Dear TennisDr:

My 11 year old daughter has been playing for 6 years and is highly dedicated and now playing competitive tennis. We are disappointed that you have retired and are not available for personal coaching. ;-( What advice would you give us on helping her become a great player, the best athlete she can be, and how to mature as a tennis player?

Warmest Regards,



Dear Marjorie:

First, I would never dangle the prospects of being a professional athlete in any sport to a parent. The odds of a successful pro career are VERY slight and the life is not glamorous as it is so often portrayed.

On the other hand, the scholarship money for girls applying for college tennis is easier to get than for boys and I highly recommend that life experience for any child who enjoys tennis. Let’s discuss her short term training.

There is no substitute for proper repetitions to gain physical skills, so backboard practice is a huge advantage. That is how Billy Jean King and I learned our skills.  I call it the “lost art” to tennis skill acquisition.  When it comes to getting sufficient repetitions, research shows that ALL elite athletes, and even musicians, have logged at least 10,000 hours of proper skill repetitions.

A competitive tennis player needs a large assortment of weapons, both physical and mental, to solve problems during competition.  Proper backboard practice can make those weapons easier to execute when needed.  A few of those skills/weapons seem to also be a “lost art” in recreational tennis such as the use of the many expressions of underspin. It can provide a huge advantage, and is underused even in the pro ranks which, I believe overuse topspin and power shots.  

Ashleigh Barty and Roger Federer are two great exceptions.  Now retired, Federer and Barty had all the tennis skills in there “tool box” needed for any match.  Barty honed her mental skills with a sport psychologist. At one time, she showed great displeasure with inevitable mistakes on court.  Know that competitive tennis is also a “poker game” in many ways.

The mental skill of showing “no tells” is required to have the best chance to beat other great athletes. Body language of distress or discouragement is encouraging to the opponent. A tennis poker face and hiding disappointment requires skilled repetition also so Sports Psychologists are often employed.

Attentive parents need those skills too when watching their children because it is their job to provide the adult, big perspective of long term improvement. Remember that humans generally learn more from losing than winning.

Like poker, tennis becomes a game of percentages and small margins over the long haul.  Statistically, at all skill levels, winning only 53% of all points played wins 80% of all your matches.  So, patience is a great weapon in tennis. You might ask, “Are there any shortcuts to physical skill acquisition?” Yes!

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Good luck with your tennis!



Growing up with the dream of being a tennis champion is difficult.  Having to beat your hero at the majors, is a major obstacle!  For Naomi Osaka, it took several tries to produce her best tennis on that small stage against Serena Williams.  But she did it.

Hey TennisDr:

I was so sorry to hear about your retirement! I miss our classes that included “Bailin’s Breakers”. That format in which we get to play your invention of 13 point tiebreakers against everyone in class. Your students miss you!

Best Wishes,



Hey Kerrie:

I know you always liked “Bailin’s Breakers” because it gave you a chance to practice tiebreakers and to do so against all your classmates.  I would like to take credit for practicing a lot of tiebreakers but it is a college tradition. On the other hand, the name and format are all mine. Be ready to play tiebreakers like college players!  

In my classes, all students must stop to watch the “Super Tiebreaker” with one point winner take all at 6-6. When college audiences see a tiebreaker, they tend to move toward that court. Getting comfortable being “on stage”, or face the ultimate pressure situation, is also a great life lesson from tennis so I use it as often as possible.

Tiebreakers also help college coaches make decisions about the team lineup.  Plus, college tennis players tend to play more tie breakers and they can make all the difference for the team score.  

My advice for you is to warm up your new two hander, but don’t be afraid to abandon it during the match because your one handed underspin is formidable, accurate, and messes with those who don’t see underspin much.  Jumping from a flatter serve to your spin serve is another of your very formidable weapons.  

