The 3rd shot

Relatively the serve is more dominant in the men’s game than in the women’s game. If the serve is not the most dominant stroke on the women’s side, which stroke would it then be? It’s the return. The return is often the most undertrained stroke in women’s tennis. Now, I don’t want girls to start practicing return from the first moment they start warming up, but there’s another shot that we need to train specifically if the return is so dominant and that’s the third ball, the ball after the serve.

We know from Craig O’Shannessy how important winning or losing points in the first 4 strokes are. There is one great exercise during the warmup that you can do. I’ve (Carl Maes) done this with Kim Clijsters. Kirsten Flipkens, with Elise Mertens and Sorana Cirstea.

Warm up for 10 minutes on the baseline and then have the players step inside the baseline for 2 minutes only. The player on the other side might not even recognize it. When a player goes inside the baseline it’s actually the shot that they receive often after they serve. Because when you serve, you land inside the baseline. You do your split step there and you get this massive return from Maria Sharapova right into your feet. That is a shot you need to practice every single day, in my opinion. It doesn’t need to be for 20 minutes. Just make it as part of your warmup. You’ve got less time because the distance is shorter, you get bullets in your feet, so what you have to do is you need to be a little bit wider and a little bit lower. And whilst you’re doing that, you also don’t have the same time, as you have got with your normal forehand. You would normally load and then you would drive up with your legs, your hips and your shoulder. You don’t have that time. So, what you do during these 2 minutes, is that you stay where you are, wide and low and you just open up your hips and you make sure you can finish with your elbow out in front. So, you focus on the first part, which needs to happen very fast and you focus on the end point. You will see if you practice this with your players, how much more comfortable they will get playing inside the baseline.

Indirectly, subconsciously, they are working on the 3 ball, which is such an important technical stroke in women’s tennis.

The drive volleys

In the very start when you are practicing the drive volleys with female players you can and properly should spend entire drills 10-20 minutes on the drive volley, but when the players have got the basics of the drive volley going forward in their career I (Carl) don’t believe that you need to spend one dedicated drill to drive volleys. Instead spend 2-3 minutes during all warmups as that is enough for feeling, timing and recognition. Ask yourself how many times the girls that you work with smash in a match?

It will properly be close to zero. However, what do we always do when we warm up? We go to the net, we play a few volleys, and then we do a few smashes. Should we do a few smashes as they occur once in a while in a match, sure.

Now, let me ask a second question. How many opportunities when you are watching that match, how many times when they are playing a match do think “Oh, you should have come forward and taken the ball out of the air?” It will be much, much more. So, for me. I don’t want to make it too extreme. Forget about the smash warmup, but make sure that your female players hit a couple of drive volleys in every warmup.

The 70/70 principle

Female players need to be able to play at a certain rhythm and pace, which is almost like a metronome. I call it the 70/70 concept. That means if you receive a ball at 70 kilometers per hour, you need to be able to send it back at 70 kilometers per hour. It could be 80, it could be 90. It’s that principle. You need to be able to find that rhythm and that’s your foundation. Everything that comes on top is extra. If you don’t have that foundation, you’ll struggle very much in today’s women’s tennis.

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