8 Ways to Play & Stay Cool on the Courts
by Derek Gamble
The dog days of summer are officially here. The “feels like” temperatures are reaching over 105 degrees here at the club. The direct sun is amazing and string right now! As tennis players, we have to contend with more than the blazing sun on hot summer days. The heat-trapping surface of tennis courts can also leave a tennis player sapped of energy. Here are eight tips to keep your body cool even on the hottest days so you can perform well on the tennis court and recover quickly after your match.
- Freeze your water bottle – Fill your water bottle half full and stick it in the freezer the day before your practice or match. Don’t tighten the cap all the way when you put in the freezer. Before you head to the club / courts, grab the bottle (ice will be frozen) and top it off with some fresh water. You will be surprised how long the ice will last, making sure you have a cold drink even on the hottest of days!!
- Pay attention to your feet – Hard courts trap heat and send that straight to your feet. It is essential to wear quality tennis shoes to keep the bottoms of your feet and the rest of your body cool. Wear flip flops to the court and change into your tennis shoes right before playing. Wear socks that are made of wicking material to pull the sweat away from your feet and skin to prevent blisters. Always carry an extra pair of socks in your tennis bag! Soft courts also can be hot to the feet as moisture (water) is in the material on the courts due to the watering and maintenance. All court surfaces are hot this time of year. Shade on any court surface can be a HUGE key!
- Tend to your neck and wrist – Your body has pulse points, such as between the ears, the temples and wrists, that are sensitive to the cold. Sticking your wrists under cold water, or placing ice on your neck, can produce a tremendous cooling effect! When you’re on court use a bandana or cooling towel soaked in cold water to help you stay cool. Several companies also make cooling bandanas that can be worn when playing (we have them in the pro shop here)! They actually are designed to stay cool longer!
- Dress like you’re playing at Wimbledon – Wear light or white colored clothing to help reflect the heat, not absorb the heat. On the hottest of summer days try to wear ALL WHITE or incorporate as much light-colored dri-fit / wicking type of clothing. White colored hats can be effective as well.
- Hydrate & Re-Hydrate – This is NOT an overused theory but one that MUST be adhered to by players during all conditions! Your body loses a great deal of water and sodium on hot days when sweating. If your match is scheduled for a hot day, start drinking water the night before. Once you are on the court, drink a combination of water and drink with supplements like electrolytes. Try and avoid caffeine and alcohol (yes even beer ) on these hot days as they promote dehydration.
- Choose your snacks very carefully – Long tennis matches and strenuous tennis practices and lessons can work up your appetite. Instead of reaching for the salty snack or candy bar, try a hydrating food instead like melons, citrus fruits and cucumbers. These are all packed with water.
- Pick your play time wisely – Try to schedule your weekly match, lesson or clinic to the early mornings (7am-11am) or evenings (6-9pm) during the hottest days of play. Try and avoid 11am-6pm during these extremely hot days! Also use courts at your facility that have the most shade during these hours. At our club Courts 5 & 6 (although hard courts are completed shaded in the mornings and feel great!), Courts 2 & 4 have shade on them until around 10am in the peak summer heat weeks!
- Shade yourself and protect your eyes – Wear a hat or visor and keep the sun out of your eyes and face if possible. Some companies make larger hats that cover your head and completely shade your ears as well… may not be the most fashionable headpieces but they protect from the sun the best! Also wear a pair of good sunglasses that protect bot UVA & UVB rays! Take care of those eyes as well!!
Playing Tennis in Windy Conditions
by Derek Gamble
In most climates, fall and spring are windy seasons. Here in Greensboro, NC, it’s not uncommon to be playing tennis in a 20 mph wind with gusts to 30 mph or more especially during the spring months of March through mid-May. A lot of the players simply refuse to play in these conditions, opting instead for the indoor courts, but with league matches starting and players ready to get away from indoor courts – we need to prepare!!
If we made one list of what you can do better in the wind and another of what you can’t do as well in the wind, the first list might actually contain more items; the second, however, would feature one huge item: you just can’t hit the ball as cleanly. This is why people hate to play in the wind. Not being able to play “the way you want to” isn’t always a bad thing – it can be fun if viewed as a challenge!! Your contact with the ball becomes much less consistent / predictable, so you can’t hit as hard or as accurately. When the ball blows around, you’re much more likely to hit off center, away from your traditional stroke zone, causing the racquet to twist and turn and vibration transferred to your wrist and elbow.
