Saturday, December 23, 2006

SB: Watch the Ball

No matter how good you are, your fundamentals can go south on you. Here's a tip as good for advanced players as it is for beginners...

by Scott Baker

"Watch the ball". Is that so hard, or is it one of those things that are "easier said than done"? Watching the ball is one of the fundamental parts of the game of tennis, yet it is so easy to get away from.

I have played tennis since 1990. I have coached tennis, I play in leagues, tournaments, and have even been to Nationals with a USTA league, yet I can still fall prey to this bad habit of taking my eyes off of the ball too early.

Recently I had found myself struggling on the tennis court. I was framing a lot of my shots and missing more shots than I should have. I had tried everything to fix my game. I tried hitting with more spin, slowing my shots down, changing grips, taking time off from tennis and just about everything in-between. The one thing I did not try was keeping my eyes on the ball. Besides, what does that have to do with my strokes?

To be honest, watching the ball has a lot to do with anybody's strokes.

When you lift your head too early to see where you are going to hit the ball your racquet head starts to lift as well. That is the main reason that players hit the ball with their frame. Keeping your eyes on the ball and your head down keeps your racquet head where it needs to be.

There are a few ways you can work on teaching yourself to watch the ball. I believe that if you work on these aspects during practice this can become a natural part of your game. The first way is the way I learned to watch the ball when I was a beginner. I call it the "bounce-hit" method. As the ball is coming to you and bounces on your side of the court you say out loud (or in your head) "bounce". As you hit the ball say "hit". This forces you to watch the ball so you can stay focused with the timing of the ball hitting your racquet. Other players have had success by trying to see the seams or the writing on the ball as they go to hit the ball. Both methods force you to focus on the ball as you hit it.

If you are a player who struggles watching the ball, allow me to give you some incentive to start watching the ball. Below are some of the benefits of watching the ball.

  • You will hit cleaner shots.
  • Your shots will be better directed allowing you to set up points better.
  • You shots will be deeper.
  • You will be able to hit harder shots.
  • You can hit with more spin.
  • You will win more points.
I love seeing snap shot images of Roger Federer as he hits the ball. His eyes are always focused on the ball. Check out the picture below. He is still focused on where the ball made contact with his racquet and this is after he had hit the shot, talk about commitment!

For the last several months I have been working on watching the ball and what a difference it has made! I did not realize that I had gotten away from this basic part of my game. My miss-hit percentages have gone down well over 80% and I am playing much better. I am returning more serves, hitting better placed shots and winning a lot more of my matches. I feel like I am much more in control of all of my shots, and in turn the points as well. Watching the ball can have a huge impact on your game. Not watching the ball hit your strings is a lack of commitment and focus. Learn to stay focused and watch the ball to be the best player you can be.

Good Luck on the Court!!!
Scott Baker
Tennis Forum
E-Mail -

Copyright 2006, Scott Baker -- all rights reserved worldwide

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Operation Doubles Connection - December issue

The December issue of The Operation Doubles Connection (the free Operation Doubles monthly newsletter) is late this month but now online. For information about this newsletter and how to subscribe, see here.


  • What's New at Operation Doubles
  • Featured Tennis Website of the Month
  • This Month's Doubles Quiz
  • This Month's Q & A
  • This Month's Shot-Making Tip
  • Tennis News & Upcoming Tournaments
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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

DW: Appearance money devalues sport

By Dave Winship

It's not long ago that tennis was an elitist amateur game of starched white flannels and white balls and wooden racket presses. The notion of making money out of playing the game was anathema to the sport's governing bodies.

Today, the game has made great technological advances and is both accessible and attractive to a much wider player base. But the amount of money washing around at the top level of the game threatens to corrupt the motivation of players and turn away the fans.

No one would begrudge the world's best players the right to earn what their market value dictates, but there is an increasing perception that under-the-table appearance fees or guarantees are beginning to warp the integrity of sporting commitment. One of the main problems with such payments is that they are shrouded in secrecy. Lack of transparency invariably breeds distrust. People naturally become suspicious when rumours of six-figure appearance fees abound and a star player unexpectedly loses in the early rounds of a lesser event. When one of these stars pockets a huge fee at one of the minor tournaments and then pulls out of a Masters Series event the following week, citing exhaustion or injury, suspicion turns to outright cynicism.

The impenetrable wall that separated amateur and professional tennis players in the early part of the 20th century crumbled during the era of "shamateurism" in the 1950s and 60s when the top so-called amateurs received under-the-table payments of hundreds of dollars a week. Having belatedly got something so right with the advent of open tennis in 1968, tennis then contrived to get it all wrong again, ushering in a new era of deceit and hypocrisy in 1990 when the ATP Tour started encouraging tournament directors to wave the carrot of guaranteed fees on top of prize money. These guarantees often dwarf the amounts of prize money on offer and distort the economic realities of life on the men's tour. Although the WTA has steadfastly refused to sanction the practice, marquee attractions like Maria Sharapova get around it by signing up for extra promotional appearances.

Shortly after securing the appearance of Rafael Nadal at the Stella Artois Championships in 2007 and 2008, tournament director Ian Wight recently conceded:

We are killing our game. It is the economics of the madhouse that a player can receive more than three times the prize money not for winning a tournament but just for turning up.

ATP Chairman Etienne de Villiers is unmoved by such protestations. "It is impossible to stop the practice in the same way you can't stop people opening the fridge to see what's inside," he said. "We are introducing measures we hope will allow us to understand the practice better. Yes, we have to manage our tournaments better to improve the incentives and player commitment. Doing that, you will bring the situation involving guarantees back into some kind of equilibrium. What I must emphasise, though, is that this is not a huge crisis."

Personally, I think it would only take one episode of high-profile "tanking" to make this issue a crisis. The fridge should have a transparent door.

Tournament directors should come out in the open concerning appearance fees, so everyone is clear just what is guaranteed and what is actually at stake in any given competition. Better still, the practice of offering such payments should be outlawed altogether. After all, if tournament directors can afford to offer players vast guarantees, they can afford to increase the prize money instead.

Copyright 2006, Dave Winship -- all rights reserved worldwide

Dave Winship is an L.T.A. coach at the Caversham Park Tennis Club in Berkshire, England, and the author of magazine at

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