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Tennis Tips: Quality warm-up is time well spent

July 1, 2010

Never have so many misunderstood so much about the pre-match warm-up in tennis. Amazingly the beat goes on.

    Visit any public court or club in the country and you’ll witness untold counterproductive variations on the theme despite the existence of a clear protocol that’s long been established, but not promoted, by the game’s tradition and governing bodies. As a career professional I wince every single time I see it.

    The USTA does note in their Code of Conduct that the warm-up is a cooperative, not practice. Players are expected to hit with each other. That’s right to each other, in order to produce as many ball strikes as possible in a 10- to 15-minute period. Yes, 10 to 15 minutes.

    All too often players rush through the warm-up, some purposely hitting balls away from their opponent — the earlier “practice” reference — adversely affecting the quality of the warm-up and resulting in an uneven playing field.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this lament: “It always takes me a whole set to get going.”

    Factor in the trite comments exchanged by four players attempting to warm-up with three balls. My personal favorite is “Let’s start ’cause I’m not going to get any better,” which turns out to be absolutely correct. The bar gets lowered further right along with exposing oneself to injury when not physically prepared to go full-on.

    Consider that the very best professional players on the planet need to warm-up well before their scheduled match on an outside court specifically because the five minute pre-match warm-up that they are limited to simply isn’t enough for them to prepare. So why do clubbers voluntarily subject themselves to five minutes or less?

    Two parties are to blame: a) club pros who shamefully never even address the issue; and b) televised tennis almost never air the players during the warm-up, which would illustrate their exemplary spirit of cooperation.

    Additionally, where club players should position themselves for their first few exchanges, and the accepted order of transitioning from groundies, to volleys, to overheads, and finally to serves — all of which should be taken before the first point is played — is often slipshod.

    The optimal place to begin dialing in your game is in the middle of no man’s land, not in close proximity to the net which encourages poking and jabbing at the ball.

    Positioning yourself halfway between the service line and the baseline (it’s okay to allow two bounces) will afford an opportunity to begin with a few easy full swings to find one’s stroking paths and get that good feel for the ball. Then slowly working your way back to the baseline, followed by alternating turns at the net, including asking for and taking some overheads, culminating in serve practice (lose the practice returns) from both the deuce and ad court represents the universal warm-up protocol.

    You’ll find that committing yourself, and influencing your partners, to take the time to have a quality warm-up will be time very well spent.

Jak Beardsworth (USPTA) is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Resort. He can be reached by e-mail at or check his website: 

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