A tennis pro lists the weekend hacker's top goofs

Weekend tennis players, male or female, are a wonderful contrast in style, personality, intensity, and durability. Their fun is clearly at the end of a racket; their orange balls are invariably purchased at a discount house; their feet are firmly planted on (but not necessarily in) a composition court that is mostly cement.

The make mistakes -- boy, do they make mistakes! So how does one improve the breed? First, says Fred Roecker, a teaching professional who runs the Tennis Recreation Program for the City of Claremont, Calif., you make a list of the weekend player's 10 most frequent mistakes. Then you teach him or her how to correct them.

All the advantages in this story now belong to Mr. Roecker, who gets the next 10 serves to put his point across.

1. Most players simply go out and hit the ball before a match, instead of making sure they have a meaningful warm-up. The way to correct this is to have certain goals -- like learning to relax, getting ready physically and mentally, and working hard to groove your strokes. Now grooving, in this case, has nothing to do with power, but it's smoothness. Make sure you are hitting through the ball. This is also an ideal time to observe your opponent in action and try to figure out his strengths and weaknesses.

2. You would be surprised at the number of players who create immediate problems for themselves by not getting their racket back quickly enough when it's their turn to receive service. If you're not in position by the time the ball crosses the net, you're probably going to blow the shot.

3. Don't go into a match stiff and tense. Make sure you feel comfortable. If you need extra time to get loose, ask for it. To have a fluid stroke, your arm has to be relaxed.

4. People who take short strokes sacrifice both control and power. You have to follow through on every shot, because the longer the ball stays on the strings, the more control and power you generate.

5. You are making a mistake if you don't take the time to know your own game. The important thing, in a match, is always to go with your strength. If you need to run around your backhand to get the ball back, and you've got the time, do it. The time to practice the right way is in fun games, not matches.

6. Never underestimate your opponent, a more common fault than one might think. While your opponent is going to make his share of mistakes, he is also going to make some good shots. You should always try to discover what his weaknesses are and use them against him. And by establishing your own rhythm, you may break his.

7. Although every tennis game starts with the serve, too many people still don't know how to toss the ball properly before they hit it. Make sure the ball reaches a height 2 1/2 feet above the extension of the tossing hand and about 2 feet inside the baseline.

8. Know what points are important to win. For examle, whether you are ahead at 30-15 or behind 15-30, or ahead at 40-30 or behind at 30-40, those are basically the points on which most games are won or lost. So be ready.

9. Even before you arrive at the courts for a match, you should have a battle plan -- a general idea of what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. You should never be content just to return the ball and see what happens, although this has become a habit with many people.

10. If you have a tendency to show your temper, learn to keep it under control. Don't give your opponent an unexpected boost or yourself a kick by showing disgust with your game. This kind of reaction only saps your strength and breaks your concentration. The best thing is to keep your opponent in the dark about how you feel after missing a point you possibly should have won.

Asked what a rookie tennis player should look for in an instructor, Roecker replied: "I think he should come right out and ask his instructor: 'What are you going to teach me and why?' Also, 'How long befoe I can rally with an experienced player and feel comfortable -- you know, make it worth his while to hit me?"

"Although every student is different, I always try to get across to him the physical laws of why the ball goes where it does and how he can make it obey those laws. Perhaps the biggest mistake new players make is telling their instructor that they understand something when they really don't have any idea of what he's talking about. It's something I try not to let happen, and if an instructor encourages a certain amount of input from his student, it almost never does."

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