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.

Dear TennisDr:

Thanks for all the private lesson time over the last couple months for my 10 year old Danny.  He is really enjoying it.  We will be traveling to my homeland South Africa over the holidays and I am considering a hiatus until next year.  What do you think?

Maggie J.


Hey Maggie:

First, I think Danny made significant progress in terms of his coordination, limb strength, and skill acquisition. He now knows the 5 fundamental shots of the sport and can continue to practice them on his own though we will need to check for flaws early next year. He also knows how intense and difficult the sport is to learn mentally and physically. Letting that challenge ferment a while, away from lessons, is likely an advantage.

I had my first lessons when I was 10, but my motivation to practice was locked in by my parents who both played. They valued the sports safety, physicality, and intrinsic coping skills, as they were both educators and musicians. Danny needs those aspects as much as any child his age. Your countryman and commentator Cliff Drysdale has promoted these intangibles on air his whole broadcasting career.

Danny’s ability to shake off small, but inevitable, frequent failures and bring his focus back to task is likely THE most important life skill that tennis offers in spades. Current research tells us the brain is physically being wired for these functions right now and many more. During these years the brain gets wired for empathy for the feelings of others, or it doesn’t, like Donald Trump’s brain.

Research shows now that failure is far more valuable than success to human development. Trump is another great example here as he was always allowed to escape failure.

That is why tennis is the best sport in my opinion for all kids. Better than team sports, it is a constant test of dedication and mental resiliency but it is also a showcase for handling disappointment in ourselves and empathy for those across the net. From a motor skills perspective, this age sees normal sputtering communication between brain and limbs.

When I was 11 and 12, my mother drove me all over Southern California and watched quietly and dispassionately while I lost my first 8 tournaments in the first round. Her enlightened attitude was that if you have a passion for the sport, failures and practice come with the territory, as did her passion for the cello. Musicians accept failures as routine. Finding passion for something challenging is the key and why physical education and music in schools must be expanded.

At 11, my parents took me on my first international trip. They knew that seeing other cultures is an important adjunct to this maturation process that we now know is going on quite physically through brain function studies. I hope Danny gets a chance to drink it all in during the trip. Yes, check back in January.

Take Home Tennis (THT)

Some mannerisms of the pros you should take home, others NOT!  Which mannerisms are right for me?  How do they apply to my game?  What does a leading Ph.D. in tennis biomechanics think?

Eastern and western medicine now agree that the body can effect the mind and the mind can effect the body.  For tennis players, learning to focus the mind to help prepare the body for the type of intense physical demands
of a competitive point require practice, off the court, and even between points!


Click on the YouTube link below to watch the following sequence which portrays the rituals used by Maria Sharapova before her serve.

Psychologists might call them ritualized behaviors and tennis coaches know that they can make a huge difference in how an athlete responds moments later under competitive stress. Of all the top players, Maria Sharapova’s rituals are probably the most pronounced and predictable.


Each of her ritualized mannerisms can be associated with a useful subtext. Her body “tells” her mind to apply itself to the task and stress of tennis in a sequence of ways. After some repetition, her body and mind learn to respond to these behavioral messages to optimally prepare for a point.


The “Serve and Rituals” video portrays the following messages her body sends to her mind: “Forget about the last point, keep your mind here, get your feet ready to react, secure your hair, get in tempo for the serve”. She set the standard. Look for them in many other players and find the parts of their rituals that are right for you.  You can take these home!


“Take Home Tennis” and “THT” are copyrighted expressions of Jonathan (c) Bailin, Ph.D. 2007 and may not be used without his expressed written consent.

Take Home Tennis (THT)

“Take Home Tennis” and “THT” are copyrighted expressions of Jonathan (c) Bailin, Ph.D. 2007 and may not be used without his expressed written consent.

Some mannerisms of the pros you should take home, others NOT!  Which mannerisms are right for me?

How do they apply to my game?  What does a leading Ph.D. in tennis biomechanics think?

Answer:  “THT” can put the “TNT” into your game!
Eastern and western medicine now agree that the body can effect the mind and the mind can effect the body.
For tennis players, learning to focus the mind to help prepare the body for the type of intense physical demands
of a competitive point require practice, off the court, and even between points!

