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Timing and the Release of the Swing

As a player do you understand the difference between

rhythm and timing?

Most players don't, yet learning to

play with timing is critical to taking your game to the next

level. In my first article we looked at the first

principle of good timing: "knowing" where your racket

head is in relation to the ball--most importantly at

contact. The second principle is knowing when to release

your forward swing. This means knowing how to time the

release at slightly different moments to find the contact

point on the wide variety of balls competitively players actually face. The majority of all players don't play with "timing" in this sense. Instead they play with "rhythm." They release their swings at the same time on every ball, usually about the time of the ball bounce on the court. This is why most players do much better when they play against opponents who hit the ball at an even speed--or when they hit with teaching pros. But the quality of balls players must deal with in matches vary over a huge range. There are harder, faster balls, slower balls, deeper balls, shorter balls, balls with different depths, arcs, spins and angles. Unfortunately most players are unaware of the subtle differences in the release of the swing that are required to time all these variations. Because of this they never work specifically on timing in practice.

What's the difference between hitting with rhythm and hitting with timing?

This may also be due to the erroneous belief that timing is an innate talent that cannot be improved. While it is true that a lucky few are born with natural timing, it is also true that the rest of the tennis population can substantially improve timing skills by understanding and then practicing timing techniques.This article will help you learn the difference between rhythm and timing. It will help you develop the critical differences in the timing of your release. We'll do thisthrough a series of original drills I have created for my high level junior players. But these drills can make atremendous difference for players at all levels.Working hard at these drills will help you take your timing to a much higher level. The result will be a majorimprovement in your consistency, and especially, in the quality of the ball you produce.

Basic Principles:

Question is, after you have made your unit turn, when do you "pull the trigger" and complete the swing?

Most players will reach the unit turn at about the time of the ball bounce and then begin the release. In fact youfrequently see the pros in this same position. As the ballbounces, the left arm is fully stretched across the body and the racket is at about the top of the backswing. Youcan see this for yourself if you look through the rear views in the Stroke Archive on balls around the center of the court, or balls that do not force the player on time. This timing will work on balls at a certain depth and speed. But if the ball is faster, heavier and/or deeper, the release must start earlier. Conversely if the ball is shorter and slower, the release must be slightly delayed. On a fast deep ball, waiting to release your swing will make your contact consistently late. It can result in a hurried and tense swing that will rob you of precision and power. It may force you to play a faster, riskier shot.Now your opponent is dictating your response rather than the other way around. The problem is exactly the same on slower and/or shorter balls. In this case you want to release your swing after the ball bounces. The timing of every shot in tennis is different, but most players swing as if they are all the same. As we saw in the first article, I divide the swing into two phases, the unit turn and then the release. The release.

On routine balls, the top players release the swing at the time of the bounce.

The point may seem obvious. The deeper/faster ball will arrive sooner than the slower/shorter ball, so of course you should release your swing earlier. But the reality is that most players never adjust their swing to the pace and depth of the ball. They continue to release the racket at the same time regardless of how fast or how slow the ball is approaching them. Accomplished players make slight adjustments on almost every ball. Watch Federer's release in the animation on these two hard, difficult balls. In both cases the release is well before the bounce. On the second ball, which is even faster and deeper than the first, the release is clearly sooner. You can see this by looking at where the arms and racket are positioned at the moment of the bounce. By timing these balls differently, Federer can reach the contact point on two very difficult shots.

Notice the delay in the release on the shorter slower ball.

How do players develop their ability to time the release in this way? By using their eyes to track the ball and gage the incoming ball's various characteristics--speed, spin, depth, spin, height, placement, then using that information to dictate when they release their swing. By focusing on the flight of the ball, top players develop the relationship between the incoming ball and the racket head. This in turn allows them to line up their swing specifically for the exact shot they are hitting. I can not stress enough the importance of using your eyes to track the ball using the information obtained to determine when to pull the trigger. The drills outlined below are designed to help you improve your tracking ability and base your timing on the actual characteristics of the individual ball you are about to hit.

The Drills:

Simply understanding the importance of releasing your swing at different times may help you to better time your individual ball. But to really master your timing, you will need to work specifically on the skill. To do this I have created several drills that I use with my students to improve this all-important element in great ball striking. In the first drill, I tell my students that no matter what kind of ball I feed to them, they must hit the ball back at the same speed. I then hit them balls of varying speed and depth. The only way to successfully perform this drill is to time the release of your swing to the type of ball you are receiving. Here is how it works, Assume I ask you to hit all of your shots at 35 miles per hour. The first ball I feed you is a medium-paced ball that lands just a few feet past the service line and you hit it back at 35 miles per hour. On the second feed, I hit you a ball with a similar speed but bouncing much deeper in your court. If you time the ball properly by releasing your swing earlier than you did on

the first ball, you will be able to swing your racket smoothly at the proper speed to produce another shot at 35 miles per hour. But if you wait too long to release your shot, you will have to quicken up the racket at the last moment before contact. The result is that your shot will be faster. This drill takes intense focus, but it's the most basic drill for teaching players how to release their swings at different times depending upon the incoming ball. It really makes you feel the differences in the timing.

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