exploring the world of tennis . . .     
Coaching Tips - Miscellaneous

Improve without leaving your armchair!

Can you learn from watching tennis on TV?

Yes, watching good players can be a really useful aspect of learning through visualisation and imitation. But - here's something you don't catch me saying very often - don't watch the ball! Watch the players instead. Better still, concentrate on matches which feature a player with a style similar to your own and watch everything he or she does. Focus on aspects which are weaknesses in your own game.

Pay particular attention to things like footwork, stances (e.g. are they open or closed?) and the shape of the strokes. Study the shot selection and identify successful patterns (e.g. when does the player go down the line in a rally? which balls are attacked and how? what tactics are used on big points?). Observe body language (e.g. what rituals are used and when? how are mistakes managed?)

When you're trying to improve as a tennis player, you should endeavour to use every learning technique at your disposal. That certainly includes passive learning in the form of observing top players.

Click here for a brilliant analysis of the great Roger Federer.

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Cheating! Moi?

I wasn't sure about a call and suggested we replay the point. My opponent accused me of cheating. Was he right?

Well, I'd regard it as unsporting of you, at the very least!

Most of us play tennis without the benefit of an umpire and line judges, so line calling is often a bone of contention. Actually, it needn't be if players stuck to the following basic sporting code:

You are responsible for calling your opponent's shots. Make your calls loud, clear and immediate and always give your opponent the benefit of any doubt.

A ball that is 99% out is 100% good. That's it! End of story! If you're not sure if your opponent's shot was in or not - it was in!

I could write a lot more on this subject, but I'm not going to - it's best to keep it clear and unambiguous (like your calls should be)!

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I'm winning - it's quarter past!

Please explain the tennis scoring system

If you win your first point, your score is 15. Win a second point and your score is 30. Third point - 40. If you win a fourth point, the game is yours, unless you and your opponent have won three points - in this case, the score is known as deuce and you must win by two clear points. If you win the point at deuce, the score is called advantage to you and you must win the next point to win the game, otherwise the score reverts to deuce.

The historical origins of the 15, 30, 40 and so on are believed to be derived from the presence of a clock face at the end of the court. A quarter move of the appropriate hand was made after each point, with the score being called as 15, 30, or 45 as the case might be. When the hand moved to 60, making the complete circuit, that was game.

Winning six games wins a set; except that you must win by a margin of two games. Players change ends when the total number of games is an odd number (e.g. 1-0, 2-1, 3-2). The tie-break system of scoring is often adopted to decide a set which reaches six games all.

A match can be best of 3 sets (you need to win 2 sets to win the match) or best of 5 sets (you need to win 3 sets to win the match).

In a tie-break, the player who first wins seven points wins the game and the set, provided there is a margin of at least two points. If the score reaches six points all, the tie-break continues until the two point margin is achieved. Numerical scoring is used (e.g. 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-1, etc). The player whose turn it is to serve serves the first point (from the right side of the court). The other player serves the second point (from the left) and the third point (from the right). Each player then serves alternately for two consecutive points (first from the left and then from the right). Players change ends after every six points (and at the conclusion of the tie-break). The first game of the next set is served by the player who did not start the tie-break.

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Another dimension!

What are the dimensions of an official tennis court?

The Tennis court is marked with white lines to indicate its dimensions and service areas. The court is 78 feet (23.8 metres) long, divided into two equal sides by a net standing 3 feet (0.9 metres) high at the centre of the court.

For singles, the court is 27 feet (8.2 metres) wide. For doubles, the width is increased to 36 feet (11 metres) by the addition of two alleys 4.5 feet (1.4 metres) wide along the two longer sides.

Tennis Court Dimensions

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Getting on the ladder

How do I become a professional tennis player?

So you’re a serious competitor. You’ve got a high national rating and you’re prepared to commit to the physical and mental conditioning required to compete as a professional athlete. You can finance the cost of travel and accommodation, etc, while you set off on your quest for those first ranking points. What do you do?


Contact your National Association (e.g. here in Britain it would be the LTA) for details of junior ITF tournaments taking place in your country (or abroad, if appropriate). Results from these tournaments are fed into a computer at the ITF’s administrative headquarters in London to produce the junior world rankings for singles and doubles. Tournaments are graded according to the strength of entry, with more points being awarded for the major championships. To be eligible for a year-end ranking, you are required to compete in six events, three of which must be foreign and three of which must be of Group A status.

