"IN THE GAME" WITH KEN DEHART

USPTA Master Professional and PTR International Master professional Ken DeHart has been teaching tennis for over 30 years at both the recreational and performance level. He was the 8th inductee into the PTR Hall of Fame joining celebrities like Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, Dennis Van der Meer, and Dr. Jim Loehr. Based in San Jose, California, Ken is a published writer, having co-authored the original "International Book of Drills" with Dennis Van der Meer and his book, "Mastering your Tennis Game." 

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As a National Tester for the Professional Tennis Registry, he helps train and certify tennis-teaching professionals. He enjoys being a mentor to anyone who loves the game of tennis. Ken is a Charter Member of the PTR and the PPR (Professional Pickleball Registry.) The Director of Racquets at Alpine Hills Tennis and Swimming Club in Portola Valley, CA says, “My goal is to assist in providing continuing education for tennis-teaching professionals and coaches.”

What is your DNA?

 

We all know that DNA is what our cells are made up of.  DNA also determines a lot about how we play tennis and the decisions we make.

 

D stands for defense - N stands for Neutralizing - A for attack.

 

Depending upon your personal DNA, you will approach the game differently.

 

*Normally, players defend about 10-15% of the time in a match.

*Players neutralize or stay in the point without giving our opponents a ball they can attack or one we try to attack on about 70-80% of the time

*Players attack about 20-25% of the time. (Lower-level players try to attack too often from neutralizing situations)

 

Depending upon your personality, these numbers will fluctuate  If you are an aggressive personality you will be inclined to be more aggressive. If your personality is more cautious, you will defend and neutralize more. A wise player will learn when it is appropriate to attack and when to neutralize until the time for the best opportunity to attack.

 

Let's look at some tactical situations. Our goal is to help you decide when to use your DNA in doubles. I know you cannot tell in the text where your opponent is located or how good they are, but give it your best guess based on your personality and DNA.

 

Besides each situation, give yourself a D - N - or A as to how you would play the situation.

 

Returning a wide ball outside the doubles alley in the ad-court  DNA

Making a shot that has you deep in the back court near your baseline  DNA

You are out of position on the court and the ball in between you and your partner DNA

You are in position and balanced in the court around mid-court DNA

You have received a high bouncing ball deep to your baseline in the deuce court  DNA

You have received a high bouncing ball around mid-court in the ad-court  DNA

The ball coming to you is a high-speed ball at your body  DNA

The ball coming to you is a heavy topspin ball inside the baseline  DNA

The ball coming to you is a low underspin ball around mid-court DNA

You are up 40-30 in the first set and you receive a slow spin serve to your backhand  DNA

You are down 0-40 in the first set and behind 0-4  DNA

You are serving a first serve in the add court and the score is 3 all 30-40  DNA

You are receiving the first point of the match in the deuce court against a first serve DNA

You are receiving a second serve from the add court and the score is 40-30 yours  DNA

 

I realize this is not actual match play and you have lots of time to decide vs the instant decision you have to make in a match. But, challenge yourself with situations you face that are difficult for you in matches. Practice making decisions to be better prepared to deal with tactical situations in match play. 

In practice, create situations where you feel comfortable knowing what to do and others where you feel vulnerable. Now practice your response so they can become more automatic in match play. 

 

Choosing the right DNA can help you develop a winning approach to improving your match play skills. Create tactical situations, now practice making a choice without the pressure of actual play.  Perhaps your practiced decision-making in the match will improve with practice off the court.

5 Winning Keys to Lobbing

 

2 Key reasons to Lob

Lob with a Purpose – there are main two reasons to lob:

1.  To win the point

2.  To get out of trouble

  • The Offensive Lob is designed to win the point
    1. Aim point - about 10 feet over the opponent's head -    hit quickly so they have little chance to run it down or react to the sudden elevation of the shot.
    2. Location - best placed over their backhand side of your opponent – be aware of lefties when you plan your lob.
    3. Disguise - prepare for the lob as though you are going to hit a drive then at the last moment lift the shot into a lob.
     

  • The Defensive Lob is designed to get you out of trouble, buy time and keep you in the point.
    Height is the key factor in this shot – high to buy extra time to recover.  It also forces the opponent to decide to play a difficult shot out of the air or let it bounce. 


