Have you ever played against someone who wants to win the warm-up? They angle their volleys off for winners. They smash their overheads back at you, or maybe back at your partner who is not even paying attention to your opponent. Some people play the warm-up as if its some kind of mini-match that they need to win before the real match even begins. In this episode of Tennis Quick Tips, I'll talk about how to really “win” the warm-up, how to make the most of those 5 to 10 minutes before the match begins to get yourself physically and mentally ready to play. You can listen to this episode by clicking on the media player above or by listening in with your favorite podcast app. You can also subscribe in iTunes by clicking on this link: tennisfixation.com/itunes.
SHOW NOTES AND EDITED TRANSCRIPT:
This week I am talking about winning the warm-up. I am not talking about winning the warm-up so that you come out of that as the victor before your match even begins. Instead, I am talking about what I think you can do to make sure you have a great warm-up before you go into your match. Both warming-up physically and mentally.
What Does “Winning the Warm-Up” Mean?
I am sure if you have played for any length of time you have come up against that opponent who uses the warm-up as their opportunity to play a little mini-match. I don’t know if people think that’s a time to play mind games with their opponents or if they just totally are ignoring the point of the warm-up is but I, myself have had warm-ups where my opponents don’t seem to realize that I don’t work for them, I am not there to make their life easy. I am there because I need to warm-up too.
I am talking about those opponents who, when you start feeding them volleys they angle them all off, they are going for winners, they are standing about six off the net so it is pretty easy to hit winners and you can’t get any kind of little rally going.
I am talking about those opponents who, when they take their overheads, they smash them back at full power. And what irritates me even more is when I am feeding those lobs up to someone so that they can practice their overheads and they smash them back at my partner who is not paying attention at all because they are warming up with someone else!
The warm-up is not a time to demonstrate what an incredible tennis player you are and how well you are going to play and how you are going to win in the upcoming match. Instead, it’s a time to warm-up. So let's talk about how to get the most out of your warm-up, what’s appropriate and what’s not.
The Tennis Rules Regarding the Warm-Up
First, I am going to look to the rules of tennis to see if there is anything at all that the rules tell us about how to properly warm up. Believe it or not, the ITF rules, which we use here in the United States according to the USTA, do not have a specific rule on warming-up. So they don’t tell us exactly what we should and shouldn’t be doing during a warm-up. But if you go to the Code, you do get a little bit of guidance. As you know, the Code is where we find information on how to most fairly and with the most etiquette play tennis. Most leagues adopt the Code as part of their rules, regulations and policies and certainly the leagues I play in follow the Code.
If you look at paragraph 3 of the code, it flat out tells you, and I am quoting here, “Warm-up is not practice.” In other words, warm-up is not the time for you to be practicing your shots. If you need to practice your winners, you need to do that before you get out on the court to get started for your match. In fact here is what Paragraph 3 of the Code says in its entirety:
3. Warm-up is not practice. A player should provide the opponent a warm-up of five to ten minutes. If a player declines to warm up the opponent, the player forfeits the right to a warm-up and practice. Each player should try to hit shots directly to the opponent. (If partners want to warm each other up while their opponents are warming up, they may do so.)
Obviously, the writers of the Code recognized the type of warm-up situations that I am describing because they flat out tell you that players should try to hit shots directly to the opponent. This is not a time to be angling volleys off the court. This is a time to try to get a little mini rally going to warm each other up.
The issue of warm-up serves are also addressed. In paragraph 4 the Code says:
4. Warm-up serves are taken before first serve of match. A player should take all warm-up serves before the first serve of a match. A player who returns serves should return them at a moderate pace in a manner that does not disrupt the server.
Honestly, I have never played a league match where somebody said let’s play first one in, we always take our warm-up serves before the official first serve of the match. But I have had the situation where I am hitting my warm-up serves and my opponent is returning them back to me, like they are hitting a real return. In other words, what the Code is getting at and what I think is the proper way to do this is, if you do not want to take serves for whatever reason and I know sometimes people don’t want to actually serve during the warm-up, you should hit them back, certainly not at full power and you should you hit them back directly to your opponent who is taking the warm-up serves. That is not your opportunity to try out whatever fancy returns you are trying to use in that particular match.
Now while the rules don’t address the warm- up, if you play a USTA-sanctioned tournament, there are regulations that do basically say what the Code says. The regulation that applies here is IV.C.4 and that says
Warm-up. A player who refuses to warm-up with the opponent forfeits the right to a warm-up. During the warm-up or a re-warm-up, a player may have any person hit with the player if the opponent refuses to do so.
I, myself have never been in a situation or seen the situation where an opponent refuses to warm-up with you. I certainly can see it happen because people certainly like to try all kinds of disruptive things in tennis but if that happens, it is contemplated in the regulations and you can warm-up with a friend or your coach or someone else if that happens.
How to Properly Warm-Up
So here is what I think you need to do to make sure you get the most out of your warm up. Particularly, when you are warming up with someone who is looking at it like they need to win the warm up against you.
