Thursday, December 19, 2013

How do you know if a tennis ball is bad?

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Online Shop Manager

We see it all the time. Whether you're a professional or just your average player, we are all prone to testing our tennis balls to see if they're any good. But what exactly are we looking for? How do we know when a good ball goes bad?

There are a number of ways on how to check for a faulty tennis ball. The following steps will help you determine whether you have a bouncy happy ball or a dead rock.
  1. Check the can - Before you peel the metal lid, you should be able to squeeze the can and feel some resistance due to the trapped air-pressure. If there is a lot of give in the plastic, it might not be sealed properly therefore depleting the new ball of any decent pressure.
    good vs. bad
  2. Open the can - It should make a 'pop' when you pull away the metal seal. No 'pop' = no air pressure. 
  3. Inspect the ball - It should be neither too fuzzy nor too bald. A healthy ball will also have a bright yellow glow. 
  4. Squeeze the ball - A ball that has gone bad will be as hard as a rock or extra squishy. A good ball will have some resistance and give.
  5. Bounce the ball - You should be able to bounce a ball with little force only to have it bounce lightly back to you. If the ball barely lifts off from the ground, it has most likely flat-lined. 
If all else fails and you're still unsure whether your tennis balls are good, then hit the ball! A dead ball will not only feel heavy when you take a good whack at it, but it will also make a low unmistakable 'thud' when it hits the strings. 

All tennis balls are going to have different life cycles depending on the player, court surface, and surrounding environment. However, for the average player playing a couple times a week, the majority of balls will have a life span of 4-5 matches. If you're ever wondering what to do with your unwanted balls, we are always sorting through by setting aside the better half for lessons and drills, and giving those past their prime to dog lovers, schools, and anyone that doesn't mind what they're hitting with-just as long as they're hitting!

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to become a better competitor

Dallas Aleman | Towpath Tennis Owner | Tennis Guru
Junior players Andrew Ong & Irene Norman 
are the recipients of the Diane McNeal 
Sportsmanship award at this year's annual 
meeting of the North East Ohio Tennis 

Despite a lot of talk about notions of self-respect and respect for others, it has been said that players don’t always necessarily display a suitable attitude toward their peers. Here is where the balance is--you have to be able to express how you feel, but it’s equally important to take into account the feelings of those around you. One who is a good sport has respect for the game (knows the rules, traditions, courtesy, and expectations of being a competitor), has respect for themselves (no comments like “I suck”), and has respect for their opponent and/or partner (no comments such as “ that player is a pusher", or "we would've won if my partner had played better"). Having respect for yourself, your competitor/partner, and for those that are making the event possible (the tournament director, officials, captains, and your team) is what it's all about.


The ability of having respect (or good sportsmanship) is going to carry you a long way in this world. The wins and losses will be forgot by many, but people will not forget how they were treated when they interacted with you as a competitor, team member, or spectator for that matter. Next time on the court or during your next match, make the effort to work on your own respect for the game--trust us, you'll enjoy it that much more!

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Monday, October 28, 2013

How to lose graciously

Dallas Aleman | Towpath Tennis Owner | Tennis Guru

Did you know that if you play this game you are going to have to learn how to lose? There is a difference between losing vs. taking a loss and finding a purpose. In order to improve when you're beginning to play tennis, you are going to have to accept so many losses that it seems like there is no end to it.

Nobody says they like losing but you have to be able to enjoy the process, which is more important than a particular win or loss. You have to learn how to overcome the setbacks and see that progress comes over a period of time. You also have to learn how to be a gracious loser and congratulate the winner, while always keeping in mind that there will be another day and another meeting that just might have a different outcome.

So how do you learn to lose and like it?
  • Your losses reveal your true competitiveness. After a loss, are you ready to throw in the towel or get back in the ring? Champions like Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams have short memories of every loss and are ready to return to the arena with a more determined attitude and will.   
  • A loss can reveal your weaknesses (even if you don't want to admit to having any). But this can embolden you to work on those holes in your game and avoid making the same mistakes.
  • A loss can challenge you. You win alone, you lose alone. Take responsibility for the reasons that you lost, and look at how you can change them in the future. 
  • No tears in tennis. You have to go onto the court knowing it's not the end of the world if you lose. The score is only one small measure of the outcome for your effort. 
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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What is shadow stroking?

