“Spring Cleaning your Tennis Habits” By: Kings Highway Tennis Pro, Philippe Salvat, USPTR Certified

Spring is in the air – the sun is shining, the snow is melting and the flowers are blooming. There is energy in the air and it’s time to shake off those “winter blahs”!
A fresh start begins with Spring Cleaning. Why not clean out your bad tennis habits along with those closets?
Here are three bad habits in tennis that can be easily cleaned up: feet, breathing and focus. 

Standing still while playing tennis is something everybody does. Tennis is a sport! If you aren’t constantly moving your feet, your body falls asleep and your reactions slow down. Keep your body and mind alert while you play by constantly moving your feet. You will be amazed what will happen to your game with this simple fix.
So many times I see people holding their breath when they hit the ball. Their body is tense and their strokes fall apart. Try blowing out or even saying a word while hitting the ball. While watching the pros you will notice they grunt while hitting the ball. This has a purpose. Breathing relaxes the body and helps you perform at your best. If you notice you are tense after losing a point, take a long deep breath to relax your body and mind. Again, this is a quick and easy fix with tremendous results.
And finally – focus! When you are behind in a match or just can’t seem to get in the groove while warming up, very often the culprit is your mind. You are probably thinking about too many things all at once. How can you stop and clear your thoughts to re-focus? Do just that: Stop. Take a moment. Bounce the ball a few times, walk toward the curtain, take a deep breath and start over. Don’t think about the score or your backhand – start fresh. Like Spring!

Born in Montreal, Canada, Philippe started playing tennis at age three. To become a professional tennis player, he moved to South Florida and trained full-time with the best juniors in the world. For a short time, he played Nationals in Canada, the Junior Tour (ITF) and ATP Tour tournaments. Due to injuries, he decided to coach some friends from the ATP Tour who were ranked as high as 500. He found coaching so enjoyable that he gained his USPTR Certification and started working full-time in tennis clubs where he taught all ages and all levels. He has been a coach/instructor for the past seven years and a Program Director in Weston, Florida for the past three years.

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Tennis is a moving sport! By: Jonathan Engelbrecht, Kings Highway Tennis Club Pro

Tennis is based primarily on being in the right place to execute the appropriate shot. The most difficult part of the game to learn is where to be in order to hit the ball. Therefore, if a player would like to make big improvements in their game they must start with their feet.

Taking small steps to get into position is essential. The reason is a player can make small adjustments to better position themselves correctly. As soon as a player tries to take big steps, the adjustments that need to be made also need to be big. Taking big adjustment steps, affects the players balance and therefore affects the stroke the player is trying to execute.

So try this next time you are on the practice court. The further away from the ball, the bigger the steps, the closer to the ball you get, the smaller the steps must become, in order to execute the best possible shot.

A native of South Africa, Jonathan spent four summers as an instructor at the Tokeneke Club in Darien before joining the Kings Highway Tennis Club. He played tennis at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah where he captained the team, played #1 singles and doubles and was a two-time Most Valuable Player for the Wildcats. Jonathan was also an assistant to the women’s tennis coach, whose team finished as runner-up in the Big Sky Conference. A lover of the restaurants and night-lights of New York City, Jonathan also enjoys working out, reading and playing golf.

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“Practice Makes Perfect” By Kings Highway Tennis Pro, John Jayakumar

We have all heard the quote “practice makes perfect” – there’s some truth to the statement and this is why I think the statement is partially false, I have always lived by the statement “perfect practice makes perfect!”

When practicing the sport of tennis or any sport for that matter, you better make sure that you are practicing the correct form, technique and repetition. It’s not just going out there and hitting balls just for the sake of hitting balls, for example if you are practicing your forehand and you don’t practice your loop and follow-through, I 100% guarantee you that you are developing a bad habit and your balls are not going in. Expect misses and expect to hit the balls in the net and hit the ball long, its all part of the process, you have to take a step back before going forward!

The common excuse I hear a lot for a lack of practice is “I can’t remember everything my instructor tells me,” well then start bringing a notebook with you when taking a lesson and write down everything the instructor tells you. By doing this you can take one by one from the book and put it into practice, you can go back and recall everything you learned and remember everything one by one.

Another myth I hear so often is “a practice session needs to be long and I just don’t have time to practice for four hours” or “I need to practice long hours to get better” and that statement again is partially true. Remember it’s not the quantity of practice it’s the quality of practice, for example a player who practices for four hours and the rate of intensity is up and down that player is not getting anything out of it.

There is a good chance that they’re possibly developing bad habits and poor technique, just imagine (going back to the forehand example) hitting a forehand for four hours without a follow-through…What do you think you will develop? I’ll give you a hint, it won’t be a proper forehand! On the other hand a player that is practicing for two hours but the rate of intensity is high for the entire time then that player is getting more of an effective practice than the player practicing for four hours with the intensity going up and down. Just to give you an idea Roger Federer one of the greatest players of all time has a practice session for a max of one and half hours but his rate of intensity is all out for the entire time!

