Ivan Lendl IJTA Coaches’ Corner

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Coaches’ Corner: Spice Up Your Game With Two Specialty Shots

Backhand Slice - follow through_600

The Ivan Lendl IJTA, one of the world’s premiere tennis academies, has taken up residence in our “Coaches’ Corner” series to dish out instructional tips and on court analyses straight from the Academy’s top coaches and directors.

Backhand Slice - follow through_600

By Rob Castorri, Executive Director of  Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy

At Ivan Lendl International Junior Golf Academy on Hilton Head Island, we spend a significant amount of time training a variety of shots including groundstrokes, serves, returns, volleys, overhead and so on. The two most underrated ones in the game are the drop shot and topspin lob. When executed properly, both are excellent weapons to use against your opponent, no matter the style of play.

Drop Shot

  • When your opponent is behind the baseline, this presents an ideal opportunity to hit a drop shot and keep your opponent on their toes.
  • When approaching the net, mix in a drop shot approach instead of a consistently strong, deep ball. This keeps your opponent off-balance.
  • If forced to hit a low ball, the drop volley is a great way to respond. Instead of returning their low shot back to their baseline, the drop volley causes your opponent to dash up to the net and into a difficult spot on the court if they are able to get to it.

Topspin Lob

  • The most common use of the topspin is when your opponent is at the net. It can also be used to change the tempo of a backcourt rally.  It gives the opponent a difficult shot and maybe a bit out of their comfort zone.  Be on the lookout for a weak return.
  • Instead of hitting a passing shot, the other option to consider is a topspin lob. The look of hitting a typical topspin passing shot is identical to hitting a topspin lob until the last moment. Just before your racquet begins moving towards the ball, drop it lower for the lob. The speed of the racquet is similar so it can be disguised. Before your opponent realizes, the lob is spinning in a high arc over their head and doesn’t give them much time to react. This creates uncertainty the next time they come to net. It will also create more openings to hit easier passing shots as the match continues.

Add these two specialty shots to your menu to keep your opponent on their toes and increase your chances of being successful in a match.

About Rob CastorriRob Castorri Headshot

A native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Rob Castorri has been involved in tennis for over 30 years as a professional player, coach, club manager and event promoter. He turned pro in 1978 and won 18 national team and doubles championships, and achieved a No.1 ranking in Florida’s Men’s Open Division. Castorri has notable victories over players such as Boris Becker, Pat Dupre and Harold Solomon.

As Executive Director, Castorri oversees program development, instruction and operations for Ivan Lendl IJTA. He previously served as President of the Georgia Professional Tennis Association and has managed tennis clubs across the U.S. At the Wimbledon Championships, Castorri has organized the annual media tennis event for the last 16 years.

Ivan Lendl IJTA exemplifies Ivan Lendl’s desire to give back to tennis and develop future champions through a new-era curriculum and holistic training approach. The Academy focuses on classic fundamentals, leading-edge biomechanics, strength training / fitness and mental preparation. The staff subscribes to a hands-on approach with students instilling dedication, focus, hard work, motivation and overall preparation.

For more information: www.LendlTennis.com/info, 888.936.5327.

Coaches’ Corner: Closing the Match

Ivan Lendl IJTA photo

The Ivan Lendl IJTA, one of the world’s premiere tennis academies, has taken up residence in our “Coaches’ Corner” series to dish out instructional tips and on court analyses straight from the Academy’s top coaches and directors.

By Scott Swainston, Asst. Director of Mental Training at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy

Just four points away from winning a highly coveted match, you suddenly become uneasy and technique you have practiced thousands of times seems completely foreign. Your grip feels slippery, heart is pounding and mind is racing 100 miles per hour. What if I lose? What will people think?

The basis for these fears and the physical symptoms they create often come from an intense feeling of uncertainty. To put it simply, the future scares us. We often wish these moments were on our DVR so we can fast forward to the end result. What separates elite players from those who struggle with closing a match?

The first step to improving your mental game for clutch moments is to embrace the challenge and uncomfortable feeling. If you come into the match knowing you will face adversity, you will be prepared when the match gets difficult. Enjoying the moment allows you to relish the opportunity for crucial moments.

The second aspect to performing in high-pressure situations is establishing a game plan prior to the competition. Understand what it takes for you to compete your best from start to finish. Examples include active feet, sticking to patterns and being patient. As the match comes down the stretch, you will already know what it takes to be successful with simple mental reminders.