Dallas Aleman | Towpath Tennis Owner | Tennis Guru

Have you watched players such as Maria Sharapova, NovakDjokovic, or Marion Bartoli shadow stroke? They step back from a point they've just played and they practice a forehand or a backhand, sometimes to an excessive amount. But does this practice of shadow stroking actually work or are they just wasting energy?
I think for any top player, we should never assume they are simply wasting energy. What these players are actually doing is a “computer reset” for their muscles to remember a stroke they practiced hundreds of thousands a time. Tennis and stroke production comes down to a collection of movements that add up to a finished dynamic product. That product is your tennis game, so when you play every movement counts. The more times you shadow stroke your forehand for instance, the quicker it’ll be to find your groove.  When you’re confident about your strokes, you allow yourself to be loose and agile where you won’t easily fall victim to breaking down under pressure. You know exactly how you should feel on the court. There’s a reason they call it muscle memory. 

However, please note that your stroke is dynamic. There is no such thing as a ‘finished’ forehand or backhand. Your game is a never-ending experiment so when you find the right groove, try to capture it by practicing shadow stroking. The more you do it, the less likely there will be a breakdown of a shot. Remember, it was Djokovic against Federer who hit the loosest, most fantastic forehand to change the outcome of the 2011 U.S. Open finals. Now do you think shadow stroking is a waste?

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Play as good as you practice

Dallas Aleman | Towpath Tennis Owner | Tennis Guru

Why is it that you can play well in practice or in a lesson and then when you play a match, you play poorly at times?
It may be the way you practice or the type of lesson you take. If your practice partner or pro is always hitting the ball back in your strike zone where your strokes are grooving, then you are preparing yourself for only one type of ball. You are essentially ‘playing catch’ where no ball really challenges you. This type of practice is great to correct a defective stroke but it’s not so good for preparing you for matches.

During actual competition, you are going to see the player that hits with spin, drop shots, uses the whole court, or the dreaded moon ball. They are your nightmare and you are cannon fodder for them. That is unless you know how to turn things around to your advantage. By beating the enemy you must learn their game and if you can’t seem to figure it out during practices, then match play is your best bet. Challenge yourself to find those types of shots and players that don’t just ‘play catch’ with you.

When you find yourself struggling against a player that doesn’t fall into your catching game, remind yourself this--you learn to improve the best when you are struggling in an uncomfortable situation.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

The first step to getting better at tennis

Dallas Aleman | Towpath Tennis Owner | Tennis Guru

I had recently gotten a call from my son Alex, who is playing at Duquesne University, and he wanted to alert me about a Davis Cup match being played against Serbia vs Canada. This summer Alex had a chance to rub shoulders with quite a few ATP ranked players after competing in the $30,000 Cleveland Racquet Club Invitational. He and his partner played four matches and finished 1st in the 2nd back draw consolation (which as a collegiate player, he didn't claim the prize money).  But what was interesting to him is that he was one round away from playing one of the men from Serbia's Davis Cup team, Ilija Bozoljac, who lost in the semifinals of the final round in the Davis Cup. I could sense my son thinking, 'Wow I'm not that far off from this level.'
Alex Aleman (left) with doubles partner Pete
Carpentar (right) at the $30,000 Cleveland
Racquet Club Invitational. 
This is one of the most pivotal points in any young person’s tennis career--the thought and belief that you can get that good. What seemed so far away is not impossible. That mindset is what makes the difference between champions and mediocre players. It's what elevates a player to the next level.
However, the thought does not come from just being on the court. Playing against really great players can be intimating until you realize that they too make their share of errors (maybe not as many as you at the moment), but nevertheless it proves their human. That 'what if' becomes a reality when you work hard, play competitive matches, and see not only can you improve but that you can earn a couple of points (baby steps) even against the best. The thing is, you won't know how good you can be until you put yourself in the arena with champions and venture into their territory. Swim in their water and see that there is a way to climb that mountain. The challenger will believe; the meek will give up.
So the question is, do you want to get better? Are you willing to believe? Even though he didn't express it, I could tell my son is fired up thinking I can climb to the next level. What is it going to take for you?

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Saturday, September 7, 2013

When to replace old grommets

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Online Shop Manager

You might have strung your racquet to have it returned with a note indicating you need new grommets. Let's be honest, you may be a diligent student of the game and follow suit but most likely you're probably thinking why bother or saying, "I need what?"
Grommet strips are what line the top of your racquet for additional protection. Think of it like a helmet, they're there to keep your frame in tip top shape from the abuse it gets on the court. When your grommets get worn, your frame gets a lot of wear and tear which can be very abrasive against your strings. This eventually leads to destructive cracks causing issues with future stringing and playability. It would be like driving around with your tires down to the rims--no way you'd let that happen!
If you are in need of new grommets, make sure to have your stringer find out if they can even order grommets for your racquet. If not, it might be time to turn your racquet in for a new model. 