Click here to visit the ITF's website for juniors


Contact your National Association (e.g. here in Britain it would be the LTA) for details of Satellite Circuits and Futures tournaments. These will be your first taste of international competition. Futures are one-off tournaments. A Satellite Circuit is a tournament structure consisting of 4 tournaments - three "normal" tournaments followed by a "masters". During the first three tournaments, you earn circuit points which determine acceptance into the "masters".

If you are successful in the Satellites and Futures, you acquire computer ranking points and may qualify to enter Challenger tournaments. These are also one-off tournaments like the Futures, but the prize money is greater.

Click here to visit the ITF’s website

I sincerely wish you the very best of luck!

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Thus spoke Zarathustra!

My game is going nowhere. Should I change my coach?

I thought it was about time we had a bit of culture here in the Cave, so check out the quotations by Friedrich Nietzsche! Come on, when was the last time you found existential philosophy in a tennis coaching article? Has it got anything to do with tennis? Well, no. And there again, maybe. I mean, what's the use of philosophy if we don't try and make it contemporary and relevant? So, at the risk of turning Nietzsche into kitsch, here we go:

First of all, you don't say why you pin the blame for your lack of progress on your coach. I know that when things go wrong, it's natural enough to go looking for scapegoats, but are you sure you're not just reacting emotionally to a defeat or two? Consider all the pros and cons, be sure your expectations are realistic and don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

If you haven't already done so, you should get together with your coach and discuss your concerns and maybe, just maybe, you'll get something positive out of that meeting.

"During the journey we commonly forget its goal. Almost every profession is chosen as a means to an end but continued as an end in itself. Forgetting our objectives is the most frequent act of stupidity." (Nietzsche)

If, after your discussions, you still feel that you and your coach cannot agree on objectives or cannot agree on a strategy for achieving them, you've got to find the courage to make the change.

Players have all kinds of different relationships with their coaches. A coach can be a teacher, guru, psychologist, god, strategist, manager, friend, mentor, motivator, role-model, scout, counsellor or bag-carrier - or any combination of those roles. Severing the relationship can therefore amount to anything from a minor adjustment to a major trauma.

So yes, you should be aware there may be an emotional price to pay, but my advice is to reason as dispassionately as possible. Be objective and work out what's best for you and for your tennis. A good coach will understand and respect your decision.

"One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil ... Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves." (Nietzsche)

Sometimes the coach must be satisfied with just sowing the seeds of ideas. And sometimes he must then retreat and let the player grow. Of course, that's what I'm doing deep in this cave of questions. If anything develops from the seeds I scatter, if any of them are taken out to flourish in the light of day, I won't know about it.

"There are no facts, only interpretations." (Nietzsche)

I once overheard a pupil telling someone that he simply "filtered out what he wanted" from my coaching. It upset me a little at the time. But after I thought about it, it made perfect sense. It was squad coaching, which cannot be tailored to meet the needs of each individual anyway, so my pupil was not guilty of being disloyal or disrespectful. He was simply being pragmatic. He was right - the individual must determine things for himself or herself. I encourage everyone who visits the Question Cave to do the same - filter what you need and leave the rest. Some seeds will grow in your garden and some won't.

It's the same when a pupil terminates a coaching arrangement - the coach shouldn't feel he or she has suddenly become a bad coach. It just means the pupil needs to harness his or her energies to a different guiding force.

So, if you decide on a parting of the ways, both you and your coach should value what you've achieved together and move on without bitterness, without rancour. And always recognise the contribution he or she has made to your development.

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Mixed troubles!

Should I partner my boyfriend in mixed doubles?

Good relationships are nourished and sustained by the cultivation of shared interests and shared experiences. There's no reason at all why involvement in a sport should be excluded from this. And yet I feel curiously uneasy when I'm asked if I fully endorse the idea of playing mixed doubles with a spouse/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend.

Whether the experience is an enjoyable one or an anxiety-filled one is largely determined by the competitiveness of the tennis. If the outcome of the match is of little significance to both of you, there's no problem. You should be able to relax and have some fun out there. But serious competition ups the ante and introduces psychological dynamics that can be difficult to handle.

In normal circumstances, good players can aspire to control their physiological and psychological arousal levels when they compete, but the techniques involved can be as much use as a chocolate teapot when you throw the emotional sensitivities of a relationship into the mix. Then things can get kind of volatile.

