Three Steps to Walking All Over Your Opponents
To hang my credential on your court door: I have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours teaching private and group racquetball lessons, ran many instructional camps that lasted a month and have written a 288 page best selling book to help players improve their racquetball play. That is past, and today I can condense over forty years of play, instruction and observation into three easy tips to walk all over your opponents.
1. Spend twenty minutes every time before you play practicing your serve. The serve is the major common denominator that gave the dominant players in modern racquetball the edge over all others. Marty Hogan, Cliff Swain, Sudsy Monchik and Kane Waselenchuk all control the game with the big serve and you can too. When you think about it, the serve is the one time in the game when you are in total control of the action. You decide how low to drop it, how hard to hit it and what serve to hit. It’s your chance to take control of the point as soon as it starts.
Practice your drive serve from the left side of the court, the right side of the court, and center court. It’s important to be able to hit at least three serves from each position with nearly identical motions. From each location on the court practice your drive serve to the left and to the right as well as the Z and jam serves until you find at least three serves you are really comfortable hitting from each spot. In total you should have at least ten power serves in your rotation. Just like a top pitcher in the majors, top players have a variety of serves to keep the opposition off balance.
In addition to variety, work on keeping your serves as low as possible. Practice dropping the ball lower and contacting it lower in the bounce. Ideally you’d like the served ball to bounce twice before hitting the back. But if you can keep a variety of serves low enough that your opponent fears might bounce twice you’ve done your job and will often solicit weak returns. Drop it low and contact it low, it’s that simple.
It is also important when serving a down-the-line or cross-court drive to avoid hitting the side wall. Years ago, champs like Charlie Brumfield made a living by hitting crack drive serves into the sidewall. You too might catch some cracks when hitting a low jam serve, but as fast as today’s game is you don’t want to give your opponent more time to set up by catching the side wall on your straight drives. Save the sidewall for your jams and Z serves. If you find your drives are hitting the sidewall, adjust your point of contact in the motion. In other words, if your cross-court drive is going into the sidewall, drop the ball a little less in front of you until you find the contact point that takes it straight into the rear corner. If your down-the-line drive is catching the sidewall, drop it a little more in front of you until you find that perfect contact spot.
You may not see immediate results until you improve and eventually perfect your new serves, but stick to them and keep a variety of serves coming low from multiple angles and the free points are sure to come your way.
2. Work on your swing preparation. Practice during drills, warms ups and matches getting your racquet up as early as possible and ready for the next shot. You may have to exaggerate swing preperation at first, running from shot to shot with your racquet high in the air. That’s OK, Swain did it for years. When the ball is traveling 130 to 170 MPH, you have little time to think and even less to prepare. The entire gamem including focus, gets easier when you prepare to swing earlier. By getting your racquet up early ready to swing, you’ll be able to contact more shots with maximum power while saving the step of having to bring your racquet up when you arrive at the ball. Early swing prep also gives you an extra split second to see what your opponent is doing before you strike the ball. That in itself is a big advantage. In a game decided by inches and milliseconds when two players with similar skills vie, the player with early swing preparation wins almost every time. Get your racquet up early and give yourself the winning edge.
3. Find the Court’s Sweet Spot. Everyone knows racquets have a sweet spot but you might not have known until now that the court has a sweet spot, too. Step three is the simplest and easiest to engineer into your game. After you hit a shot, immediately return to the dotted, five-foot line. Let the five-foot line be your magnet that pulls you to return after each ball is struck. With today’s big racquets and fast game playing in front of the five foot line limits your ability to react to balls hit in excess of 130 MPH and leaves you in position to be passed easily. You don’t want to be back too far either, so plant yourself just behind the five foot line. You are close enough to get anything but a perfect kill that you wouldn’t have reached anyway, but deep enough to handle the pace and avoid getting passed. It’s the ideal spot to combat the power game, so always return to your sweet spot after each stroke.
I guarantee this simple three step plan will improve your game a full level from where you are now with just a few months practice. It’s a cakewalk, it´s free, and if you’re a C player you’ll soon be a B, if you’re a B player you’ll become an A, and if you are an A player you’ll soon join the big boys in the Open division as easily as one, two, three!
Courtesty Bo Keeley