tennis playing only
brian hefele / Foter

Playing tennis at a club usually costs good money. Between membership fees and court fees a typical match at the club can cost upwards of $15-20.

And when every match comes at a price, it isn’t uncommon to feel like we should try to get maximum value from each – and that usually means we all want to only play matches against good, competitive opponents.

It’s only natural to feel this way, but the problem is that playing only hyper-competitive matches where the goal is always to win allows for only so much improvement. The matches are fun, but our focus isn’t so much on improving our strokes as it is on doing whatever it takes to win and, too often, establishing our standing among our club peers.

As a result of these types of matches many of us club players get really good at fine-tuning our games, flaws and all. We might not hit a great backhand, but we sure hit our backhand as well as it can be hit given our poor form.

To really take your game to a new level you need to break out of this cycle and find a practice opponent who you can feel comfortable trying new things against. And the best way to do this is to head out of the club and into the public courts.

Finding an opponent at a public court usually isn’t all that difficult. Just take a hopper of balls out and practice your serve. Public court players who are decent will usually spot you pretty quickly and it won’t take long for one or more of them to ask you for a match. Of course, it depends on how busy your local public courts are, but I find I’m asked once every couple of times I go out to practice.

What you’re looking for in a practice opponent is someone who can rally but who isn’t quite as good a player as you are. Ultimately what you want is to play some practice sets feeling completely free to try new shots, practice new serves, and care not at all if you’re missing a bunch or even if you lose. Public court practice opponents are great precisely because they aren’t club players. They don’t know you, they might not know anyone you normally play with or against, and they’re usually happy just to find someone willing to play with them, regardless of the quality (or lack thereof) of the match.

So head to the public courts and swing away. Hit doubles faults. Hell, double fault entire service games away. Go for winners on every return of serve. Crush short balls. Take full swings on your weaker groundstroke side. Rush the net. Serve and volley.

Maybe don’t do all of these things in one match, but pick a couple and just go for it. You might lost 0-6, 0-6 but who cares. You’ll learn some things and get better in the process.

And no one at the club will be any the wiser.

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