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Practicing alone against a backboard can do wonders for your game.
Many pro tennis players have stories about hitting against a wall or garage door for hours. Martina Navratilova and Torben Ulrich both swore by the practice, according to tennis professional and announcer Patrick McEnroe. What most recreational players don't realize is that with some focused practice, they can use a backboard to develop their game. Forehands, backhands, volleys and even your return of serve can improve with the right backboard wall drills.
Get Your Spacing Right
The ball comes off a wall differently than it will from an opponent's racket, so you'll have to adjust your spacing accordingly. For most players, standing about 25 to 35 feet away from the backboard will allow the ball to bounce twice before it reaches you, which will most resemble actual play and reaction time. To help develop your timing, Nick Bollettieri of the Bollettieri Tennis Academy recommends using a decompressed ball such as those made for QuickStart programs to get the feel, and then progressing to a regular tennis ball.
Take some thick painter's masking tape or chalk and make a 2.5-by-2.5-foot square above the net line painted on the wall, suggests Ian Westermann of Essential Tennis, a tennis training website. If the wall doesn't have a net line, place the bottom of the square 3 feet high, the height of a tennis net at the center. Having the target will help focus your drill. Depending on your level, try hitting 10 to 20 balls in the target before taking a break. Practice your footwork by squaring up and doing a split step -- with a slight hop, bring your feet parallel to the wall and land lightly on the balls of your feet in a ready position, racket in front -- between each shot.
Again using your target, practice hitting your backhand. Your level will make a difference in your accuracy, so you may want to try placing five to 15 shots in the square before taking a break.
Stand about 6 to 8 feet away from the wall and practice your deep volleys -- shots that you play in the air before the ball bounces. You'll need to put a little more power into each swing to keep the ball in the air. After about 10 to 15 volleys, begin to close in and work on your touch volleys. As you approach the wall, you'll use less power and be forced to simply react to the balls. As much as possible, practice bringing your racket to the ready position -- centered in front of you -- between volleys.
Return of Serve
Fire the ball at the wall with a little more pace than you use during groundstroke drills. As the ball leaves your racket, do a split step. As the ball rebounds off the wall, move forward to intercept the ball as you would when returning serve and hit crosscourt. As your returns become more consistent, start a few feet closer to the wall to take away some of your reaction time. Bollettieri points out that this forces you to minimize your backswing and tighten up your swing pattern, just as you would when returning a strong serve. Make sure to practice returning from both forehand and backhand sides.