Lessons in club doubles from the Bryan brothers

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

In this set of videos, the Bryan brothers highlight some of the main errors that club players make, and what to do about them. It mirrors much of the stuff we teach in the doubles lessons at OVSC. (more…)

Watch and learn from Nadal

Friday, March 16th, 2012

I’m convinced that one of the best ways that we learn is just by seeing and copying. Before you next go out on court, watch this video of Nadal’s training session. I find that just by watching this, I hit the ball that much better. Enjoy – and leave your commments below……

How much practice to improve your tennis?

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

And what kind of practice?

Whether you are junior or senior, beginner or superstar, you know that if you want to improve, you need to practice. But let’s have a look at how much you need, and what you should be doing in order to see results.

3 is the magic number! – in my experience, to see real improvement in anything takes practising 3 times per week. I have found this to be the case in tennis, in music, in other sports which I have done. Once just isn’t enough. A beginner might see some improvement playing only once per week, but this will start to level out if they don’t up things a bit. With most players, once per week will probably be just enough to keep them where they are.

What type of practice do you need?

Firstly, I’ll just list the different types of practice you might have, along with the benefits……..

1. Being fed easy balls in a non-competitive situation – this may be with a practice partner or coach, or even a ball machine. It might include serve practice. 

Good for: Practising the technique of a particular shot. Learning new technique

Not good for: Practising the tactical side of tennis, playing under pressure, dealing with opponents, learning to win matches, fitness.

2. Hitting / drills – this is where you set up particular situations to practice them. It might be hitting crosscourt and down the line, approach shot drills, serve and return drills, playing a short ball – anything. These kind of drills can be competitive (for points) or not.

Good for: Practising situations which come up in a game, but in a low-pressure environment; improving consistency through repetition; fitness.

Not good for: Replicating the high pressure situation of a match.

3. Practice matches – playing full points, but in a lower pressure environment such as with a practice partner.

Good for: Practising the tactical aspects of tennis, fitness, learning how to win points, improving your match-play by having to use all your shots in a real game situation.

Not good for: Working on a very specific technique, replicating the pressure of a tournament match, dealing with an opponent who you do not know.

4. Competitive matches i.e. tournaments or matches for your club or school

Good for: Learning to deal with pressure, learning to win matches, dealing with opponents, becoming used to the match situation.

Not good for: Working on the technique of any shot, trying out new things, improvement through repetition.

So which type of practice should you have, and how much?

This depends on your goals, your strengths and weaknesses and your tennis schedule – for instance, if you have a tournament in one week, you will need more practice matches and competitive matches and definitely not work on the technique of your shots.

Here are a couple of examples to give you an idea how you might set up your practice schedule:

Example 1: Me (Karl)

Let’s imagine I have a tournament coming up in a month. I haven’t been playing ANY tennis – just doing lots of coaching (which isn’t playing). I can feel that the technique of my tennis is a bit off, but I will also be struggling with the tactical side of tennis and probably not prepared to deal with the pressure of a match as I haven’t been playing any.

Should I take a tennis lesson to correct my technique? NO! I just need to get out and hit some balls with a practice partner to start with. It may well be that the problems will iron themselves out with a bit of practice. I probably need 3 or 4 good hitting sessions to start to feel the ball again properly. During those sessions, I don’t want to be playing many points as I want to get a feel for the ball again in a low-pressure environment.

So my first week of practice would be lots of hitting and drills. I might start to bring in a few practice points at the end of the hitting session to see what is happening when I play points.

Then, depending on what happens when I play points, I can decide how to structure my practice for the next few weeks. If it’s clear that there is a problem with technique, I can take a lesson or video myself to see what’s happening with the technique. I then need lots of easy balls fed to me so I can practice the technique. LOTS of repetition.

Then, I can start to introduce some drills into my practice so I can practice the technique in a more real situation. If the stroke I was working on was a short, shoulder high forehand, we could set up a drill where every point starts with me being fed a should high forehand which I have to hit to a target area, then playing out the point. LOTS OF REPETITION.

I then need to start making my practice more competitive as I have a tournament coming up. I might keep doing the drills, but spend less time on them, and more time on practice points. As I get very close to the tournament, my practice may consist almost entirely of playing points and, if possible, some more competitive

Example 2 – John

John plays doubles several times per week every week. He wants to improve, but his tennis has stayed exactly the same for several years. He feels that his tactics are ok, but there are a couple of shots which consistently let him down in games.

Well in his case, playing more matches is not going to help because we can’t really work on the technique of a shot under that pressure. Let’s imagine one of the shots which is causing a problem is the serve. He needs to isolate the serve by practising it in a non-match situation. Just hitting a basket of balls on his own.

Then, he probably does need a lesson or two as it’s very tough to work out what you are doing on your own serve. While he’s working on his serve, he could do with a break from his competitive games so he can work on the shot without pressure. However, as he starts to make progress with his serve, he could start to play some practice points. What he shouldn’t really do is have one lesson then go straight back into a competitive game, as he hasn’t had enough practice on his new technique. He’s likely to either revert back to his old technique, or even worse, have the shot completely fall apart as he is somewhere in between the old technique and the new.

Example 3 – Emma

Emma takes a lesson once per week and is out hitting balls several times per week with friends and family. She hits the ball nicely and has pretty good technique She hardly ever plays any kind of match, but when she does, she is so nervous that her game completely falls apart.

