Solution: Focus On Contact With The Ball
How many times have you missed an easy shot because you were focused more on the spot on the court on your opponent’s side of the court than on what’s taking place with your stroke? Countless, right! And how many times do you yell to yourself, stay down, watch the ball! Trying to watch the flight of the ball over the net and into the court or looking to see where your opponent is never works. You simply can’t focus on your opponent and the ball simultaneously. It leads all sorts of bad things happening during the execution of your stroke:
You’re unable to execute a full, relaxed stroke, contacting the ball in your desired strike zone because your attention is already on a future event that hasn’t happened yet—your opponent sending the ball back to you.
Focusing primarily on the happenings on the other side of the net brings your feet to a halt. Your ability to efficiently recover after the shot is lost because there is no energy going into your split step (change of direction step, as I refer to it) to prepare for your next movement to the ball. When and if your opponent reaches your shot, and gets it back into play, you’re left flat-footed, unable to take advantage of the weak reply.
Because your stroke is hindered by tension and deceleration of the racquet head, your shots often fall short into the court, giving your opponent ample time and opportunity to take control of the rally and eventually win the point.
What You Need to Understand Instead…
That there truly is NOTHING to see on the other side of the net. If your opponent is an experienced player, he/she is focusing on their recovery (back to the center of the angle of return) before your shot comes back to them. During the rally, you’re both trying to produce a shorter shot which you can attack to take control of the rally or end the point. Nothing to see!
An inexperienced player will not recover so well and will therefore be out of position and susceptible to whatever shot you hit—crosscourt or down the line. You will most likely get a defensive type of shot returned to you, a shot that you can then attack and easily end the point.
But none of this will happen if you are focusing on what your opponent is or isn’t doing. Your focus must be on your own execution of shots. As you will hear self-help experts say all the time, you can’t care about what someone else is doing. It takes the focus away from your own intentions and performance.
Aim for the big areas on the court, not the small targets like the lines. What are the big areas on the court? Imagine the center service line extending to the baseline and creating four boxes on the court. Now place an X in the center of each box (see diagram). That’s your big area! If you miss to the left or the right, you will still have a large enough margin for error to keep your shot in the court. You also create a higher percentage shot for yourself, be it a groundstroke, volley, or overhead. Think of this more as the destination of the ball after contact instead of attempting to guide the ball to a small portion of the court.
Focus first on the part of the ball you need to contact. The one and only thing that determines where the ball will go is where the strings are facing at contact. It’s that simple! No matter how you arrive at the point of contact—open stance, closed stance, on one leg, running or walking—where you make contact on the ball is all that matters (I will address the various ways of setting up for shots to improve your directional control in a separate article or video). Touch the right side of the ball, it always goes to the left; touch the ball on the left side, it always goes right; touch the ball in the center, it goes straight. Your true target, then, is the part of the ball you need to contact to send it to your desired destination over the net. Start viewing the tennis ball from these three dimensions—left, right, and center— instead of merely one.
Trust your shots. This means practice, practice, practice. Not just a few days or even a few weeks; you may have to work on this for a few months before you truly develop the habit of focusing merely on your own execution and stop giving so much attention to your opponent’s side of the court. As it should be in life…plan for the future but don’t look ahead, focus on the present moment and what you need to do now.