Why do you play tennis? I've thought about this question lately and wanted to share my tennis story. I'm also keen to hear yours!
So why do you play tennis? For me, there is a multitude of answers. And I want to take this post to tell you a part of my tennis story.
Tennis is a great sport. It provides excellent exercise, it's social, you challenge yourself, you can focus on learning a craft, and it's fun. All these things are true, but some words ring more true for some people and not for others.
I was always into tennis for the sport's visual beauty, the exercise, and the challenge. I like to challenge myself to grow and improve, not to beat other players, but to be able to measure my improvement and goal-setting.
Some players love the competitive element. They are focused on playing matches and tournaments. Some players focus on the technique, wanting to groove their strokes to be close to the top pros. Others love the physical aspect of tennis and use it as a way to stay in shape. I love all things tennis and below you can read my tennis story.
My Tennis Story
I started playing tennis around 7 years old. I played a couple of years at that age, but group coaching was not my thing. Instead, I quit and focused on other sports like football, table tennis, floorball, chess – yeah, I tried a lot of sports. Chess was the one thing where I got immediate results, and it just came natural to me. So I stayed with it, and I improved and in the end, became one of the top players in Sweden as a child and later on junior. I traveled the world to play and compete in World and European championships for my age group. It was great.
I did play some tennis on the side, but not much. At the height of my chess playing abilities (I had won the junior championships in Sweden and played a draw with not yet world champion Magnus Carlsen for bragging rights), I had the opportunity to move to the U.S. and study journalism in Washington, D.C. So my so-called chess career had to sit in the backseat while I focused on what I wanted to do with my life.
During my studies, I was lucky to get an internship at a talk radio news station working in the Congress and White House, so surely that would be what I devoted my career/life? But after my weird and wondrous time in the U.S., I wasn't that excited about journalism anymore, and chess was not at the top of my mind either (although I still played). Instead, I started working in marketing, and in my spare time, I played tennis with my stepfather.
We were both very amateurish players at the time but could hit a ball at least. We used to ride bikes to the local clay courts and grind for a couple of hours in the Swedish summer. That's where my love for tennis came back and with force. Why had I put this sport that I loved so much as a boy on the wayside? One of the reasons was the lack of good coaching and role models in the local tennis community. Another reason could have been that I just found chess easier. I'm not sure, but I should have kept it up.
But we are all wiser in retrospect, right? So my passion for the sport grew, and I kept playing at a steady rate. When I moved to Malta in 2007 for a marketing job, tennis was one of the things I looked forward to. Malta has at least 300 days of sunshine a year, so it's a perfect sport for the climate. The courts are not always the best, but the accessibility and pricing were excellent compared to Sweden.
I kept playing at a steady rate, a couple of times per week. I bought a Babolat Pure Storm Xtreme Carbon and did not know a lot about gear (these days, I know that's a great racquet). But at some point, not sure exactly when it was, I started doubting the racquet and testing others. I bought, borrowed, tested, and sold. I started trying different strings to see how that would affect my playing style. It almost became an obsession. I started focusing more on the racquet than the actual tennis, which was why it took a long time for me to improve. I learned a lot about racquets and strings, but perhaps not so much about tennis.
At some point a few years ago, I realized I needed to start working on my game. But it's sometimes hard to find partners who are willing to do drills and practice. I did find one or two, and I started to improve a bit. I also worked a bit with a couple of coaches I knew, but the sessions were not focused enough on my game's technical elements. If you want to improve, you need to work with a good coach or partner, not any coach.
These days, recording yourself, and watching YouTube videos from knowledgeable coaches is a great way to grow your tennis knowledge, build awareness about your own game and find areas of improvement. I wish I had all these great resources when I started playing again almost 20 years ago!
I did get some good help from Nik and Vijay, who I recorded the “Tennisnerd Academy” videos with last year. They certainly pushed me on the right path to fixing stuff in my technique. If I watch videos of myself playing about a year ago, I cringe. There are so many technical flaws along with sloppy footwork. I was pretty confident in my knowledge about racquets and strings, but I needed to focus more on my own game. This was made more difficult due to the growth of Tennisnerd and an increasing number of reviews.
I have been through many frustrating moments due to my constant switching of racquets. I have tried to adapt my technique to the racquet, where I should play with a racquet that works well for the game I have. I know this, but I have also been enjoying all the helpful feedback from fellow tennis nerds out there, and I just wanted to keep going and keep growing.
After a while, my arm started to tell me to stop switching racquets and to work on better technique and footwork. I got some pretty bad forearm pain and tennis elbow. I started focusing on rehab while trying to figure out what the hell I do wrong. Luckily, I found a good physio and bought a Flexbar. I started wearing compression sleeves and being really focused on warming up correctly and then icing afterward.
I started watching lots of instructional videos to understand the technical elements of my game. I watched my footage (although it was painful at times) and slowly started putting things together. Comments on YouTube can be a great inspiration, but then there are always the occasional mean ones. If there is any constructive feedback, I try to absorb that and not bother too much about someone being a “troll” or just wanting to send some pain across the Internet. I got some excellent advice from fellow tennis nerds and commenters, so thanks for that!
Lately, I've focused on improving all areas of my game. I have a reliable and dependable hitting partner in Mike who also wants to work on his game, so this helps. We do different drills, hit, play points, hit serves, we try to work on everything. Sometimes we bring a bucket of balls and just hand feed. Since we started focusing on specific areas of improvement, my game has jumped up a level. I feel like things are falling into place that before was all over the place. My forehand is finally feeling more trustworthy and reliable instead of hit-and-miss, and my footwork is more energetic, and sometimes I even bend my knees! 🙂
I'm enjoying tennis more than ever now. The more you improve, the more fun it gets. I am happy I can connect with tennis nerds the world over and share the passion. The COVID situation has been draining in all aspects, but it has, strangely enough, helped my tennis by putting a temporary halt on racquet reviews. I am waiting for a bunch of racquets to demo, but they seem to be stuck in transit.