The last key to closing a match is working on managing your attention. The tendency is for your mind to race from one scenario to the next. Learning to better manage your focus will not necessarily eliminate all of those thoughts. However, paired with your keys to competing, using your attention allows you to get back to the match and what you need to do to win.

A strong mental game starts with understanding how to enjoy feeling uncomfortable. Better tennis, more learning and more enjoyment will follow.

About Scott Swainston
Scott Swainston is the Assistant Director of Mental Training at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy on Hilton Head Island, S.C. Scott received his Bachelor degree in Psychology and Sociology at the University of Missouri – Kansas City and Master of Science in Sport Psychology from Georgia Southern University.

Ivan Lendl IJTA exemplifies Ivan Lendl’s desire to give back to tennis and develop future champions through a new-era curriculum and holistic training approach. The Academy focuses on classic fundamentals, leading-edge biomechanics, strength training / fitness and mental preparation. Lendl subscribes to a hands-on approach with students instilling dedication, focus, hard work, motivation and overall preparation.

For more information: www.LendlTennis.com/info, 888.936.5327.

Coaches’ Corner: Evolution of Tennis in the 1970’s

Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe

The Ivan Lendl IJTA, one of the world’s premiere tennis academies, has taken up residence in our “Coaches’ Corner” series to dish out instructional tips and on court analyses straight from the Academy’s top coaches and directors.

By David Lewis, Director of Instruction at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy

The open era of tennis began in 1968 when amateurs were allowed to compete in world-class tournaments with professionals. Until then, amateurs were only allowed to play the Grand Slams.

In the 1970’s, the style of play for most was “serve-and-volley,” using a continental grip for all shots including ground strokes. Tennis was learned on a faster, lower bouncing surface, whether it be a grass or a hard court. The continental grip allowed for plenty of wrist action to control the ball and ability to move toward the net quickly because the ball didn’t bounce high. Some professionals, like Connors and Evert, used the double-handed backhand and hit flat ground strokes.

Surprisingly, wooden racquets were still commonly used, but the small, heavy frame and delicate sweet spot didn’t allow players to hit the ball hard. Metal equipment with lighter frames and bigger heads became more popular.

A player with great agility and speed could chase down most shots from the baseline because the ball didn’t travel as fast. For the same reason, players who came to the net were more difficult to pass. This provided wonderful match ups with tactics becoming crucial. The game required plenty of finesse, craft and athleticism to outmaneuver an opponent.

During this time period, the U.S. dominated the game with players such as Billie Jean King, Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert. Later in the decade, a player named John McEnroe burst onto the scene.

Bjorn Borg popularized use of the western forehand grip and double-handed backhand, which produced incredible amounts of topspin. He won many Wimbledon and French Open titles and, in the process, became one of the first to modernize the game of tennis. Borg proved he could win on all surfaces with his different style of play.

Conversely, McEnroe used a continental grip, allowing him to take the ball on the rise which had seldom been seen before. An intriguing rivalry was starting to develop between these two stalwarts and helped increase the popularity of the game. By 1980, tennis was reaching a whole new level due to the double-handed backhand, hitting the ball on the rise and modern equipment.

Several full-time tennis academies in the United States opened in the 1970’s. Harry Hopman, a famous Australian Davis Cup coach, operated a facility in Florida where many top professionals and juniors trained for the international circuit. He was renowned for getting players into peak shape. During the same period, another coach named Nick Bollettieri started working with top juniors, developing them into some of the best professionals of the 1980’s.

Next month, we’ll continue with the evolution of tennis in the 1980s.


About David Lewis
David Lewis, a native of Auckland, New Zealand, is the Director of Instruction at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy on Hilton Head Island, S.C., a full-time tennis program for grades 5-12. For the past 20 years, he has coached top juniors and professionals around the world including Marina Erakovic, ranked as high as No.49 on the WTA world rankings.

Ivan Lendl IJTA exemplifies Ivan Lendl and Lewis’ desire to give back to tennis and develop future champions through a new-era curriculum and holistic training approach. The Academy focuses on classic fundamentals, leading-edge biomechanics, strength training / fitness and mental preparation. The staff subscribes to a hands-on approach with students instilling dedication, focus, hard work, motivation and overall preparation.

For more information: www.LendlTennis.com/info, 888.936.5327.

Coaches’ Corner: Overcoming Mental Hurdles in the Heat of a Match

Ivan Lendl IJTA overcoming hurdles

The Ivan Lendl IJTA, one of the world’s premiere tennis academies, has taken up residence in our “Coaches’ Corner” series to dish out instructional tips and on court analyses straight from the Academy’s top coaches and directors.

