What you can learn from Djokovic

Novak Djokovic is on a whirlwind of a comeback.  He may not be my favorite player ever, in fact, I can’t really stand him, you still have to respect what he’s done.

Here’s what you can learn from him:

Never Give Up

A couple of years ago, Novak was on top of the tennis world.  He had accomplished things that neither Federer and Nadal hadn’t accomplished yet.

Then came the slump.

Djokovic suffered a “surprising” loss to Sam Querry in the round of 32 at Wimbledon in 2016. It was surprising because it was near impossible to defeat Djokovic for over a year.

After that though, it became a much more common thing until Wimbledon 2018. Djokovic was struggling to find his mojo.  He was looking everywhere he could look to find the answers he was searching for.  He changed coaches, brought in a shaman, completely changed up those close to him.

and none of it worked.

His coach at the time, Boris Becker said:

“Our hands were tied a little bit because we couldn’t do the work we wanted to do,” he told Sky Sports. “He didn’t spend as much time on the practice court in the last six months as he should have, and he knows that … Success like this doesn’t happen by pushing a button. Success like this doesn’t just happen by showing up at a tournament. You have to work your bottom off because the opposition does the same.”

Before the French Open this year he did something that really made a difference.  He brought his crew back.

He after going through some troubles, Djokovic went back to what made him successful.  You could start to see that he was a different play, yet again, at Roland Garros until he had a meltdown.

He didn’t let his terrible time since 2016 trouble him though.  He knew that he still had the tennis in him to compete at the top level.

At Wimbledon, that tennis came through.  His semi-final with Nadal was incredible and had to have lifted his spirit and confidence.

Lesson #1: Don’t give up

Keep the Ball in

It seems like this would be pretty simple, but Djokovic keeps the ball in play.  That’s his superpower on the tennis court.  Just like the players he through time he is compared to, his number one talent is speed.

Djokovic has the uncanny ability to get to just about every ball.  What causes others problems with that is that he gets the ball back with a purpose.  The majority of shots that come off Djokovic’s racket are still forceful or neutral enough to keep an opponent off-balance.

In the US Open final against Pel Potro, the Argentine hammered forehands all over the court, and Djokovic was still able to get to them and return them.  Often times, he was able to even redirect the ball to the open court.

So what can we get from this?

Lesson #2: Get the ball back.

If you can increase your speed and footwork, it gets much easier to get to the ball.  Too often with recreational players, they give up on a ball because they don’t think they can get to it.  Make an effort.  I tell my students all the time that you don’t know if you can get to a ball if you give up.  If you try you might be able to do something with it.

Lesson #3: When you are playing someone that hammers the ball, don’t try to outhit them.  Get smarter.

Djokovic was great at redirecting the ball to the open court against DelPo.  He didn’t try to out hit him, nor did he try to do just get the ball back.  Try to use your opponent’s pace against them.  If you can take the ball early and use your opponent’s pace, you can wear them down!


Always Learn Something

You don’t have to like someone to respect them.  If you use these tips and practice them, you can take your game to the next level.  All it takes is hard work, belief, and some good tactics.

How champions improve

One of the toughest things in our sport is improving a shot or stroke that you’ve been working on when the chips are down. Usually, the way that you’ve hit that shot for so long has been ingrained in your body.  When you’re in a pressure situation, your mind can go on auto-pilot and you go back to the old shot.  So how do you change that?

Build the change

The first thing you need to do is start slow.  Don’t be scared or surprised to miss. You are learning something new, and need to take a thousand swings to learn the new motion.

Right now,  you are trying to get a feeling for the change with no pressure.  The more you can practice the shot in a low pressure situation, the better you’ll be in the long run.

If you are working on a groundstroke or a ball that you would hit in a rally try to start slow and get someone to toss or drop you a ball.  Decide what a good success rate will be with the easy feed and move from there.  A good number might be 8 or 9 out of 10 tosses.  This sets a standard for success and gives you direction for practice.

Once you have hit your goal, start to add in more. Have someone toss the ball so you have to move more, or have them toss it so that you can add more shoulder turn and power.  The more you can master the stroke in this phase, the better you’ll be down the road.

Have the feeder move to the far side of the court and start to use their racket.  The feed will become more like a real shot, and it should take a few practice swings to get the right timing down.  Again, work with a goal in mind.  still trying to get that 8 out of 10 balls would be a great goal.  You want some pressure and you want to focus on something and not just be out there swinging with no goal.


