5 Minutes with Nick: Need for Speed

Thursday, October 18, 2012 /by

Pro tennis today is a game of increasingly athletic and quick players. But ordinary players don't have to be left behind.

The tennis court is getting smaller. Every match these days, especially in professional men’s tennis, the rallies are long and the retrieving is outrageous. Top men now routinely hit full-stroke shots from the doubles alleys or outside of them, sometimes for winners—when they’re playing singles. Why? Because speed and athleticism are greater than ever in our sport, and that trend looks likely to continue. For an ordinary player, this can be disheartening. You’re probably thinking, “I’m just not that fast, and I never will be.” There’s more than one kind of speed though, and you can improve your quickness around the court with practice.

Anticipation
Pay attention to your opponents. Do they like to hit drop shots? How often do they slice? Do they like to loop the ball, or hit it flat? And in what situations do they tend to do any of these things most often? If you learn your opponents’ patterns and habits, as well as how they react to your shots, you can often cheat a few steps and arrive at the ball sooner.

Geometry
Even fast movers can look slow if they take the wrong path to the ball. Take the shortest route possible to the place you need to be to hit your shot. If your opponent hits a great shot, you might have to run parallel to the baseline, or even run at a slight angle away from the baseline, so you’re moving away from the court and the ball. But if you have time, practice running to the ball on an angle so you’re moving both sideways and toward the ball at the same time. This saves time and puts pressure on your opponent.

Want to improve your game? Ask legendary coach Nick Bollettieri a question for his new column in Tennis magazine, starting in 2013.

Hitting On the Rise
Andre Agassi was not the world’s fastest mover. So what did he do? He hit the ball extremely early, as soon as it bounced, so his shots would be on top of his opponents before they had time to recover. The result? Agassi often held his ground in the middle of the court while his opponents ran like crazy. To do this, shorten your backswing and use a semi-open or open stance. If you give your opponents less time to move by hitting on the rise, you won’t have to move as much, and the game will seem slow to you.

Nick Bollettieri found the IMG Bollettieri Academy in 1978. He has coached 10 players that have gone on to rank No. 1 in the world.


Originally published in the April 2012 issue of TENNIS magazine.

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