Aesop's Fable The Hare and the Tortoise
(Greece, Circa 620 BC - 560 BC)Most experts say that, at nearly every level of tennis, the number of "unforced errors" will most usually decide a match.What is an unforced error? It's simply a shot that you are expected to make and have no obvious reason to miss. Indeed, these are the types of shots that most players who are practicing, are usually practicing on.If unforced errors usually decide a match, then who will probably win the match? The flashy and mercurial hare? Or the steady and patient tortoise?The winner will likely be the player who carefully recognizes and methodically manages his or her unforced errors. What are the best ways to manage unforced errors?Here's a quick list borrowed from some top coaches and writers on this topic.
1. Watching the ball
In How to Play Better Tennis, Bill Tilden wrote: "At least 65 to 70 percent of all [unforced errors] are due to the player's not keeping his eye on the ball." When watching the ball, Tilden admonished: "I mean watch that ball from the time you first start to toss it to serve until the end of the point, and never look at anything else." (emphasis in original).Many coaches also make this simple suggestion to help a player watch the ball: literally look at the spin on the ball. Focusing on the ball's spin forces a player to really scrutinize the ball and its trajectory.
2. World class racket preparation
There are very few things that we all can do as well as the pros. One exception might be racket preparation. It is said that we can all reach a level of world class racket preparation.The best players turn their shoulders and take their racket back on the way to the ball. This reduces the effort of the swing, and improves the timing to ball contact. And thus it lessens the possibilities for unforced errors.
3. "It's about your feet"
At higher and higher levels, tennis is played, it is said, from the waist down - and in particular with the feet. It's all about your spacing to the ball before you swing - not too close to be jammed, and not too far to have to reach. Thus, it's about using good footwork to avoid errors.And as good players know, good footwork means the "split-step-and-go" just before the opponent's racket strikes the ball. And then it means many "baby steps" in moving towards the ball.
4. Loose hands sink opponents
They say "loose lips sink ships." In tennis, the hands are key - and loose hands must surely sink opponents. Loose hands make for loose arms, shoulders, and torso. That in turn makes for a relaxed swing with maximum controlled racket head speed. Looseness equals relaxation, and relaxation encourages a calm focus which tends to limit errors.
5. Think "recovery" The best pros know that completely avoiding unforced errors is impossible. We will all inevitably make errors. The challenge then is to manage the errors, not eliminate them.Thus, coaches suggest that a player employ a particular "mind-set" to help manage errors. This is a mentality of rapid and fluid recovery from unforced errors, rather than trying to avoid unforced errors.Recovery means "letting go of the last point" immediately, and re-focusing on the most important point in the match - the next one - and how to win it. The player who can best do this over the course of a match will likely prevail.For a thoughtful discussion of unforced errors, please visit Ron Miller's GottaPlayTennis.net, and listen to Podcast # 67:
"Seeing the Errors of Your Ways."Best,