The lack of new racquets has forced me to take my old Soft Drives and groove with them. Again, this has made me realize how much easier it is to improve if you don't add the racquet to the factors you need to consider. I usually give that advice in all my racquet consultations, take some time to find a racquet, and then stick to it. Bringing five different racquets to the court can be fun, but it has done me no good in terms of tennis development.
I will not stop reviewing. I still find tennis gear enjoyable, and I almost feel like I must know what's up with the latest racquets and strings. It will help me offer better advice and to create more interesting content. But I also want to share more stuff about my tennis journey and things I do to improve and enjoy tennis more. I hope you will like some of that content, but if you're in it only for the gear, that's fine.
We all have different personal reasons for why we play tennis. My tennis story is that I love pretty much all aspects of it, but lately, I've realized that I've often focused on the wrong things, in competitions, and practice. Now I want to grow as a person through tennis and as a player of the world's best sport.
I know this was a personal and perhaps a little strange post to read, but I felt like writing it. Now I urge you to share your tennis story. If you have something that would like to share, please use the contact us button to send an email, and your story might feature on Tennisnerd, my Instagram channel, and Facebook page.
This was part of my tennis story. What's yours?
I went on a similar journey with golf in my 30s. When I started I didn’t know if I’d even be able to play well enough to get in a tournament, so I went for very basic beginners clubs. When I started getting ok at golf around handicap 12-15 (about the top 30-40% of all players) I became very interested in the different weights, balances etc because I thought that would make a difference. After a period of fairly regular training and tournament play I got my handicap down to 8, which is fairly good level (about top 15% of all players), but by then I had realised that the clubs made virtually no difference. I could play with a rusty set of 20-year old clubs and go round the course in a similar number of strokes as with my own set. Of course it was nicer to play with the clubs I knew, but I knew that if I had to use some other set, it would make no difference to my performance.
Clearly, if you have an analytical mind, there is a pleasure and almost a necessity to trying the whole range of a product type, just to be able to understand the differences. Especially since, even though you can look at a reference source like Tennis Warehouse University and find rackets by weight, SW, balance etc, you find that supposed similar rackets can still feel very different. The problem with tennis rackets is it is very difficult to find a place where you can line up 10 possible frames and try each one in two or three different possible strings / tensions in a consistent setting like a ball machine or full size hitting wall. If you were able to go to a shop and hit with all the interesting frames in all the possible string set-ups for a day, you should then be able to eliminate many and really home-in on your preffered stick. But absent that opportunity, most people have to try one set-up for a few months, then another if they are not happy and can rarely compare things side to side.
However, what is esssential if you want to improve your tennis rapidly, is to entirely separate your preference for one racket or another from your tennis performance. The keys to being good at tennis are (i) having good hand-eye coordination, (ii) having good physical ability/strength/mobility, (iii) having good anticipation / understanding of the game to get in position early, (iv) having good mental skills to select the right shot in each situation. Despite what people may think of Roger’s RF97 or Rafa’s AeroPro, those players would be top-10 in the world with any racket you gave them.
Don’t get me wrong, if you plan to play tournaments regularly or undertaking some intensive coaching sessions, sticking with one frame is very important because it will take a few sessions to get in the rhythm. But for the average amateur who is playing the odd friendly match or just hitting sessions, mixing up rackets will make no difference. In fact, I would argue that for an amateur changing rackets can actually improve the learning process because it forces you to understand the differences in spin/power/accuracy/launch angle available. Then ultimately your play should get to a level where you realise that it is not the frame that makes the difference, but it is your coordination, anticipation, fitness and concentration that are helping you play well.
Hitting with multiple frames is fun, and your reviews Jonas are much appreciated because they are probably the most independent around. To that extent, please also give frames a bit more time at their stock weights, rather than adjusting them to your preferred weight/SW, because that isn’t how we’ll typically use them. What is essential is to entirely separate your tennis performance from the frame you are using at the time, there really is no link IMO. If you’re planning to play regular tournaments, definitely pick one frame to eliminate the mental change process, but if you’re planning to keep improving your game at a more relaxed pace, don’t worry about mixing up those frames, you should get to a level where you can play just as well with a Ti6 as an RF97!
Great post and video, very personal. I’d be happy to help with your tennis, coached for 20 years around the world and now i’m a performance advisor and coach coaches too. Let me know, not looking for business or money just happy to help.
That’s nice of you! I am always happy to get tips and advice.
Have enjoyed TennisNerd for quite a while now. Love the racquet & string reviews especially – also TennisNerd Academy. But this is my favorite post of them all: a look behind the scenes: how the TennisNerd became the tennis nerd.
Thanks for posting it, Jonas!
Same story here, played tennis at young age but didnt work. Played other sports and then seriously back to tennis after 20+ years. You only need 1 other player to play unlike other sports. I must say that after Fed, Rafa, Djok, Murray era is the best. Thanks to tennisnerd, I was playing with Pro Staff 97 but then my wrist hurts and started looking for other racquets. The review from tennisnerd was very helping.
Really enjoyed the post.
Thanks for sharing.
Great post! It was fun to read and learn from your unique journey. After using your raquet consutation service, I had time to playtest the suggested raquets. The suggested raquets were spot on. Thank you for offering fun reviews. I look forward to seeing where your tennisnerd journey goes next!