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Using the hit up to your advantage. Part 2

Observe your opponent closely during the warm up!
By: Peter D. McCraw

Using the Hit-up to your advantage II

This article is the second in a two part series on the hit-up in tennis.  In this article I 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.

In the first article I discussed you should go into the hit-up with two broad objectives.  Firstly to warm up your mind, body and strokes; and secondly to observe your opponents game.

Your first objective was to: arrive early, stretch, make note of the conditions, toss for the serve and follow a routine that prepares all your strokes.  You should focus on the rhythm and timing of your shots and use your breathing to help relax the muscles if you are feeling nervous.

Following a routine is the key to successfully achieving these objectives.  It gives you a familiar plan to follow and will allow you to observe your opponents game at the same time. 

Your Opponent
Let’s see what your opponent reveals about themselves during the hit-up.

Firstly observe if your opponent is right or left handed?  This could determine where you serve and attack at strategic times during the match.

Hit some balls down the middle of the court.  Which way does your opponent move?  Do they favor one shot over the other?  Better still; feed the first few shots to their backhand.  Observe if it is getting ‘wobbly’ or do they look comfortable and relaxed? 

Take note of their preparation for each stroke.  Is it smooth and relaxed, or do they seem rushed and off balance?  Do they have large grip changes between shots?  Do they only slice the ball on their backhand?

Hit a few short balls.  Take note of the way they move to them.  Study your opponents overall reaction time.  Do they see the ball early and move into position, or are they always late?
If they come to the net take note of the grip they use. Do they take a large swing on their volleys or do they control the racquet?  Are they always looking to hit a forehand volley?  Throw in a surprise lob, how do they cover it? Are there any shots your opponent hasn’t warmed up?

Listen to the sound of the ball as it comes off your opponent’s racquet.  Do they play with tight or loose strings?  Also take note of the shoes they wear.  Are they appropriate for the surface?

Preparing to Serve & Return
Having tossed for the serve and end, you should be gearing up to either serve or return in the first game. 

If receiving first study your opponents service motion.  Take note of the swing path of their racquet.  Do they cut across the ball thereby swinging it out wide in the deuce court, or can they hit it with top spin and kick it into your backhand?  Do they telegraph the type of serve they hit by altering their ball toss or swing path?
Make a point of returning a few of your opponents serves. Focus your attention on their service motion and flight of the ball.  Take a relaxed swing at the ball, stay balanced and exhale as you make contact.

If you serve first make a point of looking for a weakness to serve to in the first game.  If your not sure what that is, serve down the middle of the deuce court and out wide in the ‘ad’ court - to a right-handers backhand. 

Don’t go for too much and serve yourself out of the first game.  The general rule is, ‘nothing fancy, get it in and get it to their weaker side’.

Rehearse Your Shots
Before the point begins, rehearse the type of return or serve you want to hit.  Picture in your mind the flight of the ball and where you want it to land.  Having a target to hit to will keep your mind from focusing on yourself.    
During the Point
Once the point is under way, move your feet and continue to breathe.  Remember, nerves will throw your timing out and shorten your strokes. 
So give your muscles the very thing they need and exhale as you make contact with the ball.

Continue to get your feet and hands moving together.  Stay light on your feet, and swing the racquet.

Your aim in the first few games is to play steady high percentage tennis.  Continue to play to your opponents weaknesses and observe the type and style of game they play.

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

Study your opponent’s service motion, and look for a weakness to serve to in the first few games.  

Don’t rush into the points; rehearse the type of shots you wish to play and picture in your mind where you want the ball to land.

While it is not essential that you note and do all of these things, it is important however that you spend some time observing your opponent’s game. 

Knowing what their strengths, weaknesses and preferences are will assist you in getting off to a good start and increase your chances of holding serve and breaking your opponent more often!

Good luck

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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