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Q: I am 27 years old and have only been playing for roughly one year. I play as much as possible and have been pushing myself to learn and get better quickly. While I feel like my game is getting better by leaps and bounds, I feel like one thing keeps holding me back during league and tournament matches: I get winded and start losing my form and quickness before my opponent does.
I am in very good shape, and I have never had issues with my fitness level or endurance in any other sports. The only thing I can come up with is that I am holding my breath during serves, waiting to react for an opponent's shot, and positioning myself during a lob shot. Is this normal? If not, how do I improve my breathing? If it is typical to hold your breath and exhale with your shot, what else could be my problem?? - Tyler
From Coach Leonard, Concord, Calif.:
There are a number of possible reasons for your rapid loss of endurance. Here are some of them...
a) Apparel - Body heat needs a way to escape. Be sure that you're wearing highly breathable fabric, such as microfiber. Also protect yourself from the sun with a visor or cap.
b) Racquet - More flexible racquets require a more aggressive swing. Also, harder strings such as polyesters, offer more durability but less playability. Demo lighter, firmer racquets and try higher-energy multifilament strings.
2. On the Court
a) Footwork - Close the net to shorten points. Move to the ball in diagonal directions to lessen steps while improving weight transfer.
b) Strategy - Hit to the openings rather than driving baseline winners. If you're pulled away from the court, throw up a lob to buy time to recover back.
3. Off the Court
a) Take advantage of your breaks on changeovers. Sit. Drink plenty of fluids. (This includes prior to the match.) Have snack bars or gels available. Have a cooler with ice, a spray bottle or mister and a face towel.
b) If allowed, put a folding chair in the shade to sit.
a) Play three-set matches for practice. A marathon runner doesn't restrict training to sprinting. Be sure to practice mid-day to get accustomed to the weather.
b) If you're a singles player, play against a doubles team. You'll get twice as many balls back.
c) Proper breathing will improve endurance, stretching and power. Just watch runners, gymnasts and boxers. Try saying the word, "Hit," while striking the ball. This will assist you in exhaling naturally.
Bottom line is to make the appropriate adjustments, and you'll play stronger longer.