Quick reactions are also important at all levels of tennis doubles, where there are ball exchanges at the net when players volley at each other at shorter distances.
If your reactions are fast, you'll have more time to:
- Get to the ball
- Make the right decision
- Balance yourself before the stroke
- Perform your stroke properly
Anticipation means that you predict what will happen with high probability, and prepare the "program" in your mind so that you're ready to execute.
For example, say you are at the net and your partner returned the serve to the feet of your opponent. You can anticipate with high probability that your opponent will play the volley up and crosscourt, back to your partner on the baseline.
So before your opponent hits the ball, you already see what will happen and prepare your actions -- to attack the ball in advance.
Once your opponent makes his return, you can pounce immediately. For the outside observer, it may seem that your reactions are fantastic, but in fact it was your anticipation that made that possible.
The Real Reaction
Without the help of anticipation, the real reaction has to do with you clearly seeing the situation and the ball.
What often happens is that you are watching the ball as it travels toward your opponent, instead of noticing your opponent's body language as he prepares to hit the ball.
Your eyes are so narrowly focused on the ball that you cannot read your opponent's shot.
This doesn't have to do so much with anticipation of your opponent's intention. Rather, it deals with sending all the available data from the situation to your brain, which will then be able to better decide what the right reaction should be.
Another problem is that the ball can suddenly changes direction, going from you, towards the opponent, and then back to you. This sudden change of direction makes it difficult to track the ball, causing you to lose track of it for a split second.
Your only option at that point is to react when you see the ball again and are able to determine its flight path, which can take a few hundredths of a second off of your reaction time -- time you can't afford to lose in preparation for a return.
The key is to switch your narrow focus from only the ball, to the ball AND the opponent. Once your opponent hits the ball, you'll get more cues on what kind of shot he played, and your eyes will be able to quickly and automatically find and track the ball.