TennisTalk: Ask Glen
Ask Glen is a weekly article providing key tips on everything from rules to gameplay to court savvy...to even a little bit of history. "Glen", of course, is Glen Howe, USPTA Master Professional and superintendent of the Tennis Division.
Use the following form to "Ask Glen", and be sure to look here every week for more answers to some of our best questions.
This Week's Questions
On a changeover, I noticed that my opponent's vibration dampener was above the bottom string. I'm not sure if this is legal. What is the rule?
According to USTA rule #4, the vibration dampener must be placed outside the cross-string pattern. Racquets must comply with specification in sanctioned events. In extreme situations, results of matches and tournaments have been placed under review and a hearing. A simple conversation with your opponent on a changeover should suffice.
What is the protocol for returning an errant ball from an adjacent court? This happens all the time and if I have to wait till the end of their point, it wastes my court playing time. What is the etiquette?
You are correct that it is more of an etiquette procedure than an actual rule. Whenever possible, wait till the end of the point than hit over to your neighbors. If the adjacent court match is having extended points, I have found it best to go to the back of the court and set it against the fence. Recognize that your actions will be a direct descendent of how they will respond when a ball from your court is hit to their court.
As it happens, it appears I am slowing down after 40 years of playing tennis. Not necessarily my court movement, but rather my ability to run fast. I know this is part of the aging process, but is there anything I can do to mitigate the inevitable?
What you lack in foot speed can be made up in strategy and court prowess. Buying time when in trouble can be one of the easiest methods to get to the next ball. More height over the net or slowing the speed of the ball will be a great strategy.
As far as your foot speed, practicing running sprints can increase speed from point A to point B. One other element that needs to be considered is that any additional weight that you have added as you age will slow your movement down. Stay away from the donuts and do some wind sprints and all will be good for years to come.
What is the correction for serving when I am barely missing long on my serve? The issue that is taking place during matches is that I am missing consistently by a couple of inches on the serve placement. When I try to adjust my racquet speed, placement, or amount of spin, my serve takes a turn for the worse. Any idea?
It sounds as though you are over-medicating the serve stroke. The simple answer is to move back from the line a couple of inches. If the serve is hitting as consistently as you suggest, a small modification of the distance of the court can be all that needs to take place.
I have severe tennis elbow, but use tennis as my relaxing exercise due to the stress of my job. Is there anything I can do to continue playing with reduced pain?
The key as with most injuries is making sure you listening to your body. The more severe the pain is a sign that the body is saying not to play. It is not recommended to play on windy or cold days. This will affect the arm adversely. Spacing out your playing commitments and stopping if the pain is too intense is a good way to avoid move damage and longer rehabilitation to the arm. Moderation is the key.
I am a beginner trying to make the transition to an intermediate player. My pro told me that I need to change my semi-western serving grip to a continental. What is the easiest way to move my serve to this next grip?
The easiest way is going "cold turkey" and committing to the grip change. It will be easier if a player moves closer to the net when trying to gain a comfort level with the new grip. As you become more comfortable with the continental grip, graduate further out till the baseline is attained.
I would not recommend playing games or sets because the outcome is guaranteed to be a disaster. If a player stays truly committed to this change, the outcome will be fantastic.
Having played the game for better than fifty years, our doubles opponents have become quite good at hitting volleys. What is appropriate shot to a talented volleying team?
There are a number of shot that can be used to counter a competent volleyer. First, it is important that there is not an overreaction to an oncoming opponent. The volleying team would like nothing more than for the striker to make an error. Second, aiming at the service line T's will make a player have to stretch wide and low for a volley shot. This is not easy for any level.
Next, the pace could be taken off the return and as the volleyer is hitting up; a player could come in and volley down for a winner. And lastly, hitting high to the back hand can be a very hard shot for almost any level player. The key is not letting net players hit in their hitting zone.
There has been a trend on the pro tour of more players attacking the net with serving & volleying. What are the keys to serve and volley in the modern era?
The most important part of this combination of shots is the effectiveness of the serve. As with the volley, not letting a player hit the ball in their wheel-house can pay dividends. The serve must not only have speed and placement, but must clear the net one to two feet to allow the server to close the net. Combine these three elements and I believe the outcome will be positive.
