Any high level tennis player knows that a proper tennis warm up begins at least 30 minutes before a match. For the pro’s, it began 2 hours before the match and likely earlier that morning.
But for the average club player? It’s when you hear the crack of a new can of balls opening and you drop keys and phone on the court side bench.
In a perfect world you would have a trainer, a hitting partner, and a coach all helping you prepare for your match, but in the real world, most of us are coming from work and are lucky to grab a sandwich on the way to the club. So how do you make the most out of your time before the first gameplay serve is hit and points are on the line?
As soon as your shoes are tied, get your body moving and get your muscles warm. Avoid static stretching as it can cause muscle fatigue and weaken your performance. Save that for the post-match cool down.
Jumping jacks, a quick jog, knee lifts, do whatever you can to get the blood pumping before the mini tennis warm up.
Don’t skip mini tennis. Mini tennis is great for warming up the wrist, but it’s even better for getting a feel for the ball and developing your touch. And avoid being sloppy and careless. Split step, get your feet moving, feel the ball on your strings and complete every swing. Sure, it’s a good time to chat but do these things with intention and purpose and don’t just go through the motions. A sloppy mini-court rally will usually lead to a sloppy full court rally.
Warm up your weakness
Everybody loves to practice what they’re good at. If you have a killer forehand you want to jump right into it and start hammering some shots. That’s great, but if you have that much confidence in your forehand, you probably can rely on that when the match begins.
Instead, spend the majority of your time warming up the shot you have the least amount of confidence in. If it’s your backhand, try to hit as many as possible so that you’re not feeling vulnerable when points start to count. If it’s your net play, get up there and try to get comfortable with the volleys that work for you.
Your strokes will start to feel better once the match begins, but if you’re tentative right off the start then you’re going to avoid that shot for the rest of the match (and your opponent will know it). At no other point in the match is your opponent going to intentionally give you easy rally balls down the middle, so take advantage of them.
Some weaknesses are easier to spot than others
Slow Down Your Serve
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen players step up to the baseline to hit their very first warm up serve of the day and blast it as hard as they can. It might go in, it might not, but it accomplishes nothing. You’re trying to warm up your shoulder, not chuck it out of the socket like a javelin.
Hit your first serve at 15%, then 25%, then 50%, and slowly work your way up to a first serve pace. Hitting as hard as you can right out of the gate will achieve nothing but a sore shoulder and inconsistency.
Instead, try to exaggerate everything at a slow speed. Get a feel for your toss, bend your knees, swing through the ball and gradually you’ll start to gain more control and the opportunity to start swinging harder.
Return Their Serve
We mentioned in another blog how crucial the serve return is. Half of the game is dependent on your return and whether or not you can get the point started when it’s not coming off your racket to begin.
If you simply send them back the typical high, slice lob after they hit their warm up serves, how can you expect to have any sense of timing when the first real serve of the day is coming at you? That’s not how you’re going to return them in the match, so don’t get roped into missing out on this chance. Imagine hitting every forehand back like that, or even worse, catching it and putting it in your pocket until it’s your turn.
Hit these returns back, and you’ll be surprised how much more comfortable you are when the game begins.
Watch Their Game
Perhaps the most important thing that you want to be taking advantage of during the warm up is watching your opponents game. Yes, you want to focus on yourself and what you need to do, but this is a free chance to identify their weakness, their tendencies and what strategy will be best suited to defeat them.
How are their groundstrokes? How is their net game? Can they hit an overhead? Do they avoid one side? Do they move well? Do they favour certain shots?
They’re giving you a wide open book on their game and you can either go through the motions or you can create a game plan and see it through.
Preferably not from behind a fence, though.
So often a player isn’t thinking through each game or even each point. They’re just swinging with no intention and hope for the best. Just a little bit of planning and preparation can make the difference between a lost match or one that feels like you accomplished something. The warmup is where this begins and can be the reason you go home motivated or with a racquet that you’ve turned into kindling.
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