So in Emma’s case, she doesn’t need more lessons or more drills – she needs to play games. This can start with practice games, then introducing more competitive games, gradually increasing the pressure.

Do you fit into any of these categories? These don’t cover every situation, but you get the idea.

One of the reasons that I wrote this article is that we often get people booking lessons because they haven’t played in ages and want to get back into it. But they don’t really need a tennis lesson for that. They just need to get out and hit some balls. Sure, if you want to spend £30 for a reliable hitting partner, that’s fine. But you don’t have to.

Hope the article is useful. Please comment below.



Read this before you book your next tennis lesson!

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

This article applies to you if you’re an adult taking tennis lessons or the parent of a child who takes lessons.

Why are you taking lessons? Seriously – I mean it. If you know the answer to this question, it will make the lessons more productive, better value for money and ultimately help you to reach your goals.

Let me explain what I mean………people take lessons for different reasons, such as:

  • To get fit
  • To hit lots of balls
  • To chat with the coach 😉
  • To improve their tennis

If it is either of the first two, just tell the coach. That one is easy – you won’t waste time working on technique unnecessarily. The third one we’ll skip for now, but the fourth option is the interesting one.

I often ask people what they would like from their lesson. A common answer is ‘just to improve’ or people often say ‘just look at my tennis and tell me what I need to improve.’ The problem here is that we will be working on technique for the sake of it, with no real end goal in mind.

Ultimately, if you are taking lessons to improve your tennis, rather than just keep fit or hit balls, the lesson should be based around what happens when you play a game of tennis. How do you win points and lose points? If you have an idea of the answer to this question, then we can really start to improve your game.

  • Are you using the right tactics in your game, or going for the wrong shot at the wrong time?
  • Are you losing points by the opponents’ winners or your errors?
  • Are you winning points by the opponents’ errors or your winners?
  • Is there a particular shot which is causing you problems in a game? A fast ball / slow ball / high ball / low ball / short / deep / forehand / backhand.
  • Is there a particular stroke which lets you down? If so, what about it? Do you make errors on that shot, need to make it more powerful, more accurate.
  • Do you have particular strengths which can be used more effectively.

These questions could go on and on, but the main point is if you are playing games of tennis, you can quite easily work out what needs to be improved based on what happens in those games. If you then take a tennis lesson armed with that knowledge, it can be an extremely productive and helpful lesson. We can really go to work on the things which matter to you in a game.

But what if you are only taking lessons, not playing any games?

Do you fall into this category? There are many people taking lessons who do fall into this category. You can get into a situation where you are just having lessons for the sake of having lessons. This is absolutely fine as long as you understand that your game may not improve much as a result. The purpose of the session should be just for fun and to keep fit. And the content of the session should reflect this – lots of hitting balls, drills, but not much work on the technique – because there is no point in working on technique unless it relates somehow to a real game.

If, however, you do want to improve your game, get out there and play the game, work out what’s working and what isn’t, and come to the lesson ready to work on those things.

Contact me any time for help with your tennis or your child’s tennis.

A serving masterclass from coach Tanya Williams

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

If you’ve met Tanya or seen her play, you will know that she’s an amazing tennis player. As a former Ukrainian no. 1 junior, she has fantastic technique which we can all learn from. In a recent doubles match her husband took some photos of her serving. Here they are with some comments from me……..

1. She is positioned sideways – in fact, close to 45 degrees to the baseline, using a ‘chopper’ or ‘hammer’ grip, left arm nearly straight, releasing the ball at about eye level. Ideal for the perfect ball lift, which you will see in the next photo.

Notice that her backswing hasn’t even start yet. This kind of delayed backswing isn’t the only way to serve, but it is common in very good players. It means not only that her racket will maintain momentum because there is not a long pause in the middle, but also that her racket will need to rapidly accelerate to play ‘catchup’, creating power.


2. See her arm fully extended after the ball has left her hand. Still not much of a backswing yet. Legs just starting to bend. I’ve put a black line around the ball as it was hard to make out in this photo.






3. The ball is out of view now. Left arm still extended. A nice high ball lift – out in front. Legs bending.

An interesting thing to note here. See how her racket face is pointing down (closed). Something else you will see from any good server. We do the ‘hat drill’ to try to encourage this position.




4. Left arm still extended, nice bend of the knees, racket face still closed. Great position.







5. She’s now thrusting up with her legs and the racket has dropped to the extent that the butt of the racket is pointing up at the sky. We have an exercise where we get people to start by pointing the racket butt up at the sky to try to get a feel for this position.





6. The thrust of the legs has lifted Tanya off the ground. Notice how she is throwing the edge of the racket towards the ball. Another very important factor in a powerful serve. Vital for spin as well.






7. This is just after the racket has contacted the ball.







8. Her forward momentum has carried her into the court. She lands on her front leg / left leg with her right leg kicking back behind her. The racket comes down on the right side of her body.






9. Finally, the racket naturally follows through to the left of her body. She will shortly recover, ready for her next shot.


So this is a great example of a serve. It contains all of the elements which make up a powerful, accurate and consistent serve.

Don’t try to do all of these things at once. It’s just not possible to learn that many things at the same time. Work on one aspect of your serve at a time – for example, the ball lift.

We have particular drills / exercises to help you develop all of the above aspects of your serve. All of these exercises come from the system of tennis we teach developed by Modern Tennis International


If you’d like any help with your serve………

Book a tennis lesson with Tanya

Book a lesson with me (Karl)

Book a lesson with James