5 Minutes with Nick: Wall Ball
Don’t have a practice partner? Make the wall your best friend.
1. I like to tell my students that there’s only one undefeated champion in the history of tennis: the wall. It never misses, never complains and never loses. To get the most out of it, though, you need the right approach. First, make sure your wall has a line to represent the net. Measure this and if you can’t draw it perfectly, make it a little higher, rather than lower. When you start your wall practice, stand far back and hit high, slow-to-medium speed shots (keep in mind that the distance from the baseline to the net is 39 feet). Give yourself time to take back your racquet and get into a rhythm. Since the wall never misses, you don’t want to start out at top speed and take a lot of hard swings when your body is cold.
2. The next step is to hit the ball side to side, so you work both your forehand and your backhand. Again, hit the ball with some looping spin (high to low) and not too hard. You want your strokes to be smooth and loose. At this point, you’ll start to work up a sweat.
3. Once you’re feeling comfortable with your swings, you can start to move closer to the wall. In a match, you’re going to be 20 feet or less from the net only on a put-away shot (unless you are moving in for a volley). But standing closer to the wall can help you in other ways. You’ll have less time to react from this range, so you’ll learn how to shorten your swings. This skill is essential when returning serve and when playing against a powerful hitter. Don’t stand so close for too long. Move up and back and vary the speed of your shots. You want to react to diff erent bounces and depths, as you would have to in a match. Keep moving your feet.
4. You can work on your volleys against the wall, too. Start with soft, touch volleys and then increase the pace. See how many you can hit in a row on each side, and then start to go back and forth between your forehand and backhand.
5. A wall itself is fine, but if your wall has targets, that’s even better. All you need is some chalk. Draw large circles—one for down the line, one for crosscourt, and one down the center—and aim for those. Make sure they’re a good distance above the net, as you want to clear the net by a few feet and use topspin to bring your shots back into the court. By the time you master hitting these targets, you’ll be able to imagine them on the court when you play.
Nick Bollettieri has trained many collegiate and professional players, including 10 who reached the world No. 1 ranking.
Originally published in the July/August 2011 issue of TENNIS.