Once you’ve got a feeling for the shot, it’s time to start making things just a little tougher.

Get a friend and start to rally. If you are focusing on a particular shot, have your partner focus most of the attention on that shot, but don’t hit 100% of the shots there.  You need to be able to hit something else and then return to it.  Still, you want to start making it more like a real point than someone feeding you.

Set a goal: rally with that topspin forehand 10 times in a row, alternate forehand and then the backhand slice that you’ve been working on. Something to make it almost like a point. You need to start putting pressure on the shot now. It will break down. You will miss. This is where you are fine-tuning the shot. You are getting used to it.  There needs to be more pressure than before, but not the pressure of a match situation.

Play out points

Once you’ve got a feel for it, start to play out points. It can be drop hit or tiebreaks, or even a real set.

It’s time to put some pressure on the shot.

Your shot will probably break down, and that’s okay.  Playing out points and keeping score puts different types of pressure on you than just trying to rally and get used to a shot. See how your shot puts up with pressure, look for what happens when it goes wrong.  If something happens consistantly, like hitting the fence, go back to the last step or even the first step and fine tune it.

This is where things start to get real though.

Players, when put in a position where winning and losing is on the line, begin to return to things they’ve done before. You need to change the attitude here.  Success is trying the new shot, not winning the point.

Don’t think that winning these games, these points mean that you’re improving if you aren’t working on the shot. Winning the point with the old shot or strategy isn’t really improving the shot.  If you were losing because of your crappy backhand before, and you just won a point using the same backhand, how are you going to move forward?

Once you are starting to hit the shot successfully with a pretty good consistency, it’s time to start pushing even further.

Real Matches and tournaments

The real test begins. Practice is over and it is you versus an opponent. Here is where all the practice pays off. If you followed the steps above you should have developed some confidence in your new shot, but will you be able to use it when the pressure is at its greatest?

Keep your focus on improving the shot, not winning matches.  You should be looking to the success in the future, not the success in front of you.

Pete Sampras

In the 80s Pete Sampras had a promising junior career with a two-handed backhand. He and his coach decided that he wanted to win Wimbledon one day. They decided that he needed to have a one-handed backhand so that he could attack the net with more comfort. They made the change, and Pete’s junior career started to tank. Still, he went to the pros with that one-handed backhand. He would eventually go on to be the Grand Slam records holder before Roger Federer. He won Wimbledon 9 times

Roger Federer

In 2016 when Roger Federer took half a year off of the tour, he decided to really work on his backhand.  So he took to the practice court.

When Federer returned to the tour in 2017 and started to hit is new backhand, many of his coaches marveled at it. They had all suggested some tweaks, but not having time to really work on it because of the grueling nature of the tour kept him from really being confident of the changes on the tour.

When he came back from his time off though, things were different. As Michael Steinberger writes about Federer’s new backhand in his article Rebuild, restore, redeem: The shot that salvaged Roger Federer’s career

Luthi was so impressed by what he saw that autumn (“Roger is so good, it feels that anything that’s possible on a tennis court he can do”) that he told Federer that he was convinced he could win the Australian. However, as he put it, “From being able to play a great level in practice or in one match to winning a Grand Slam, it’s a long way.”

Even one of the greatest tennis players of all time struggles with change. One of Federer’s coaches also says this of his new backhand:

Annacone, now a Tennis Channel analyst, said he never had any doubt that Federer could execute a more aggressive backhand; the question was whether he would remain committed to it at pivotal junctures.

Wrapping it up

So hopefully everything that you’ve worked on will carry with you.

You have to commit to that new shot.

You need to risk using that new shot when the pressure is on, and not be scared to lose. So to improve, to become a great champion, don’t get caught up with the wins today if you are working on something. Worry about learning and improving now, so that in the future you can become a champion.

How to win points easier

Everyone wants to win.  All of us would probably like a way to win even easier if we could, but so many of us are so scared to work on parts of our game, or even change things up.

The current professional game is going through a major change right now.  For the past ten years or so, the pro that had the better defensive game would win most often.  Nadal has made his fame playing defensive to win The French Open a staggering eleven times.

Condensing that down to the game of us mortals, the person that could get to more shots and place them back without missing would win.  Or get one more ball back than your opponent.

Now though, things are changing.  While it is and always will be important to have great defensive skills, the player that is more aggressive with their footwork and moving forward will have the advantage.

