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Ask tennishead: Bemused by balls?


Originally published on: 14/02/12 12:27

Ball skills
I am bemused by the array of balls out there, how do I make a choice? Are there any tactical advantages to any particular balls?
Dom, Cardiff

All International Tennis Federation (ITF)-approved balls are good quality,” says tennishead coaching editor Dave Sammel. “There are differences in felts (the yellow hairs that cover the core of the ball) which affect the speed the ball travels through the air and the height they come off the court, which makes some slower than others, depending on the court surface. My experience is that Slazenger and Babolat balls are some of the slower ones out there, Wilson and HEAD are pretty quick and the rest are somewhere inbetween. It takes a good level of player sophistication to notice the differences, though, and as a club player my recommendation is not to worry too much about it – concentrate on your game!”


If you do want the full lowdown on balls, we visited the ITF headquarters to uncover the ball-testing process last year. Read the full feature here.


Armed and dangerous
Commentators talk about the importance of using the non-playing hand when pros hit a double-handed backhand. What do they mean?
Richard, Dublin

It’s a good observation you’ve made there, Richard, and is an underestimated element of hitting a two-handed backhand. The non-playing hand is the left hand (if you’re right-handed) and vice versa if you’re left-handed. The non-playing hand is so important that some coaches would get a right-hander to hit left-handed forehands to develop strength and control in that arm when they are learning the two-handed backhand. Rafael Nadal is a good example of this.

Although the Spaniard plays with his left hand, he is naturally a right-hander (he uses his right hand to write with, brush his teeth etc) which means he has two phenomenally strong arms to use when he hits a two-handed backhand. He is particularly effective when he is pushed out wide on his backhand side and has to pull the ball back across court. This is when he really needs the strength and control of his right forearm to drag the ball back into play. Look out for it the next time you watch him play.

Pump it up
My son is 12, and itching to get into the gym to train. When is it safe for a youngster to start doing serious stuff in the gym?
Barbara, Hull

Under the guidance of a qualified fitness professional who should know exactly what is and isn’t appropriate, he is fine to begin training. It’s important you seek professional advice, though. Don’t let him loose alone. By working with a qualified instructor he will begin by learning the right techniques and should be given a guided introduction to weights and core control and strengthening.




In a flap
I struggle to concentrate during matches – I go walkabout at the worst possible times! Can you help?
Gary, Edinburgh

OK, first, you may find some comfort in hearing that you’re not alone. Even the best players in the world suffer form this – how many times have you heard them in press conferences saying, ‘I just lost my concentration!’ The pros rely on routines to maintain focus during pressure situations and this might work for you, too. Many of them perform the same peculiar routines before they serve, before they’re getting ready to return and even between games during the change of ends. Ivan Lendl was a stickler for his pre-point routine on serve – bouncing the ball, picking at his shirt, finalising his grip – and Rafael Nadal’s has become one of the most famous when he picks at his, er, backside! Many players go to take their towels between points too. This isn’t because they’re particularly sweaty – it just buys them some time to get ready for the next point. Whatever it is you do, it should give you something to focus on that will stop your mind wandering from what’s happening on court.


Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.