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How to Play After a Long Time off of Tennis
By:  Scott Baker | Tennis4you  | Tennis Forum  | E-mail

Many of us are forced to take time off of tennis for a variety of reasons. Sickness, work, injury, kids, winter and many others are all factors in our everyday lives that can keep us off the court for months or even years. I wish playing tennis was like riding a bike. After 3 years of not riding on a bike I can hop back on a bike and ride just fine. Unfortunately after 3 months off of tennis my game seems to need some serious fine tuning.

I hope that each of you are the type of players who play well no matter how long it has been since you last touched a racquet. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. I started playing a week ago after a 3 month break due to some lingering injuries that I wanted to heal (of course they didn't). I have only been on the court a few times and my strokes feel pretty good, but my timing is still slightly off and my reaction time is still way too slow forcing more errors than usual.

Reaction time, touch, timing and instinct are all things that will be lacking when you return to the court. Here is a quick list of things that can help you play good solid tennis until you are back in form.

Playing the Basics:
One of the best things you can do when you play your first few matches back is to try to keep the points simple and smart by sticking to the basics of tennis. Whether you are playing singles or doubles if you stick to the simple basics of tennis you will hit a lot more balls in the court. When you are still rusty it is usually not a smart play to aim for the lines on your shots or try all the special shots in the book. Remember this, if you are struggling to hit the regular shots in the court you must find a way to restrain yourself for going for the fancy shots and aiming for the corners. There is no need to go for those fancy drop volleys or try to rip the winner from 6 feet behind the baseline when you are not playing well. If you are struggling with your game than your fancy shots will most likely to get you into deeper trouble. Instead, play it safe, play the percentages and force your opponent to beat you, do not beat yourself.

Play People who are not as good as you:
I always find that if I play a few matches with someone who is a level below me it allows me to do a few things. One, it allows me to build some confidence. Two, it allows me more time to hit and to adjust to the ball since I try to hit with someone who does not hit with a lot of pace. If you are a 4.0 player, find a very consistent 3.5 for your first match or two back. The match score might be closer than you would like it to be but you will have a nice opportunity to refine your skills as you play. I do not recommend finding someone who will knock you off of the court easily. That will be little practice for you and will not build your confidence.

It is a good idea (especially for those of us who are extremely competitive) to get at least one or two practice sessions in before you play your first match. Hitting with a partner, hitting on the wall or hitting with a ball machine are all great ways to help you find some of your timing and feel for the ball.

Be Patient:
Patience is not a strong point in my personality. I can get frustrated on the court pretty quickly, especially when I am not used to playing. However, I find the more I try to be patience and work through the strokes the better I play. Be patient with your game and give it time to come around. Try to just be happy you are on the court again.

I have a rule of thumb that works well for most people who haven't played for a few months. If you can play 3 matches that are competitive (not 6-0, 6-0 either way) than your 4th match you will start to look like your old self again.

Be patient on the court and know that your tennis skills of old will eventually come back. A few good practice sessions and a few good matches is all you usually need for you to start looking like the tennis player you were before you put the racquet down. In your first few matches you will hit a lot of errors, just expect that it will happen and each match you will hit less and less. Play smart and have fun! The good news is that you are back on the court!

Good Luck on the Court!
Scott Baker