We have such fickle fall weather here in Texas; it can be a fabulous 80 degrees one day, and a frigid 40 degrees the next. Yesterday morning, I played a fun yet competitive match in the latter, and because I incorporated a few of these great tips into my game, I outplayed my opponent!
Give some (or all) of these a try, and you’ll see more success on the courts this winter:
Dress for success
For those of us who don’t have access to warm-n-cozy indoor courts, it’s important to dress appropriately for playing winter tennis outdoors. Wear several thin layers of clothing, so you can take them off as you warm up. Since I prefer playing without sleeves, I’ll still wear ma racerback tennis top, though I’ll wear a thin long sleeve top over it. And if it’s really cold, I’ll also wear my favorite Nike jacket. And if it’s really, really cold, I might top all of the above with a thin fleece jacket. This way, if it’s too cold to remove any layers, my movement won’t be hindered by bulky clothing. And while it’s important to keep your body warm, it’s equally important to do so for your hands.
It’s a sad fact of winter tennis that the colder your hands are, the harder it is to find the right position for your grip. Some players wear gloves to keep their hands warm, but I just can’t; I’ve got to feel my grip. However, I always have a pack of Hot Hands hand warmers in my tennis bag that I can keep in my jacket pockets and use between points.
Something else to consider wearing is a pair of polarized sunglasses. The winter sun sits lower in the sky and is more likely to be a bother. If you aren’t used to wearing sunglasses, they will take a little getting used to, but if they can keep the sun out of your eyes so you can rip a winner, I’d say it’s well worth it.
Covering your head also will help keep you warmer on the courts, whether it’s with your favorite knit or fleece beanie, or even some ear muffs or ear covers. These little ear covers are great because they don’t slip, and you can still clearly hear your partner and all calls being made.
Pump it up while stretching it out
If you only take away one thing from this post, it must be this: be sure and get your muscles ready before you get to the courts. Our muscles take a lot longer to warm up in the cold, so it’s important to properly warm them up before putting them through the rigors of a tennis match. If not done properly, you risk all sorts of muscle injuries, which could keep you off the courts for a long time.
Before you begin any stretching routine you should begin with a quick 5-minute aerobic exercise. Do some jumping jacks or dance around your living room to your favorite upbeat songs on Spotify to get your heart rate up. All it takes is 5 minutes to get your body ready for the next step in your warm up — stretching.
Dynamic stretching is a must before playing tennis in winter conditions. Dynamic stretching is stretching while moving a specific muscle group repetitively. Examples of dynamic stretches are leg kicks and arm circles. This not only stretches your muscles but also gets your blood flowing. Once you complete your aerobic routine and dynamic stretching your body should be ready for your winter match!
Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you can cut back your water intake. Your body actually uses water to help maintain its core temperature in both summer AND winter. You won’t feel as thirsty playing in the winter, but your body still needs water to stay strong, fast and healthy. Drink plenty of water before you go outside and bring a bottle of water with you.
The best shots for cold-weather tennis
Without the sweltering summer heat and humidity, you’re more likely to make it through that third set and play longer rallies without feeling like you’re going to pass out. And while it’s important to keep in mind that the colder weather will have an impact on the way you play, it will also have an effect on the ball as well: the colder the weather is, the less bounce the ball will have. That being said, these are the three most effective shots you can play in cold weather:
- Slice: Incorporate more slice into both your groundies and approach shots. This will keep the ball extra low and really force your opponent to get under the ball and hit a passing shot, which is easier said than done. With the ball being a little flatter, be sure to aim deeper and hit harder to keep the ball from landing too short and allowing your opponent to step into the court to hit the ball.
- Drop shot: On a warm day, a well-placed drop shot can be extremely difficult to return; on a cold day, it can be lethal. Take advantage of the heavier bounce and use the drop shot often.
- Flat and slice serves: These serves will also force your opponent to have to get down for the lower balls. Topspin serves won’t be as effective due to the heavier bounce taking away much of the kick. As with the slice, hit deeper and harder.
While these are great tactics, you need to realize that your opponent can also use them against you. If that happens, you need to make sure you prepare early and get your racket back, starting your backswing a little lower than you normally would, and bending at the knees so you can really get down and under the ball.
Move it or lose it
In case your opponent uses the above shots against you, always be ready to move forward so you can quickly get to those drop shots and short balls. Also, make sure to bring your racket back early for good preparation, and start your backswing a little lower than you normally would to adjust to the lower bounce.
Restring your racket
The pace of a ball is determined by several factors, including the bounce of the ball. With a diminished bounce in colder temps, the ball will naturally come off the racket slower, making it harder to generate more pace. To offset that, I recommend stringing your racket 2 pounds lower in winter.
I can hear you right now, “Why would that make a difference?”
In general, rackets strung on the lower end of the tension range provide more power than tightly strung rackets. When you hit a tennis ball, the impact causes the strings to deform or stretch. Energy from that impact is stored in the strings and then returned to the ball as it rebounds off your racket. Loose strings stretch more than tight strings and therefore, store more energy; so, when the energy is returned to the ball, you have a more powerful shot.
These are just a few quick tips that will help your winter tennis. So, stretch, hydrate, layer up and get out on those courts… and win more winter matches!
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