5 Tips on how to Set up the Lob

Offensive - Get your opponents looking for the passing shot by hitting crosscourt and down the line with shots aimed about waist to chest high above the net with lots of topspin.

  • This strategy should draw your opponents closer to the net so as to be able to cut off the angles you have been using to pass them.

  • Use your first offensive lob on a shot when they least expect it a little later in the game, set, or a critical situation.

  • This “surprise” will make them a little hesitant to close in so tight and open up your passing shots once again.
     

Defensive – anytime you are in an awkward position, forced wider than the alley, forced to retreat well behind the baseline, or facing players that charge quickly to the net – Lob high and deep. 

  • This height and depth will give you recovery time while forcing your opponents back deeper into their court. 

  • This deeper court position will make it less likely they can put the ball away quickly – buying you time to get into a sound defensive position. 

 

5 Tips on where to Lob

  • Always aim over the opponent's backhand side (notice if they are left-handed)

  • Few players have the strength or timing to power a backhand overhead – even on a short lob

  • This tactic forces them to decide if they want to go for a dangerous angle or defensively put it back into the court – which keeps you in the point

  • If they choose to let the ball bounce they are now forced deeper into their court and must play a backhand groundstroke.  As a high ball bounces, there is a blind spot as the ball passes in front of your eyes from out of the air to on the ground.  The high backhand requires an earlier point of contact than the forehand so they must retreat even further behind the ball to have a powerful point of contact.

  • If the lob is played to the forehand overhead is almost always struck more powerfully. From this side, the arm can reach further back than on the backhand side.  Players may even reach back and does a “sky hook” like a hook shot in basketball.

 

11 Tips on when to Lob

  • To start the match - In doubles, on the first two points of the match when the serving team is looking into the sun. This allows you to get the return of serve into play using the largest space you can find against their best serve.

  • To confuse – A well-placed lob makes the receiving team have to switch positions and often retreat to the service line which gives you time to organize to attack

  • To take away a powerful ground stroke – The lob makes the server not able to use their forehand in the deuce court off your return.  Instead, they have to chase the ball down and hit a high bouncing backhand in the ad court while their partner is forced to switch from the ad court over to the deuce court.

  • If the lob is deep, it allows you to move forward so your team has now captured the net and gone from defense to offense with one simple shot.

  • To buy time – the lob allows you to get the ball up so you have time to recover into a better position to play the next ball with a shot you may prefer.

  • It gives you a bigger safer target to aim for – the sky

  • It makes your opponent anxious to attempt to put the “easy” ball away before you can assume an offensive position in the court

  • To take over the net position – a deep lob that bounces and forces your opponents back near the baseline.  This will allow you and your partner time to come up to the service line.  From this position, you will be able to determine if they are going to try to lob. You will now be able to play an overhead or close in if they try to drive the ball from deep in their court.

  • To defend against an Australian formation or “Modified I” formation – if the net player in the Australian position plays too close to the net, it becomes easy to lob diagonally crosscourt to the deep corner to defeat this alignment.

  • To defend against an aggressive poaching team – it is difficult to poach or have an all-out attack on the net if the receiving team keeps lobbing down the line or looping crosscourt when are in a total offensive scheme.

  • To defend against a fast closing serve and volley player – if the server closes too fast it becomes easy to lob over their head as they have to stop and back up to play the deep lob return.  It is difficult to close quickly when the server has to retreat and change directions to cover a deep lob over their partner's head. The server is now forced to play a high backhand in the ad court instead of a low forehand volley or groundstroke in the deuce court.

 

7 Tips for practicing the lob

  • Practice tossing the ball up and directing the lob to a 9-foot by 9-foot area in the corner of the court near the baseline and sideline.

  • Practice tossing the ball up and away from you so you have to run wide or back up to lob to a 9’x9’ target near either alley or the baseline.

  • Have a friend feed you a deep slow high ball and you attempt to lob to your deep targets.

  • Have a friend feed you a wide or deep challenging ball that you must run down and place into your deep targets.

  • Have a friend serve to you from both the deuce court and ad court while you practice lobbing the return into the deep targets near the baseline

  • Have two friends play against you.  One serves from the deuce court baseline while the other one is at the net.  You practice returning serves deep over the net players head to the targets.  This forces the server to retreat to track the lob down and play the ball to your half of the doubles court.  Repeat from the ad court as well.

  • Remember – when you can’t see the sun – they can – lob into the sun!  You will see the difference.

