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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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

String dating

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Legit Tennis Fanatic

We want to finish our stringing posts with answering a question that many players try to ignore--what string do you want in your racquet? This could be a very overwhelming topic but we tried to simplify it in terms that anyone can understand. Welcome to string dating! There are plenty out there to choose from (some you wouldn't dare to use again) but once you find that special 'spring,' you just know you've found "the one."

Most popular: Nylon is synthetic gut, synthetic gut is nylon. People used to bash nylon for its poor playability, but it's been much improved since it was first introduced. In fact, the majority of recreational players use a nylon string since it's the most versatile in regards to playability and durability.

What we say: We call this the default string. There's nothing wrong with having the default string but you're basically settling. It really limits your choices and if you want to improve your game it helps to find what's optimal for you by stepping outside of your safety zone. Let's put it this way, would you continue dating somebody if they're just so-so? If you must, you can try such synthetics as Prince Lightening, Dunlop or Gamma guts but lets be honest, we know you can do better.

Best playability: Natural Gut may be on the pricy side but it's pricy for a reason-it's the best! Often used as a cross string, natural gut has great control and feel, and because of its texture it creates a good bite for spin. Also, natural gut is less stiff so it's ideal for those suffering from tennis elbow or a shoulder injury.

What we say: Because natural gut isn't the most feasible string because of its price (around $60), we recommend going for one of the ultra playable synthetics such as Wilson Sensation, Gamma Livewire, or Prince Premier. It may not be your Prince Charming but it's almost just as good.

Best durability: Polyester may not have much power and may feel like a dead weight to some BUT it does have the added durability that the professionals love. Poly is ideal for string breakers, but because of its added stiffness it is not recommended for beginners or those with arm stress. To reduce stiffness, many players use poly as a hybrid string by adding a softer nylon or natural gut as a cross string.

What we say: You're dating the elite-you know the type of guy your dad wants you to date. It may not be for everybody but take a risk and find out why the pros love their poly. Such top recommended poly strings include Babolat RPM Blast, Gamma Moto, and Luxilon Big Banger.

(The deal with string gauge: The smaller the gauge number the thicker the string. String gauges range from 15-19 (thick-thin or durable-playable) but we typically see 16/17, which we recommend as the average.)

For your convenience, the next time you're in to restring check out our stringing chart that gives you a list of strings to choose from and their benefits. We hope your search proves valuable for your game and you never know, you might find something you truly love.

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Mental Toughness Tip: Don't choke!

Dallas Aleman | Towpath Tennis Owner | Tennis Guru

Two weeks ago we witnessed an exciting final at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami between Andy Murray and David Ferrer. What was intriguing to me was Ferrer being edged out in a brutal 3 set match and final tie-break win by Murray. Ferrer is normally such a pitbull on the court but he made a critical error when trying to close out the match to win the title. On match point Ferrer made the fatal mistake of playing not to lose versus playing to win. A ball landed close to the line and when no call was made, Ferrer stopped play to have hawk eye verify his claim that the ball was out. Well guess what-he blew it! It's not like the ball was clearly in (it was actually in by the smallest margin), but he lost the point and eventually the match.

The point is that if you play to win, you do not hope for your opponent's ball to go out. Anything that comes to you that is obviously not out, you go for it! This is especially true on balls that you are coming forward on and are meant to be your opponent's passing shots. "He who hesistates is lost." This is so true in tennis and in life. Players that are winners go for any and all balls. You want to hit the ball, you want to force the unforced error. If you hesitate you are putting your destiny in your opponent's hands, but if you go down swinging then you will always have a greater chance of getting the win. You may lose a point occasionally, but it won't be for having the wrong attitude. Playing to win means you play to be the last one to hit the ball. David Ferrer wished that he would have hit that ball and maybe he would have won the match.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Are you and your doubles partner compatible?

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Employee | Legit Tennis Fanatic

With the USTA season fast approaching, there are some of us in the market for a new doubles partner or we're wondering if our current doubles partner is right for us. Well we at the tennis desk have taken it upon ourselves to weed out the problem areas and pinpoint the best qualities when searching for a successful, long-term doubles partner.
Bob and Mike Bryan are consistently ranked the #1 doubles
team in the world because of their awesome chemistry.

Complements your game
If you're the type of player that likes to hit hard and take risks, you might not want to play with someone who is taking the same risks as you. You need somebody who is steady and consistent so that you can take those risks when the opportunity arises. If you're a steady player, another steady player is a keeper but if you're seeking a powerhouse team, you need a partner with a confident weapon whether that's a serve, strong volleys, or a solid ground stroke.

Complements your personality
You kind of have to like your partner for a chance at a successful long term relationship. If you're a happy go lucky guy playing with somebody who is a bit overly intense, you're not going to have much fun (even if you do play well together). Look at such doubles teams as the Bryan brothers and the top women's duo Vinci/Errani--they didn't climb the ranks by just going though the motions, they actually are good friends who enjoy playing together. So look for somebody you're compatible with on and off the court.

Equal level
The most successful doubles players are usually the kind that play at the same level. Think about it, if one of you is having an off day, the other won't have to pull too much weight to cover any dips you may be experiencing. You may have a successful stint with a player who is at a different level than you (ie.3.0/4.0) but the stronger player can carry the strain for only so long.