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

How to fend off a big server

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Online Shop Manager

John Isner made quite a run at last week's Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati before falling to Rafael Nadal in the finals. But in earlier rounds he had to overcome the top seeds in the world, such as Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro by fending them off with his biggest weapon—the serve. In a pre-match interview, Djokovic was asked how he was going to tackle the big server when he jokingly responded, "I don't know, do you have any tips?" So when he lost to Isner in a close match, the question still lingered in the air—how do you fend off a big server? You may not be able to return a serve by John Isner, but try the following tips and learn how to return like the pros. 
flickr pic
  • Stand back - Give yourself time to react and get to the ball.
  • Read the serve - One of the best ways to prepare for a big serve is to gauge its placement. You can do this by gauging the server’s toss, stance and swing.
  • Split step - Split step as their hitting the serve and move towards it's placement.
  • Rotate those hips - When you rotate your hips as you swing, your racquet is automatically prepped to return.
  • Shorten your swing - If it's coming at you fast, you're not going to have time for a loopy swing, so close it in with your elbow close to your body.
  • Block - If all else fails, this is an easy way to get the ball back in play. Keep a firm grip and aim deep or angle it off.
It's all about early preparation. If you're anticipating the serve, you'll be able to return almost anything that comes at you. But if you still find yourself struggling, know this—big servers have lower percentage serves, eventually they'll tire themselves out (we hope!).

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

The secret to staying consistent

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Online Shop Manager 
Towpath's Alex Aleman demonstrating
how to warm up with consistency. 

There's always going to be those times when a short hiatus is unavoidable whether you're going on vacation, have an injury, or just haven't had the time to play. It's not uncommon to return to the court a little rusty, but with the right strategy in place you'll feel like you never left.
Play it slowww. Many times we return to the court with enough energy to smack that fuzzy yellow ball through the back fence, but hitting as hard as you can will not only keep you off balance, it also becomes a struggle to gauge any sort of rhythm. The key here is to play at a slow enough pace that will allow you to get back into ready position in time to anticipate the next shot.

Over-exaggerate your strokes. Maintaining optimum technique is a challenge after a break on the court, especially when the goal is to hit deep with good net clearance. To achieve this, try over-exaggerating the motion of your strokes as a pro would when demonstrating a shot. You'll settle back into your comfort zone in no time.

Stay on your toes. It's easy to tell any returning player to keep their feet moving at all times, but when you've been on a long enough hiatus-it ain't happening. The important thing to remember when your feet are dragging is to rock slightly onto your toes (or the balls of your feet) and keep them grounded as you swing. This will kick those feet into gear while still remaining balanced so you can focus on hitting at your strike zone. 

Have realistic expectations. Did you really expect to make a perfect cross-court approach shot right from the gate? Your game needs some fine tuning so be patient, keep practicing and give yourself some slack! 

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

How to play with a tournament official

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Online Shop Manager 

We've had another successful year at the Akron Open thanks to all the players and volunteers who participated. We had quite a few exciting matches filled with fist pumps, dives, and un-returnable winners. However, despite having the majority of our matches running with not so much of a hiccup, there were some courts that had a little different outcome. There were questions on scores, tiebreakers, and rulings from double bounces, foot faults, to nicking a ball in the air.  Luckily there's always a tournament official on hand to settle any disputes but we'd like to review how to utilize an official and what to do when there isn't one around. 
All USTA sanctioned tournaments will have a roaming official, meaning they will move from court to court and assist when needed. However, what many players don't realize is that when you have an official on your court and you're hoping for an overrule on a call or a clarification on a rule, you have to request for one. So if you're wondering about a line call that your opponent called out, ask the official what they saw.
On the other hand, if you're in the middle of a match and you have a discrepancy or question when the official is nowhere nearby, what do you do? Two things, stop play and signal for a spectator to get an official or wait on the court until one comes around. If you decide to play on after openly questioning the call, warn your opponent that you will be requesting an official to overlook the match.
Remember, playing a match with an official on your court is actually a good thing--unless of course if you're knowingly cheating. An indication in the quality of any tournament is if there is an official around keeping order on the courts. Imagine them as a supportive teammate and if they make an overrule or call against you, you may question it but listen to what they have to say and most important--DO NOT argue. We can all appreciate the benefit of having a tournament official so at the end of your match, don't forget to thank them for their time.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tournament bag checklist

