if you have never thought about it before. Try some shadow swings at home and then practice with a friend or on a ball machine to get into the habit. Otherwise it will be tough to remember when under pressure.
Not moving the feet enough
Many mistakes recreational players make are due to sluggish feet. If you are not sweating or out of breath when you play then you are not moving enough. The quality of the shots you hit is directly related to how much effort you put in with your feet. You should feel the same intensity or work rate as you would if you were playing basketball or soccer or the equivalent. Book yourself in for a lesson with a local coach or try some footwork videos from the internet. This is the best way to get used to moving your feet at the required intensity. Look at the intensity of Roger Federer's footwork in this video for a great example.
Not understanding the relationship between the strings and the ball
A surprising number of people cannot tell you how to aim the ball if you ask them. It’s so important as a player to understand both how your racket face (string position) affects the flight of the ball and also which part of the tennis ball to hit. The two are directly related. Imagine that the tennis ball traveling towards you is a face. If you hit the ball exactly where its nose would be your racket strings will be fully “flat” and send the ball in a straight line. If you hit it on it’s chin your strings will be “open” and the ball will go upwards. If you hit the ball on its forehead your strings will be “closed” and the ball will go downwards. If you hit it on it’s right cheek it will go left and its left cheek will send it right. Most shots we hit in tennis will be hit somewhere between its left cheek, nose and right cheek depending on what direction we want to hit. We generally avoid hitting the chin or forehead area most of the time. Practice different contact points to get a feel for what each string direction produces.
Holding the grip incorrectly
Thick part of the grip is designed to fit into your hand and to assist with holding the racket. Many players hold the handle too high towards the racket head with a good inch or more of it sticking out under their hand. You should be holding your grip low enough that your little finger is flush with the butt of the racket. See the image of Nadal below. This allows maximum racket head speed and spin generation by promoting looseness and creating longer levers. Even moving your hand lower by less than an inch can revolutionize your power! This may feel uncomfortable if you are not used to it so practice some shadow swings at home to build up your arm strength and muscle memory. It's also good to learn the different grips for each shot and how each one can affect your game. This may feel uncomfortable if you are not used to it so practice some shadow swings at home to build up your arm strength and muscle memory. Check out our article for some forehand grip tips here.
Drifting inside the court
Once a point or rally begins its common to see a player drifting forward and inside the baseline into “No Man's Land”. This leaves you exposed because the ball can bounce both at your feet or behind you. It also gives you significantly less time to react, little space to move into the ball and the ball will also bounce high in relation to your body which is tough to reach. Ultimately you want to recover between shots to at least 2-3 feet behind the baseline leaving you space and time to move to the ball. You should only be inside the baseline if you are moving to hit a shot or transitioning to the net to volley. Try some practice drills or rallies using a marker to recover to after each shot. See this video from Tamas Bogyo on how to recover from no man's land.
Recovering too slowly
Aim to be back to your ready position before your shot bounces on the other side of the net and definitely before your opponent hits it. It’s all too common to watch where you hit the ball and then not react until the ball is headed back your way. At this point it’s too late to get a good position and timing for the ball. Practice some drills and rallies where you are trying to beat the bounce back to your ready position. You can watch the ball and recover at the same time.
See this video from Ryan Reidy for some more advanced tips about practicing the correct recovery position:
Rushing towards the ball
Let the ball come to you. Most beginners and some intermediate players charge towards the ball. This can result in striking the ball at shoulder height and above and also being jammed up to the ball. You will also end up having to spend a lot more energy moving back and forth further than you need to. Panic can set in about the ball bouncing twice but you have surprisingly more time than you think before that would happen. A great way to practice this is to rally with a friend and not allow yourself to step inside the baseline at any point. You have to stay back and let every ball come to you, even if it bounces twice. This is great practice for your timing and also helps you relax and save energy.
Not watching the ball
This sounds so simple but it's the most common mistake from beginner level to advanced. It's so easy to be looking at your opponent or the space that you want to hit to and then end up hitting off center because you are not looking at the ball as you are preparing. Lifting your head too early and looking up can also pull/drag to ball up and out. Next time you play make sure you spend some time looking at the ball all the way as it approaches you. See the picture below for a great visual of how you should feel at your contact point.
Being off balance
As we mentioned in the point above, moving your head around can pull the ball in various directions. The same applies if your whole body is off balance too. At contact your head should be still and your body ideally balanced. If you can get a stable base with your feet then that’s great but sometimes you need to be moving your feet through the shot. If you are still moving or stepping/hopping into the ball then you still need to have your body under control - this is called dynamic balance. It’s a crucial part to the game as you keep improving as the ball travels faster and you have less time to get into position. You also need to use your body more to hit the shot and generate extra power. There are plenty of drills you can do to practice your dynamic balance.
Hitting the ball too hard
Tennis is a game of mistakes. Approximately 85% of all points won or lost are decided through errors, even at pro level. This means if you make less mistakes than your opponent or keep the ball in the court more than them then you will always win. Think about percentage play. It’s all too easy to whack the ball back even harder when you are under pressure. Choose the right time to hit hard and the rest of the time play smart and go for steady placement and consistency. Just moving your opponent a few extra steps with a medium pace ball can put them under pressure and force an error. Slower well placed balls are much harder to return than fast balls to the player. Practice your placement using markers during drills or rallies. You will soon build up your consistency.
By thinking about these common mistakes you will not only point out some possible areas for improvement but you will practice the ability to analyze your own game. This is a crucial skill for developing and progressing as a player. You may not make any of these 10 common mistakes but by having a deeper look at what's going on you might highlight other areas that need more work. If you struggle to see what's going on while you are playing try videoing yourself for a more in depth look. You can also ask a friend to watch and see if they can see you doing any of the 10 common mistakes. Sometimes how it looks and how it feels are totally different. Also try a couple of sessions with a coach if you don't already have one. They will be able to give you some professional advice on which areas you need to improve on. If you find by reading this blog that you do make one or more of these mistakes then now you know what to do for an instant improvement!
Where can I get some more in depth technical and tactical tips?
Check out our Topspinpro YouTube channel which features a number of coaching videos on both technique and tactics:
What other tips can I use to help my game?
Check out our article for some extra tennis tips to improve your game:
What tactics can I use to help my game?
For some more advanced tips check out our article featuring some effective topspin tactics:
Stay in the loop
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to sign up for our newsletter and we'll keep you up to date about new posts