By Matt Cuccaro, Director of Mental Training for Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy and Dr. Adam Naylor, Consulting Mental Trainer

It’s the final set and you need to hold serve to keep the match going. To make matters worse, you lost the last three games, the wind is picking up and a line call just went against you. It would be easy to surrender to frustration and lack of energy, but this is the opportunity to showcase mental toughness.

How are mentally tough players able to repeatedly overcome adversity during a match? The answer lies in a mindset established before the first ball is put in play and lasts throughout the competition. The player focuses on “playing” tennis, rather than reacting to the ever-changing score. This process-oriented attitude allows mentally tough athletes to maintain a consistent level of effort, attention and energy, regardless of the situation. It allows them to overcome opponents who get caught up in the win/loss column and other distractions.

Winning is very important to tough-minded players, but they also understand a steady process leads to desired results. They believe establishing “keys to performance” provides them every opportunity to beat opponents in difficult situations. Focusing on results hinders motivation, resiliency and effort, causing many players to fold when their back is against the wall. Outcome-oriented thoughts drain limited the energy and attention resources necessary to obtain peak performance.

Keys to performance serve as a reminder of how to win each point during the match. Process-oriented thoughts allow the athlete to stay in the moment and maximize potential by placing an emphasis on effort. Positive mental refreshments allow the player to prevail in all situations. Examples include:

  • “Keep moving your feet”
  • “Play in rhythm”
  • “Be aggressive with each point”
  • “Focus on specific targets throughout the match”
  • “Regroup between points and stay in control”

The duration and intensity of these thoughts differentiates competitors at the highest level. Process-oriented thoughts help channel useful information to the body.

Elite players feel the magnitude of the moment, but they thrive on executing a plan and being fully engaged with each shot. There is a time and place to dwell on bad breaks, difficult conditions and other excuses, but not during the heat of a match.


About Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.
Matt Cuccaro is the Director of Mental Training at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy on Hilton Head Island, SC. Matt has a Masters of Education in Counseling/Sport Psychology from Boston University and is an active member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Matt has worked with individuals in a number of sports from the junior level all the way up to world-class professional athletes.

About Adam Naylor, Ed.D., CC-AASP
Dr. Naylor brings a decade and a half of experience developing junior, collegiate, and professional tennis players to the Ivan Lendl IJTA team. Over the course of his career he has educated regional, national, and international competitors – including ATP and WTA professionals, Ivy, WCC, Big West, America East collegiate players, and ITF and USTA junior competitors. He currently leads Telos Sport Psychology Coaching and is the Director of the Boston University Athletic Enhancement Center.

Ivan Lendl IJTA exemplifies Ivan Lendl and David Lewis’ desire to give back to tennis and develop future champions through a new-era curriculum and holistic training approach. The Academy focuses on classic fundamentals, leading-edge biomechanics, strength training / fitness and mental preparation. Lendl and Lewis subscribe to a hands-on approach with students instilling dedication, focus, hard work, motivation and overall preparation.

For more information: www.LendlTennis.com, 888.983.6647 (888-9-TENNIS) or 843.686.1529.

Coaches’ Corner: Controlling Your Side of the Net

Backhand Slice - low volley

The Ivan Lendl IJTA, one of the world’s premiere tennis academies, has taken up residence in our “Coaches’ Corner” series to dish out instructional tips and on court analyses straight from the Academy’s top coaches and directors.

By Matt Cuccaro, Director of Mental Training for Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy and Dr. Adam Naylor, Consulting Mental Trainer

During a tennis match, which side of the net do you focus on? Your eyes look out, so it’s easy to concentrate on your opponent, rather than your own game. Many players discuss the importance of assessing their opponent during warm-ups. Does this do the most for your upcoming performance? While it is important to get a feel for your competition to see some potential strengths and limitations, how much does it take away from finding your own rhythm and measuring the spring in your step?

Check-in with yourself

Be aware of where your attention is and has a tendency to go. What percentage of the time are your thoughts on the wrong side of the net? How often does your mind drift? For example, does your mind say “Man, he likes to push the ball,” or “Come on, keep your feet moving?” Check in with yourself between each point to be mentally focused on your side of the court.

Lead the match

Controlling yourself allows you to control the match. Attention on the opponent leads to reactionary tennis, rather than authoritative play. Stay in charge by choosing to focus on your game plan, targets to hit and keys to solid play.