Same goals/mindset
Whether your goal is to smoke your opponents 6-0, play a good game-win/lose, or avoid leaving the court in a body bag, as long as you and your partner are on the same page you're golden.
Trust can work on so many different levels. Can you trust your partner to show up and be prompt to a match? Can you trust them to hold their serve? Can you trust them not to hit you...we can only hope! But in all seriousness, trust is a vital factor to a successful partnership because lets face it, your partner is covering 50% of the court for you. If it irritates you to give up any control to your partner then maybe singles is better suited for you.

Consistent server
You could be playing with the most powerful server at your club, but if they can't get their serve in 80% of the time then what good are they in the long run? Obviously having a partner with a skilled serve is a bonus, but really as long as it goes in is a good start.

Communicates on the same level
You may like to talk strategy, have a silent understanding, or enjoy chatting about the Cleveland Brown's new recruits. Whatever form you choose, if your partner is in tune with how you like to communicate then you're already on the same wave-length.

There's a difference between encouraging your partner and coaching. Coaching or "giving advice" is tricky since your partner might be easily offended even though you may have the best intentions. Unless they ask for it, your partner most likely isn't open to hearing it. So get that out in the open before you come to a disagreement and leave the coaching to the pros.

Practice together
The most successful doubles teams are the ones that practice together. If you're both serious about improving, and becoming innate on each other's game style and strengths, it is best done during a practice. This is also the time to try out different plays and generally become more comfortable with each other.

If you're unsure of how to approach finding a doubles partner, club tennis pros are great consultants but don't be surprised with their honesty. The best partnerships are the ones that lean on each other's strengths, keep an open communication, win/lose as a team, and just have fun together.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

What tension do you want to string at?

Kristianne Bontempo | Contributor

In our last post about stringing, we discussed when to restring. In this post, we're following up on your quest to become a stringing expert by giving you some stringing tips for the next time you drop off your racquet. One question you'll certainly be asked is "What tension do you want to string at?"
Racquet tension is just as important as string selection. Whatever tension you choose dictates how the ball will respond on your strings. All players serious about their game can appreciate how tension can affect their power, spin, and control so it's important to understand what tension works best for your racquet and style of play.
For those new to the game, you can find your racquet tension along the racquet head or inside the throat by searching for the small writing indicating head size, weight, balance, etc. You will come across one that states the tension, which indicates the racquet’s recommended tension range. In this example, we'll use a Wilson Juice which has a tension between 53-63lbs.
Now that you’ve found your tension range, it's time to choose your tension. We typically recommend to players who are not sure what they want to stick with a medium tension. So with the Juice, the mid would be 57/58. But we want to guide you in how tension can work for or against you in case you were ever to venture outside of your comfort zone.
If you feel your shots are flat or running wild, then a higher tension may be the right solution. Going above the medium range will help create less springiness and will  give you more control. Of course it’s important to note, that going over the recommended range will result in a tension that is too tight which hinders your power and may feel like your swinging with a wooden board rather than a $180 racquet. Also, for those that suffer from tennis elbow beware--higher tension may create more stress on your arm. 

However if it's power that you want, a lower tension is the way to go. Going below the medium range will give you the extra punch you're craving and might also ease any tennis elbow/shoulder pain. Roman Prokes (professional stringer to the pros) says, "People are used to seeing 60lbs and then you suggest stringing at 45 lbs and they think it’s crazy. But it’s easier on everybody’s shoulders and just works better.” Unfortunately, there's going to be a downside. Unless you can hit a good target, like really good, you might be hitting over the back fence. 

One last point we'll bring up about tension is how it changes over time. If you're a player that waits more than 5-6 months to restring, you're tension will loosen. You may hate this and can't wait for a fresh string job, or you might love how it plays at the time of restringing. If that's the case, try a lower tension from what you last strung at and you should barely notice the difference.

So take a moment to look at your racquet tension and if possible find out what it was last strung at. If it feels great after restringing then obviously leave it, otherwise maybe it's time to venture outside the medium. If you're still unsure, ask the stringing pros at the tennis desk. Tension and strings go hand in hand so we will follow up with an upcoming discussion on the importance of string selection.  

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Top 10 biggest pet peeves from our local high school tennis coaches

Kristianne Bontempo | Contributor

Our tennis pros biggest pet peeve post was so popular we couldn't resist doing it again, but this time we spoke with our local high school tennis coaches! With their spring season beginning, we asked a number of HS boys coaches what their biggest pet peeves were when it came to coaching high school tennis. Bottom line--players have no idea what high school coaches go through.
  1. Making pre-season indoor court time and having your team not show up/pay 
  2. Sending a detailed text message about practice then receiving a text asking "When's practice coach?"
  3. It could be hurricane conditions yet they still don't wear coats!
  4. Not bringing water again and again and again
  5. Have no prior tennis experience whatsoever but wanting to be in the starting lineup
  6. Throwing tennis balls at each other during practice
  7. Playing spring tennis in a winter wonderland
  8. Scheduling around conflicts between school activities and match/practice times
  9. Arriving to a match with no racquet, one shoe, and a pair of swim trunks
  10. Parents input-sometimes it's best just to trust the coach to do their job!

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