Click on the YouTube link below to watch the following sequence which portrays the rituals used by Maria Sharapova before her serve.



Psychologists might call them ritualized behaviors and tennis coaches know that they can make a huge difference in how an athlete responds moments later under competitive stress.  Of all the top players, Maria Sharapova’s rituals are probably the most pronounced and repeated.

Each of her ritualized mannerisms can be associated with a useful subtext.  Her body “tells” her mind to apply itself to the task and stress of tennis in a sequence of ways.  After repetition, her cody and mind learn to respond to these behavioral messages to optimally prepare for a point.

The “Serve and Rituals” video linked above portrays the following messages her body sends to her mind:  “Forget about the last point, keep your mind here, get your feet ready to react, secure your hair, and get in tempo for the serve”.  She set the standard that many players on the tour copy.  Find the parts of their preparation rituals that are right for you.  You can take THESE home!


Dear TennisDr:

Though I came from baseball, and hoped to be big league player, I’m glad to be into competitive tennis now that I’m in my 40’s. After 5 straight wins in 3.5 level USTA tournaments, I got my first loss in the semis of my first 4.0 event. I’m proud to have a win/loss of 5-1.

To be honest, I often went off in baseball when things didn’t go my way but I’m proud to have handled my first tennis tournament loss in a mature way like a gentleman. I can tell this will make it easier to learn from the defeat with a clear mind. That’s new to me. I only wish I had had this skill set in baseball. Please comment on the differences in mental approach and pressure in the two sports. Thanks.

Martin G.

Hey Martin:

Your accomplishment of learning how to take tennis loses gracefully, let them motivate you to improve, and come back stronger is huge. It is an enormous personal accomplishment you should be very proud of no doubt.

The differences in the psychological pressure on the athlete between the two sports is giant. Let’s explore the mindset of tennis and baseball players and what they are up against in terms of performance stress. Putting each sport in its place in terms of its demands on the human psyche is particularly useful for you because you had hopes of being an MLB player.

Let’s start with the demands of professional baseball, which aside from pitching skills, is mostly ruled by “at bat” percentage. In baseball, every “at bat” is a chance to get to, or maintain, a place on a big league roster instead of being “sent down” or remaining in lower leagues. That makes the mental stress enormous on every swing. The cruel and inhumanly difficult differences between being successful a fifth of the time (.200), a fourth of the time (.250), and a third of the time (.333) means a seat at the “big show”, or not.

These stats form a pretty hard barrier, a practical WALL to this pro sport. The mental skill set you’ve described in tennis, is WAY more difficult to achieve in baseball. It also explains the temptation to enhance performance artificially. That temptation is no where near as great in tennis for many reasons, but still obviously exists.

We are very lucky in tennis in that our swings are WAY more often successful than baseball, right? It’s why tennis is so amazingly fun. We are successful VERY often in terms of individual execution of skills. Whether that translates into winning a tournament or not is a TOTALLY different subject.

First Martin, I suggest you drop the notion from baseball of the win/lose record. There is no greater difference in tennis skill than 3.5 and 4.0 levels, so its time to reboot how you measure success for this totally new marketplace.

In tennis from elite to recreational player, you lose a match and there is another tourney next week to try again. The season does not suddenly end for unsatisfactory performance.  The fluctuations of all the athletes having good weeks, days, sets and bad weeks, days, sets is expected.

It’s a bit of a stormy sea but tennis players learn to paddle over the waves and get through the white cap chop from time to time. There are long intervals of glassy water too. Both are human and make the sport fun and unique.   Treating the ups and downs with a business like approach will bring the most success.

You would like the article about Stan Wawrinka in this months Tennis Magazine. Of course, it is a story of a player that had to accommodate the long shadow of his friend Roger Federer.   Patience in response to adversity is the theme here.

Keep in mind that for every tourney with a 64 player draw, 63 will lose. Those who lose MIGHT be tempted to think about there win/loss record, but my advice is to treat that thought like a dark, underwater cave that tennis players learn not to explore. The great coaches and players learn to always judge their success by incremental improvements in strategy and execution in every outing.  This effort is independent of that record.

The great sports coaches would agree that if you continue to work on your game, the wins and loses will take care of themselves.  Good luck with your tennis Martin!


