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Watching the Ball
By:  Scott Baker | Tennis4you  | Tennis Forum  | E-mail

"Watch the ball". Is that so hard, or is it one of those things that are "easier said than done"? Watching the ball is one of the fundamental parts of the game of tennis, yet it is so easy to get away from.

I have played tennis since 1990. I have coached tennis, I play in leagues, tournaments, and have even been to Nationals with a USTA league, yet I can still fall prey to this bad habit of taking my eyes off of the ball too early. Recently I had found myself struggling on the tennis court. I was framing a lot of my shots and missing more shots than I should have. I had tried everything to fix my game. I tried hitting with more spin, slowing my shots down, changing grips, taking time off from tennis and just about everything in-between. The one thing I did not try was keeping my eyes on the ball. Besides, what does that have to do with my strokes? To be honest, watching the ball has a lot to do with anybody's strokes.

When you lift your head too early to see where you are going to hit the ball your racquet head starts to lift as well. That is the main reason that players hit the ball with their frame. Keeping your eyes on the ball and your head down keeps your racquet head where it needs to be.

There are a few ways you can work on teaching yourself to watch the ball. I believe that if you work on these aspects during practice this can become a natural part of your game. The first way is the way I learned to watch the ball when I was a beginner. I call it the "bounce-hit" method. As the ball is coming to you and bounces on your side of the court you say out loud (or in your head) "bounce". As you hit the ball say "hit". This forces you to watch the ball so you can stay focused with the timing of the ball hitting your racquet. Other players have had success by trying to see the seams or the writing on the ball as they go to hit the ball. Both methods force you to focus on the ball as you hit it. If you are a player who struggles watching the ball, allow me to give you some incentive to start watching the ball. Below are some of the benefits of watching the ball.

1. You will hit cleaner shots.
2. Your shots will be better directed allowing you to set up points better.
3. You shots will be deeper.
4. You will be able to hit harder shots.
5. You can hit with more spin.
6. You will win more points.

I love seeing snap shot images of Roger Federer as he hits the ball. His eyes are always focused on the ball. Check out the picture below. He is still focused on where the ball made contact with his racquet and this is after he had hit the shot, talk about commitment!

For the last several months I have been working on watching the ball and what a difference it has made! I did not realize that I had gotten away from this basic part of my game. My miss-hit percentages have gone down well over 80% and I am playing much better. I am returning more serves, hitting better placed shots and winning a lot more of my matches. I feel like I am much more in control of all of my shots, and in turn the points as well.

Watching the ball can have a huge impact on your game. Not watching the ball hit your strings is a lack of commitment and focus. Learn to stay focused and watch the ball to be the best player you can be.

Good Luck on the Court!
Scott Baker