Friends of ours will attest that my wife and I have succumbed to these pressures like most couples. I shamefully confess that I have contributed my fair share of the doleful expressions and dark mutterings that so often typify these ill-advised arrangements! And I therefore subscribe to the unwritten law which states that husbands and wives should not partner each other in competition unless they first undertake - in writing - never to give or take offence, or bicker, or sulk, etc, etc.

Yes, by all means join the same club as your spouse/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend. Play at the same tournaments. Be on the same teams. Your relationship can thrive on the camaraderie that a sport like tennis can offer, but, unless you're two of those rare souls who can always smile through any amount of tension, DON'T PLAY ON THE SAME COURT!

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Climbing to the top

Can you recommend some rules for a singles ladder?

Here's a set of sample rules that you could tailor to your own requirements:

1. Players must play at least one match a month to remain on the ladder

2. Players may issue upward and downward challenges (downward challenges may be required to satisfy rules 1 or 4)

3. A player may challenge anyone up to 2 positions higher and up to 2 positions lower

4. If a challenger loses an upward challenge, he must play a downward challenge match before he can issue another upward challenge

5. Challenges must be accepted

6. If the challenger wins an upward challenge, winner and loser exchange positions on the ladder

7. Participants in a challenge match may not be rematched until each has played a different player, or 10 days have passed (whichever occurs first)

8. A player may not be involved in more than one challenge at a time - a challenge must be played before accepting or issuing another challenge

9. A challenger may not issue a new challenge for 3 days after the match, during which period he is open to any legitimate challenge (if he is not challenged during this period, he is free to issue a further challenge of his own)

10. Challenges must be played within a 2 week time period

11. A challenger must offer at least two date/times, one of which must fall during a weekend

12. The challenger must provide a can of new balls

13. The winner must notify the ladder organiser of the date and result as soon as possible after the match

14. Matches will be best of three sets with tie-breaker at 6-all

15. Matches postponed or suspended because of inclement weather or darkness must be rescheduled within a two week time period

16. If a match cannot be completed by one of the players for any reason other than inclement weather or darkness, that player must default the match

17. In cases of vacation, injury, illness, or emergency, a player may be exempted from accepting challenges without relinquishing ladder position by notifying the ladder organiser in advance

18. New players shall be placed under the last name on the ladder

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Those who know the least know it the loudest!

My coach doesn't say very much. What should I expect from a coach?

There are all kinds of ways of teaching and all kinds of ways of learning. Imitation, trial and error, formal teaching and osmosis all have a role to play as we develop as tennis players. Technical skills are usually best learned by means of an iterative cycle of imitation and feedback, continuous practice and increasing challenge.

In the early days of a player's development, a coach may adopt a pedagogic approach and get results. Lessons may consist of simple instructions and demonstrations followed by practice drills. You learn by observing and imitating.

Talented players will typically seek to enhance their progress by experimenting as well as imitating. Such players are not slavishly dependent on the coach and they learn by trying things out and making sense of what happens. But, paradoxically, these are the very players who may benefit most from the input of an experienced coach. When you're trying to make sense of what you're doing, it pays to be guided by someone who has already been through the process.

As you progress as a player, the role of your coach becomes more sophisticated. Advice, encouragement, counsel and guidance will often take the place of didactic teaching as you're introduced to the nuances of strategy and tactics and you're moulded into a competitor.

There are many different coaching styles and personalities. I couldn't possibly say one is going to be more effective than another. As far as communication is concerned, I'll just say I think it's absolutely vital that you and your coach have a really good understanding. You need explanations and feedback, but you don't want to be overloaded with information. Don't base any judgements on the amount of noise your coach makes. It's often the case that those who know the least know it the loudest! Have a clear idea about how you see your game developing, agree it with your coach and then base your judgements on the progress you make.

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An exception to the rule

If a ball spins back over the net before you can hit it, should a let be played?

This can also happen on a windy day - a sudden gust may send the ball back over the net before you get a chance to play it.

Generally speaking, if you reach over the net to hit the ball, you lose the point, but in this case an exception to the rule applies. In this case (and only in this case), you're allowed to reach over the net to play the ball. You lose the point if the ball bounces on your opponent's side of the court before you get your racket to it. You also lose the point if you touch the net. Your opponent must allow you the chance to hit the ball before it bounces.

