In my lesson today I worked with a 16 year old girl that I frequently teach. She likes to play doubles and was getting ready for a mixed doubles tournament. My job was to get her used to the different shots that she could expect to see from his male opponent.
After a short warm up in the service boxes she moved back and we worked on rhythm from the baseline by rallying crosscourt and down-the-line - me at the net and she back. Then, I moved to the baseline and hit her some shots with heavy topspin, then some with slice, followed by some hard and flat ones and some slow and high ones. After that, I mixed up every shot and we moved in for some quick volley exchanges; first close to the net then standing on the service line. After a few minutes, I moved back and hit lobs to her. She had to hit my deep lobs back deep to me and angle off my short lobs. This exercise was followed by her standing at the net and me hitting fast balls at her. (I am always a little nervous about this drill because I have hit some players, but I have not been able to figure out any other way to work on managing fast balls at the body). During this exercise I like to use the advice that my fellow national coach at the USTA, John Benson, would frequently use:
When practicing at the net:
1. Never miss in the net.
2. Aim at the baseline.
3. Be in control of the rally.
I am especially fond of point number 3. The biggest mistake players make when at the net is to think defensively, as if their only job was to avoid letting the ball pass them. Taking a passive approach at the net will always get you in trouble. You are not a goalie defending. You need to see yourself as the aggressor. You are the one pushing the baseline player back. This change in mentality makes all the difference. It helps players relax and constantly move forward to meet the ball, which is exactly what you want.
Finally we finished be practicing returns, where I mixed up my serves – flat, slice, kick.
She felt ready for her match after our session and that was the goal.