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Using the hit up to your advantage. Part 1

Getting a quick advantage
By: Peter D. McCraw

This article is the first in a two part series on the hit-up in tennis.  In this article I look at some techniques you can use to help prepare your body, mind and strokes for the match.

Do you win the hit-up but loose the match?  If not, perhaps you know someone who does. 

Generally you see two types of warm-ups.  The first is where a player roars into the car park at the club,  races onto the court, hits their favourite shot once or twice, fires down a serve, flexes their muscles and announces their ready to win! 

The other type is where one player wants to warm-up for a week.  They go through the full complement of shots from every possible angle in the belief that if they haven’t hit it in the warm-up, they will forget it in the match.  Neither strategy is usually successful. 

While most players do not have time to devote 40 minutes to prepare for a match, there are a few things you can do to increase the chance of getting Arrive Early to Warm-up & Stretch
Firstly, make an effort to get to the courts early.  Give yourself time to do some stretching and organise your gear.

Before participating in any physical activity it is essential to adequately warm-up and stretch.  If you do not know a routine of stretches to do, talk to your club coach.  They can show you a set of tennis specific exercises to perform before you practice and play. 

Stretching dramatically reduces the risk of injury and should be done before you begin the hit-up. 

The Toss and Conditions

Before going on court take note of the conditions.  Be aware of the sun, wind, lighting, temperature and court surrounds.

Before you begin the hit-up make a point of tossing for the serve and end.  Knowing whether you are serving or returning first will change the emphasis of your hit-up.If you serve first, make sure you warm up your serve before you begin.  It’s very easy to lose your first service game by being lazy in the hit-up.

If you return first, try and hit a few returns to get your eye in.  It will increase your chances of breaking serve in the first game.

When choosing an end, if the wind is a problem, think about whether you want to hit into the wind when serving or returning first.  While each of these are little things, they all contribute to gaining the early advantage over your opponent.   


Generally you should go into the hit-up with two broad objectives;  Firstly to warm up your mind, body and strokes, and secondly observe your opponent's game.  Let’s look at your need's first.

Having a routine is the simplest way to look after your need’s and the place to develop this in on the practice court.  The hit-up is often a disruptive time for both players so following a familiar ‘plan’ will help you settle in to a new environment and manage any pre-match nerves. 

Your routine should cover all the basic strokes and allow you to warm-up physically too.  The first few shots you hit with each stroke are critical, so put some purpose into your actions. 
Emphasise rhythm, timing and depth on all your shots.  Hit to the baseline and stay away from focusing on the technical construction of your strokes. To improve your rhythm and timing, focus on developing a feel for each stroke.  The key to this is getting your hands and feet working together. 

Try this exercise, begin to walk at a comfortable pace letting you hands and arms swing naturally as you go.  Observe the rhythm between your hands and feet and how they complement each other.  The faster you walk, the quicker you can move your hands.  Notice also that the feet lead the hands. 
Now suddenly stop walking, and observe what happens.  Your hands stop too! So make a point of getting your feet moving as it will help your timing, rhythm and court movement.


The one thing that kills a stroke is nerves.  Nerves will throw your timing out, disrupt your rhythm and shorten your strokes.  Nerves cause the muscles to tighten and your movements to be disjointed.

A technique you can use to combat this is to breathe.  As you prepare for each stroke inhale, then exhale with purpose as you make contact with the ball.  By doing so you will begin to develop an internal rhythm that helps the timing of your shots. It will also give your muscles the very thing they need to relax, oxygen.  


Your main objectives in the hit-up are: arrive early, stretch and make note of the conditions before you go on court.  Toss for the serve and end, follow a routine that warms up all your strokes and establish a feel for stroke by focusing on your rhythm and timing.  If you are feeling nervous, use your breathing to help relax the muscles.

In the second article I will discuss what to look for when observing your opponents game and reveal some techniques you can use to get an early break over your opponent.

Peter D. McCraw is an expert in world-class athlete development.  He founded the ‘CBD Model – Competitive Based Development for Tennis.  He is a coach educator, leading tennis researcher and world-renowned developmental coach.  Peter is Australian born and currently the National Director of Coaching for Tennis New Zealand.  He makes regular trips to the UK and is available for club consultancies, player assessments and coach mentoring.  His website is

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