For those who like to quote chapter and verse, it's Rule 25b which states:

"It is a good return if . . . after the ball in play has hit the ground within the correct court and has spun or been blown back over the net, the player reaches over the net and plays the ball into the correct court, provided that the player does not break Rule 24".

Rule 24 states:

"The point is lost if . . .

a. The player serves two consecutive faults; or
b. The player does not return the ball in play before it bounces twice consecutively; or
c. The player returns the ball in play so that it hits the ground, or an object, outside the correct court; or
d. The player returns the ball in play so that, before it bounces, it hits a permanent fixture; or
e. The player deliberately carries or catches the ball in play on the racket or deliberately touches it with the racket more than once; or
f. The player or the racket, whether in the player’s hand or not, or anything which the player is wearing or carrying touches the net, netposts/singles sticks, cord or metal cable, strap or band, or the opponent’s court at any time while the ball is in play; or
g. The player hits the ball before it has passed the net; or
h. The ball in play touches the player or anything that the player is wearing or carrying, except the racket; or
i. The ball in play touches the racket when the player is not holding it; or
j. The player deliberately and materially changes the shape of the racket when the ball is in play; or
k. In doubles, both players touch the ball when returning it".

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Put 'em in jail!

Can you suggest a couple of fun games for a group of juniors.

Here's a few suggestions:


All the players line up behind one baseline. A ball is fed from the side; if the player hits it into the singles court, he is safe and goes to the back of the line. Otherwise, he leaves his racket by the fence and goes to jail (the other end of the court) where he must try to catch a ball hit by another player before it bounces (variation: weaker players may catch it before it bounces twice). If he makes a catch, he is freed and the player he caught goes to jail. When only one player is free, he wins the game if he manages to hit three shots in that don't get caught. If someone catches one of these three shots, it's a jailbreak - everyone is free, and a new round begins.


The players start with three lives. Half the players line up behind one baseline, half behind the other. The first ball is fed from the netpost to one of the two front players. He must hit it into the singles court, then run round the court to the end of the line at the opposite end of the court. Meanwhile a rally continues, with each player hitting the ball then running around the net. When a player misses, he loses a life. Players must always run to their right so there's no danger of a collision. When a new ball needs to be fed in, it should be fed to the player at the front of the longer line. When only two players are left, they no longer run around the net - they simply play points out until one of them loses all his lives. The remaining player is the winner.


Select one team (either two or three players) as the initial "kings". They line up alongside each other at one baseline while all the other teams line up behind the other baseline, waiting for their turn to do battle. The first challengers step up to the baseline and a ball is fed from the netpost. The point is played out and the winning team advances to the service line. The idea is that teams commence each point at one of 3 different stations - the baseline, the service line or the net. Winning a point means advancing one station; losing a point means retreating one station (N.B. when a team stationed at the net loses the point, the next point is played with both teams at the service line.). Balls should be fed to the team furthest away from the net. The object is to get to the net station and win a point there. If the "kings" win, the challengers return to the end of the line and the next challengers have a go. If they lose, the challengers become the new "kings".

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Without let or hindrance!

My opponent refused to play a let when a ball rolled on the court. Was he right?

The Rules of Tennis cater for a situation where a player's ability to execute a shot is jeopardised by an unexpected event. The rule in question is this one:

If a player is hindered in playing the point by a deliberate act of the opponent(s), the player shall win the point. However, the point shall be replayed if a player is hindered in playing the point by either an unintentional act of the opponent(s), or something outside the player's own control (not including a permanent fixture).

The Rules offer examples of what does and does not constitute a hindrance. If, for example, a ball that was lying on the player's side of the net when the point started hinders a player, it is not considered a hindrance as it could and should have been removed before the point started.

According to the USTA Code of Conduct, a let should be called if a ball rolls onto the court during a point. The actual wording is as follows:

"When a ball from an adjacent court enters the playing area, any player shall call a let as soon as the player becomes aware of the ball. The player loses the right to call a let if the player unreasonably delays in making the call."

Unreasonable delay is typically interpreted as meaning you should call a let before you attempt to hit the ball. You must stop play immediately and explain why you were hindered. If you wait until after you miss your shot, you forfeit your right to have the point replayed.

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© 2001-6 Dave Winship

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