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Hill: How to Improve Your Tennis IQ During the Lockdown

By Tom Hill

It is all too common to see recreational and junior players putting all their emotional and financial energy into learning how to hit a “perfect” forehand while failing to appreciate the importance of where they need to be hitting the tennis ball.

Many players are brainwashed into focusing solely on the technical aspect of the game instead of concentrating on how to develop their tennis IQ.

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Technique should not be disregarded, of course, but at the elite level, technical execution becomes second nature, and if you’re thinking about how to hit a ball during a match, you’ll suffer from “paralysis through analysis,” which will prohibit you from executing your game plan.

Do you think Roger Federer is focusing on the technical aspects of his serve during a match, or where he wants to direct the serve given the situation, and the next shot he knows he’s going to get back from his serve?

At the US Open in 2018, I was having a hit with Thomas Johansson, the 2002 Australian Open champion, and he imparted upon me the importance of developing a player’s tennis IQ, which he illustrated by playing some points against me. Before we started, he warned me that he was familiar with my game style (we had hit many times before), and he was therefore going to play a style that would expose my weaknesses and take away my strengths.

I was dubious but intrigued, and after barely mustering a point, I understood what he meant! Thomas repeatedly put me in uncomfortable positions on the court where I had no choice but play a defensive style, leaving me feeling suffocated and helpless.

With respect to the current global pandemic and lockdown restrictions that have likely impacted your ability to train, rather than fretting about not getting enough court time to perfect your technique, take the opportunity to shift your focus and work on improving your tennis IQ.

The first key is to understand your game style, meaning your tendencies, patterns, and strengths and weaknesses.

Do you prefer to play aggressive, first-strike tennis from the baseline like Federer or Serena, redirect pace and counter punch like Daniil Medvedev or Sofia Kenin, or do you aim to outlast your opponents and never miss a ball like Djokovic or Kerber?

All of these players have had incredible careers through recognition of their unique styles and preferences, and utilizing their acquired knowledge to enhance their strengths.

There is no right or wrong way to play the beautiful, adaptable game of tennis but each game style requires a different strategy to win.

Never underestimate the importance of knowing your own game style and how you want to play.

Once you’ve identified your own game style, study some pro players, perhaps on You Tube or Tennis Channel Plus, whose style you admire and wish to emulate. Once you’ve found your best fit, stick to that player and examine how he or she constructs points, dictates the action, defends, and counterattacks.

When dictating, analyze how the player creates openings, angles and space to put themselves in a winning position.

Is net clearance being used to push the opponent off the baseline, or is the player using shorter slices to bring the opponent forward and expose their lack of a transition game?

When defending, is the percentage shot played to larger, safer areas of the court? How often does your player go crosscourt when running a ball down?

How does your player turn defense into offense?

Make a list of these observations and more, play out points in your mind utilizing the tools your player has demonstrated, and take what you have learned back to the to the practice court when restrictions have been lifted and it is appropriate to do so.

Don’t be concerned about the practicalities of the pandemic taking away from your repetition and technique.

Your tennis game need not deteriorate, and you can use the down time to your advantage by gaining a deeper comprehension of your own game style, studying how the best players in the world execute their style, and return to action a better, more intelligent player.

Former ATP player and current WTA Gold Coach Tom Hill is the current coach of WTA world-ranked No. 20 Maria Sakkari of Greece, leading her to six Top 10 wins in 2019. The former Pepperdine University standout Hill previously coached Danielle Collins helping her break into the world Top 50 in 2018. When he was 10 years old, Hill moved from Great Britain to attend the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy (now IMG Academy) in Bradenton, Florida.

Photo credit: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography.