DON’T OVERLOOK THE WARM-UP
by Jean Kempner
Beginner and intermediate level players can take a cue from the habits of pros in any sport and learn to warm-up with a purpose. If you’ve ever attended a professional tennis match and watched opponents warming up with each other, you’ve noticed that it’s a co-operative effort. There are no winners hit, no focus on “match speed” power, and no making the other player chase down balls. Rather both players are looking to hit at medium speed to get a rhythm, hone their timing, and get a feel for the court and conditions.
Professional golfers, baseball players, quarterbacks, all start at a slow speed with half-swings or short toss. Here are some warm-up tips specific to paddle that will help you gain control, which is really what paddle is all about.
GROUNDSTROKES: Your first dozen or so hits should be at medium speed with a slightly less than normal swing length. Aim to hit your opponents’ paddle as if it was a target and you’re trying to hit the bulls-eye. Gradually increase your pace and swing length and practice “spotting” your shots to the opponents’ right hip (assuming they are right-handed) and then moving your drives around the frame of their body. HAVE SPECIAL FOCUS ON NOT HITTING THE NET.
LOBS: Focus on height rather than depth. Make the opponent hit their overheads from around the service line. Give them some short lobs so that you can practice your screens.
Aim to hit your last few lobs as close to the baseline as possible.
VOLLEYS: Start two or three steps off the net in order to acquire some feel and touch. Use the service line as a target for your volleys and give your opponent the chance to hit some drives and give yourself practice hitting some low volleys. If you hit your volleys too deep, your hitting partner can never hit any drives to give you practice volleying! Hit your last few volleys as close to the baseline as possible to groove that desirable feel.
OVERHEADS: Practice letting the ball drop to around head-level and work on hitting the ball deep. This gives your opponent the option of hitting off the deck or the screens and lets you see their strength or weakness in handling this shot. Hit them some hard screens to see how they handle them.
SERVE: Again, start at half-speed to get feel and instant success. Focus on tossing the ball well out in front to “jump-start” your movement to the net. Always take a few steps toward the net and practice some first volleys. Gradually work up to full-speed and practice hitting to the corners of the service box. Take serves from both the ad and deuce sides. AS WITH YOUR DRIVES, SPECIAL FOCUS ON NOT HITTING THE NET.
The warm-up is about hitting a lot of balls and acquiring accuracy and feel. If you hit too hard and end up spraying balls, neither player benefits. If you find yourself warming up with an opponent who wants to blast every ball, politely suggest that you warm-up with your respective partners so that at least you and your partner can get some rallies going.
The warm-up is the first on-court step to match play success. Follow these guidelines and give yourself the best chance to win the match rather than the warm-up.