As a tennis player, I am constantly in the wrong place when covering the court. Have not played sports when I was a kid, I seem to lack court awareness of where I should be. Is there anything I can do to gain an understanding of the proper place to stand?
Court positioning is a very important aspect of covering the entire court. The best way to understand the court covering issue is to first understand the anticipation of the next shot that will probably take place. If you hit an effective shot, most likely the next shot will either be missed or short in the court. Move inside the baseline to be prepared to take advantage of the weak return. If your shot is hit poorly, there are several variables that will determine what shot is hit. Look at what your opponents likes and dislikes as a shot selection. Look at how aggressive the response is and whether your opponent hits down the line or crosscourt.
In addition, a player should mirror the position of the opponent. If he is standing in the middle of the baseline, this is the center of the angles at which the ball can be returned. If standing to the left or right, shadow this position and I believe you will be in the center of the angle of possibilities.
Being a player in my mid-sixties, I have played for over forty tears. My two-handed backhand volley seems to have a lot of problems when I need to reach wide for a shot. Do you have any suggestions other than cheating over further to improve my flexibility on this shot?
The simple answer is one of two concepts. First, consider learning a one-handed backhand volley for this shot. Tactically, the best shot is to come in on better approach shot so that your opponent can go wide to your backhand.
While playing in a doubles tournament and serving, I hit a serve that was very close to the sideline and our opponents returned the serve assuming it was in. My partner then said the serve was out and we stopped play. Being that a mark showed the serve was out, what is the call?
First, your partner should not call the serve as only player on that specific side of the net should make the call. I would have kept playing. As far as seeing the mark and stopping play, if the ball mark was out, a second serve should have been played.
While playing a match on a windy day, my opponent tossed the ball for a serve and it went five feet behind his head. Rather than catch the toss, he backed up and hit the serve. Is this legal?
According to USTA rule 18.2, the server may not change feet position by walking or running. This rule was intended to keep players from gaining advantage of a server on the move. Being that it was not an intentional move to gain advantage, it is my belief that it is a legal serve. If an official were present, a different call may have been made based on the specifics of the point.
I play a lot of USTA tennis, but always forget the progression of who serves first after the tiebreak. What can I do to remember the serving order when playing matches?
This has been an ongoing discussion for many years. The process can be difficult for some because it is not used very often. The simple answer is as follows: The player/team whose turn it was to serve first in the tiebreak shall be the receiver in the first game of the following set.
Having taken up tennis about five years ago, what is the best way to serve my second serve? If I serve too hard, I double fault and if I hit a dinker, my opponents crush it. Any advice for a frustrated player?
The big key to hitting effective second serves is learning a spin serve to create control. The topspin serve is one of the most effective second serves for several reasons. First, by brushing up the back side of the ball, the rotation will bring the ball down quicker into the court. Second, a topspin serve tends to keep the ball on a players racquet longer that helps provide better control.
Lastly, the topspin serve will allow a server to hit higher over the net. In turn, this gives more time to either advance to the net or recover and get ready for the next shot.
When playing doubles, I always hit my volley straight back to my opponents. How can I get over this bad habit and where should the ball be hit when trying to volley a winning shot?
If you would consider how your volley warm-up is created, this is the main reason for hitting directly back to an opponent. Muscle memory will copy past patterns under duress. I would consider aiming all shots when hitting volleys. This can be done by telling yourself, in your mind, to either hit to the forehand or backhand. In addition, aiming at the painted T-s on the court can be effective targets when trying to put the ball away.
I notice that the Williams sister hit open stances most of the time. Is this something that I should try?
It is important to recognize that Serena is using all three backhand stances when hitting the ball. If she is in a defensive position, she will hit off her back foot and raise the height of the shot over the net. When Serena is drawn lateral, the open stance is used to get behind the ball. This can be quite effective for not only hitting the ball, but the recovery that takes place after the shot.
And lastly, stepping forward in a semi-open or closed stance to put the full body weight behind a shot. This is used to hit offensively and win the point through aggression. The complete player, like Serena Williams, has command of all three of these shots to maximize the potential of her backhand.