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Legit Tennis Fanatic

With the Akron Open days away, we wanted to help our competitors prepare for their matches by creating a checklist of necessary equipment/accessories you should have during a tournament weekend.
  1. At least 2 racquets - If one string were to break, you'll have a backup ready to go.
  2. Water and lots of it - You should be drinking water on EVERY changeover. Make sure you provide yourself with enough water to get through a possible 3hr match, especially on a hot day. Never assume the facility has water on the courts.
  3. Hat, visor, sunglasses, sunblock if outside - Having to serve in the sun is just as painful as having burnt shoulders that are hot to the touch. Make sure to protect your eyes and your skin.
  4. Spare clothing - For those ultra sweaty moments whether it's a change in shirt, sweatbands, socks, or shoes.
  5. Wallet - In case you need money for vending, nearby restaurants, or a last minute stop at the pro shop for stringing.
  6. Small first aid kit - Be prepared with some basic essentials; band-aids, medical tape, ibuprofen, and braces if needed.
  7. Extra hair ties (ladies) - We can't tell you how many times we've heard on the court, 'Does anyone have a hair tie?"
  8. Towel - Expect to sweat!
  9. Snacks - You never know if the tournament will be offering food, so bring along little baggies of some energy boosting foods that will keep you going throughout the match (ex. bananas, nuts, energy bars, etc.)
  10. Check the tournament site for time, location, and directions - If you've already checked, check again! You never know when there might be a last minute change due to weather or other match conflicts.
Not necessary but helpful to have:
  1. Extra pair of shoelaces, dampeners
  2. Nail filer
  3. Cooler for drinks with ice
  4. Icy hot for a quick muscle fix
  5. Blanket or lawn chair for spectating

Monday, July 15, 2013

Top 5 misconceptions about tournament play

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Legit Tennis Fanatic

With the close of Wimbledon and our very own Akron Open around the corner, we can't help but admire what it takes for these players to play in such large scale tournaments--in respect to both levels of play of course. But for many players, they tend to be intimidated by the tournament atmosphere or think only the top players around qualify to participate. There might be a list of other excuses in why they shouldn't participate but today we have a rebuttal on why you should not only play tournaments, but why you might actually LIKE them!

Common misconceptions

1) Single elimination - Unless there's an Open division, there rarely is a single elimination format outside of the ATP Tour, meaning you will always get a second chance. Granted you're 2nd chance may be in the consolation round but hey, a 2nd go at it is better than nothing.

2) Intense mentality - The pressure is on but it's all in your head! If you play more relaxed in leagues then imagine its just another day on the court with your teammates because many of times it is!

3) Individual play - We're used to thinking of tournaments as only singles play because that's what we mainly see on TV. But if singles is not your game or you prefer the team atmosphere, then doubles is an excellent option. Many tournaments offer men's/women's doubles & mixed.

4) It's expensive - On average, apart from the USTA/club fees each player is guaranteed at least 2 rounds of play, receives some sort of appreciative participatory gift (t-shirt, towel, water bottle, etc.), complimentary snacks/beverages is sometimes offered, and trophies are awarded to the winners and runner-ups of each draw (consolation winners may be awarded a trophy as well). Depending on the tournament, winners might win bigger prizes such as tennis bags, rackets, or cash. If you ask us, the money is well worth it!

5) Serious atmosphere - Sure the match may be taken seriously, but the general atmosphere where friends and new court-mates gather around is enjoyable for many involved. If anything it's just a thrill to kick back and enjoy a day of excellent tennis.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What it takes to beat the unbeatable opponent

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Legit Tennis Fanatic

After a week into Wimbledon, we cannot help but remark on the bizarre twist this memorable tournament has taken. Top seeds like Federer, Sharapova, and Serena Williams are dropping like flies to lower ranked players and one hit wonders. But where do these players find the belief that they can beat the unbeatable? Is it the racquet that gets you into the right mindset? The perfect outfit? A lucky ball? 
Sabine Lisicki ends Serena Williams' 34-match winning
streak to reach the quarter-finals at Wimbledon 2013.

Sometimes we accept it as dumb luck or an off day on the court for the top seeds, but we want to give credit to the 'longshot' winners because we know for them it was so much more. You might say the field is not even, but it's the unseeded player that has nothing to lose whereas seeded players have (in their perspective) everything to lose. The belief stems from the fact that winning isn't forever. The tide is shifting, circumstances are changes, and the will of the underdog is stronger than ever making this tournament's unbeatable pool more vulnerable.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The benefits of a short memory

Dallas Aleman | Towpath Tennis Owner | Tennis Guru
Rafael Nadal stuns at Wimbledon
with a loss in the first round

After watching Nadal go down in the 1st round at Wimbledon, it just proves that everybody (even the best) can have an off day. The question is, can he recover quickly after such a disappointing loss? A player may have the fastest serve, most powerful forehand, and be the best in the world, but if you can't learn to forget and move on, you're no better than the next player.

