A couple courts away, I heard “friends” in a heated discussion about a line call.
When they emailed me about the USTA rule that applies I wrote this in response:

For over 20 years now we have known from research in sports medicine and orthoptics that the brain is only piecing together images of a tennis ball during its travels. Essentially, above about 30 mph, the human brain is guessing at what it sees of the path of a tennis ball. Please see the section called “Biomechanics” at TennisDr.com for citations/details.

Still many players, even some of my students who know these facts, have difficulty conceding such frailty in the human visual system. They are convinced that their opinion is the correct opinion. Often, their off court business affairs hinge on one minor point to gain the advantage or maintain a successful campaign or account. These sensibilities can be difficult to leave at the office.

To maintain friendships, my job as their coach is to teach them how to be generous with points, respect that others views are scientifically PROVEN to be as valid, or more valid than our own, and maintain the spirit of camaraderie that is the reason for “playing” together in the first place.

In short, line calling rule number this or that, SHOULD only matter to those making a living playing competitive tennis, IF anyone!

What matters for the rest of us, is that the widest variety of people will enjoy “playing” with us in the future AND that the strength of our character is above wanting this or that particular point, which never really matters in the outcome of a match anyway.

This is not work. Humans play to have fun.


A student called me, who’s fourth couldn’t make it, desperate to find a player to fill in. My response was that 3 people could be even better than 4, if you pay attention to tennis tradition.

Here are 3 drills for 3 people. They actually provide more focused practice than 4 people on the court!

3 player drills are a tradition that comes from the international competition of David Cup and Federation Cup in which one country plays against another. The captain of BOTH the Russian Davis Cup & Federation Cup Teams (a VERY rare responsibility), Shamil Tarpishchev, would approve these drills for all men and women as he has won 3 Fed Cup and 2 Davis Cup championships for Russia in the last 8 years. With that credential, he is one of the best (though unrecognized) coaches in tennis history.

In my view, if you have limited time, it is more important to complete a rotation using the Ad court before using the Deuce court. My students are more comfortable directing their shots to where a game is usually won/lost than other players.

1) “2 Against 1 Practice Drill”– Two players drop/hit a feed from the net to a single player in the receivers position on the baseline in the AD court. Net players must volley into the half court WITH the alley.

The single player must hit from one net player to the other. 10 minutes for each formation, then rotate. Then rotate. 30 minutes

Then put the receiver in the Deuce side for 10 minutes. Then rotate. Then rotate.
Keep a “bucket” of balls at the center strap of the net.

2) “Half Court Singles Competition”–divide the tennis court lengthwise down the middle (imaginary line extends the center line to the center mark on the baseline) and compete with a ball being served to either the ad side only (with the alley) during each point.

Servers are a team (one player remains the server) and play one point at a time against the receiver until either team reaches 10, by a margin of 2. Then rotate. Servers start each point by serving to the Ad side first, then players rotate, then players rotate. 30 minutes

After that cycle, servers start each point by serving to the Deuce side. Then rotate. Then rotate. Keep the bucket at the back fence behind servers.

3) “Bailin Canadian Doubles Competition”–a two player team plays regular doubles but must hit all their shots into the half doubles court (see #2) Ad side, until either side gets 10 points. Then rotate. Then rotate. 30 minutes

Then the doubles team plays to the Deuce side. Then rotate. Then rotate. Keep the bucket at the back fence behind servers. 30 minutes

These are all great for singles and doubles skills. They are part of the lost traditions of great coaches. The best coaching skills, player improvements, and most audience excitement, come from team competition.

Go watch a University match or a Davis/Fed Cup match as soon as possible!

I feel that intermediate players should serve/volley and poach more often in doubles to help translate that into a team option, as well as, their singles game.

Tactically, I feel you should serve and volley more often as it adds perhaps 15% more power when you move forward through a serve. I would encourage you all to do so for that reason and, as a counter strategy to short, drop angle returns.

All of you have concerns about the difficulty of a first volley after serving–one
reason for this note. In my classes, we isolating the appropriate footwork
and balance to make a strong first volley.

1) Servers: for your homework, serve and volley more often on first serves and focus your attention on the receivers ANTICIPATED body posture at contact.

Poachers and Servers should ask yourself, “Are they about to hit hard or soft?” and, “What is the center of the body doing before contact?”.

Receiver contact with a laterally, extended posture or backward steps results in soft shots 90% of the time! They are offensive opportunities for the serving team.

This will tell you whether split stepping to stretch/move laterally will be necessary.
The educated guess to these questions tells poachers WHEN to go. Go ahead and make
mistakes Poachers as it’s only an educated guess, but a fun one!

This is the study of Basic, Belt Buckle, Biomechanics! 🙂

The Bryan Brothers get passed up the line trying to poach often….but not often enough
to be the second best team in history. Take some chances on what you see!

