Is there a way to make fewer mistakes even when you’re hitting with full power?
You may think that, because you’re hitting with higher risks, the consequence is simply making lots of mistakes.
There is some truth to that, but one of the main reasons you miss easy balls that you want to hit with power is because you accelerate your racquet in a very jerky manner – or, in other words, you accelerate suddenly.
When you do that, your body contracts and you’re hitting with lots of tension.
In tennis jargon, we say that you’re muscling the ball.
That tension affects control of your shots because:
By ‘sudden acceleration’, I refer to that moment when the backswing turns into a forward swing.
While I am demonstrating this with a forehand, it applies to backhands and all other strokes, too.
So, once my racquet has reached final backswing position and I am ready to go forward, if I then accelerate suddenly from this position because of my desire to hit with power, I will have to contract muscles in my body and arm very tightly and therefore cause very inconsistent shots.
The proper way of accelerating the racquet is to do it gradually!
Gradual acceleration means that you’re building the speed of the racquet gradually so that it has maximum speed just before it hits the ball.
With gradual acceleration, we prevent tightness in our muscles during the stroke; therefore, we can maintain good racquet head control and accurate timing.
A good way to get the feel for how to accelerate gradually is to make a sound that goes something like this: “vrrrooooom”.
I know that most players unconsciously imagine a powerful stroke more like “boom”.
They also imagine that they need to hit the ball “hard”.
This of course causes one to accelerate in a very jerky manner and muscle the ball.
But, in tennis, strength is not really needed because a tennis ball is very light. And we can achieve consistent strokes only through smooth accelerations.
You should focus more on speed of the racquet head and finding ways of accelerating the racquet gradually in order to build up high racquet head speed.
So, rather than thinking “hard”, think “fast”, and rather than “boom”, think “vrrrooooom”.
What may also happen – again on a very unconscious level until now – is that you rely on the feel of effort and straining in order to tell whether you hit the ball hard and whether this will be a good shot.
You may not realize it, but as you are contracting, you are actually slowing down your arm since many muscles in your body and arm are canceling each other out.
So, this is one of the rare situations in tennis where I would advise you NOT to rely on your feel in your body because it is deceiving you.
Feeling a lot of “hard work” in your body does NOT mean that you hit a good shot!
You can rely only on the actual speed of the ball!
You must SEE how fast the ball is traveling away from you or perhaps how little time your opponent has to react and move to it.
I’ve had so many problems with players over the years not really believing that the ball was fast when they relaxed and hit it more effortlessly, that I actually bought a mini radar that I put at the net in order to show them the actual speed of the ball!
At first, they could not believe that, even though they were hitting with much less effort, their shots were actually faster!
So, I really encourage you not to dismiss the idea of gradual and effortless acceleration too quickly just because you won’t feel in your body that you hit a good shot!
Observe the speed of the ball flying through the air and how little time your opponent has in order to tell whether you hit a good shot or not.
When you accelerate gradually, the duration of your movement towards the ball takes longer than when you accelerate suddenly.
I assume that makes sense to you – accelerating suddenly achieves high racquet speed quicker and therefore the time to travel the same distance with the racquet is shorter than when you accelerate more gradually.
That means that you’ll also have to adjust your timing.
You’ll need to initiate your strokes slightly earlier than what you’re used to.
In fact, I recommend that you really challenge yourself to see how early you can actually start your swing towards the ball because you’ll need to break your habits somewhat – and the best way to do that is by exaggerating the change.
Making that noise of “vrrrooooom” will help you achieve that new timing.
The stroke that suffers the most from sudden acceleration is the serve.
That’s because it has the most moving parts of the body of all strokes, because we accelerate the racquet very fast eventually and because the target we’re aiming at is very small.
That means that every small mistake in the whole kinetic chain will result in a likely missed serve.
If you look at they best servers, they seem to be very comfortable when they serve.
Can you notice a very gradual acceleration now on Feliciano’s serve?
You can’t really see any sudden acceleration except right at the end of the stroke when energy generated in the body reaches the hand.
The most common mistake out there is again very sudden acceleration that happens way too early in the stroke.
So, the challenge for you is the same as for groundstrokes: accelerate the racquet very gradually and look for power just a split second before you hit the ball.
Focus on a smooth rhythm that helps you gently transition from the backswing into the upward swing.
Just keep in mind that one of the common causes for accelerating suddenly on the serve is a low toss. If the toss is too low, it will force you to rush and shorten your serve.
Therefore, make sure you’re tossing the ball high enough so that you have enough time to accelerate gradually.
You can apply gradual acceleration to volleys, too, but it applies, of course, only to volleys where you have more time. That’s typically the first volley around the service line as you’re approaching the net.
Focus on starting the movement forward earlier than usual and slower than usual so that the volley is not a short, jerky movement but a more smooth sweep from the start and then a final punch through the ball.
Monitor also your tension in the arm as you’re initiating the volley, and see if you can be less tense in that phase of the volley.
Volleys closer to the net where you have less time naturally have to be executed faster, but even those will benefit in the long term from your practice of gradual acceleration on slower incoming balls.
The overhead is another stroke where lots of mistakes happen because of very sudden acceleration which is simply a desire for lots of power that is not executed correctly.
As with other strokes, focus on starting your overhead slowly and gradually. Then accelerate faster just before contact for that final “pop” on the ball.
You may think that this way of accelerating the racquet will not result in a fast ball, but I assure you that it will after you practice for a while.
Hitting consistent overheads in difficult situations relies heavily on your being very disciplined in how you accelerate the racquet.
The pressure situation (and ego) will often cause you to attempt to hit the ball very hard in a jerky manner, but you must resist that and still execute the smash in a calm and controlled manner.
This, of course, applies to all strokes.
Gradual acceleration could, in my view, be called one of the secrets of tennis as it is almost never mentioned, especially in the “mechanical” teaching courses you find online, yet it is the key to hitting powerful shots with high consistency.
Just give this concept some time before it starts working because it requires you to adjust not only the tension in your muscles but also the timing of your strokes.