Having a short memory might be one of the most valuable assets a player can have. Bad shot--move on, double fault a whole game--move on, lose 6-0, 6-0 to somebody you normally can beat blindfolded--move on!

The fact of the matter is, if you're drowning in self-wallow over some bad shots, you're giving yourself no hope in improving and getting back into a positive mindset. In fact, you begin inviting more errors by not allowing yourself to recover from those crummy experiences. Remember, when you make a mistake it's not the end of the world, so train your mind to brush off the negatives by starting with a blank slate.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

The best and worst doubles formations

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Legit Tennis Fanatic

Towpath's Sean Turner and Hassan Malik
move as a team up at the net
When it comes to doubles, there is one rule we players often drill into our heads--rush the net! An effective strategy? Yes, but is it always the right strategy? No. 

Charging the net as soon as you possibly can is a common misconception of what's considered 'good doubles strategy'. If the net game is not your game there are other configurations you can try that might work in your favor. The goal is to find a position where you and your partner feel confident about your game. 

What we want to see: 
Both up - Of course in doubles, the preference is to close out the point by 'closing in' on the ball. If you or your partner have skilled volleys and can successfully cut off an approach shot, then you should definitely make your way up to net. Shorter strokes and a quicker pace is the game up front so stay on your toes and be ready for a sudden change of position.  

Both back - If your net game is off or your faced with lobbers, you can always choose to stay back and play off other strengths whether that's a deep lob, an angled passing shot, or drilling them at the net with solid ground strokes. But if you're back should your partner stay back?  If you want to cover the same amount of court then yes, your partner should stay back with you. Move as a team together.  

What we don't want to see: 
One up/one back - There are many times you find yourselves one up/one back and have success, but the only way to really succeed that way is if you and your partner have strong ground-strokes and poaching skills. If that's not the case, the issue with this configuration is that you both are leaving more than enough open court space available for your opponents to have a field day.  

Start up then retreat back - The only time you should retreat to the baseline when up at net is if you're running down a lob or preparing for an overhead return. 

"I" formation - This only works well during a service formation. But if you find you and your partner in "I" formation during a point, you might as well be playing 2 on 1--just don't do it.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mental Toughness Tip: Positive Body Language

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Legit Tennis Fanatic

The key to having positive body language is to get yourself into the right mindset, meaning you want a good attitude that exudes confidence. But come on, we've been in those down and out matches and sometimes the only thing keeping you going is the fact that this ugly match is almost over. We don't expect you to perform psychological magic, but do as the pros do--fake it til you make it!

Juvante Johnson keeps alert at Towpath

1) No slouching! Slouching is a sign of defeat so walk around with your shoulders back--even if you are down 0-5.

2) Stop dragging your feet. The last thing you want is for your opponent to see you're tired. Even if your feet feel like bricks, kick them around a bit to prove you still have some gas in the tank.

3) Run don't walk. Every so often, pick up a light jog while retrieving a ball or getting back into ready position. Even in the 5th set of the French Open, we saw Nadal gunning to the baseline after a changeover. This will not only energize you but it will terrify your opponent into thinking you aren't getting enough of a workout from them.

4) Get enthusiastic! If you're playing doubles, your forced enthusiasm can be contagious. Soon your slumping partner will have an extra skip in her step too.

Stick with these tips and before you know it, you're game will rise up to your attitude.

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Odd foods and drinks that will help your tennis game

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Legit Tennis Fanatic

We all know that bananas and Gatorade are well known court-side foods that will help your game, but there are plenty of natural on and off court foods that many of us have never considered trying that will do the same job.

  • Pickle juice - Relieves cramping. The sodium in pickles help retain essential electrolytes lost during a match, preventing the onset of cramping. HOWEVER, pickle juice is so high in sodium that players are warned to drink only in moderation or dilute with water or a sports drink.
  • Gummy bears - Refuels body with easily digestible sugars. A small handful should suffice but experts say to avoid eating an entire bag since it will do more harm than good.
  • Tart cherry juice - Relieves joint pain & inflammation. Drink 1 glass a day.
  • Coconut water - It's added potassium helps to not only hydrate your body but it also aids in recovering muscle function. Drink 1 glass post workout.
  • Mustard - Relieves leg cramps. Eat 1 tsp. or 1 pack of yellow mustard.
  • Chocolate milk - Aids in refuel & recovery after a match or workout. Drink 1 glass post workout.
  • Beetroot juice - Increases stamina. Though wildly popular in Europe, this juice might be hard to find in the U.S. Drink 1 glass a day.

