Crowding the Ball

In all my years of teaching, I've never had a student who regularly underestimated how close he should get to the ball and hit his ground strokes from a position too far away.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that nearly all of my students get too close to the ball and crowd their ground strokes.  None of them have navels large enough to fit a tennis ball, but it sure looks like it's trying hard to insert itself.  Minimally, the ball clunks at the throat of the racquet and the jammed-up stroke has no power, particularly since the crowded position also causes a loss of balance backward during the swing, "falling off the shot."

Crowding comes from looking at the ball straight-on, as we do all objects in front of our bodies, lining the object up with our mid-line.  If your backswing position allows this perspective, the ball can be hit fifty feet to one side, and when you get there, you'll be crowded.  A fuller shoulder turn usually solves the problem, rotating your backswing so that your gaze is cast clearly to the side of your body (picture the baseball batter's shoulders in relation to the pitcher.)  When I was first learning, my coach used to pin paper eyes on the backs of my shoulders.  When he could see that paper eye, he knew I was turned enough on my backswing.  You can also try and touch your chin to your front shoulder on your backswing; you can't do this unless you're turned enough.

Also, try warming-up your ground strokes down-the-line.  Crowded contact causes early contact, cross-court, but it won't always feel bad, and you may not be aware that your cross-court placement is a function of being too tight to the ball rather than your choice.  Down-the-lines don't lie; you just can't hit them unless you're far enough away from the ball.  If you can make the placement and hold your balance at the end of the shot, you've solved your crowding.

c Keith Shein