There are many ways for a ball to be hit ‘more effectively' and many ways in which we can hit ‘more consistently.'
Effective shots can include: More depth, more angles, more spin, more pace, more disguise, and others. Such shots usually require more skillful shot-making techniques. If all we can do is push the ball over the net, the ability to execute such effective shots will be next to impossible.
Developing consistent swing patterns, as Thomas Enqvist demonstrates here, is critical to playing more effective tennis.
If our goal is to become a more skillful player, allowing us to compete well against other skillful players, we must develop ways in which we can accomplish such shots.
Hitting ‘more consistently' is easy for most players. That is, in order to get more balls in play, most recreational players simply hit softer and aim higher. It is this strategy, intentional or not, that produces so many millions of dinkers among such players.
Against players who might be working on hitting ‘more effective' shots, dinkers often prevail. It is said that ‘dinkers have tons of trophies.' And that is probably more true than not. Yet, it is a very misguided conclusion. You seldom see dinkers competing at 4.0 levels or above. Yet, the very players that the dinkers beat, those seeking to play the game within higher levels of shot-making and skill, eventually pass up the dinkers and move out of the common 3.0 / 3.5 leagues and tournaments and begin competing at higher and higher levels. Thus, the dinkers stuck at these lower levels usually beat those incoming players working on hitting more effective shots…since these shots, while more effective, takes time to improve the consistency factor as well.
Assuming you didn't pick up a tennis racquet and say to yourself, “Gee, I would love to play tennis but I don't want to be very good,” I would suspect you would like to learn to hit ‘more effective' shots ‘more consistently.' Such a goal helps players reach what I call their true ‘tennis potential.' (The actual level one could reach—based on their athleticism, desire, and opportunity.)
And this is where our title phrase comes in, “Keep the Plane the Same.”
Keeping the ‘plane the same' refers to the act of swinging repeatedly with the racquet face in nearly the exact same reference to the swing and the ball as possible.
The biggest mistake any player makes in hitting a tennis ball is where they don't keep the hitting surface of the racquet stable during any swing. That is, on topspins, slices, and even so-called flat shots, the racquet face is changing within the contact zone. This can be attributed to wrist and forearm movements changing the racquet face, or the swing pattern itself is changing from one shot to the next. In either case, the racquet face at contact is seldom the same.
The ability to aim using any spin is very dependent on this concept of ‘keeping the plane the same.' If I accomplish this ability, each successive swing will provide me with a ‘frame of reference'…that is, if the ball went into the net or long, I make a subtle change in my aiming and then work on repeating the swing with the racquet face in this new position. While this is very subtle, it is critical. If, however, I swing each subsequent time with my racquet face changing—through rolling of the forearm or movements of my wrist, or, moving my body in such a way as the swing plane is changing each time—aiming will be meaningless. If I do swing with such changes in each swing, the critical timing of each hit will be absolutely paramount. A split-second early or late will result in significant changes in the racquet face at contact if the racquet face is changing during contact. If you can't rely on this point of contact to be consistent, you won't be able to make calculated and correct changes in aiming.
This is why some players, many who indeed use unconventional strokes, can actually have great aim. Even within unconventionality, such players have mastered the ability to keep the racquet in the same plane through contact. However, most unconventional form does not contribute to such consistent swing planes. And this explains why there are so many dinkers and hackers in the tennis world.
So, next time you go out to play or practice, focus on maintaining a congruent racquet face and discover that you can indeed increase the effectiveness—as well as the consistency—of all your shots!
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