#7: Best Chance to Win Championship Matches: Use the Warm-Up Time Wisely

In mid-May of 2019, I spent 10 days in beautiful La Jolla, California, where I competed in the USTA National Women’s 50-90 Hard Court Championships. I competed in the Singles and Doubles 70 and over division. The event took place at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, which is situated just a few steps from the Pacific Ocean. With 14 hard courts (12 lighted), it seemed like there would be plenty of courts to use for practice and/or warm-up. However, the club not only ran a 40, 50, 60, 70, and 80 division in singles and doubles but also hosted a men’s event (not national) simultaneously.

The tournament information specified that there would be no warm-up courts available, but that the Rec Center in downtown La Jolla would have courts on a first-come, first-served basis or, barring less time, we could use the backboard adjacent to the courts. This all seemed less than opportune given that this was a national event and given my penchant for preparedness. So every morning I warmed up with my doubles partner, Vicky McEvoy, at 7 a.m. We were often the only players on the courts … all except for Barbara Hubbard from Hawaii, who was always practicing her serve. Warming up for 30 minutes allowed me to breeze through the allotted 5 minute warm-up later on in the day without worrying. This got me to thinking about other creative warm-ups at other tournaments.

I was lucky enough to play the Wimbledon Qualifying event in England in the early 70’s. In Roehampton, the show must go on! There are a certain number of days allotted to finishing the event so that the winners of the singles, doubles and mixed doubles can all be slotted into the main draw at Wimbledon. Not finishing here is not an option. Playing on slick grass courts in the rain or at the least a fine mist is the norm and warming up takes place in the parking lot with a friend, in the bathroom over the sink or against any wall that is available.

Last year in UMag, Croatia, at the World Team Championships, the doubles players waited sometimes 4 hours before playing. The schedule was #2 singles followed by #1 singles followed by the doubles team. We found ourselves hitting volleys out of the air to each other steps from the Adriatic while we waited. Though we had warmed up from 8-8:30 a.m., we needed to be moving and focusing 20 minutes before it was our turn.

The warm-up is the start of the match and needs to be viewed as such, especially when you are playing at championship matches, where you unlikely to know your opponent. The message that you send and the one that you receive during the warm-up is important to your mindset and confidence. Too often I see players letting the ball bounce twice or not warming up their volley or, even more likely, not hitting any overheads. Many players complain about opponents not providing a good warm-up.

In local tennis league matches, players may feel more relaxed and even know their opponents’ weaknesses and strengths before the warm-up begins. As players prepare for Districts, Sectionals, Nationals, or beyond, they are more likely to be more nervous and often do not know anything about their opponents. This is when the warm-up is even more crucial.

Here are some things I suggest…

– Try to warm-up ahead of time if possible. It does not need to be at the same site as your scheduled match. 30 minutes will do, including serves.
– Skip the mini tennis. If you have 5 minutes to warm-up do not spend even 1 second doing mini tennis. I have yet to see Simone Halep or Roger Federer doing mini tennis. This is fine if you have no time limit.
– Move your feet!!! Push yourself to run after balls (within reason) and get used to moving toward and away from balls.
– Hit balls down the middle of the court. You will be able to identify which side (forehand or backhand) your opponent prefers. She will step around and take her more confident shot often.
– Warm up your slice and drive ground strokes.
– When warming up your volley, begin slightly inside the service line and move forward to volley. When there is a miss, back up to the same line and repeat. You are now practicing a more realistic volley. It is rare that you would be volleying from the perfect position so don’t warm up there unless you move.
– Warm up serves from both the deuce and ad sides and warm up both your first and second serves. The pressure always falls to the second serve so this serve should be highlighted.
– All the while that you are warming up, gather information (and if playing doubles, share it with your partner).
Does your opponent move?
Does she like high balls? Low balls?
How is her serve? Is it flat? Does she use spin? What kind?
How is her volley? Does she have good hands?
How is her overhead?
Return of serve?

Walking onto the court is the beginning of the match, not the first point. Learn to take the warm-up seriously and give yourself a better chance of a fast start. Getting up at 6 a.m, to practice for a 10:30 match when I could have slept a bit more was not exciting. However, I am convinced that it played a huge part in my success in my matches.

Judy Dixon

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