This Philadelphian began playing tennis when he was 12. He competed in the USTA and was ranked 28th in the Boys’ 18’s in the Middle States section. John earned a scholarship to Erskine College, a Division II tennis powerhouse located in Due West, S.C. He played No. 2 and No. 4 singles at Erskine, No. 1 doubles, and his doubles team was ranked as high as sixth in the Mid-Atlantic section and 22nd in the nation. Jayakumar was named Team MVP for the Flying Fleet and he garnered Conference Carolinas Honorable Mention twice. He graduated in 2008 with a B.S. in Economics. John’s other interests include traveling, photography, platform tennis, mixed martial arts and rooting on his Philadelphia Eagles.

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Tennis: fun or hard work? By: Michaela Babicova Kings Highway Tennis Pro

The answer for this question is very simple: both! In my whole tennis career I have met a lot of players that were very talented athletes but they never accomplished anything in their lives.

On the other hand, the other group of players wasn’t lucky enough to be born with talent but was determined and willing to work hard on themselves! People with no talent or athletic ability don’t have to give up. Tennis is beautiful game where talent isn’t enough. To be talented doesn’t necessary mean that you are a good player. Tennis can be learned fast, it only needs willingness.

If a player works hard in the practice, he/she has much bigger potential to do better in the real match. Tennis, unlike the other popular sports such as basketball, baseball, football, hockey etc.., can be both: individual as well as team sport. Singles is the individual part where a player fights for him/herself and doubles is more fun for teams. It is a lot of fun to play tennis and also play good!

People enjoy this “white sport” more and more nowadays. It’s a great work out as well as social sport. In the end, I would like to remind everyone- You must be willing! Willing to work hard and win! Afterwards tennis will be so much fun!

Michaela Babicova

Kings Highway Tennis Professional

USPTA Certified

This native of Slovakia, nicknamed Mishka, began playing when she was seven years old, she eventually was a champion of Slovakia in the 14-and-under and 18-and-under age divisions and was a member of the Slovak National Team from 1999-2005. She played college tennis on the Division I level for the University of South Alabama. Mishka played No. 1 or No. 2 singles and No. 1 or No. 2 doubles for the Jaguars and in 2008 she earned All-Sun Belt honors in singles for the second consecutive year. She was nationally ranked as high as 33rd in singles and 12th in doubles. Mishka played professionally on the International Tennis Federation and ETA circuits. She has played professionally against several current Women’s Tennis Association stars such as Maria Sharapova, Dinara Safina, Maria Kirilenko and Victoria Azarenka. Babicova has previously taught at the Nike Tennis Camp in Michigan, the Woodway Country Club in Darien and she also instructed junior players in Alabama while she was still in college. Babicova’s interests include traveling, playing other sports, roller skating, hanging out with friends and going to the movies.

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The Best Warm-Up Before A Game By Tennis Pro, Arlen Domoney

Ideally, the best way to get your body warm is to do a dynamic warm-up. Instead of doing static stretching which is better suited for stretching after playing, a dynamic warm-up stretching your muscles while in motion. The dynamic warm-up can be done on the tennis court using the doubles lines on either side of the court. The exercises are as follows:

Butt-Kicks; High Knees; Side Shuffle; Skipping; Karioka; Lunges; Back Pedal; and then finish off with a sprint to get the blood flowing before hitting your first ball when warming up your strokes.

When warming up your ground strokes, consistency is important. Start off at the service line with your hitting partner and rally for 3-5 minutes. Once you start feeling a good rhythm and then do the same thing from the baseline for 7-10 minutes. By this time you should have hit over 100 balls. You and your partner can come to the net together and volley to each other for 3 minutes. Doing this slightly more intense than hitting from the baseline and therefore should get your heart rate up.

After that you can serve, 10 serves in each box while your partner returns them, and you do the same when he/she serves. Once all you’re feeling good you can play a tie-break, or each serve a game so that you can get some points in. If you’re playing doubles, you can play cross-court points with your partner. This warm-up should take you about 25-30 minutes. You can shorten or lengthen it depending on what you’d like.

Once you complete this warm-up you should be feeling confident and ready for action! (go BIG or go home)

Arlen came to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette as a highly-recruited high school prospect from Cape Town, South Africa and he completed his successful collegiate career by being selected to the All-Louisiana Men’s Tennis second team. Arlen moved to Trumbull for a summer and captured the Men’s Open Singles championship at the 2009 Connecticut Public Parks Tennis Championships with a 6-1, 6-0 victory in the final match at Scalzi Park in Stamford. Arlen trained at the International Tennis Federation’s African Training Center and played internationally in ITF and ATP Tour tournaments. Arlen coached top junior provincial players in South Africa, and then in Lawrenceville, N.J., Malibu, Calif., and at Oak Hills Tennis Club in Norwalk.

