Originally Published: June 18, 2009 6:18 p.m.
Anyone who's picked up a tennis racquet and decided to play the game in a serious manner most likely has had dreams of becoming a player who can compete at the highest of levels.The thought of playing at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, being in a major final against the likes of Federer, Nadal, Navratilova, Evert, Connors, Borg, King or Court, and then waking up to realize they got there because they were prepared in many different ways that took years of effort.Playing the perfect match doesn't just happen and it has nothing to do with luck - it's a result of preparation. The one ingredient separating levels of play is practice. And after the practice has been put forth, it's a matter of reliable performance during match play.There's a whole list of terms that make up how your performance will go including attitude, physical fitness, mentality, court strategy and countless other fundamentals. Jimmy Connors was quoted as saying, "It's not the quantity but the quality that counts."But the players who become champions have a special quality within their make-up. Most have a God given athletic talent, a burning desire to win, and they have been lucky enough to have a mentor who has shown them the path toward finding success.We need to learn to concentrate, from the second the match begins until the last ball is hit. Concentration is as learned a trait as hitting a serve or a groundstroke. If you ever watched Chris Evert or Bjorn Borg play, they were totally in tune with the skills of concentration.It's important to be able to sustain a rally and reduce unforced errors. Visualizing target areas that allow you to move the ball while maintaining a degree of margin for placement. Visualization and practice toward target areas will soon translate to what you'll be able to do in matches.Movement in the game of tennis is paramount. You can't hit what you can't reach, and if you're not in very good position to strike the ball properly you certainly won't be able to do very much to enhance your chances of winning points against formidable opponents.Tell yourself that you can and will run down every ball that's hit to your side of the court and you will categorically improve your performance, your self-esteem and your opponent's respect for your effort.Learn to anticipate shots by watching the ball leave your opponent's racquet.The sooner you know where the ball is going the sooner you can get there and give a good response. Stay focused. That first quick step can make you or break you.When you drill and practice with a coach or practice partner, make sure what you're doing will carry over into what will occur in a match. Even repetition drills should mirror match possibilities. The whole thought is to drill with a purpose.If your practice time is put together with quality drills that stay focused on duplicating match-play situations, it won't be long before more and more competitive points and matches will be going your way, helping you become the "best you" possible.(Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 445-1331 or email@example.com)