For a woman to beat you, they will have to deal with all of those weapons, not to mention your forehand which produces points and opponent errors too.  Testing yourself in singles tennis competition such as USTA Adult Leagues is one of the most fun things you can do in your life. Practice shutting out all other thoughts, like when you are in great “mental flow”. It is a key to your particular mind, and those who find their thoughts wandering off the court.



Dear TennisDr:

In my last class, I noticed that when my foursome turned out to be a threesome, I expected the class be a bummer. Boy was I surprised that the class was even better. Let’s do that again soon!




Hey Jess:

You noticed yesterday how potent my three player/90 minute classes can be. Usually avoided in recreational tennis, a three player workout is encouraged in Davis Cup and BJK Cup team play for an important reason–every player on the team might play singles or doubles. In college, all players practice both formats as they could be in either roster.

My 3 player/90 minute format, includes 60 minutes of drills and 30 minutes of point play in which two servers swap out each point, is a potent teaching tool. It epitomizes the nature of college coaching and the “Academy Style” used in Florida. Players need preparation for both games and, as Jess noticed, styles at the same skill level are very diverse in recreational tennis so learning to assess errors, strengths, and planning the next point are key.

Compared to a two or four player class, my 90 minute three player format (never play doubles vs singles!) is actually my favorite as it gives you more time to consider the style of the different opponents between points. Yes, they are singles thoughts in point play and there are is no formal doubles play, it gives me a chance to interject elite player thinking while you wait for your next point.

In the hour before point play, players work on particular physical weakness and practice strengths for both games. Rotating with 2 versus 1 IN PRACTICE for the first 60 minutes is perfect for this. Most of my students have performed these drills where I feed from the middle to a net player in the middle who has to practice a volley to the sidelines, while the doubles team gets to hit to the imaginary middle of a doubles team at the net.

During singles point play, better problem solving occurs versus two different singles styles which gives my students the edge and makes you a better thinker on court in competition. Be aware that a very subtle 2 or 3% edge will dominate 80% of your matches! Play the long run percentages and don’t emphasize, be consumed by, or waste energy on, short term fluctuations in performance.

Given two well matched players, the calm, problem solver will predominate. Simona Halep former #1, on the champions podium said that she finally learned this lesson from Darren Cahill. On court, she appeared more kind to herself, accepting of her flaws, and continued to win slams because of her new demeanor of “calculating calm”.

There is no doubt in my mind that Serena Williams is the GOAT of women’s tennis. Statistically and bio-mechanically over her career, she is likely the best server in either gender. As a long time fan of hers, that’s why this match was so difficult to watch.

Pro athletes know that if you are not at your most fit, you are vulnerable to situations exactly like the one that yanked Serena out of a 5-1 lead in the third set versus Karolina Pliskova in the Quarter Finals of the 2019 Australian Open. Serena was rolling through the third set but, getting a little fatigued, due to her lack of fitness.

Several women on the WTA tour have had children and come back to the tour. All sports enthusiasts must give proper respect to those who can make a living again as a pro athlete after childbirth. But the training is understandably grueling! All the more reason to give Serena credit for that and her other health challenges.

On the flip side, athletic trainers would probably characterize her body at that time as at least 20 pounds to heavy. Suddenly, the fatigue of that carry can translate into clumsy footwork, which likely contributed to a rolled ankle at that point. Luckily, not enough to get a trainer to re-wrap it tighter or, to effect her gate. She had no discernible limp. In that situation, even if your movement is questionable, it comes down to making good decisions in each point. When do you give yourself the green light to swing away!

Starting at 5-1, she STILL should have won the match during any 1 of 4 match points. Pliskova did not dominate any of those. In each, Serena had chances to go for a winner. Many coaches would call that being a “mental midget” for not swinging away every chance she got.

What explains why a great champion would not reason her way out of that box? Great question. Perhaps, this is an advertisement for on court coaching during the majors. It was tortuous to watch Pliskova get back into this match. Not even Carolina could believe it.

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