The Grass is Greener on the Other Side of 3.5

So you’re a 3.5 NTRP player.  You probably feel like you’ve accomplished a lot.  ntrpIt’s because your beginning is probably not too far in hindsight.  You still remember what it was like to totally whiff on multiple strokes. Or to retreat to the baseline after hitting a shot from inside the service line.

As a 3.5 player, you feel like you know a little something about tennis.   You start complaining about court conditions. Nets that are two inches too high are somehow responsible for your poor performance.  Or that the wind and the sun prevented you (not your opponent, though) from playing your best tennis.  You cry about equipment needing to be responsive to your game, but your second serve is still hit with a semi-western grip.  You complain you don’t like doubles because you ‘always get stuck with a bad partner’, yet you stay glued to the baseline.  You guffaw at technical advice because it ‘gets in the way of playing without thinking’.  And you whine about losing to people that ‘just get the ball back’, because you’re better than them.

Every single instance above (and more) I’ve witnessed in my years as a tennis instructor.  People who do these things are highly likely to remain in the Purgatory of 3.5:  Good enough to have some people upon who you can look down.  You can hit with some spin, maybe.  You can hit a really solid forehand once in a blue moon.  When you’re up.  You’re not totally afraid to approach the net, if you have to.

If this is you, 3.5er, give yourself a pat on the back. And know you’ve got a LOT MORE WORK to do.  If you think your current capabilities lead to more fun in competitive play, then you owe it to yourself to push past your 3.5 capabilities.

Here are 5 things to work on to get you to the next level.

  1.  Learn how to move on court. Perfect the split step and flow step.  Learn to move laterally efficiently.  Learn the crossover recovery step.  Learn how to cover court in singles and doubles.  You’ll start to feel even more in control of points, and you’ll save energy.
  2. Improve your net game/transition game.   Learn how to punish approach shots with either slice or topspin. Develop a fearsome overhead.  Learn how to close effectively, hit stinging volleys, but also touch volleys.  Learn the drop shot.  Learn how to serve and volley and return and volley.  Sure, there is a lot of baseline play in doubles, but those who control the net still win championships.  Ask Martina Navratilova, and she’d say the same.
  3. Make your forehand and serve a weapon.  When you force opponents to miss instead of hoping they miss, you’ll enjoy competing more, and your results will improve.  You’ll feel more confident in tight match conditions when you have reliable weapons that get you out of a jam.  Plus, it’s fun to dominate.
  4. Learn specialty shots.  Stop being seduced by hard groundstrokes.  Learn how to hit angles.  Develop effective slice and topspin strokes.  Learn the drop shot.  You’ll make life miserable for your opponents due to your unpredictability.  Ask Roger Federer, junkball extraodinaire.
  5. Learn singles and doubles strategy.  You can craft points, and not just play to keep the ball in play until your opponent misses.  Know where to move in different situations to cover court.  You’ll improve your value as a doubles partner.

All these are going to take time, but it’s the next step in the improvement of your game.  You’re going to beat people you used struggle playing with before.  You’ll see results. You’ll feel more in control.  You’ll have power.  Power feels great.

Plus, it’s easy to get access to this instruction online.  There are tons of YouTube channels that offer great tennis instruction.  You just have to put in the court time.