Improve your Serve with Knowledge

 

Did you know?

 

According to today's analytics, 70% of all the points you play in a match are either serves or return of serves.

 

So what do you typically work on when you go to practice??? 

1. Ground strokes

2. Some volleys and other specialty shots

 

What are the least shots practiced?

1. Return of serves

2. Serves 

3. Overheads - the miniature version of a serve

 

**How often after warming up to play your court game do you call "FBI - first serve in" to start play?

 

What you are practicing is only 30% of what happens in a tennis match. How do you expect to improve your match-play results?

 

Not only do you need to practice your serve but practice

1. Serve location

2. Serve with spin or speed

3. Serve to the score

4. Pressure serving by the score

 

4 Simple Serve and return drills and games to improve your match-play performance

1. Serve to targets A=Alley, B=Body & C=Center or T. Mark the court with a big enough target that you can score and practice serving to (a towel for each target or a 2-foot wide x 3-foot long target to start)

2. Returning to targets - using the 4 squares or rectangles on the court, call out your target and attempt to return to those big targets initially (deuce service court is #1, behind the deuce service court is #2, behind the add service court is #3 and the ad-service court is #4)

3. Serve 10 in-game. The server serves until they get 10 serves into the deuce service court for 10 points.  The returner gets a point if they return the serve to a designed area or if the server hits the serve into the net or faults. This puts pressure on the server to get the ball in play but hit a challenging enough serve so the returner cannot get easy points.  At the end of the game, the server will have gotten 10 serves in and have 10 points.  The receiver may have won more points than the server by returning the serves or free points if the server faulted.  Switch ends and the receiver becomes the server and the server becomes the receiver.  This can be done from both the deuce and add court.

4. Rally Serve - if you are going to work on your groundstrokes, instead of putting the ball in play as an underhanded feed, feed the ball in with an easy serve, flat, topspin, or slice.  You do not use the underhanded feed in match play so why practice it?  Practice starting all rallies with a serve and return to improve your game. If the serve or the return is not put into play, there are no ground strokes, volleys, or overheads in a match.

Signals - Team Communication for  Doubles

 

Are you a doubles net player who simply waits to see where your partner serves to determine what you should do at the net? Everyone on the court knows where the serve is going, the server, the receiver, the receiver's partner, everyone but you. 

 

OR

 

Do you actually play doubles as a team?

A doubles team will communicate with each other before the serve. This communication serves twofold:

1. Make sure the server actually has a plan on where they want to serve

2. Inform the net player as to what they plan to do with the serve location, so the net player can be part of the team instead of reacting after the serve is on the opponent's side of the court.

 

Why talk to the net player and use signals?

Once the net player knows where the serve will be directed, they can be proactive at the net. They can fake to distract or actually plan to go - their real job is to first distract the receiver or attack the return if possible.

 

How? 

The net player knows if the serve is hit wide to the deuce court they have 2 easy move options: 

1. Fake toward the middle to tease the receiver to try a down-the-line return. Once the fake is made, move back toward the alley to take the down-the-line attempt and volley back between the two players on the receiving side for a winner. 

2. With the sound of the server's contact with the ball, move up and toward the alley to take away any attempted down-the-line return and prepare for a poach to the center of the court.

 

Why talk and use signals, isn't one enough?

1. Talking to your partner is a time management tool.  Your team is able to determine how much time is used between points.  Go slower if you are behind, and keep the pace brisk if you are ahead.

2. It is a connection of the team.  Teams plan for the best ideas and options. The net player may have noticed tendencies of the receiving team that could help influence the server's choice of serves. Teams huddle to refocus, game plan, and make team decisions.

3. We talked, why use signals?  Two reasons:

First, confirmation of the game plan with your partner. 

Secondly, let the other team know you are planning.  Get in their head, and make them aware that your team has a plan. This may not bother them initially but wears on them as the match goes on.  If they have any doubt or lack of confidence you can greatly affect their focus on the return and often win free points just by the use of the signals

Who should dictate where the serve goes?

As a team, I prefer to let the server tell me where they feel most comfortable serving.  Once they tell me where they plan to serve I will signal what I intend to do to complement their serve plan.

 

Do we only plan on one serve at a time?

We typically decide where we are going to serve both the first and the second serve. As the net player, I will signal my intentions after the first serve. If the server wants to serve a different location on the second serve then we decide in our team meeting, they will say "switch".  Typically this means they are switching back to the first location. It can also be used to make the receiving team think and influence their decision on returning.

