Having Court Sense

It’s the same in every sport… they talk about a great basketball point guard as “seeing the whole court,” or a great quarterback as “seeing the field” and knowing where the pass coverage is going to be. Well, it is really the same in tennis.

Some players see the whole court — especially in doubles — and are aware of where the play is … and where it is going. These players are like chess masters: they are actually thinking two or three strokes ahead.

The really good singles player will see his opponent standing slightly over into the deuce court and visualize…

• I will hit my slice backhand, low and crosscourt,
• And then I will come in behind it,
• Because my opponent will probably hit a weak reply,
• And then i will volley into the open deuce court.

The “one shot wonder” will hit a big ball down the line and stand there watching it fly (and checking to see if it stays inside the court), while his opponent is chugging to get there … and then hits his next shot cross court, where our guy should have been headed in the first place!

Now is this a born-with skill, or can you learn to develop more/better court sense?

In football, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have an excellent rookie running back named Doug Martin. He started out the season doing ok; but then his coach looked at game film and told him, “When you are hitting the hole, you have your head down. Keep your head up and you will see the field better.” He has … and is on pace for a solid thousand-yard season.

For an excellent article on John McEnroe’s great court sense, check out nationally-known tennis writer Joel Drucker’s

Joel Drucker
piece for the Tennis Channel by clicking HERE.

Then, come back here and answer the question: Is it “Nature or Nurture”?

3 thoughts on “Having Court Sense

  1. Court sense is as much a skill as any other part of the game. Is it innate or learned? To be sure, everyone has certain things they’re probably more predisposed to than others. Some people initially run fast, others grasp the volley, others can generate power — and yes, others can see aspects of the court. But each of those is to me barely a five-yard jump in a long, long race.

    For surely no one comes out of the womb knowing:
    – the net is lower in the middle
    – underspin is good on approaches, but bad on passing shots
    – why the body serve yields a return different than a wide serve
    – how to approach down the line and cover accordingly

    And so on. No, court sense is a skill, gained the way we learn everything else in life: through study and experience, repeated constantly. The best definition I’ve heard of instinct: trained knowledge.

    But do people really ponder court sense? For it requires something other than the narcissism of the technique-focused, but instead the recognition that tennis is not an individual sport but a relationship sport — two people jousting. This is where we build court sense, in acknowledging the opponent’s skills and tendencies. But while I see many players will spend hours talking about backswings and hip turns and strokes, are they as rigorous when it comes to clarifying an opponent’s tendencies? And with that information, can they plan accordingly?

    Court sense to me is built by relentless paying attention. Yes, some people get that sooner — but it’s still a skill that can be built if a player has courage to enter that realm of thinking.

  2. As in a marriage, two people can have a “relationship” sense on the court, and fill in the “holes” and needs of the other person. It is fortunate when two people come together, communicate openly and as expressed above, let “trained knowledge” take over from that experience and a sense of knowing the other person will be there when needed, and not judge, but support.

    Howie – especially from the 60s doubles champs at the USTA Longboat Key tourny! tks, george

  3. George, this ties in closely to a topic near and dear to my heart – studying videos of your own tennis matches. I agree whole-heartedly that court sense is at least partly, if not wholly, a developed skill, and looking at video replays of matches can be invaluable. I have recorded a lot of my own matches and find that the perspective i gain helps my visualization of what’s going on even when I get back on the court at “ground level”. Like the Buccaneers coach, studying the film can show things that you just aren’t aware of down on the court.

    Another way to gain court sense is to play the top national players like Larry Turville and Neil Newman. (Or maybe some of your readers), They sure showed me where the openings in the court were! Hey, that angle wasn’t there! 🙂 It all adds up!

    Mike: as a video user, i agree! sometimes you and your partner have no idea what/where you are doing on the court, until you see The Proof! thanks, george

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