Practicing for the long run

[BETA post, wanted to get the content out, happy to rework and/or go into detail later if there's interest.]

As we get older, we tend to get wiser, but unfortunately also slower, less endurant, and might not be able to practice as much. So besides from staying in shape and working to overcome the downward trends, what else can we do to maintain our level of play, and maybe even evolve as a player? How to keep the game as enjoyable, or make it even more so?

To get there. I'd assume the 2 most important factors are optimizing energy input vs. output, and creating a solid base level of performance that you can count on even with little practice. Here are 5 top of mind pointers that might help you with both:

Technique: Is there any stroke you can simplify? The more complicated, the more energy is needed, and the more prone to inconsistencies, errors, and injuries. Back in 2003, I invested a winter season to change my forehand grip from close to Berasategui-style to a more neutral one like Roger's. Very glad I did. Now in 2016, I'm working on removing a step and a good chunk of back-bend from my serve and cleaning up the swing path. If you like to hit standing sideways, you might also consider practicing open-stance strokes to save a couple of steps per shot.

Timing is crucial to ensure that most of the energy you build up goes into the ball. Also, over time you might be less able to step into the ball, so practicing both stepping in and waiting for the ball might be helpful. You can practice this by repetition and also paying close attention to where along the swing bath the ball really takes off. Also, a bunch of throwing and catching should not be underestimated - alternating hands, balls, height, speed etc, and focussing on a really clean catches.

Game style: Over the decades, drop shots, slices, volleys etc will become more important than heavy topspin hitting from the baseline. Even if you have a defensive game style now, you might not enjoy being pushed around in the later stages of your tennis life. So it might be a good idea to practice how to dictate play and effectively neutralizing when you're under pressure.

Positioning: Related to a more offensive game style, you might want to move closer to the baseline so you need to move less, can dictate play, and take time away from your opponent. This is where simple technique and good timing will come in very handy as well. For example, practice playing points while standing inside the baseline and not stepping back over it.

Anticipation, the art and science of knowing where your opponent is going to hit the next ball, can save you many steps and a good deal of time. You can derive cues by figuring out patterns of play, or paying attention to stance, point of impact, or where they look etc. Boris for example used to indicate by tongue where he would serve :P You can also practice this by watching tennis, in-person or on the screen, and predicting where the next ball is going to go.

Remember, people tend to practice the most what they're already good at, so if we want to evolve, we need to work on the other things that make sense for our games and feel a bit uncomfortable in the beginning. You can find some thoughts on effective practice here.

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