Navigate Like A Sailboat Captain
St. Petersburg, Florida – It’s March now and already gusty winds are making its presence known here on the west coast of the sunshine state. For us tennis players, this means dealing with pesky windy conditions on the tennis court. It’s enough to make you want to snap your racquet in half.
Like the sailboat captain who allows the wind to work for him/her, you must employ the same mindset of using the wind to work for you instead of allowing it to work against you. Shift your perspective and you will have gained a huge mental edge over your opponent.
No one honestly enjoys playing in windy conditions, so expect that you’re not going to play your best tennis or hit the ball cleanly. But neither will your opponent. If you remain present mentally and accept the conditions as they are (because it’s not going to change), you will have much smoother sailing on the tennis court on windy days. I have some tips that should help you navigate through the potential frustrations:
- Fancy footwork – you will have to take more adjustments steps because the wind will move the ball from your expected contact point, so you will have to watch ball even longer. You may even have to contact the ball as your feet are still moving—not set underneath you—as they would be under normal conditions.
- Face your fear – warm up with the wind in your face. This could give you an early advantage (like a quick break of serve) in the match as your opponent must try to adjust during the game versus having previous warm up.
- Fuel up – you will spend and exert more energy by having to serve harder and hit deeper shots (against the wind). Hence, you should consider staying well hydrated and eat on the court. Just as a car uses more gas when driving into a headwind, your body burns up more energy as well, so keep yourself well fueled!
Now let’s talk about some specific tactics and strategies to win in the wind:
When hitting & serving against the wind:
- Hit flatter, taking the ball a bit earlier—not out in front of the body—in the bounce using a smaller backswing, and try to use your opponent’s pace.
- Aim higher over the net and deeper into the court.
- Try some short, angled shots; with the wind in your face, your opponent will have a tougher time tracking down a ball that is held up by the wind.
- Aim your serves out; the wind will slow it down, bringing it back into the box.
- Go for a higher percentage of 1st serves in … the slice serves into the deuce court—when used sparingly into the wind—can produce some unexpected aces.
When hitting & serving with the wind:
- You will need to hit with more topspin on your groundstrokes. With the wind behind you, your topspin shots will have more speed and more kick after landing on the court.
- Look for more short balls. Again, with the wind at your back, your deep shots will push your opponent further back into the court, producing a weaker reply. This will also give you more opportunities to take more balls out of the air, stealing even more away from your opponent.
- Go to the net more often. I can’t stress this enough! Your opponent’s passing shots will slow down, making them easier to reach.
- Be more aggressive on your serves: the wind will add some mph’s to your flat serve and more kick to your spin serves.
- Watch your service toss. If you have a naturally high toss, you’ll want to adjust it so that the wind doesn’t blow it around too much. If you have a Coach Mo toss (just to the peak of your contact point), you will have much more fun serving with the wind.
When the wind is blowing from the right or left:
- Hit slice serves when blowing to the left; topspin or twist when it’s blowing to the right (for right-handed players).
- Depending upon the direction of the wind, you will have to sometimes aim outside the lines and allow the wind to direct it back into the court; or aim more toward the middle of the court, allowing the wind to blow it toward your crosscourt or down the line direction when hitting groundstrokes.
- Conversely, when you attack the net, tempt your opponent to try to pass you on your right or left, depending upon the direction of the wind. His/her shot, which would normally have been in, may blow wide.
Above all, stay calm and try to have fun with the wind. If you it creatively, you’ll find your mis-hits less annoying and your name beside the “W”.