While tennis is technically played against an opponent, much of the game is very self-absorbed. You stand alone on your side of the court, far away from the other player, there is a large net separating you, and the game pauses after every point, allowing you to reflect internally on what went wrong. There is no team to carry you, no group aiming towards a common goal; it's just you and how well you perform. Unless you are willing to invest hundreds of dollars into quality tennis lessons, it can be very difficult to figure out exactly how to practice. Here are the two most important things to focus on in order to keep pace with players well above your skill level.
A top-notch serve is about power and technique. The only way to get a truly devastating serve is to have help with the technique and to practice for countless hours on controlling the power behind it. There is a steep learning curve to a great first serve, and you will be quite terrible at it for a long time while you learn.
To compensate for this, you need to make sure that you have an extremely reliable second serve. You need to be able to play a full match as though you only get one serve per point, and you should never ever miss it.
However, your second serve cannot be so soft that it gives the opponent a chance to shut you down immediately every point. Find a balance between speed and control that allows you to land a well-aimed serve every single time, and you will be able to keep control of the game when it is your service.
In tennis, the mark of a great player is often their net play. It takes a great deal of confidence to charge the net and put away a point. Most players that are better than you will have this tendency, and it is one that can be deliciously manipulated if you have solid control. You want to practice a lob shot that goes well over the opponent's head in a high, slow arc, landing just at the base line. A slow lob will entice the player to chase after the ball, but the height of the lob will make the bounce so wild that few players will be able to keep control even if they catch up. Do this a few times in a row, and you'll leave your opponent uncertain enough to begin making errors.
Every tennis player knows that the absolute best way to improve is to play against people who are better than you. Unfortunately, those people also want to have a challenging game. By mastering these tips, you will be able to provide enough of a challenge to give the other player a good time, and maybe even take a set or two in the process.
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