Last week, I wrote about tennis being a lifestyle and a lifetime sport. I received an email from a reader asking for some tips for senior players. It is true that as we get older our body does not always react as fast as in our younger days, but, I must first relate an experience that I had just a few years ago.
I was in Florida, working with some junior players demonstrating some targets and training aids at the world-class Sanchez-Casal Tennis Academy in Naples. I posted my name and contact information on their challenge board for players looking for a match and I received a call from another player who said he was looking for a "tune-up match" to prepare for a "super senior" tournament that upcoming weekend.
Florida has many clay courts and I was willing to hit with anyone and everyone just to get on the soft-court surface while I was in town. Honestly, I chuckled to myself when this gentleman mentioned that he was a super-senior player because that would mean that I would be at least 20 years his junior.
I said I chuckled, but that was before his handshake greeted me with a vice-like grip. This guy was tall and fit as a fiddle. As we warmed-up to play, I started thinking that I would soon be tasting some "humble pie".
This fellow was a very good player. The only weakness I could detect was his serve. My only hope was to attack his serve and keep the points short. This guy was serious and treated our match like he was already playing in the tournament. I was able to eke out a win but it took three sets.
As far as doubles tennis goes, I have also noticed that senior players are some of the craftiest. They seem to always be in good court position and anticipate very well. A lot can be learned from watching our senior players, on both the local level and former pro tennis, a la, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova.
No doubt many of you senior players out there have some of your own tricks up your sleeve. The following ideas have worked for singles and doubles, seniors and players of other ages as well:
- Get a good warm-up. If you prefer playing in the mornings, allow plenty of time for a light breakfast and to get to the courts early for a good warm-up. If you are playing at an indoor club, hit the sauna for a few minutes just before you step onto the court.
- Start inside the baseline. Sometimes your opponents will use you as their target rather than the baseline and they will gauge the depth of their shots based on where you are standing. You can always move back if they don't go for it, but, try this at the very start of the match to possibly get your opponents hitting short. Try this on your return of serves at the start of your match too.
- Keep points short. Your serve and returns become even more important as we get older. Body serves work well against senior players but mix it up to their backhand as well. Attack any weak return with a short angle to the open court for a two-shot winner. Be alert and aggressive when returning second serves. Include fitness bands (rubber exercise tubing) and stretching in your daily routine for upper-body strength and flexibility.
- Use the drop shot often. Many senior players still move well side to side, but not as well back to front. Don't hate me for this, but a deep shot followed by a drop shot followed by a lob (if necessary) is a good three-shot combination for the senior player.
- Use the lob. If you detect a weakness in your opponent's serve, they will likely also have trouble hitting an over-head smash. You can use the lob any time to break the rhythm or catch your breath and you may get a weak reply that you can attack. Your lobs must be just out of their reach (height) and land deep in their back court to be most effective.
- Keep the ball low. Use your slice backhand often to keep the ball low. Bending down for those low, short mid-court balls is not easy for any age.
- Happy feet. If your feet feel good, your whole body feels good. Spend the money for comfortable shoes. You want lightweight, low to the ground models like New Balance and K-Swiss. If you have any foot or knee pain, visit your local Good Feet store and try out some soft orthotic insoles.
- Stay well hydrated. You must read the book "Your Body's Many Cries for Water" by Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj.
- Good diet. Investigate the books "Eat to Win" by Dr. Robert Haas and "Eat Right 4 Your Type" by Dr. Peter J. D'Adamo. Many of the fittest players on tour are following these diets. All books are available on Amazon.com.
- Stay loose and flexible. Stationary/recumbent bike, pilates, yoga and stretching will greatly payoff and add to your tennis longevity.