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If you’ve played doubles against an opponent who can hit their first serve pretty hard, you might want to go to Plan B.  Playing back while your partner is receiving your opponents return is a great strategy to use against big servers.  The pros behind this strategy help to avoid setting up your partner at the net if a weak return is hit.  If a weak return is hit you may have a better chance of getting the third shot back in play and a possibility of taking over the offensive position as a team at the net. You may also be able to defend against the poach if it applies.  The disadvantage of this set up is that you give up the front court and are very vulnerable to the drop volley and angle.

Trying some new and different formations allows you to play with variety.  I recently was watching the Men’s Doubles Final of the 2011 Australian Open and saw the Bryan Brothers trying this doubles formation. It is always refreshing to see some different doubles formations. Do not always get in the same rut of the one-up-one back formation and coming into net on the first shot. If your opponent is able to hit a big first serve, why not mix it up and both stay back? You will definitely get into your opponents head and make them start to think. In the long run, you win and they lose.

I always try to teach my tennis students to do something they normally would not try in a match. The more confident you get at a particular shot or strategy, the better you become. Ask your pro to try this out next time you are on the court with them. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results and if it does not work the first time, try…try…try again!

Jeff Belcher is currently on staff at Kings Highway Tennis Club. He has been teaching for the past twenty-two years and enjoys all levels and abilities. He will be at the Roxbury Swim and Tennis Club in Stamford this summer as the Director of Tennis. Jeff is originally from Norwalk and lives in Darien with his wife and two children.

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When playing a competitive match there can be so many different factors that make us nervous or timid. A good example would be after one looks at the draw and sees they are playing a very tough opponent. Additionally, the courts may be faster or slower than what you are used to practicing on. Such factors can make each and every one of us a bit nervous and not have full enjoyment during a match.

As a result, one often ends up wondering why I am unable to hit my forehand or serve the way one does in warm-up while playing a match. A key thing to remember is that indeed you can. In fact, if you hit a shot well in practice or during a lesson with your coach then you have already shown yourself and your coach that you can do it and play at a certain level. It is just a matter of getting into your zone, concentrating and allowing yourself to have fun. The first thing to remember is to relax, take your time, play the ball and go into the mach with a plan. 

Here are a few ways to help enjoy those matches and hopefully end up with positive results. Enjoy warming up with jump rope, stretching or riding a stationary bike while listening to your favorite music for ten minutes. Once you get your body loose go onto that court with your opponent and have fun during the warm-up, figuring out their weaknesses that you can target during the entire match.

Once you have determined those weaknesses be sure to hit consistently over and over to that area to make your opponent hit unforced errors which will lead to their frustration and your own confidence. Enjoy the challenge of not allowing your opponent to play their own game and show them you are in complete control of not only your shot selection game but also your inner mental game with positive body language.

Most importantly have fun rewarding yourself after well played points. If you find out what works best for your game then you will look forward to each and every match you play. After all, you wouldn’t sign up for competitive matches if you didn’t already enjoy the challenge of the game, the feeling of winning or even just the pure enjoyment of finding ways to win points against any player. Tennis at the end of the day is a sport and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to play each and everyday.  Good luck!

Coach Lora Belcher is a Tennis Professional at Kings Highway Tennis Club in Darien, Connecticut. She has been teaching tennis for more than 20 years.  Lora received a full tennis scholarship and played for the Division I top 20 NCAA University of Kentucky Wildcats.

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A Proper Warm-up Before Every Tennis Game is Essential!

The warm up is extremely important before any training or competition in order to avoid injuring yourself.  If you skip the warm up, your body will function less efficiently. How does a tennis player warm up properly? Initially, it can be done in any activity that enables the heart to beat faster. You can simply walk or jog. Just go at the pace of your own physical level. Start at a gentle pace then slowly increase the pace until your heart rate increases and your body temperature rises. So as you jog, swing your arms up and over your head, as you run faster pump your arms backwards and forwards. Try some high knee skips and some low lunges.

After you walk or run you should do dynamic stretching. Stretching helps in developing overall flexibility. I recommend stretching that mimics the movements that will be done on the court during match. You can use your racket and just simply swing freely in slow motion. The stretch is not held, but the joint range is increased as you move through the warm up. The final part of the warm up is on court with the racket and the ball. This should take about 10 minutes. Think of this as both a tennis and mental warm up. So practice concentrating on the ball and making good contact on every stroke. Practice using the footwork patterns that are appropriate to each shot before, during and after every shot.

Just before your match begins sprint and change directions then you’ll be ready to perform safely, playing your best game of tennis yet!

See you on the court!

Jim Lipinski, Kings Hwy Tennis Club

PTR Certified & M.A. Physical Education

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