Professional doubles is rarely broadcast.  That is a shame because doubles is the most popular form of tennis.  Go to a college tennis match and see how different it is as a team sport.

First, it is rare when both partners are on and making aggressive shots successfully and taking risk at the same time.  Most of the time its a bit of a see saw, one player hot, the other has to be steady.  It’s important to note that in mixed doubles its not always the guy who is thermal.

One of my best mixed doubles teams got down 2-5, and the guy was showing outward signs of dejection.  He felt responsible for their plight, but doubles is always about the teams shared responsibility.  That’s why the pros and college players ALWAYS approach each other, fist bump, or high five no matter the out come of the last point.  The feeling of sharing responsibility must be reinforced as often as possible.

His female partner dolled out the proper amount of encouragement on the change over and he dedicated himself to keeping his body language positive plus, choosing safer shots.  His partners advice in this case was the key.  She had taken on the role that makes a valuable partner for any competitive team, always encouraging her teammate.

Her role became tactically important as he reigned in his aggressiveness, she got bolder.   She started taking some chances and it paid off with a 7-2 win in the tiebreaker.  There is no “I” in team…unless its Dominique Thiem!

You can get great discounts on an introductory lesson from the TennisDr any of the following e-commerce sites:

Dear TennisDr:

Just wanted to let you know that I played an epic USTA singles match on Sunday against a very young and formidable opponent.  After 2 hours and 20 minutes, I prevailed in 3 sets (7-5; 4-6; 6-4).  I think that we went to deuce on almost every game and the points were long and filled with lots of great shots by both of us.

The woman I played was really quick, had amazing topspin shots and a pretty good kick serve.  If I ever hit anything at mid court, she put the ball away with some amazing cross court angles (particularly on her backhand).  So, I realized that I needed to keep her deep, be patient and wait for her to give me the short shot so I could put it away.

Furthermore, it became apparent that her backhand was more consistent than her forehand, so needless to say I hit tons of balls to her forehand side.  Luckily, she did not attend the TennisDr Tennis College, and did not realize that my forehand was my stronger shot.

I had a great time and would have been OK had I lost the match since I know that I played well, but was really thrilled with the win.  After the match she commented on how well I covered the court, how quickly I got to the ball and how I always seemed to hit the right shot.  And, when I told her my age, she was amazed and said that I was almost her grandmother’s age!

So, chalk one up for the senior citizen!!


Nicely done Michelle!

I know you don’t consider yourself to be fast or probably not even a formidable athlete.
BUT good anticipation and strategic awareness make tennis players appear to
be much greater athletes than they are.  In this case, knowledge and experience is power.

One of the things we love about this sport is that experience and wisdom can also
make up for a lot of differential in years.  No one takes advantage of this principle
to compete better than you.  Even your surprising play last week against my “big guys”
told me that you were more than ready to “unleash the hounds” in women’s singles.   Pretty fun huh?

Most players don’t view tennis in a strategic context.  When you ask most players what they need to do during a match, they usually respond by saying something like, “I tell myself to just play better and I will win”.  Court awareness and problem solving is worth many key points in a close match.

Good luck in your next match!

Whether you play tennis, table tennis, racquetball, badminton, or squash, individual sports have similar emotional challenges. In coaching, once in a while you meet a student whose dedication becomes too intense. This is a letter to just such a student. Let’s call her Engrid.

Dear Engrid:

I want to thank you for the intense effort you bring to every minute on my lesson court as well as the studious approach you have to practicing your skills on other courts. Of all my students, you are the most intense about your tennis game and I want you to know that I appreciate how much effort you put into it.

Of course intensity is a two edged sword and has some disadvantages too. One is that it tends to put players at more risk of injury (your recent calf muscle experience is an example). Another is that you run the risk of what many sport psychologists call “Burn Out”.

Today coaches and psychologists use the term “Burn Out” to mean different things, but generally they mean that the sport or activity has become more often irritating or anxiety producing, than enjoyable. When that balance shifts negatively, a player either quits or at least notices a significant plateau in performance which is difficult to break through.
Players may ask, “how can a game I love like tennis ever feel distasteful or repulsive?”

In over 25 years of coaching at all levels of skill, especially at the elite athlete level, I have answered this question many times. This time Engrid my answer will be customized a bit for you.

