Watch the Ball

Adolfo Nunez


"Watch the ball" is often what you say to yourself after missing a shot or hitting the ball off of the frame, which by the way is one of the worst feelings in the game. "Watch the ball!" is what the pro is telling you to do maybe countless number of times during your lesson. Now, let's be honest, unless you're blind you are always watching the ball, or else, how do you make contact or know to prepare for a forehand rather than a backhand? What you are not doing is reading the ball. If and when you "read the ball" you should be able to see what it's doing as it comes up off of the bounce (Spin), how fast it's moving (Speed), where it's going (Direction) and how high it is as it clears the net (Height).

The sooner you start observing the spin, speed, direction and height of every shot the sooner you will be able to anticipate where and how the ball will bounce. This will give you more time to prepare.

Let's take a little time to cover just the first two.

There are basically three types of shots you will come up against at the club level:
-  Topspin: Makes the ball bounce up, usually forcing the player to make contact chest height or above.
-  Underspin: Makes the ball stay lower, in many cases moving faster after the bounce, usually forcing the player to make contact knee height or below.
-  Flat: (very little spin) makes the ball move faster off of the bounce, usually forcing the player to make contact waist height or below.

Many people often talk about hitting the ball hard. There's nothing hard about hitting a tennis ball, players don't hit the ball hard, they hit it fast or slowly. It's all about movement. Take a rally for example. The rally starts by the racquet "moving" up to the ball – the ball is then "moving" to the other side of the net – then the player across the net starts "moving" to, or out of the way of the ball. Just like that all three are moving during the rally: the racquet, the ball and the player. Are you "moving"? Or maybe, just maybe, you're too busy "watching" the ball to see if is going to bounce in or out?

Speed is about movement; movement is about fast or slow, not about hard or soft. It's like saying that a baseball pitcher is throwing hard or that a car is moving hard. It doesn't make sense. The radar gun records the speed of baseball pitches, tennis serves and cars. It doesn't record how hard they move but how fast they move.

Practice reading the ball and you may not only be surprised with the results but you will also learn how quickly it will start listening to you as it's coming off of your racquet.

"Read the ball and keep moving."

Adolfo Nunez
ITF, USPTA & USPTR Certified Tennis Teaching Professional
Director – Summer Adult USTA Teams for Weston Racquet Club

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