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Don’t forget to breathe when striking

Tennis tips

August 12, 2010
By JAK BEARDSWORTH, Special to the News

Breathing at the ball-striking moment is a key synchronizer for success. Yet, most club players are consistent “breath holders.”

    It’s interesting that this particular lack of modeling tour player habits is in complete opposition to the norm, where all else is embraced. 

    Holding your breath while simultaneously striking shots is, simply, not a good thing. Would you hold your breath while exercising at the gym? Of course not. The trainer would be all over you. Would you go out for a brisk walk, jog or a serious run and hold your breath for a moment or two every few seconds? How would that turn out?  

    But encountering both slow- and fast-flying yellow spheres can be emotionally stressful at the ball-on-racket moment (let the breath holding begin). And it can be especially physically demanding for a hustling go-getter as well. Double whammy.

    In the past, many have been repelled from breathing — exhaling through the contact zone — since it has commonly been referred to as “grunting.” Bad connotation.

    Way back, television analyst Bud Collins (who still has whales on his pants) referred to a young Jimmy Connors — the Founding Father of the “modern”grunt — as “sounding like a wounded seal.” Then Monica Seles came along.

    In today’s game, to make perception matters worse, we’ve got high pitched ear piercing screaming practiced by many of the top women, and a few men albeit at a lower octave.

    Did you happen to see/hear the US Open Series final from Palo Alto recently between the top two practitioners on tour, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka?

    First, I turned the volume down, and then completely off. They made Venus and Serena sound like whispering choir girls.

    No wonder you’re still not buying into it. But, no way around it, if you’re going to play your best, that is be relatively unconscious — meaning no overt left brain analysis while swinging the stick, and be relaxed — meaning low muscle tension and reduced emotional stress, you’re going to have to accept the physicality of breathing out when connecting with the ball. 

    No need to adjust the volume when Roger Federer is playing, he never buries the decibel meter needle. You can’t even hear him, but believe me, he is breathing. Therein lies the good news - you do not have to awaken half the neighborhood every time you play a shot. And, as a club player, you won’t be drawing any unwanted attention to yourself.

    Nonetheless, you should be exhaling through impact, and there’s the more friendly term to embrace going forward: exhaling. You’ll immediately reap the play better benefits, especially not experiencing being seriously out of breath and unnecessarily elevating your heart rate into a physically stressed zone.

    A good way to begin is to quietly say “yes” as you are striking your shots. This replicates exhaling reasonably well and easy to do. And, like Roger, it will be mostly completely inaudible to others.

    Sustain it on the “long” strokes to their end — forehands, backhands, serves, overheads, serve returns, and lobbing. Make it brief when volleying at the net — the “short” strokes.

    Eventually it will transform itself from “yes” into your own signature exhalation “sound” (not a grunt), and you’ll become a smooth stroking machine while simultaneously keeping your gas tank full.

Jak Beardsworth (USPTA) is based at the Crowne Palza-Lake Placid Resort. He can be contacted by e-mail at, by phone at 941-626-0097, or through his website: 

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