As your coach and health care practitioner, I realize that you have some compulsive personality traits. It’s an intensely which strives to reach toward perfection in most, if not all, modes of expression. The good news for coaches is that for complex activities these feelings motivate you to bring a high degree of focus.

This is why I believe you appreciate my style of instruction. You enjoy when I break a motor skill down to its minute parts so that you may scrutinize and practice them in there bite size portions until you have mastered each part toward creating the better whole.

The bad news is that these detailed study, for some personality types like this, can become tedious, may negatively influence your mood, approach to outside activities, or perspective on those around you. When I hear you berate yourself, or express feelings on the court that others are not trying their best in practice, my alarm bell goes off telling me that tennis is becoming too much of a burden. That perhaps it has become a chore, or at least more trouble than it is worth. Their are two approaches to ameliorate this situation–one logistic, one attitudinal. Both will help make you a better player!

Logistically, I would advise that you schedule more recreational time off. Get away from the court. That time should be spent in amusement/relaxation and should be as carefully interspersed between your tennis workouts as if you were designing a cross training schedule with other fitness activities. The question arises, “How do I tell if I am successful enough at this?”

When you are getting dressed to PLAY you are well rested and as you walk toward the court, feelings of anticipation of the adventure you are about to have crescendo. Your heart rate picks up as the fun of the last great shots and disappointments of the correctable errors flood back to you as you get ready to hit the first ball. Now we have struck on our second method of amelioration–attitudinal.

Tennis must remain a game. It must remain PLAY in every sense of the word. It certainly has no components that should elicit feelings SIMILAR in intensity to a life or death struggle, that your survival is in the balance, or self esteem is at risk, AT ANY TIME.

It should not feel like work. It should not elicit feelings that are as intense as those you feel when you are busy or frustrated while trying to make a living and pay your bills. It should not elicit feelings as intense as, for example, if all your family were suddenly coming to visit. It should not make you doubt your own effort, your own dedication, and the unique skills and attributes that you bring to the sport. To let others worry about their own level of effort and intensity is a skill which requires practice. That practice can be done outside competition too.

You may not have met anyone like this, because I have not either, but there are many people who can’t leave their homes because they are afraid of failure. Of being hurt either psychologically or physically. They are physically fit enough but they can’t go out, can’t go shopping, can’t go to a movie, or go to a restaurant, let alone play sports. They are psychological “Shut Ins”, agoraphobics unable to go into public places.

The take home lesson from them is to treat each event in which you participate with a sense of gratitude. Embrace the idea that you are healthy enough to enjoy the risk of both good and bad performances.

In tennis, I would like to see everyone respect, if not relish the inevitable but temporary feelings of failure in themselves, as well as respect others who take these risks too. Be proud of the ability to risk your feelings in competition as a sign of a healthy life and healthy tennis life. As a sport scientist, it is sometimes difficult to communicate that this is a critical part of the process of improving motor skills.

The “Schedule for Emotions”

The great athletes when they miss a shot are well adjusted to this perspective. They PRACTICE handling it better than recreational players. With rare exceptions, they take 5 or 10 seconds to SILENTLY indulge in purely normal disappointment WITHOUT showing negative body language. The next 5-10 seconds to physically practice the proper motion or mentally note the proper decision for the next time the situation arises. Then in the next 5-10 seconds they move on to preparing for the next point.

That is what I call the “Schedule for Emotions” in tennis. Some coaches call these rituals to be employed before every point. Inevitably you have about 30 seconds to indulge silently and get your act together for the next point. If you verbalize, slump your shoulders, or take too long in recovery, your opponent will think you are about to loose several points if they just get the ball back. This makes their task very easy. Remember, psychological skills are like motor skills that require practice!

Missing a shot and making a shot are two sides of the same coin that fascinates us all with this game. It is as inevitable that you will have moments of elation as well as moments of disappointment. You can handle these feelings like a beginner or strive to handle them like the pros.

The best players demonstrate the above competitive psychological skills as often as forehands. They have taken to heart that the risk of having these temporary and illusory failures is actually part of the fun.

If this topic interests you further, I can pass along several articles by the top sports psychology people in the industry, one of which is Dr. Allen Fox. These articles have been required reading for scholarship athletes at USC and other teams I’ve coached.

Tennis is play time. Have fun!

Warmest Regards,

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!