 

How do you communicate location?

Serving is as simple as A-B-C = Alley, Body, Center.  So the server's call would be "A-C" or first serve to the alley and second serve to the center. "B-B would be both serves to the body, "C-A would be center first, alley on the second serve.  I would signal my intention backed upon our game plan

 

What are the "Signals at the Net"

The net player on the serving team would use their non-racquet hand to communicate to the server what they plan to do on that particular serve.  This is even though they have game-planned together before starting the point. The receiver is facing the net and puts their hand behind their hips to signal to their serving partner.

There are two signals, 

1. Confirmation of the service location

2. What the net player plans to do at the net

The server would indicate they got the signal and agree by saying "Got it" prior to the first and again before the second serve.

The server may even call "no" and I signal again and they say "yes".  A little distraction for the receiving team - but legal.

 

Here are some suggestions:

Serve location

1st finger pointed down behind hips in the deuce court = serve wide

Little finger down behind hips in the deuce court = serve down the middle

Three fingers pointed down in the deuce court = serve at the player's body

Add court - 1st finger down is serve up the middle

Add court - little finger down is serve out wide

 

Net player's plan of action

Closed hand behind the hips = stay

Open hand behind the hips = poaching

Open and close hand behind hips = faking

 

We usually have discussed where we want the serve to go before I go to the net and if I am going, staying or faking.

 

Doubles is a team game 

While these are just a few of the options for great doubles teamwork, take what you can use and add your own favorites to become a better teammate.

Communicate, have a team game plan, and improve your team results. 

*Next time we will discuss the communication of the receiving team and how they can influence the match.

The Hourglass of Momentum in Tennis
How You Gain and Lose it in the Match

Imagine you have an hourglass in front of you. The top half of the hourglass represents the momentum in your tennis match when you are winning. The bottom half represents the player who is losing...

 

The person who is winning has a wealth of information available to them represented by all the grains of sand in the top half of the glass. However, while all that information is available to them they are only using a few pieces of that knowledge at a time.

 

This small flow of information is represented by the few grains of sand that pass through the tiny filter or the middle of the hourglass. This is like playing in the zone where you are not thinking too much but allowing the flow of the match to occur naturally.

On the bottom is all the sand that has fallen and continues to fall like rain, coming down on the player who is losing - can't hit, playing poorly, never lost to this person before, he is playing so lucky and etc. Nothing seems to be going well for them and they can’t seem to manage all that is coming down on them.

 

At some point, the player who is losing can feel desperate or frustrated by not being able to control what is happening. They realize that time is about to run out. Now instead of all the disconnecting thoughts they decide upon a strategy - go to the net, lob every ball, hit every ball down the middle and etc.

 

The point is that they quit worrying about their circumstance and focus on one tactic to solve their situation. Perhaps it is to rise above all the sand that has fallen and use it as a platform to stand taller and block the middle where all the sand is flowing from. They decide upon one specific tactic instead of being overwhelmed by their situation. At least now they have a specific purpose – a plan of action instead of being the victim.

 

The player on top suddenly realizes that time is about to expire and he is on top, they are winning. Gradually or even suddenly, thoughts begin to distract them. They have never beaten you, they can't wait to tell their friends, they will now be in the next round of play and etc.

 

Suddenly the hourglass will have turned upside down. The player on the bottom has forgotten all the disconnecting thoughts about how desperate their situation is and begins to have only one thought or purpose. The player who was on top is now aware of all their options and opportunities. No longer is there a natural flow to what is happening. The player who was on top now experiences all the disconnecting thoughts.

 

This is how a match will normally flow. When I realize I am about out of time and ready to lose the match, my focus will change to one thought or purpose. Having accepted that I could lose I begin to focus on a singular plan to salvage my situation. Winning or losing is no longer my focus, my fear is not my driving force. My fear has pushed me to a point where I must make a decision

 

As you mentioned, the eyes are the key. If you can see the ball rotating as it comes to you, your mind will become quiet and things will slow down in your mind. A good game to play with yourself at this point is "yes" or "no". After you have contacted the ball, say "yes" if you were able to pick up the rotation of the ball before contact and you had previously selected a target for your shot before the ball bounced on your side of the court.

