The United States Tennis Association's official motto states, "Tennis: The Sport of a lifetime." With so many people over 50 playing tennis these days, the idea has never been more true than it is today.
Older athletes aren't as quick as they used to be, but they still have a lot of talent and plenty to give back to the sport they love.
With seniors tennis becoming more common, here are our top tips for playing in a senior tennis tournament.
1. Take Care to Prevent Injuries
Injuries are a risk for any tennis player, but the risk gets more severe with age. Tennis players should be balanced, coordinated, and flexible to reduce the risk of injury. Smooth exercises such as Pilates, yoga and tennis-specific stretching are excellent for older tennis players to stay in shape. Tennis tournaments begin off the court with your training and preparation. Get yourself in good condition before starting a tournament to see it through to the end without getting hurt.
Senior tennis tournament players should also focus on recovery. Make sure to cool down properly after a match and take the pressure off your ankles and knees. Take a moment to have a drink and socialize with your partner or opponent.
2. Accuracy is More Important Than Stroke
There's some debate over whether accuracy or stroke mechanics are more important in a tournament. Senior players say that shot accuracy is an essential element. There are many different ways to hit a ball, but the bottom line that connects all of them is where the ball lands. The key is to hit shots as close to the baseline as possible – aim for ten feet or less.
Changing your play style can be useful. There's no harm in learning new techniques. However, keep in mind that you could have to train even more to get your depth and accuracy back when using a new play style.
3. Learn to Lose the Limelight
Anyone who went from the pro circuit to playing senior tournaments admits that it's a big comedown over major Grand Slam tournaments. One thing to remember is that the challenge is always the same, no matter the level of competition. Don't assume that you'll automatically be better than your opponents, or you can play your way back into the game.
It helps to play the game for the fun of it and the competition. The more you enjoy playing tennis, the less no longer being the center of attention and losing will bother you. Tennis is a game that anyone can enjoy, so let yourself enjoy it.
4. Senior Tennis Tournament Tactics
The strategy for seniors tennis isn't too different from "standard" tennis. The aim of the game should be to get your opponent moving around the court to test their stamina and wear them out. Switch up your hitting styles to move them across the court. Hitting a drop shot followed by a lob is typical in tennis. Try hitting a short ball followed by a deep one. If the opponent returns the shot, hit an even deeper one to keep pushing them back.
Controlling the middle of the court is another way to win. This strategy calls on you to use your forehand to hit shots as close to the baseline as possible. Start with a sliced serve to the opponent and run a Serve Plus 1 strategy. Serve Plus 1 is popular with pro players like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
When on the receiving end, defuse the opponent and attack the serve with deep returns down the middle of the court. This forces the opponent to play defensively, opening the door for you to push them against the wall until they make a mistake you can capitalize on for the win.
5. Dealing With Nerves
Nerves are a natural part of tournament tennis at any age or level. Nervousness is a sign of concern, such as being concerned over winning or losing, what other people think about you, and potential damage to your reputation. By focusing on the present and avoiding thoughts of the future, you give yourself fewer things to be worried about with tennis.
The key for any player, both young and old, is to practice the art of attaining presence – of being in the "moment" or "zone." Practicing presence is as simple as noticing when you take a full breath; inhale, and exhale. The more often you do this, the more natural it feels and the more effective it is. Start with noticing one breath per day. Move on to one breath per hour. From there, go to several breaths an hour.Another way to stay in the moment and deal with nerves is to practice meditation. Don't worry if you aren't sure about how to do it, as there are plenty of apps and videos for guided meditation. Notice little things like your feet hitting the ground or the wind whipping your face. Take the time to really taste your food and listen to the world around you.
Playing in a senior tennis tournament is a fantastic way to physically and mentally challenge yourself as you get older. Tennis is one of those rare sports you can enjoy at any age, so long as you play around your limitations and accept them. Understand that you aren't as spry as you used to be. Don't just accept your limits, but work around them.
Senior tennis play relies more on technique. You might not be able to outpace your opponent, but you can certainly outsmart them. Don't forget to take regular breaks when you can and stay hydrated. Senior tournaments should be set up to allow plenty of time for rest between matches.Please remember that what you do off the court can be just as important as what you do on it – and best of luck!