Updated: Feb 8
Many subscribers have asked me how to improve anticipation when rallying. Today I want to share four tips that can help you improve anticipation without changing your techniques.
Tips To Help You Improve Anticipation Instantly
I had the privilege to meet Tomaz Mencinger from feeltennis.net when he was in Singapore. He's really a super nice guy and I had a long chat for almost three hours with him. He shared his tennis knowledge with me, and it was very interesting to listen to him.
I posed this question about improving anticipation to him. He told me that many players, especially beginners, do not anticipate well. The reason being they do not ask the brain the question, “Where is the ball going?”
For experienced players who have hit the ball a million times, anticipation becomes natural. Through trial and error when you were practicing, you improved your anticipation. You don’t really think about it anymore.
However, for people who are learning tennis, anticipation is not yet their main focus. As Tomaz put this across to me, “Some of my students told me they were mesmerized by the ball after hitting it over the net.” So, when the ball came back, the player reacted late and ended up missing the ball or jamming up the swing.
How can a tennis beginner improve anticipation?
I’m not going to talk about the technical and tactical aspects of tennis here; for example, executing the split step and understanding the court geometry and your opponent’s patterns of play can help you greatly in the anticipation.
Instead, I want to touch on how to get better prepared and return the oncoming ball without changing your technique. I have three drills that you can do when you are practicing that can instantly improve your anticipation.
#1 Call out “Hit” When Your Opponent Hits The Ball
The whole idea of improving anticipation is to know where the ball is going to go. If you are concentrating on this, rather than mesmerised by your own shot, your anticipation will surely improve tremendously.
So let us start with a simple drill. Rally with a friend at the baseline. When your friend hits the ball, I want you to say “hit” the moment he or she strikes the ball. Doing this will instantly get your focus on the other party. When your shot has gone over, you need to check when he strikes the ball so that you can call “hit”. Once you start doing this, you should find that your readiness is much improved.
#2 Call out “Forehand” or “Backhand” After The Opponent Strikes The Ball
The next drill is to call out “forehand” or “backhand” after the opponent has hit the ball. This is the progression from the first drill where you have identified the opponent striking the ball.
You should call “forehand” or “backhand” immediately the ball crosses the net. This is the time when you have identified the direction of the incoming ball, whether it is coming to your forehand or backhand. The success of this drill lies in turning your shoulder to the forehand side or the backhand side, once the ball has crossed the net.
When your shoulder is turned to the correct side, the preparation of the stroke is clearly much better, compared to waiting for the ball to bounce on your court and then preparing to strike.
#3: Call out “Top” or “Under” When Your Opponent Hits the Ball
The last drill is more for intermediate players who can hit comfortably at the baseline. For beginners who are refining their techniques and starting to rally from the baseline, doing the first two drills will greatly help you to focus better.
So, what are we going to do here?
This drill here is to identify what kind of shot the opponent is hitting. Is it a topspin forehand or a backhand slice? Different shots have different outcomes.
Therefore I want to call “top” when you observe the opponent hitting a topspin shot or “under” when your opponent is hitting a slice shot. “Top” simply means topspin and “under” means under spin.
To observe such shots, you have to look at the stroke patterns. Topspin shots generally mean the opponent is executing a low to high swing pattern, whereas slice means that he/ she is executing a high to low swing pattern.
When you are able to recognize these shots, you will be able to move well and appropriately to return the balls. In general, you have to move back behind the baseline when you encounter a topspin shot. Moving back gives you time and space to return the shots. If you are facing an opponent who can execute good slices, you probably need to stay low and anticipate that the balls will skid low and have some side spin.
Practice these three drills in your next session, and I can assure you that your anticipation and focus will greatly increase. As Tomaz said, “Ask the brain where the ball is, and you will find it.”