Some of these items have been recommended as tried and true from our very own staff, but we'd love to hear what 'odd' foods you swear by that help your tennis game.

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

We get better at what we practice

Dallas Aleman | Towpath Tennis Owner | Tennis Guru

Tennis is both an individual and team sport. This time of the year we have a lot of you practicing to compete. But sometimes we hear grumbling off the court after a match with players wondering why they can't play like they do in practice.

Well we say, you get better at what you practice. So next time you're on the court take a moment to reflect, what are you practicing?
  • Stretching before and after
  • Hitting recklessly
  • Being generous with your comments
  • Skeptically shooting down ideas for lineups and pushing your own agenda
  • Having energy (moving your feet)
  • Grumbling
  • Looking for opportunities to improve your game
  • Dreaming pipe dreams with no substance
  • Blaming others for your fault
  • Working on a particular shot
  • Giving useful feedback
  • Making an effort
  • Being on time
  • Hitting with accuracy
  • Playing it safe
  • Positive attitude

Practice is just that, a combination of positives and negatives. It's up to you now to decide the outcome of your next practice by seeing what will outweigh the other.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Is it a lost point for reaching over the net?

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Legit Tennis Fanatic

By NickStenning via Wikimedia Commons
We're constantly faced with many on court challenges, but recently we've seen a lot of fuss over whether it's okay or not to reach over the tennis net. Well there are two answers to this, which is why there has been a lot of confusion over the correct ruling.

The first part of the official USTA rule states 'a player may break the plane of the net on a follow through from a shot as long as the ball was on that player's side of the court when the ball was struck. In other words, DO NOT reach over the net to hit the ball. Wait for it to cross the net and then swing all you want.

However, there are times when reaching over the net are perfectly acceptable. In the second part of the official USTA rule, it states 'if the spin or wind brings the ball back over the net to the side of the player who hit the shot, the opponent may then reach over the net and play the ball.' In other words, if you don't reach over the net, you lose the point. Just be careful not to touch the net with your clothing, equipment, or any part of your body because your efforts will be at a loss.

There you have it, you cannot reach over the net to hit the ball unless an untouched ball bounces back over the net. If your opponent were to ever question you, whip out a rule book (USTA's Friends At Court) or your phone and look it up. Your opponent's ignorance does not call for you to replay the point, so if you state the rule and defend it positively, then the outcome will usually go your way. Now that you know the rule, your job now is to correctly judge the situation at hand and see if it calls for a ruling.

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Getting vs. Taking

Dallas Aleman | Towpath Tennis Owner | Tennis Guru

Participants of Towpath's Game On weekend where
players committed to a series of clinics and play.
When it comes to tennis players who are bent on improving, there's a difference between how they motivate themselves during lessons and how they view the improvement process itself. We call this getting vs. taking.

There are players out there that spend some time and money to get lessons as the 'be all and end all' of improving. They come ready and willing for the pro to give them something of value to make their game better, and they wait for the pro to mark a course of improvement.

Then there are those players that take the best of any program or lesson available. They push more, ask more questions, explore opportunities, and invent new ways to work on their game. Basically they do more than the minimum. These players are eager to learn and take the time and do the work.

We commend everyone that takes the initiative in taking private lessons and programs to improve their game, however it is the player that takes the extra step that will see a leap of improvement in no time.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How to handle a bad line call

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Legit Tennis Fanatic

Although the Hawk Eye system is not available
for everyday play, it has made a vast improvement
on line call verifications amongst the pros.
Anyone that has played some sort of competitive tennis can relate to a bad line call. Whether it's intentional/ unintentional, occurring on the next court over, or you're the one being interrogated, you have to learn how to handle it with some etiquette. The last thing you want to be known for is "that guy" or "that girl" that cheats or flips their lid over a line call.

Handling your opponent:   
"Are you sure that was out?" If you like to avoid confrontation like we do, this is the easiest way to question a bad line call without completely throwing your opponent into defense mode. If there's more than one doubtful call, then taking a long hard look will suffice--sometimes that alone will get your opponent to question himself. However, if it appears your opponent is blatantly making bad calls, then not only call them out on it but call over a coach, captain, or an offical (whatever the situation calls for) to resolve any future disputes.

Handling as a spectator: You might be watching from the bleachers or the next court over, but if you witness a bad line call can you do anything about it? When it pertains to the actual match, no officially there is not much you can do. We advise you to tuck it away and make a note to watch this player in the future, but getting involved in somebody else's match is just a bad idea and poor sportsmanship.

