Orlando Training Week Takeaways
My training week with Max was extremely productive. Max is very good for my game in general. He has a really good mind for doubles, a good eye for technique, lots of knowledge acquired from other doubles professionals, and he communicates the information effectively. It’s nice to have a good connection and play well with your doubles partner on court. It is even better if you and your partner are able to help each other improve each day, and that’s what Max and I did this past week.
My first goal going into the training week was to serve better. During one of my last days in Italy, I sat and brainstormed about some of my best serving tournaments and how I practiced my serve leading up to competition. I also reviewed what my mindset was during times I served well. I serve my best when I simply start every day with 10 minutes of serving and focus primarily on my toss and timing when going up for the serve. In addition, watching my serve on film more consistently has been a huge help for a couple of reasons. When I watch myself fail to execute properly, I can see and feel my mistake. After feeling the mistake, I mentally correct myself to reinforce the right habits. On the other hand, when I watch myself execute a rep perfectly, I can feel that as well and continue to reaffirm the feeling of executing perfectly. Film study is almost like extra practice.
I am excited about Max’s and my clarity in how we envision ourselves playing. I’m also excited about our clarity on how we will handle various situations that commonly present themselves during doubles points. I’ve already explained in one of my previous blogs that we plan on being a good serving team with a strong net presence that forces returners to constantly return into small spaces. We put a priority on serving and service partner drills every practice to bring this part of our game to life. I am even more excited about our clarity we have developed on how we will handle our return games.
We have adopted the philosophy of taking the easy return, and we practice defending different scenarios that can happen depending where the return goes. “Taking the easy return” might not be obvious to all people reading, so I’ll try my best to explain it: When I react to a serve, my body is forced into a certain position to properly return the ball. There is a natural direction I can hit return based on my body position while making contact with the ball. I play on the deuce (forehand side). As a right handed player, if I am jammed with a serve body backhand and my body glides out the way of the serve and fades right to hit the ball, the natural return would be to take the return down the line. However, I could also have the ability to go against the grain of my body weight and hit the body backhand return inside out (cross) if I get out of the way of the serve quick enough and create adequate space before hitting the return. It all depends on how good the serve is and how quickly I can create space to return the ball. The quicker I can position myself to hit the return, the more options I have when returning; on the other hand, the better the serve and the slower I position myself to return the ball, my options are usually cut down to simply taking the natural return. Taking the natural/easier return allows us to put more returns in play and forces our opponents to execute more often. If I’m forced to return line, Max and I know the 1 or 2 places the volleyer will likely go, and we practice those scenarios. If the server hits a good serve and forces me to return the ball where the opposing team wants me to return, they will likely be at an advantage at that particular time in the point. The serving team should execute and win these types of points 8 times out of 10. However, the purpose of Max and I developing a plan how to handle these scenarios and practicing it should make it harder for our opponents to execute. If we can only allow our opponents to execute these various situations 5 or 6 times out of 10 instead of 8 or 9 times out of 10, we have done our job. The level of competition is so close and matches are often decided by less than 3 points. If we can steal a few of them, it can be the difference between winning and losing a match.
Everything I explained in the paragraph above is only Max and I planning for one specific scenario. There are many more to explain, but I don’t have nearly enough time to write about them all in one setting. I am open to discussing them through email or phone if you love to play doubles and are curious. Overall, Max and I have established a clear identity on how we will approach both our serve and return games. We practice skills that are foundational to our identity, and we practice specific scenarios that are likely to arise on a frequent basis. Our job is to master the foundational skills and drills that directly correlate with real match situations. If you are eager to develop your game, I’d highly recommend you follow this blueprint. From my experience, this is the blueprint most successful tennis professionals follow: 1) develop your vision for how you want to play, 2) identify key skills/shots you need to execute your vision, 3) identity frequent situations during a point that will likely present themselves, and 4) practice the foundational skills of your vision and frequent scenarios until you master them. Sometimes the issue with big academies is generalized drilling that don’t apply to certain people’s game. However, it’s up to you to develop your own vision and communicate it with the people helping you, so you can get help developing the specific skills that you need to practice. Developing the specific skills and practicing properly is the first key to developing a high level tennis player. The next step is learning and understanding how you function mentally and developing a specific routine that allows you to execute at a high level in competitive/high stress situations. Max and I are currently in Winnepeg, Canada. We will either play tomorrow or on Wednesday. I will keep everyone updated on our match time, so you can tune in for live streaming if you’re interested. I’ll be posting a bio about Max shortly, so you all can become more familiar with him. Have a great rest of your day!