Tennis pro tips: Practice vs. match play

I can’t tell you how many times I hear “I play so well at my lesson and play so terribly in league.” First off, we need to define practice. Practice is hitting balls, without scoring. Match play is playing for score. 80 percent of the players consider match play practice; not so!

Let’s say your backhand cross-court is weak, you come in for a lesson and we fix it. The worst thing to do is to go right after the lesson and play a doubles match. I watched a lady student leave the lesson court to play on the next court. Yes, her backhand looked good for the first three games of match play. Then she reverted to her old habits. Why? Because she didn’t have time to practice what she learned in her lesson. There was no time for muscle memory to set the stroke.

In order to win her match by mid set, she chose the old, bad backhand she wanted to change, not because it was better, but because it was more familiar. What she should have done was practice hitting backhands with a friend that day and scheduled the doubles match the next day. Once a player plays for score/match play, the need to win kicks in and old familiar habits come back to haunt. This is why you hear so many people say, “It’s hard to break old habits.” Not so if you practice, improvement comes quickly.

My advice is grab a friend, practice your weaknesses and hit to theirs. Then set aside a day for match play to see if what you practiced is better. You need both; practice days and match play days to keep a balanced game. “You play how you practice.”

Michael Amador is a tennis professional at Fallbrook Tennis Club and on the Wilson Advisory Staff.

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