2) Servers: don’t worry about running forward as fast as you can. Being in balance
when the second shot arrives is WAY more important then WHERE that

3) Since it takes longer to get there, a spinning serve is actually a better way to give yourself more time to get in balance for the first volley than a flat serve.

“I see!”, said the blind man.

If you pay attention to #1, #2, and #3 a new offensive frontier will open to you for both singles and doubles.


On Jul 14, 2010, at 3:18 PM, Cesar wrote:

Good to hear from you. By the way, I would like to resume class, but I do not feel I can improve my skills if I am teamed up with beginners like (Frank, nothing personal about Frank). If there is a chance that you could team me up with one of your 4.0 players, I am interested in resuming class. Otherwise, I am playing regularly at USTA Flex 4.0 and I am rallying with my tennis partner here at BH, Monday thru Friday in the morning.

Best regards,
The Academy Style of Coaching

Hey Cesar:

I’m glad to hear that your days are now filled with challenging 4.0 players and plenty of events to test yourself. You have obviously improved tremendously since taking your first lessons with me. Congratulations!

On the other hand, I’m sorry to hear that you FEEL you can’t improve your skills with a particular member of your former class attending. I will consider your request and see what can be done, however, as a long time student of mine who has a better than passive understanding of the sport, you should keep in mind that…

The “Academy Style” of coaching tennis is used at practically every major tennis facility for professional preparation in the world and Division 1 university campus. It’s based on isolating each skill every player needs to improve and does not discriminate by level of ability. Even more so when a ball machine is employed.

For example, on one court the coach works on serve, on another approach shots, on still another angled volleys, etc. When the whistle blows, all students regardless of age or skill, change courts. At an Academy, REAL beginners are usually taught privately to prepare for that rotation that isolates each skill set. At some point, even in football, a scrimmage is held in which the players practice those exact skills under a bit more competitive circumstances, but rarely is a scrimmage “full contact”. For me, the Academy Style, and tennis, the “scrimmage” is a 10 point game.

When it comes to your subjective feelings about your level of ability, BE CAREFUL! The 3.5 and 4.0 levels are notorious for providing delusions about tennis skills. The fact is that Steve W is more skilled and a better athlete than you. Michael O has very similar skills and is a better athlete, and Frank L is SLIGHTLY below your level of tennis skills but also a better athlete in that he is faster around the court.

The question is, does this matter when it comes to playing points at the end of a session in which we have isolated the skills you need to improve for over an hour? NO! In a 10 point game you cannot beat Frank 10-0 and Steve cannot beat you 10-0, but even if that did happen, there are PLENTY of skills that you need to improve during a point that still elude you.

BEWARE: This is the great delusion of ego in our sport! This tennis delusion is much more difficult to observe than in golf in which the conflict is so clearly “the player vs. the course”. The best coaches in our sport have realized something critical for the industry when it comes to helping people improve in tennis…

It’s the ball not the player!


Q: What are some of the important considerations for the non-
dominant arm during tennis?

A: This is a topic that comes up frequently during biomechanics
discussions in all sports. In tennis, the role of the non-dominant
arm/hand is more important than one might think. Here’s one great
example illustrated in an email I just sent to London:
July 2, 2010 (Nadal/Murray Wimbledon Semifinals)

To: Miles Maclagan, Head Coach Andy Murray
C/O Lawn Tennis Association
National Tennis Centre
100 Priory Lane
Roehampton, London SW15 5JQ

Dear Mr. Miles Maclagan & Other Coaches:

Andy Murray is one of the only elite players I’ve ever seen
who throws the tossing arm away and back during the follow
through of his serve and I can prove, in mechanical terms, that
it is a significant disadvantage.

In the vast majority of sports movements leading to asymmetric
impact or acceleration of one body part, the concept of “breaking”
is universally employed. What is “breaking”?

Breaking is easy to notice. In place kicking the non kicking foot plants
abruptly so it can pass its momentum to the kicking leg. In loose or wet
turf, that is why kicks cannot go as far.

In throwing, the kinetic chain passes momentum all the way up the
body starting from the ground. For a one armed throwing motion and
tennis serve, the kinetic chain transfers momentum from the ground,
through the legs, to the torso, then into the arm, hand, and racket.
Each passing its momentum, like a whip, in a snapping acceleration
toward the hand. To pass its full momentum onward, each segment
stops, like a billiard ball hitting a row of others which are touching.

In most serves, and right handed throws, the left arm comes across
the torso to help counter or stop the trunk rotation, thereby sending
more momentum into the arm.

Murray’s left arm does not. It goes away and behind without helping
to stop the trunk rotation. It does not supply any “breaking”, or opposing
motion, to the torso. Mechanically, less momentum passes into the arm.

Andy Murray’s serve is certainly a great one. But at this level of expertise
in any sport, one percent improvement can make a huge difference!

Good luck with all your players.


Jonathan Bailin, Ph.D., USPTA
Exercise Physiology~Biomechanics~Ergonomics
Sports Medicine & Ergonomics Associates