| By Bill Longua

It’s the best time of year … time for the 2012 U.S. Open. This is a time where you can personally appreciate the amazing talents you are witnessing on the courts, but more importantly, a great time to improve your own game by observing the players, not just watching them. When watching great players, observe the areas that will assist you the best, realizing that many of those areas that are intricate in detail are best observed in person, not on television. My advice is to strictly focus on one player. This will allow you to observe entire points in the eyes of that one particular player and how intense the points truly are.

Here are some of the areas to zero in on when observing players. First and foremost, you will notice how important footwork really is to improving your game. The footwork of a professional when moving to a shot is great, but the constant small steps in between their shots is the key. The constant movement has them better prepared to react to the next oncoming ball. A very smart college coach, Jack Barnaby of Harvard, once said, “Tennis is 40 percent feet, 40 percent mind and 20 percent hitting the ball.” I’m not sure if those percentages are exactly true, but they seem pretty close to me.

Another area that will improve your game again involves footwork, the spilt-step. See how a player approaching the net will split-step just prior to contact made by the opponent. The split will leave the player balanced and able to go to either side to reach for a shot. The other split step to watch is on the return of serve. If you can incorporate this into your game, I promise you will break serve more often. Notice how the player will start about a foot back of where he or she wants to return the ball from and will jump-step forward landing on the balls of both feet right before service impact. The player is now moving forward, taking the serve early with a shortened backswing. In your game, this maneuver will allow you to catch up to the serves of those opponents who have overpowered you.

Having a difficult time generating the amount of topspin you want on your ground strokes? Focus in on the player’s upward forward motion and wrist snap during the shot. There are different backswings, but they all basically end up at the same point, below the ball, which is why the focus should be the forward motion to contact.

Are you watching balls sailing long? Zero in on the follow through. Tennis has a lot of opposites in the game, and one big one is the shorter the follow-through, the higher the shot, the longer the follow-through the lower the shot.

You know your own game and the same errors that keep creeping into your game. Take this opportunity to not just watch and enjoy the Open matches, but to also learn at the same time.

Good luck and have fun.