Handling when accused: Whatever you do, hold your ground! Point to where you saw the ball hit the ground to really emphasize your confidence in your line call. Afterward, really watch your lines and be absolutely positive before you make a call to avoid any further conflict.

Handling your partner: When playing doubles the partner closer to the line should be making the call, although sometimes your partner can make an honest mistake. In that situation, gently tell them after you thought the shot was good. However, if your partner makes a blatant bad call, then good sportsmanship will urge you to overrule it.

Most importantly, keep your cool! You may be one of those players who play great under fire (we envy you). But if you're like the majority of us, anger only invites errors so take a deep breath and focus on the next point while aiming inches within the line.

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Is your tennis game lucky?

Dallas Aleman | Towpath Tennis Owner | Tennis Guru
Roger Federer's the King of creating his own luck (flickr)

Luck is winning the lottery. In tennis, there is no such luck. When you hear players say "this guy is so lucky" or "how lucky can a girl get," you're listening to those that feel you don't deserve such a point. The thing is you may have thought it was lucky, but you created it!
Luck represents hard work and like many pros, such as Roger Federer, they create their own luck. When you have the urge to rationalize your opponent's shots by calling them lucky, you are actually going down a dangerous road. It's not a rabbit's foot in their pocket, nor the rituals they go through before a match. It's simply because their hard work and effort has paid off.

So come out and create your own luck. There is nothing more rewarding than to hear your opponent cry "lucky shot!"

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Do kids who play tennis get better grades?

Dallas Aleman | Towpath Tennis Owner | Tennis Guru

You bet they do! The USTA recently ran a study to demonstrate tennis as more than just a game. They called this nationwide study the USTA Serves 2013 Special Report, More Than a Sport: Tennis, Education and Health.

Pictured from our 2013 High School Doubles Invitational are Brian Carano, Frank Jin, and Gavin & Austin Aten

So what did they find in this study?

Tennis players are better students - They spend more time studying and doing homework, and according to the study 48% of students received an "A" average and 81% plan to attend college.

Tennis players do not get sent to the principal's office - Well at least 73% of students haven't. All in all, these athletes stay out of trouble.

Tennis players are well-rounded - How many junior tennis players do you know that are involved in other extracurricular activities? Results indicate a higher involvement in other sports and clubs, and over 80% of students volunteer for their communities.

Tennis players have better health - You might already know that tennis players are less likely to be overweight but what you might not have known is tennis keeps kids from getting into such unhealthy behaviors as drinking and smoking.

So if you're ever asked if kids who play tennis get better grades, you can tell them absolutely! It goes to say that for the last 10 years of student employees here, the majority have graduated in the top 10 in their class in which all of them received some kind of athletic or academic scholarship. If anything this survey proves that playing tennis can only improve your education and your life. It's unofficially something we knew all along--now it's official!

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Top 10 things to look for in a good tennis club

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Legit Tennis Fanatic

New to the area or need a change a scenery? Finding a new tennis club can be a daunting process, especially when pinpointing the best one around. So for your convenience we compiled a top 10 list of what to look for when searching for a new place to play.

1. Staff/Employee outlook - Is the staff friendly, attentive, informative on tennis? Check for newsletters and if they're up-to-date with social media to see how they communicate with their members. These people are the face of the company and are a good representative of the club's goals and management.  

2. Atmosphere - How does it feel when you walk in the door? Is it family-oriented? A club for recreational play? Or maybe you find that it's hard-core competitive. Whatever the reason, we think one of the most important aspects of choosing a club is feeling like you're home.

3. Cleanliness/Updated - When you walk into a club, you'll see first hand if the club appears properly maintained. Are garbage cans emptied on the court or insulation hanging from the ceiling? How updated is the building? Do you need the sleek look of marble under your feet as you enter the club house or are you comfortable with floral wallpaper that may or may not have been from the 80s? Keep in mind every club is at a different cycle for their age.

4. Court service/Lighting - There are numerous kinds of surfaces out there (ie. clay, har-tru, carpet, etc.), but the most common you'll see in the US is hard court. It's important to note when the last time the courts were resurfaced, because you'll get a better bounce on your ball. As for lighting, you obviously don't want to play in a dimly lit facility or would hope for some lighting if you're playing outdoors at night.

5. Amenities - It's always a perk when you can find a club that offers more than just tennis such as a workout facility, racquetball, or even golf. What's great is many of these sports go hand-in-hand and can actually help improve your tennis game, however, if tennis is important to you make sure it's the forerunner of the club. Another great amenity is if the club has a fully stocked pro shop. If you show up without shoes or need a quick stringing, you'll be lucky to have access to these products within your reach.

