When you’re 15 years old and have already won two WTA tour events, the next big obstacles you’ll have to overcome are the expectations. Such is the case for Nicole Vaidisova. After a year like 2004, in which she won in Vancouver and Tashkent and was named World Team Tennis Rookie of the Year, the 5-foot-11 Czech isn’t going to be sneaking up on her competition anymore. To continue her rise through the ranks, Vaidisova will need to improve upon her solid base of hard-hit ground strokes. Her father and coach, Ales Kodat, is working with Vaidisova to make her forehand a bigger weapon and to encourage her to transition forward behind her serve. If she’s successful, this teenager could be the next big thing in women’s tennis.
Nick Bollettieri knows a little bit about teaching a forehand. He has worked with Vaidisova and likes what he sees. “Ales has taught her a quick hip and shoulder rotation and has done a great job emphasizing racquet-head speed,” Bollettieri says. To develop this preparation, Kodat has his daughter stand 3 feet inside the baseline, take her forehand on the rise, and drive the ball back at the person feeding. This reinforces a compact backswing, open stance, racquet speed, and control.
Hitting on the rise means moving forward to hit the ball on its ascent (rather than on its descent) after it bounces so your opponent has less time to recover. But you still want to make contact in your strike zone and take a full swing. When practicing this, make sure you don’t use an abbreviated stroke or a half-volley, which will result in defensive shots from what should be an offensive position.
SERVE AND VOLLEY
She’s a teenager, but Vaidisova already has a grown-up serve. And as she improves it, she’ll get many opportunities to attack the net behind it. “The ability to finish off the point will become a big part of her game,” Bollettieri says. In order to become more adept at net, Vaidisova performs a drill that promotes explosive movement off the baseline and a strong split-step. She hits a dry serve (without a ball) and takes a few powerful steps forward to hit a (real) volley. She tries to use a balanced split-step and make contact inside the service line.
Another way that Vaidisova works on her transition game is by playing a lot of doubles. This helps her come to net behind both her serve and return. If you’re looking to better your net game in singles but don’t feel confident enough to work on it during a match, doubles is a great alternative. It also forces you to hit many other shots, such as lobs, passes, and sharp angles, which will help make you a more well-rounded player.