 

We call this, "paying attention to attention". If you could evaluate your attention level after a shot and it was at 8-9 or 10 on a scale of 10 you would have excellent "attention" and a relaxed focus of mind.

 

You can also focus on "paying attention to tension" or how tight you are gripping your racquet and the tension level of your body. This should be about level 2 or 3 on a scale of 5.

 

Some of the unique aspects of tennis are that there are no time limits, it is one of the only sports where the opponent calls your lines, and one of the few sports that makes you start at 0 or even at halftime. All the success you had in the first set goes back to zero for the second set and you must start from scratch to win the next set.

 

This is one of the many "treasures" you will learn and re-learn as you play the game of Tennis...

14 Ways to improve your game

 

Tips to improve your game: 14 fun ways

  1. Watch the French Open on TV and notice the scoring – 15,30,40, deuce (tied at 40 all), and add in or out (if you win that ad in point, you win the game)

  2. Watch the player's movement and technique more than the ball going back and forth

  3. Notice where the players stand to start the points

  4. Notice how the players follow thru with their swing to complete their strokes

  5. Notice how they keep their racquet up between points as opposed to having it pointed toward the ground

  6. Get with your partner and do the “juggle drill or tossing the ball back and forth to get warmed up and focused on the ball and movement”

  7. Begin by spinning your racquet in your hand and having your opponent call “up” or “Down” – “M” or “W” if it is a Wilson racquet to determine which team will have the option to 1. Serve first, receive serve first, choose which end of the court they wish to start on, or let the opponents choose first (usually not the best option)

  8. Warm-up with your opponents by starting on the service line and begin to track the ball with your eyes and “touch” the ball back to your opponents so they can direct it back to you to get warmed up to play.

  9. Change ends of the court after each odd-numbered game ie,  games 1,3,5, etc

  10. Tactics – keep the ball away from the net player when returning the balls hit to you

  11. Tactics – the serving team’s partner stands near the net to intercept any return by the receiving team

  12. Tactics – the receiving team’s partner starts on the mid-court or service line to help call “fault” if the serve should go past the service line to your partner, then begin to play any ball that may come in your direction

  13. Count as you contact the ball to improve your focus on the ball, breathe as you hit, find a rhythm of the ball going back and forth (mental tip) and look for the rotation of the ball to tell your feet where to move, your hand to find the ball to direct it and defeat your opponent!!

  14. Tactic – Have fun – make tennis a “moving experience” by staying in motion.

Why Drop Shots???

 

DROP SHOTS - adding another weapon to your game

The drop shot is one of the three UNDERSPIN Shots: 

  • Drop shot 

  • Chip Shot and 

  • Slice.  

Each refers to the depth you hit an "underspin" shot.

While you do not actually hit under the ball, you make the ball spin backward or rotate under!

 

Who would use a drop shot?

*A player near the net with an opponent behind the baseline

*A player who has had to sprint to the net to retrieve a short by their opponent.

*A player who wants to bring a pusher to the net so they cannot keep lobbing.

*A player who wants to fatigue an opponent by making them sprint to the net and then perhaps lobbing over their head to make them chase back to the baseline to retrieve the ball

 

What is a drop shot?

*It is a ball hit short into the service court of an opponent with back or underspin to make the ball die or not bounce forward like a topspin shot.

*It should bounce at least twice in the service box to be effective.

*It is not necessarily a winning shot, just one to keep an opponent off-balance, make them move, and help stop lobbing by the opponent.

 

Where do you hit a drop shot?

*You would choose to hit a drop shot when you are at mid-court or near the net yourself

*You would not choose to hit a drop shot from your baseline - in most cases unless you are particularly skilled at the shot and the opponent is near their back fence or out of the court

*Your shot should bounce at least 2 times in the opponent's service court to be effective.

 

When do you hit a drop shot?
*When you have been drawn up into the mid court or to the net with an opponent back behind their baseline, off to one side or they are injured and cannot move well.

*When you have practiced the underspin required to hit a drop shot and kill the forward momentum of the bounce.

*To make your opponent move forward to fatigue them, stop them from lobbing you, or to end a point. 

 

Why would you drop shot?

*Bring your opponent to the net to pass or lob them.

*Change the momentum in a match.

*Stop players from bringing you to the net and lobbing you.

*Make your opponent change their game.

*JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN

 

Short balls win points - deep balls cause rallies and lobs!