Some players have more trouble hitting cleanly in the wind than others. Short and relatively flat strokes are the least affected. Hitting flat means hitting straight into the path of the ball, instead of trying to hit excessive topspin OR slice. When two objects (in this case racquet and ball) are headed straight toward each other, the certainty of solid contact is much greater than if one is moving on a path that will only cross the other’s. This is true in calm conditions, but magnified in a headwind or tailwind, because the amount of time for the racket / body preparation is changed due to the wind.
So, should you try to hit flatter, with shorter stokes, in the wind? Not necessarily. If you’re constantly mishitting, yes. But, if you want to make the wind work to your advantage, then you’ll want to use your spins. Let’s look at how to take advantage of the wind as it comes from each of the four main directions in relation to you: in your face, at your back, from your right, and from your left.
Wind in your face: When the wind is blowing straight at you, hitting hard doesn’t mean the ball will keep much speed going toward your opponent. The positive to this is that you won’t hit many balls long; the downside is that your shots won’t have much pace. It will be hard to overpower your opponent when you’re hitting into the wind, but you might be able to out-consistent / out-rally your opponent, especially if they’re not taking proper advantage of having the wind at their back. Hit harder and a little higher over the net than usual, and most of your shots will land in, but also mix in some short slices and drop shots. Short slices will almost die on their side, and when they lunge forward to reach them, the wind at their back will often float the shot long. A decent drop shot, when hit into the wind, can become a fantastic one. Also a heavily sliced serve will stay low, and because it continues forward less when hit into the wind, it will curve / spin relatively more. Used sparingly, the sliced serve hit into the wind can often produce an easy ace on crucial points.
Wind at your back: If the wind is at your back, you have lots of options for playing aggressively. Your shots will fly faster and farther. Your lobs will land deeper and be harder to run down. Your approach shots will also land deeper, and your opponent’s passing shots will slow down, making them easier to reach. The one (and main) hazard is hitting long. If you hit as hard and as high over the net as usual, shots that would have been 3′ in might now land 6′ out. The remedy is topspin. Increasing your topspin will compensate for the wind, making your shots drop / dip into the court earlier, allowing gravity to take over, and with the wind behind them, your topspin shots will have a tremendous kick as they hit the court. Your opponent will have less time to prepare their shot, and the ball will kick up higher, out of their comfort / strike zone. Also, unlike most other windy situations, having the wind at your back might even make it easier for you to execute your topspin shot, because the ball will slow down, giving you more time to line it up. Hit aggressive topspin with the wind at your back, including some baseline-to-baseline topspin lobs that will often kick well above your opponent’s head or even completely out of reach. Almost try to have your shots land shorter in the court to allow for the wind. Follow a lot of your better shots to the net. Your opponent will have to hit an extraordinary passing shot or lob to overcome the wind against them.
Wind from your right: If you’re right-handed, the two main shots you can utilize best with the wind from your right are the slice serve and the slice backhand, both of which will curve more dramatically with the wind’s help. You’ll also want to tempt your opponent to hit an approach shot to your forehand side, perhaps by hitting a somewhat short ball and then leaving that side a little open. If your opponent is less than court savvy, they’ll take a normal position at the net, not realizing that the whole court is, in effect, shifted to your right (his left) by the wind. When you hit your passing shot, you can aim into the alley to the right of the court, and the wind will blow your shot in. Just don’t hit your passing shot too hard: you want the ball to have enough time in the air to get blown back in. Conversely, when you attack the net, tempt your opponent to try to pass you on your left. Their shot, which would normally have been in, will blow wide.
Wind from your left: The same tricks on passing shots and attacking the net apply as with the wind from your right, but of course, on the opposite side. In terms of specific spin shots, you’ll want to use your “kick” or topspin serve and, perhaps surprisingly, also again your slice serve. The “kick” serve for a righty will kick to the right nicely, and a heavy slice, if used sparingly, will produce an unexpectedly dead bounce, as the slice’s sidespin will turn it into the wind.
Have fun with the wind and be creative. The windy conditions are a true challenge! Remember – your opponent doesn’t like the wind either but if you are armed with tips and strategies – YOU HAVE THE ADVANTAGE!! If you use it creatively, you’ll find the mishits less annoying, and you’ll have all of the fresh air, trees, and sunshine to yourself and your opponent frustrated and overmatched!!