As a tennis player you want to get better every time you step on court. That doesn’t change whether you are a junior or a professional.
How do you get better? Players and coaches typically focus on improving weaknesses in practice. If it is your backhand or serve that needs work, the common approach is to dedicate time and focus on improving that particular part of your game. There is nothing wrong with doing that – it’s just important not to neglect what you do well either.
I used to work with Shannon Nettle, who guided me to be the best player I could be and is someone I think is one of the best coaches and mentors I’ve had to learn from. One of the most important lessons I learnt from him was to make my practice sessions quality.
We were never out there practicing things just for the sake of practice – there was always a purpose and structure in place. It was always very clear what we were working on. Now I never do more than I should just because I feel like I should, it’s all about quality.
Stinger (Nettle) was always big on working to your strengths too – and I think that was a really good thing. When it comes to the crunch in a match situation, it is natural to rely on your best serve or your best return, so you’ve got to be practising them as well and not just purely focusing on your weaknesses.
My favourite shot, especially in singles, is my crosscourt backhand and I love just pumping backhands on the practice court. My forehand is a shot I’ve had to spend a lot of time working on over the years, trying to improve the shape and depth. I’ve also made sure I didn’t neglect my backhand even though it is my favourite shot and I know I can hit it well.
Finding the right balance and mixing it up is important on the practice court. I don’t like doing the same thing every day, I like to practice with specific focuses – and sometimes it is good thing not to only focus on the things you’re not good at.
Having fun on the practice court is also important. I think it can become a bit mundane and boring, as well as hard mentally, if you’re always practicing your weaknesses. Practising your strengths is fun, as it is what you’re good at and it is motivating. If you enjoy hitting a particular shot, practicing it is going to make you feel even better about it.
The same goes for drills.
Throughout my career I’ve picked up lots of different drills that work for me. I’ve been fortunate to learn a lot from the likes of Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs, especially when it comes to doubles drills, and they’ve really helped with my doubles game. You always have your favourite drills that make you feel good, so it is good to go back to them.
My advice is to do what you do well. Improving your strengths is going to make you a better player, so don’t forget that when you step on the practice court.
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