6. Variety of tennis events for all players - Whether you're an adult beginner, someone who is looking for evening clinics, or taking your child in for a Saturday lesson, check to see if the club offers these programs and research the junior program and it's success stories.

7. Solid team of tennis professionals - How many tennis pros does the club have? Do they work as a team or on their own. Usually the type of clubs with an excellent teaching infrastructure are the ones that collaborate as a team.

8. Flexible court scheduling/hours of operation - What good is a club when you can never get a court time? If you can only play weekends, it won't help if the club books their courts for other programs or if they close early. That is why finding a club that works with your schedule is ideal.

9. Location, location, location - Close proximity, easy access, close to other stores (how many times do you find yourself at the grocery store afterward?) Take all of these into account, but we will say sometimes it's worth the extra drive for the right club.

10. Membership/court fees - Does the value speak for itself or are you willing to pay the big bucks to belong to the prestigious 'so and so' club?

Make your life easy and ask yourself, do you feel welcomed and feel a connection with the club? Because that's all that matters!

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

5 Things to know about beating your fiercest enemy

Dallas Aleman | Towpath Tennis Owner | Tennis Guru

For those of you that really want to get better, you have to beat this fiercest opponent!
Photo: flickr DoIt Tennis
  1. He does not play favorites
  2. Those that know his secrets win
  3. Get closer to him and you have court advantage
  4. He never cracks under pressure
  5. He stands there and mocks you when you make an error
Haven't guessed yet? We're challenging you to beat the net!
We want to guide you in how to overcome a day in the net by following these simple tips:
  1. Aim long - Hitting deep is a fairly easy fix compared to hitting in the net, so avoid short shots and try to aim past the service line. 
  2. For serves and overheads, keep your head up and reach for the ball - A common net error with serves/overheads are when players are dropping their heads when they swing. When you drop you head, you're entire body dips so where do you think the ball is going to go?
  3. Look at the ball when you hit - Simple, if you're looking at the net (or anything else for that matter) then you're not looking at the ball.
  4. Step into the ball if you're playing a slower pace - This is one of the biggest struggles for tennis players overcoming the net (especially for ones that like to hit hard), so move those feet! 
  5. Use topspin - Keep reminding yourself 'low to high'. You may only need a slight brush to give yourself enough clearance over the net.
When it comes to net troubles there could be a range of issues, but practicing these tips might save you a whole lot of frustration. The goal is to learn how to team up with 'the enemy' and force the errors--or just take a pair of scissors and cut a big hole in it.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Do vibration dampeners work?

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Legit Tennis Fanatic

Do you really want to find out if vibration dampeners work?

Well let's go into the inner workings and physics of how they operate--ha, yeah right! We're tennis players not physicists, so we're going to go ahead and skip all that scientific mumbo jumbo and tell you what we know. You see, there's a lot of debate on whether dampeners work: They don't reduce shock, they do nothing but change the sound of your racquet when hitting the ball, they solve tennis elbow, etc. Two things we know for sure: They DO rid of that annoying 'ping' sound when you hit the ball, and they do NOT solve tennis elbow-sorry hopeful victims!             
So the big question is do dampeners reduce string vibration? Let's point out the obvious--they call them vibration dampeners and shock absorbers for a reason. No matter how much scientific data states they do not reduce shock, we say they DO reduce string vibration even if it's only by a small percentage, but that leaves the frame to fend for itself. It's nearly impossible to prevent us players from feeling the shock that our racquets produce when hitting a ball. However, there are ways to reduce it like lowering your string tension or playing with a heavier racquet (wooden racquets never had this problem), but the quickest and least expensive solution is to use a dampener.

But many ask, how does it reduce shock if the dampener is only between 2 strings? Because that's where you're generally going to hit (unless you're a true beginner who regularly shanks the ball). Utilizing a worm shock absorber is best for covering a wider sweet spot but are less popular because they are more prone to breakage. What's great is even if you don't have a dampener, something as minuscule as a thick rubber band (a trend that Andre Agassi used) will do the same job.

So I guess the bigger (and more important) question is how does it feel to you? Try playing with and without a shock absorber, and feel the difference yourself. Our guess is the majority of you will prefer playing with one, but we encourage you to put more thought into your strings and tension first before depending too much on the use of a dampener. And whether you feel it reduces string vibration is up to your discretion but lets face it, we know the real reason players use dampeners is just to add some fun personality to your racquet.

(*fyi-If your dampener were ever to fly off during a point, remember it does not warrant a let and it's not the end of the world if you can't find it.)

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