Step beyond traditional chatter

Television commentators, fellow players, coaches and even parents can be heard saying who they think is a “good” or “bad” player. For the competitive player, this is misdirected thinking and leads one to focus on the wrong side of the net. Labeling opponents only leads to unnecessary distractions, wasted energy and inconsistent play. Be sure to keep a steady attitude and tireless work ethic for optimal results.


About Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.
Matt Cuccaro is the Director of Mental Training at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy on Hilton Head Island, SC. Matt has a Masters of Education in Counseling/Sport Psychology from Boston University and is an active member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Matt has worked with individuals in a number of sports from the junior level all the way up to world-class professional athletes.

About Adam Naylor, Ed.D., CC-AASP
Dr. Naylor brings a decade and a half of experience developing junior, collegiate, and professional tennis players to the Ivan Lendl IJTA team. Over the course of his career he has educated regional, national, and international competitors – including ATP and WTA professionals, Ivy, WCC, Big West, America East collegiate players, and ITF and USTA junior competitors. He currently leads Telos Sport Psychology Coaching and is the Director of the Boston University Athletic Enhancement Center.

Ivan Lendl IJTA exemplifies Ivan Lendl and David Lewis’ desire to give back to tennis and develop future champions through a new-era curriculum and holistic training approach. The Academy focuses on classic fundamentals, leading-edge biomechanics, strength training / fitness and mental preparation. Lendl and Lewis subscribe to a hands-on approach with students instilling dedication, focus, hard work, motivation and overall preparation.

For more information: www.LendlTennis.com, 888.983.6647 (888-9-TENNIS) or 843.686.1529.

Coaches’ Corner: Hit Topspin Like You Mean It

Heavy, Topspin Shot

The Ivan Lendl IJTA, one of the world’s premiere tennis academies, has taken up residence in our “Coaches’ Corner” series to dish out instructional tips and on court analyses straight from the Academy’s top coaches and directors.

By David Lewis, Director of Instruction at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy

Topspin is defined as the rotation of a ball rolling in the same direction it is moving. It imparts a downward force that causes the ball to drop due to its interaction with the air.

Developing proper ground strokes with topspin is important in building a well-rounded skill set.

Rafael Nadal is the master of imparting topspin with his left-handed forehand. It has been clocked between 1,800 and 4,900 revolutions per minute, with an average of 3,300. On the clay courts at the French Open, Nadal has been very successful because the ball bounces high, giving him ample time to obtain good net position or prepare for another big ground stroke.

To hit a successful topspin forehand, follow the steps below.

  • The more extreme the grip, the more topspin you will be able to apply. Conversely, it will be more difficult to hit a flatter shot. Establish a grip that feels comfortable and natural to your swing.
  • Swing from low to high, brushing up the back of the ball at 6 o’clock and hitting up to 12 o’clock.
  • Contact the ball in front of your body.
  • Racquet head should be slanted slightly forward on impact.
  • Bend your knees to help lift up on the ball.

For the topspin backhand, the same principles will apply except for the grip.

  • Use the Eastern or Western backhand grip for a single-handed backhand. Experiment with both to find out which one feels more suitable and produces the best results. The Eastern backhand grip is when the base knuckle of the index finger and heel of the hand are right on the 1st bevel. The Western grip is used by placing the base knuckle of the index finger on the fifth bevel.
  • For a right-handed, two-handed shot, the left hand should be dominant with a Semi-Western grip combined with an Eastern backhand grip for the right hand. The Semi-Western grip is when the base knuckle of the index finger is right on the fourth bevel. Again, experiment with these grips to see which combination works best for you.

Following the tips above will help you to hit more powerful and accurate topspin shots with your forehand and backhand.


About David Lewis
David Lewis, a native of Auckland, New Zealand, is the Director of Instruction at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy on Hilton Head Island, S.C., a full-time tennis program for grades 5-12. For the past 20 years, he has coached top juniors and professionals around the world including Marina Erakovic, ranked as high as No.49 on the WTA world rankings.

Ivan Lendl IJTA exemplifies Ivan Lendl and Lewis’ desire to give back to tennis and develop future champions through a new-era curriculum and holistic training approach. The Academy focuses on classic fundamentals, leading-edge biomechanics, strength training / fitness and mental preparation. The staff subscribes to a hands-on approach with students instilling dedication, focus, hard work, motivation and overall preparation.

For more information: www.LendlTennis.com/info, 888.936.5327.

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