The match is tight. Each shot matters, and the match point is slowly getting in the sight. The break ball is finally here, the long awaited chance is in sight.
You’re thinking: “Just one good point and I’ll get in the lead”
Ball lands on the forehand side, close to the center of the court - it’s an easy shot.
Thoughts break through your mind like a storm: “I’ve got this one, this is my chance!”.
Forehand launches, there’s contact with the ball… followed by the worst thing imaginable. The wimpiest shot ever played in tennis crawled out at the worst possible moment in the match. The ball that never stood a chance, goes into the net and the crucial point is lost. Not just that one, few more follow as you are boiling inside and the whole game, and consequently the match is lost. WOW - what just happened?
“If I could have been just a bit more consistent, I would have stood a chance in the match.”
The one who plays a more consistent game, always wins the match. Consistency is the base of a good tennis game. It’s not possible to win matches constantly and yet lack consistent shots. Fair enough, sounds easy. I’ll just get one more ball over the net and I’ll always win? In theory yes, in reality there’s a lot going on.
In order to have consistent shots that land inside the court, we need to have a consistent technique. In essence, each shot we make needs to be the same. We need to be at the same relative distance to the ball. We need to use the same grip and swing path. The follow through needs to be the same. You get the point. In order to deserve a “terminator” rating on the court, we do need to work on our shots technique and become aware of our shortcomings. When we hit a shot that goes too wide or lands in the net, we need to be aware of what we did wrong, technique wise, and how to correct it next time. Consistency doesn’t come out of randomness. It comes from discipline and correct tennis technique.
Good news is that there are lots of different ways to practice our consistency. Besides the obvious technique influence over our shots success rate, there is also the aspect of our mind. We need to train our tennis mind to be more consistent. Our worst enemy on the court is our impatience. When we see a rather difficult shot, we all often start to imagine how cool would it be to hit a blasting forehand winner out of nowhere, to surprise our opponent and make him regret ever trying to attack us. That would surely be an impressive display of skill and could have a psychological effect on our opponent. Maybe it would, but is it worth it? That is our impatient mind asking us to end the point too early. If you wish to become a more consistent tennis player on the court, the answer is simply NO. When we see a rather difficult shot, we should do our best to return it over the net and wait for a better chance to attack, or at least a consistent tennis player would think like that.
Practicing shots is all about the repetition. In order to hit consistent shots we need to hit a lot of them and then just keep practicing some more. The goal is to hit as many good shots as possible and try to minimize the oscillations in our technique, positioning on the court, swing, etc. The more balls we hit, our shots become more polished and they get engraved in our muscle memory. This is why it’s a great idea to get some tennis lessons at one point or another, at least to get started in the right direction. The coach will have you hit a lot of balls and he’ll also give you tips on what you did wrong when you made a mistake. This repetition combined with awareness of the technique is what allows us to make progress. All of that gets reflected over time in having more consistent shots.
There is one great exercise that you can practice with your sparing partner that benefits you both in terms of consistency. Make a deal with your partner that both of you will do your best to keep the ball in play - no matter what. Practice hitting mid-paced rally shots from the baseline and count out loud for each shot you hit successfully. Start with the goal of achieving 10 rally shots and then increase it to 20, 30 and so on. The goal of the game is to hit the ball back over the net as many times as you can without making a mistake.
Being consistent in match play is a whole other mindset. Match play brings pressure and we all react differently to it. If you notice that your opponent is constantly beating you by having fewer unforced errors, try to change your strategy. Experiment with keeping the rallies longer by eliminating factors that are impacting your consistency. This can often mean shifting to a lower gear and just concentrating for a bit on getting the ball over the net. Say no to temptation of hitting amazing hot-shot winners or any masterful shots, and stick to the basics of the game. Since you are already losing a match, there is not much left to lose, isn’t it?
When it comes to motivation, you can think of it like this: the more shots you return, the more pressure you put on your opponent and he will break sooner or later. If you start being more consistent with keeping the ball in play, your opponent will need to actually beat you and come up with amazing shots himself - make him work for each point!