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Friday, May 29, 2009

Coaches Q and A: What Do I Need To Consider When Playing in High Altitude?

Players from Colorado and Utah may take it for granted, but playing tennis in high altitudes can be difficult for those who usually live and train closer to sea level. Harold Solomon of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida provides these tips for coping with the change:

Playing in altitude can be a very challenging experience. At some tournaments high altitude balls are used, which helps negate the effects of the light air, but most tournaments use regular sea level balls and it is imperative that players make the necessary adjustments to be effective.

  • Arrive at the tournament site at least 3 days and if possible 5 days before the event. This helps the player not only get used to the ball "flying," but also helps the player adjust to breathing the lighter air. When playing Davis Cup matches in Mexico City, we would arrive at least 10 days before the match to get adjusted to the conditions.
  • The first day at the site, players should not try to do too much. It should be an easy day of getting the feel for the ball and allowing their bodies to get used to the lack of oxygen.
  • I always used to string my racket 3 to 7 pounds tighter in the altitude to give me more control of the ball. Of course playing in Denver is not as challenging as playing in Mexico City or Bogota, Columbia, so string tension should be adjusted tighter the higher the altitude.
  • It's important to hit the ball with more spin in high altitude situations. The top spin and tighter strings will allow you to still hit the ball and will help stop the ball from flying off your strings.
  • Serving in altitude can be a challenge. It is difficult to sometimes bring the ball down depending on how high the altitude is where you are playing. Generally I suggest taking a little something off the ball at first and hitting with more top spin to increase your chances to getting serves in the court. At very high altitudes, hitting kick second serves for first serves is a way to increase your first serve percentages and also take some pressure off your second serve. especially on big points.
  • Finally high heavy balls and low biting slices are good shots in high altitude. It's hard to get the ball back down after someone hits a high heavy shot up to your backhand and it's not easy to lift the ball on your forehand and bring it back down off of a well-hit slice.
  • Remember, the player who's more consistent and makes fewer unforced errors in altitude is usually the player who comes out on top. Going for winners that work at sea level will not be as effective in high altitude situations.
Do you have a question for Andy Brandi or Harold Solomon? If so, please send it to clewis[at]zootennis[dot]com with the phrase Coaches Q and A in the subject line.