No one has his eye more on the tennis ball than Murphy Jensen, former Tennis Channel star and coach of the Washington Kastles professional tennis team — of which Serena and Vanessa Williams are members.
Here are some of his tennis-playing pointers:
• Play with a resistance band
Before getting their rackets swinging, Kastles players warm up by doing the same movements using resistance bands. “Put one end under your foot and pull it around with your arm. Just have fun with it,” says Jensen, who recommends repeating this process after you play to help with recovery. The bands allow you to perform traditional exercises, such as biceps curls and triceps kickbacks, as well as common tennis moves, so you can practice serving or nabbing a high volley.
• Stretch and strike a pose
Flexibility is critical: If you can’t reach the ball, you’re not hitting it, either. That’s why Kastles players benefit from keeping up a yoga practice. Jensen says downward-facing dog, pigeon and other poses that open up the hips and lower body have become part of their pregame stretch routine. “It’s a way to center mentally and physically before matches,” Jensen says. The mental side of yoga is what the players really need to tap into in the minutes before a match. “There’s a quiet intensity that builds, and you can imagine what your goal is and what your stroke is going to look like,” he adds.
• Don’t forget your feet
The brain is an important body part, but you also need to think on your feet — and about your feet. “I don’t care if it’s a pedicure or a massage, but you need to do something,” he says. Players have also been known to take a bucket of ice, fill it with water and dunk their legs up to their calves. “It cools those doggies down,” adds Jensen.
• Get a jump rope
“Every tennis player needs a jump rope,” Jensen says. A few minutes of hopping is part of the team warmup, and many of the players do much more. The reason, Jensen explains, is that the quick plyometric action mimics what they’ll do in a game.
“You need to be on the balls of your feet. If your first step is quicker, you’ll be better,” he says.
You can also boost those skills with other drills — Jensen often rolls balls across the court and has players chase them, sans racket.
Or, you can follow in the footsteps of Serena Williams. “She will actually dance and do the Dougie,” he says. That’s useful for not only improving your game but also rehearsing your victory celebration.