By Chris Chaffee
Weekly motivational quote: “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome” — Arthur Ashe
Being a tennis player at any level, any age, is a journey. It is important to have short-term goals, but just like success it doesn’t happen over night. The process and the determination to keep improving and learning is one of the most beautiful things about the sport. Whatever effort is put into tennis, the results will show. You just have to keep going and believing.
When hitting a one-handed backhand volley you want to make sure you are first in your athletic-ready position at the net (knees bent, arms and hands relaxed, be on your toes). Your arms should be extended out and your racket ready position should be facing your opponent.
Next, check to see if you are in a continental grip (hammering grip for the backhand volley). The non-gripping hand should be on the throat of the racket. Now, hold the racket with the top of the head slightly below your eye around the level of your chin. When your opponent is about to hit the ball to your backhand side split step and then set the racket strings to your backhand side so you can “find the ball with the racket strings.”
Remember to use your non-hitting hand as your guide. Wait for the ball to just about hit your strings. When the time is right, pull your arms apart like you are pulling apart a rubber band, so your chest muscles stretch out (be sure your racket doesn’t go down, but finish as if you were cleaning off a table).
When you are ready to hit the incoming ball remember to step forward with your right foot (for right-handed players) if you have time. Do not swing at the ball, but block or punch the ball.
Hitting a two-handed backhand is a little different. The ready position is the all the same. However the non-dominate hand is on the top of the handle (not on the throat) and the dominant hand is on the bottom still.
Using the non-dominant shoulder set the strings to find the ball on your backhand side (your dominant hand and arm is just resting on the bottom on the grip as a guide.) When you are going to come in contact the ball it is like a left-handed forehand volley (opposite for lefties). Make sure the path of the volley is level.
A couple quick tips to remember next time you are hitting the backhand volley: keep a firm wrist, loose grip and only squeeze lightly onto the grip when you come in contact with the ball. The key is to have the racket strings “steady through the path of contact” and have them finishing forward toward your intended target, like you are taking a picture of your target with your racket strings after contact.
Weekly Fitness Tip: Jump rope. Footwork is so important when playing tennis. Tennis is a sport with short bursts on energy. You can work on your speed, which will help you get to the tennis ball and execute the proper shot.
Small explosive steps are vital in gaining the ability to change direction quickly. Practicing jump rope will help improve footwork speed, strength, explosiveness, and endurance. Look at Novak Djokovic’s feet the next time you see him playing tennis on TV. Focus your attention on his feet and watch how he keeps moving. He is constantly on his toes and is balanced. Balance is key.
Next week we jump into the overhead smash!
Chris Chaffee lives in Fryeburg, Maine, and is a teaching tennis professional around the Mount Washington Valley. He is also a JV tennis coach at Kennett High.