By Raphael Rodriques, Tennis Director, Druid Hills Country Club
There are many ways tennis players can improve their game. They can work on mechanics/techniques, footwork, conditioning, court positioning, strategy/tactics, mental game, and the list goes on and on.
It is important to work on all these things to reach a higher level of play; however, tennis is a lot more than just hitting the balls past your opponents — it also is hitting where they are not.
I always like to remind my students that, while working on any aspect of their game — either mechanical, physical, or tactical — a tennis player must remember three fundamental principles when selecting your shots: remember the score of the game, your positioning on the court, and your opponent’s positioning on the court. I find these elements crucial on any level, regardless if you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player.
By selecting your shots according to the three components mentioned above, a player tends to make smarter decisions instead of simply hitting the ball back. Consequently, the concern about their mechanics becomes a secondary issue. During a match, the last thing a player wants to do is become worried or to try to fix their strokes. This will likely make them tight, confused, and nervous. The result is always more errors because we can’t fix mechanics during matches.
Once a player becomes “score smart” with their tennis game, they tend to take risks at the right time and when in the right position on the court. As a result, they should feel more confident and not second-guess their swings and decisions. Too often, we see players going for winners simply because they receive a short ball. However, if you are down a game point or break point, that shot should be more of an approach shot, and not a winner.
Another advantage of being score smart and having better court awareness is that a player can grow to be a better defender and select bigger targets or higher balls when defending from the back of the court or behind the baseline.
When playing a match, it also is important to know the situation of each point — offense, defense, and neutral.
- Offense: a short ball, inside of the service line, where a player can consider attacking and moving forward (keeping the score of the game in mind).
- Neutral ball: a ball that is going to be struck by the player from “no man’s land” to the baseline; a player should look to hit big targets on the opposite side and not take too much risk.
- Defense: a ball that pushes a player behind the baseline and to the corners of the court; a player should try and hit it back high and deep, so it does not bounce short on the opposite side and becomes an easy ball for your opponent to attack.
Overall, if players of all levels can keep in mind the game score, their court position, their opponent’s position, and the three point situations (offense, defense and neutral), I believe they can improve their game quickly and become a more complete tennis player, and not just a good ball striker.
Hometown (City/State): Brasilia/Brazil
How did you get involved in teaching tennis? Had a close friend who was a tennis director and I found it was a very cool lifestyle and job to have; and I was right!
Diehard fan of what sports team? Brazil national soccer team
Best part of your game? Return of serve
Dream doubles match would be me and… Gustavo Kuerten
When I’m not teaching tennis, I’m… Playing soccer (futebol)
My favorite tennis memory is: Playing national tournaments on red clay as a junior in Brazil.
My favorite professional player is: Gustavo Kuerten
#1 reason why I enjoy teaching & coaching tennis: I love to see students (adults and juniors) smile and have fun while learning new skills and making friends. Since tennis is a lifetime sport, when they grow older, I want them to remember the good times they had and still have the same fun.
What important tennis message do you want to promote? Tennis is not just about winning; it’s about learning from each match, enjoying this beautiful game, and challenging yourself to continue to improve to be a great competitor and a strong teammate.