According to Pete Bodo at ESPN.

more players seem focused on pre-emptive ball-striking and offense.

More pros are going from defense to striking hard and moving, so what does this mean for me? And how do I use this to win the points easier?

That’s the more difficult part, but it’s not that hard.  It just takes some practice.

Going from Defense to offense

Step one is to work on your defense.  Getting more balls back in play will on help you.  But don’t just get the ball back, try to be more forward thinking with your plan.  As you get pulled wide, instead of just getting the ball back in play, work on countering your opponents positioning.  If they stayed where they are, try to hit the ball where they’re not to get them moving.  If they seem to have everything covered, throw the ball up high and give yourself more time to get back.

Controlling the point

Once you’re able to get more balls in play, work on controlling the point from the first couple of shots.  Use your serve to set up your oppoent off the court to use your strong forehand down the line.

Try to return a serve in a way that will get the server moving from the first shot.  If you can do that, you should be able to take control of the match. If you can get your opponent moving more than you, their battery will eventually drain and you’ll be the fresher player.

Move forward

You don’t have to be a great volleyer, but working on your net game can help you finish off a point quickly.  Once you start to control the point, and you get your opponent moving, you need to start looking for chances to move forward.  If you can manage to get your opponent off the singles court and into an alley, moving forward and looking to volley can take time away from them to get to the next ball.  Plus it makes that volley a heck of a lot easier to hit when you have half the court to hit into.

Many players are afraid of the net because they don’t have as much time to prepare their shot, or they try to do too much.  If you get your opponent off balance before you come in, you can usually get a weaker shot hit at you.  Also, if your opponent is off the court, there’s less pressure to hit the volley in a tiny area.  This usually leads players to being more succesful at the net and helps them get used to being up there.

What should I do?

Next time you serve on the Ad (left) side of the court, aim your serve out wide.  The goal here is to get your opponent off the court on the first ball.  By doing this on the Ad side, you will most likely be hitting to their backhand, which is usually their weaker shot.

If you manage to get your opponent out into the alley to return, aim your next shot (try to use your strongest groundstroke) to the other side of the court.  Get them moving.  And try to take the ball early.  If you can take the ball right off the bounce, you’ll be in a better position and your opponent will have less time.

Follow that ball in towards the net, and if they are able to get a racket on it, you should have a wide open court to place your volley.  You don’t even have to try to hit a winner, just put it across the court, back where they returned from originally.  If they get that ball hit it back to where they were before that last shot.  Keep them moving.  If they start to anticipate you making them move like a yo-yo, then you hit behind them and really confuse them.

If they manage to win the point, you just made them run about 4 times as much as you did in the point.  Keeping this pattern up will run them down and make them run out of energy.

Look to be aggressive and move forward to control the point.

How to pick the right racket

Over the years, I’ve been asked to help tennis players pick out a racket.  There is no rule for what type of racket someone should use, but I’ve learned some secrets that players have used to help them pick out a racket to stick with.

So these are the things I usually tell someone when they go through the process.

Remember, these are only my opinions and tips. You might get different information from someone else, so like everything, try it out.

If you are shopping for a new racket, you can use my tips, but I DO NOT encourage you to just go in and pick a racket and buy it.

What to do when looking for a racket

Before you buy a racket you need to test it out.

Let me repeat that… You need to test rackets out.

A racket my look cool or tons of your teammates might use it.  That doesn’t mean that its the racket for you.

So demo some rackets.

If you are near our school, RacquetPro has a great demo service.  It cost some money, but if you buy a racket from them they usually will apply the price of the demo towards your racket.  Conversely, if you aren’t close, Tennis Express, Tennis Warehouse, and other online retailers offer demo sessions.  You pick rackets from their website, they will mail them to you to try for a week and then you mail them back.

So take that racket to the court and try it.  Try it all week.  Don’t take it out to the court for ten minutes and fall in love and buy it.

This is called the honeymoon period.  Some rackets demo very well.  You might hit the tennis ball of your life, but during that time you might be able to hit the tennis ball with a frying pan.  To really get the feeling for a new racket you need to use it for a week at the minimum.  Play competitively with it, play bad tennis, play great tennis.  It’s the only way to see how you actually like it.

You can also borrow a racket from a teammate to try out as well.

But what racket should you try?


