At the local courts today, none of my fellow 5.0s were there. Oddly, there weren’t even any 4.5s or 4.0s. So, I figured I would play a couple games for fun/exercise. The players I played with all wanted advice, so each game, I focused on my partner, gave them tips and we rotated.
I was struck by the commonality of the issues:
1. The problems were basic.
2. They are constantly out of position — 6 feet from the kitchen line, not backing up to hit a 3d shot off a deep return, not recognizing a lob is coming, not recognizing where an opponent’s 3d shot was likely going, etc.
3. They are constantly not ready — paddle isn’t up, not getting down low when a drive is coming, not recognizing the spin coming at them, etc. There were many missed shots where they look at me and say “what was wrong” and I say “you weren’t ready”.
4. They don’t bend their knees, or if they do, they hop up as they hit the ball.
5. They don’t watch the ball all the way to the paddle, causing mis-hits.
For myself, when I have those runs of a few bad shots in a row, I always return to basics, reminding myself to watch the ball, bend my knees, stay low, keep my paddle up. If I had to name one thing separating 5.0s from 3.5s, I wouldn’t pick ability or athleticism or innate talent or power — instead I’d pick being ready, in all senses of the word. Be in the right position, recognizing what shot is coming, anticipating spin/power, having your paddle up, knees bent, staying down, watching the ball to the paddle. As one example, I see lower skilled players getting defeated by lobs, whereas in my games, it’s hard to hit a successful lob, as it’s so often anticipated. I would say on more than half of the times I’m lobbed, I will see it coming and will have taken a step back before the lob is even struck.
These basics may not be sexy tips, but I think any 3.0/3.5 player that really focuses on these basics, can easily improve their game by 10% or more, quickly.