Everyone wants to improve, but exactly how much better does a player need to be to jump one UTR level? The answer is probably not as difficult as one might think. Everyone understands that the margins in tennis are small, but how small, exactly? Consider this. If I, as a player, win 50% of the points in a match and my opponent wins 50% of the points, the odds of me winning are 50%, In essence my opponent and I are playing at the same level. However, if I am able to improve my level of play by 3%, the odds of me beating my opponent have now swung to almost 80%. I would now win exactly 79% of my matches against this opponent. Let’s say I worked even harder and was able to improve my level by 5%. At this point, my odds of winning become 94.5%. It seems counterintuitive, but winning an extra 3 points out of 100 means I am winning almost all of the time and therefore my UTR level would be higher.
Simply understanding the math is half the equation, but the more important half is determining how to improve that elusive 3-5%. Some people might give you a tip that will work for a day then disappear, but there are a couple of proven methods that will make your UTR level jump.
1. Get to the next level of fitness. On a scale of 1-10 if your fitness level is a 7 and you can improve to a 8 or 9, you most definitely will pick up an extra 3%. Tennis is a running sport. If you don’t like to run you should retire. Run for every ball even if it is out by 29 feet.
2. Add one new shot to your game. Whatever shot you currently “just rent “and don’t own, work on it. Develop that backhand slice, learn a kick serve, etc. One new shot a year equals 3% improvement. These are the basics of tennis and you need to be brilliant with the basics. The rule is: “The basics ae the basics and you can’t beat the basics.”
3. Hit serves everyday. The single most important shot in tennis is the serve. If you were going to work on one thing that would make the most difference it would be the serve. Hit 40 serves a day, giving yourself one day off per week. Hit 10 serves to each corner of the court and hit flat, slice, topspin and kick. After you hit your 10 serves to each corner don’t quit practice until you make 10 second serves in a row. Do this everyday and you will pick up 3% in your game.
4. Take an organized approach to your practice. You need to approach each practice with at least one thing you want to accomplish. Every player should take ownership of their own game. You can’t win on a hope, wish or prayer, nor rely entirely on your coach to do it for you. Design a deliberate practice which forces you to play slightly outside of your comfort zone and you will also be able to pick a 3% improvement.
I hope these few tips help you get to the next level, but please go into this knowing , there will be pain. You have to practice outside the comfort zone. You need to push yourself. In my experience, anytime a new drill is introduced, the player who does it well or wins the drill, loves that drill. However, the player who struggles and performs poorly, will invariably complain about the necessity of the drill and may even feel that it is a bad or a stupid drill.
Learn to appreciate the drills you hate and see them as the challenge and opportunity to get better at them.
Embrace the pain and the process. Work hard, get in better shape, learn new shots, don’t rent your strokes, own them. 3-5% is a small improvement, but it makes a big difference.! Good luck and stay with it.
Coach David Geatz
University of Pennsylvania
Head Men's Tennis Coach