One of the first things I look for when suggesting a racket is the weight.  During the early 2000s light was all the rage.  The lighter the racket, the faster you could swing.

Well, all those light rackets started to cause some tennis elbow and other injuries.

I generally encourage players to:

Pick the heaviest racket that you can swing quickly for at least 3 sets.

The heavier a racket is, the more weight you can put behind the ball.  Imagine an 18-wheeler and a Smart Car getting into a wreck.  The 18-wheeler is going to do much more damage to the Smart Car than the other way around.

Hitting a tennis ball is like that wreck.  The more weight behind the ball you can put, the heavier it will go to your opponent.  So if you can swing the heavy racket, do it.  Be the 18-wheeler, and not the smart car.

The problem is doing that for three sets.

I recommend most beginners start with a racket in the 10-ounce range.  The 10-ounce range is still fairly light, but still has some heft to it.  If they are strong enough, they can use an 11-ounce racket.  This lets them swing pretty freely.  It lets the racket do more work as well.  I wouldn’t recommend anything under 10-ounces unless the player is smaller or not strong enough yet.

Intermediate to Advanced I’d recommend nothing under 11 ounces.  They need to be putting some weight behind their shots, that lighter rackets might not help with.

This isn’t a hard rule.  There are exceptions to every rule after all.  Again, try out rackets and see how it feels.


The next thing I look at is headsize.

Headsize is the size of the hitting area of the racket.  Generally, the smaller the frame the more control it offers, but you have to have better timing.  Smaller frames also provide more maneuverability.  This helps when you are trying to swing the racket, or when you have to move fast like at the net.

The bigger the racket head, the more power you can generate.  Bigger racket heads can be like a trampoline.  It also can give you a very loose feel.  Bigger heads are harder to get around though.

Racket heads are getting bigger now as well.  95 square-inches used to be the standard size for most rackets, but that figure is creeping up to 100 square inches.  I wouldn’t recommend anyone go over 100 if they are serious about improving.  The smaller head makes the player focus on the ball more.

I would recommend the headsize anywhere from 95-100 square inches.  If they are experienced they might know that they want more a trampoline feel.  More advanced players might try a midsize frame that’s smaller than 95, but make sure that you try it first.


Weight and headsize are the two most important aspects of picking a racket.  They are also the easiest to pick out.

Flex is a tricky thing to pick out.  The flex is how much the racket flexes when it hits a ball.  This is all personal preference but can be important to know.  The stiffer a racket the more power can go into the ball on contact.  This can send more shock up the arm as well.

If the racket is flexible, the contact will feel softer.  Most of the time, players that use lots of touch might prefer flexible rackets.  It almost seems like it provides more control.

This is where trying out rackets will come into play.  Try a flexible racket and a stiff racket.  You can find the flexibility of a racket on its specs page.  Flexible rackets are in the 50s to low 60s.

One thing that is hard to gauge is where the racket flexes though.  The flex rating is usually based on the racket’s flex at the throat of the racket.  Some rackets might have a stiff throat, but a flexible head.  This will change the feel of the racket.  There’s no easy way to figure out where a racket flexes other than research.

So try it out.


So you’re ready to try out some rackets. You’ve added them to your cart, or you’ve gone to the store but then they ask you what size grip…

You can see the gap between middle finger and palm here.

If you are in a store, grab a racket and see how it feels. The standard grip size is 4 and 3/8 inch.  Holding a forehand grip, you should be able to put a finger between the tip of your middle finger and your palm.  If there’s too much space, try a smaller grip.  If there’s not enough space, go larger.

Again, it comes down to preference.  A smaller grip can let your wrist move more.  Some think this can let you hit more spin, or let your wrist snap more on a serve.

A larger gripe can give you more stability in your swing.

Wrap up

So go try some rackets out.  Look at the weight, the headsize, and the flex(if you can find it).  Take them out to the courts and play some sets.

The only way to know if you like a racket is to try it and use it.  It can take players a long time to adjust to a new racket as well.  Pros hardly ever actually change rackets, just paint jobs, but that’s a post for another website.

One last little bit.

You don’t have to get a new racket.  There is a huge market out there for used rackets if you are on a budget.  If you are on a budget, please don’t go shopping at Wal-Mart or Target.  Most of the rackets at non-tennis specialty stores are made out of materials that will bend and break fairly easily.

If you do need more help, ask a coach.  They will be happy to help you get your racket right.