Watching tennis can be one of the fastest ways to improve your game. In fact, tennis has a very positive correlation between game improvement and watching the sport which happens for a multitude of reasons.
Many people are visually oriented and find that watching the pros allows them to learn about point construction, movement and shot selection, while importantly, enacting learning through visualisation.
This is a view espoused by professional coaches including Patrick Mouratoglou who has worked with top players including Serena Williams. “When you see people doing the right thing all the time or most of the time, it comes into your head and then you do it more naturally,” he said. “I know a lot of people who improved just by watching. That’s the best way to learn, because you don’t think, you just copy, without trying.”
The key is to watch players with a style that suites your game and examine their technique and movement. When watching one of these players, it can be very helpful to keep your focus on one player while he/she is playing. This involves a lot of discipline: we all want to follow the ball from to end to end. But the practice offers many rewards.
While watching this player, you should try analysing various parts of their game, thinking through how they hold their racket, when they connect with the ball, how they position their body and the types of shots the choose to make.
However, while it can be useful to analyse the pros, you should be conscious of the general limitations of amateur players vs. professionals when trying to emulate what you are watching. Even if you become a student of the game, you are unlikely to be able to move like a professional or harness a similar level of technique or athleticism in the short term. Therefore, it is important to isolate small components of the game that you can introduce at any level, such as strategy, footwork or body position, while being conscious of the elements that a more difficult for less experienced players to incorporate.
One of the key differences between professional tennis players and casual players is their understanding of the geometry of the court during points, which is enhanced due to technique and variety of shots they are able to pull off. The professionals understand how the geometry changes as they move around the court, which influences the power they exert as well as their shot selection.
A component of the professional game that any standard of player can incorporate is the sequencing and focus of a warm-up. If you watch a professional before a match, you will see them practicing the full repertoire of shots including forehands and backhands, hitting different angles and spins, working on both hitting down-the-line, cross-court, inside-out, and inside-in shots from both shots. After a few minutes of this, they move in and take volleys, once again, hitting different types of volleys and overheads, preparing themselves for all the shots they will need to hit in the match. Doing this before playing matches could have a significant difference on your results.