The vast majority of recreational players are not paying attention, and instead do themselves and the ensuing quality of play a huge disservice.
Let’s first acknowledge that the pros have the advantage of having already warmed up for an hour or so on a back court well before their estimated match time. Then, once it’s showtime, they are limited to a five-minute warm-up — during which time they hit right to each other — including serves.
This brief warm-up is what clubbers are, unfortunately, influenced by without taking into consideration the pros’ earlier extended preparation. They also seem not to be cognizant of the fact that the planet’s best tennis players are not asked to warm up with a mere three balls (they have six), not to mention the presence of ball kids to retrieve them.
So what we typically have are four players arriving for their doubles match with three balls, warming up for five minutes, or even less, and then announcing “f.b.i.” — first-ball-in — without taking any practice serves.
Then, the usual banter that’s overheard from some of these folks, always curiously in a hurry, is very uninspiring: “C’mon, let’s start before I get too tired to play.” Or, “I’m ready now ’cause I’m not going to get any better.” And my all-time favorite, “Let’s not waste any more time warming up.”
Waste time? Wow.
A simple and effective warm-up routine for club players begins with a functional, doable start-up court position — still misperceived by so many.
In the accompanying image you can see that both myself and practice partner Michael Collins are situated in no-man’s land to begin. Yes, no-man’s land.
After a few minutes, once settled in, we’d slowly work our way back to the baseline resulting in a seamless transition. This initial distance apart affords us the opportunity to take full, relaxed strokes, albeit relatively slow ones, in order to dial-in our true forehand and backhand swing paths.
Unfortunately, there are many well-intentioned players doing the wrong thing. For example, there are those who stand in close proximity to the net and ping pong the ball back and forth, and others who stand on or just inside the service line where they are half-swinging and still bunting the ball. Not good.
These two inefficient positions do not promote stroking smoothly through the ball, instead reinforcing short strokes at it, which prevents them from dialing-in that feel good racket-on-ball sensation.
Of course, when the warm-up is a cooperative — it is not about practicing winners — and the ball is allowed to bounce more than once as necessary with the priority being to create the best possible stroke opportunity, players enjoy a considerably better result and end up appreciating the time spent as a positive.
Players then should methodically take their turns at the net taking volleys and, absolutely, some overheads as well. It’s interesting that the lob is particularly effective in club play, and not tour play, because so few can hit a penetrating overhead confidently, yet it’s often not even practiced in the warm-up.
Finally, the serve is warmed up by all — before the first point is played — with players taking turns serving and “catching” from both the deuce and ad side. This complete warm-up should take approximately 15 minutes.
Just before I left my Florida club for the summer, I asked a doubles group, who were speeding through what was, as usual, an abominable excuse for a warm-up as fast and cavalierly as they could while socializing at the same time: “Why are you guys always in such a big hurry to play a lousy first set?” Visualize four deer in the headlights.
Want to improve your match play? Warm up your game properly.
Jak Beardsworth (USPTA) is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Club. He can be reached by e-mail at JB1tennis@comcast.net, by phone at 941-626-0097, or through his website JakBeardsworthTennis.com.
Shaun Ondak Photography