First of all, realize that the point of the warm-up is to get you loose and relaxed. You need to make sure you take your opportunities to hit your strokes, not necessarily at full power but enough to get your arms, your legs, your body, everything loose, your blood pumping. When you are taking those overheads you are not trying to hit them at full power, rather you are trying to hit them at maybe 50% to 80% so that you can get your shoulder loose, get your arm working and make sure you remember exactly how you want to hit an overhead.
The second thing you need to be trying to accomplish during your warm-up is to get yourself mentally prepared for your match. These 5 to 10 minutes before the match actually starts are a good time to start focusing on what is happening on court, forget about the rest of your life off the court for that amount of time and start getting yourself into whatever zone you need to be in to play good tennis that day. For some people, this means stopping all the chit-chat and really focusing on court, for others it means talking to your partner who you may or may not have a lot of experience with, making sure you guys are on the same page. That’s what you need to be accomplishing mentally during that warm-up time, focusing on your match.
Finally, the warm-up is a great time to be quickly evaluating your opponents. I did a whole episode on this back in Episode 17. It’s called, How to Quickly Evaluate Your Tennis Opponents. If you follow those steps in evaluating your opponents, you will not only get a good picture about what you are about to face in your match but it will also help you to focus on what you are doing on court at that moment.
So those are the three things you really want to accomplish during your warm-up. Those again were warming yourself up physically, getting yourself mentally prepared and focused for the match, and quickly evaluating your opponents. The one thing I have left out of here which some people might put as part of the warm up and which I have referred to at the beginning is using the warm-up as some type of opportunity to send a message to your opponents, to intimidate them somehow.
The Warm-Up Is Not the Time to Intimidate Your Opponents
I just don’t think that is what the warm-up is for. I don’t think that is a good expenditure of your time during the warm-up. If somehow your strokes are so fabulous that you get that across to your opponents, that this isn’t going to be an easy match for you and my partner and I or you as an individual, if you are playing singles, are about to take the opponents down, good for you but that is the last thing I will be worrying about during the warm-up. There are too many other things that you need to worry about for yourself than the message that you are giving your opponents.
If you have that kind of game, it’s going to be there regardless of whether you take steps and by specific steps I am talking about hitting incredible winners or slamming the ball during the warm-up back at your opponent. You do not need to do that. It’s going to be there and you don’t have to go out of your way to be doing what I consider improper warm-up and actually pretty rude.
What I Do to Warm-Up For My Tennis Matches
I am going to tell you specifically what we do to warm-up here in my Houston area. Every league I have played in here pretty much follows the same routine. So I am going to tell you what I do and sort of give my comment on what I think about it.
First, before I get out on the court for this 5 to 10 minute warm-up that we are talking about, I do my own dynamic warm-up. It might be at home, even an hour or two before I play my match but I run through that. I talked about it in episode 18 which is called How To Do A Dynamic Warm-Up and again I will link to that in the show notes for this episode. I try to do that to help me get loose, get relaxed, get my body warmed up and ready so that before I even come out on the court, I am already physically and mentally thinking about my match.
When I do get to court, the actual warm-up routine includes just a minute or two of mini tennis and I have got an episode on mini tennis, called The Many Benefits of Mini-Tennis, which I will include in the show notes. I know a lot of people hate mini tennis. I happen to love it and I will tell you why in that episode. We then move back to the baseline to hit ground strokes both forehands and backhands and, if it is doubles, then we are just hitting on half the court with our partners practicing on the other half.
We then move into volleys, with one team coming up to the net, the other team feeding volleys. Again, I don’t try to hit winners, I don’t try to angle the ball off the court. I try to get a rally going with my opponent. We take turns doing it. When I am feeding volleys to my opponent I really want to get a rally going because I think that is the part of the warm-up that is probably the most helpful, when your opponent is at the net and you are back at the baseline trying to return those volleys. It really requires you to move quickly, to really get your footwork going and to hit some pretty precise shots back at your opponent. We each take some overheads, which I think is not only a good opportunity for practicing hitting your overhead but when you are feeding it is a great opportunity to practice lobbing. If you can, again, try to get a rally going.
Then finally we take serves. I don’t ever use that as an opportunity to practice returns because frankly I would rather spend more time getting my arm loose and practicing my serves. I don’t want to get in a situation where my opponent is chasing balls down because of my returns. That’s my whole warm-up routine. That’s what we do here in Houston. We move from that into usually spinning the rackets. Sometimes we spin the racket before taking the serves so that you can serve from your side.
So that’s what I recommend for winning the warm-up. Not using the warm-up as an opportunity to impose yourself on your opponents and make it into some type of mini match before your actual match even begins but to really take advantage of that time to get yourself ready to play.
Let me know what you think about the warm-up by leaving your comments in the section below. Do you agree that the warm-up is not a time to be intimidating your opponents or do you try to start that right from the get-go of your match? I would love to hear your thoughts.
RESOURCES AND LINKS FROM THIS EPISODE:
- Tennis Quick Tips Episode 17 – How to Quickly Evaluate Your Tennis Opponents
- Tennis Quick Tips Episode 18 – How to Do a Dynamic Warm-Up
- Tennis Quick Tips Episode 58 – The Many Benefits of Mini Tennis
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