How many of us actually get better at tennis when we practice?
Most people I watch hitting on the ball machine, or with their doubles partner will go through the motions. They’ll hit crosscourt, volleys, and maybe work on some serves.
But when is the last time you actually got better during a practice match or hitting session on the tennis court?
Below, I’m going to show you the strategy that, according to Darren Cahill, Rafael Nadal uses when he practices between tennis tournaments.
I was watching a Nadal match against Pospisil at the US Open recently. Tom Rinaldi, Chris Fowler and Darren Cahill (the best announcer in tennis & one of the best coaches) all started talking about Nadal’s practice.
It went something like this…
Tom: Now if you have the chance to see Nadal practice, it’s another level. If you think his match play is impressive, you need to see him practice. I’m not talking about during a tournament, I mean several days before a tournament, or between events.
Chris: What do you mean Tom?
Tom: That backhand he just hit (Nadal had just hit a 999mph crosscourt backhand on the run angle winner that no one can hit)… He hits like 10 in a row in practice. It makes a different noise. Kind of like when you watch some of the top golfers in the world on the driving range, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka. The ball just makes a different sound coming off the club. Even other pros stop and watch. The same is true for Nadal in practice.
Darren: Actually Tom, I’ve been able to watch a few of Rafa’s practices and your right. But the thing I notice is how much he misses. He’s always pushing himself to hit more difficult shots in practice, so he misses a lot more. That’s important because you can’t improve if your hitting shots you’re already comfortable with.
Darren is right!
This made me think about my own practice.
Just the other day I was practicing some “king of the court” points with some friends and taking way more risks and going for bigger shots. But I had never articulated why I do that until I heard Cahill say this.
If you’re not missing in practice, then you’re not getting better. The only way to get better is to hit more difficult shots that you’re not comfortable with, until… you are comfortable with them.
PUSH the boundaries of your comfort zone, so that in the match, you’ll have more shots to choose from.
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Will Boucek is the Founder & CEO of The Tennis Tribe. He has played tennis for over two decades, including in college. Will has worked with ATP & WTA tour players and coaches. He currently lives in Austin TX where he plays USTA leagues & tournaments, writes about tennis, and teaches doubles workshops.