THE CONTACT POINT
Why the contact point is the most important part of any tennis stroke. You're about to become a wizard at tennis? Well, maybe!!
It sounds obvious, right? The tennis ball should go wherever we aim it. Well, maybe this is not so obvious to tennis players at the recreational level, this includes beginners and improvers, right up to club standard and possibly beyond. Go to any tennis club and watch how a player, who has been playing for 20 to 30 years, may not be 100% technically sound(no offence to all my tennis club members), yet they can still hit the ball where they want it to go. To understand how important the point of contact is on any stroke, we first of all have to know what the point of contact is. In simple terms, it is the point of impact on your tennis racket, and secondly, you have to know the basic concept that where ever your racket strings are pointing, that is exactly where the ball is going to go. Too far open and the ball will be sent high, too far closed and the ball will be hit low.
Nine times grand slam and former Wimbledon champion Andre Agassi famously once said that the most important part of any tennis stroke is the first 6 inches before contact and the first 6 inches after contact. This is so true and everything else is a by product. Well hang on a second, I hear you scream, I’ve just spent my hard earned money on a tennis lesson for an hour, just to be told by my coach the blatantly obvious, and that is, as long as the racket strings are pointing in the right direction, we can then hit the ball wherever we want it to go. All I have to do now, is go away and practice. Well, to a certain degree, that is correct, but, not so fast people!
If only tennis was that easy, no one would ever make unforced errors, hardly anyone would hit the ball in the net and certainly no one would ever hit the ball out, but the reality is that no matter how well you technically hit the ball, if the racket face is not pointing towards your intended direction, you will not send the ball to where you want to hit it and this on its own, makes the contact point, the most important aspect in tennis technique.
How many times have I asked my students, "Hey, why do you think the ball went sailing past the baseline?" The answer I get numerous times is, "Well, I hit the ball too hard, innit?" and yes, although this may very well be true, the simple fact is, that there could be an even simpler reason that your tennis ball is sailing out of court and that reason is that your racket face(the strings) are pointing in the wrong direction. Not many of my students at any standard, whether they are beginners or performance players, give me the answer I’m looking for, and that’s the simple one.
Let me ask you a question and be totally honest with me here. How many times do you hit the ball and blindly hope that the ball will go where you want it to go, just leaving it to pure feel and the born ability that luck has been bestowed upon you as the tennis genius you know you are and that you can successfully hit the ball exactly where you want it to go?
Ok, let me put it another way. Before you make contact with the ball and your racket starts to move forward from its take back position, do you ever think to yourself that you are going to make a conscious effort to point the racket strings exactly towards the intended direction that you want the ball to go? I bet the answer is a resounding no! When you hit the ball in the net, do you ever think to yourself to open up the racket face so it doesn’t happen again on the next shot. If you say yes I do, then you are at least 50% on the way to improvement. The other 50% is putting it into practice.
"Ah right!!", I here you scream, "that's easy then, I'll just point my strings in the correct direction and I’ll be crunching balls all day long like Rafa, Roger and Novak". Again, if only just pointing strings in the right direction turned your tennis playing abilities into a human ball machine. First of all, we need to learn how the racket face affects your stroke. Ok, lets get 4 simple facts right here. If your racket strings are pointing either too far to the right or too far to the left of where you want the ball to go, the ball will inevitably go either too far to the right or to the left of its intended direction. If your racket face is pointing too far open, then the ball is going to be sent skywards and then again too far closed and the ball will possibly be sent into the net. Sounds familiar?
How to fix the problem
So, now we know why we are making an error, now we have to fundamentally stop the issue. There are several ways to do this. The first one is, the next time you go on a tennis court to practice, start by making a conscious effort to think about pointing the strings exactly where you want the ball to go and not relying on pure luck. Making small changes here and there can make such a huge difference to your consistency.
There are another couple of ways to help you, the first is that when you hit the ball after hitting the net, think in terms of height. When standing on your side of the baseline, you cannot actually see the opposite baseline. It’s only because there are open spaces in the net that gives you the optical illusion that you can. Here’s an example. If you placed a sheet across the net, and unless you are 10 feet tall, there is no way you would be able to see the oppositions baseline. It would be completely covered.
One thing you can do to help you, is think of hitting the ball a certain distance higher over the net and not just trying to aim for length and depth of the court. If you hit the ball with enough spin or pace and you hit the ball 5 to 6 inches over the net, this should sufficiently help you hit deeper. Another tip, for complete beginners is that if you feel that you are having trouble controlling the ball, shorten the backswing and try to line up the racket face with the ball prior to contact, almost like the face of the racket is a tracking device, this in turn will help you get the racket into an early position ready to hit the ball.
My final tip is, that you should try to aim for a certain area or part of the tennis ball. If you are frustrated by constantly hitting balls in the net and failing to hit the ball higher, then aim more underneath the ball and the opposite would be if you are sending too many balls far over the baseline, instead, aim more over the top of the ball or as we say in the game, roll your wrist over the ball. This in turn will open or close your racket face sufficiently to make a change.
Please let me make this clear, it takes practice, and lots of it but it would certainly be a start. Sure, the pros after hitting many thousands of tennis balls over thousands of hours, most probably don’t need to think about it or, they do think about it but in a very subconscious way. When you go on court and practise, make an effort and think of where you want the racket face to point on any stroke.Make small changes during practice, and not big ones, as it only takes these small changes to make a big difference to hitting in the correct zone. It’s very important to understand that every single day you practice, your feel of the ball may be different to the previous day so please just be aware of this. This is why, we have good and bad days, but using this technique, will most definitely help you to become more aware of where you want to hit the ball.
One more thing I would like to add and that the strategy of aiming for a particular part of the tennis ball can most certainly help you if you get nervous in match play, because it puts your focus on just hitting the ball and taking out all other surrounding aspects of the game. Well, that's it for now. I hope you enjoyed this article and please feel free to share it. I wish you many happy days evolving and improving your game of tennis to the next level.