When I started tennis about 30 years ago, playing against the wall was a common part of training. Walls were everywhere. There was a wall in every tennis club and it substituted very well for crowded courts and busy coaches. It was also the cheapest way to play tennis – free and without having to arrange a partner. I remember very well how I would always fly from school to the complex on my bike and before arriving, I would mentally say to myself, let’s have a free wall, let’s have a free wall! And let’s keep the side where the clay is clear. Because we had a wall on the other side with asphalt, which had cracks and big bubbles due to the heat and the ball bounce was all over the place. That was a hassle. When the wall was clear, I would run onto it and hit against it until my hand was dead. I often thought to myself that the wall must come down one day, what a blow I was giving. It never did.
I hated shooting balls over the wall because they ended up far away in the grass where there were nettles. What I loved, on the other hand, was the fact that the wall never told you anything, never messed up, and was my trusty partner as long as I wanted to play. Later in life, I gradually stopped visiting the wall. With a large coaching base, more courts and not least the lazier generation that came after us, the walls were emptying out. There aren’t many of them in tennis clubs today and if there are any, they are usually very neglected and empty. And yet it’s a great shame. Playing against a wall is meaningful at any age. The wall is the perfect partner for tennis drills. And tennis is all about drills and millions of balls played.
If you’re wondering how it’s possible to practice smashes on the wall, it’s very simple. You first hit the ball against the ground about 1.5 meters in front of it. The ball bounces off the ground, hits the wall, and flies up into the sky in a beautiful high lob-style arc. You then hit the ball into the ground again as if you were standing at the net, and the whole thing repeats as long as you can hold your breath. I enjoyed this exercise immensely and was always amazed at the complexity of such a simple wall.
It’s easier with two
Did you know you don’t have to play on the wall alone? Bring a partner and play at a nice cross angle. It’s fun and already has the parameters of playing over the net, as the ball will reach you with a corresponding delay. It’s kind of squash-tennis, but it certainly doesn’t hurt anything. You can also take turns playing down the line, with players rotating after each stroke. More challenging exercises include playing one player further away from the wall and the other player closer to the wall on volleys. Such exercises already require very good coordination skills and reflexes. It is also worth trying various competitions in hitting a certain point or the allowed height above the net. The possibilities are countless and there are no limits to your own creativity.
The wall as an unbeatable opponent
The biggest benefit of playing against the wall is the confidence with which it returns your balls. You may not always be able to do that in a regular game with a real partner. Every tennis player must have come to practice or a sparring match in great shape countless times. But the problem was on the other side, when your partner was having a dumbass day. You may have blown him away 6-1, 6-0, but you didn’t play much tennis. Your ego will grow happy of such an unlucky guy, but realistically, a game or practice like that won’t get you anywhere. You may go home feeling very unsatisfied, and at that point an unbeatable wall nearby would be very handy.
Playing against the wall is hard work
One of the reasons why walls are empty nowadays is that playing against the wall is hard work and, in a way, boring. I remember suffering at the wall on the volleys. I didn’t really learn how to do them properly until I was a teenager. However, as a younger and older pupil, I practiced them at the wall as well and the burning of my wrist when playing several volleys in a row cannot be forgotten. Again, the wall will return the ball to you instantly, so all the muscles on your body have significantly less time to recover and fatigue more quickly. Burning muscles, constant pain and feeling faint. All this is the order of the day when playing against the wall. And is that a bad thing?
I don’t think so, on the contrary! The unwillingness to step out of the comfort zone is one of the biggest problems in sports today (and humanity) in general. Everyone wants everything to be perfect. Training at the ideal time, in the ideal conditions, in the ideal mood, in the ideal mental and physical well-being. As soon as a little something doesn’t feel right, we already feel at risk. But that will never get us anywhere, because in real life scenario during a match it’s often not ideal. And if we don’t have the morale to overcome ourselves and unexpected obstacles, it’s probably better to quit the sport entirely, at least at the professional level.
The principle of physical improvement in particular is to put the body in a stressful situation, which then triggers a defensive reaction in the form of strengthening the body part, senses, psyche, etc. And against the wall you are stressed all the time! You can never beat the wall and it’s all about your will and desire to continually improve.
“Disadvantages” of playing against the wall
Tennis is an individual sport. And if you can focus on yourself and your performance, then the disadvantages of playing against the wall don’t even seem like disadvantages. However, when compared to playing on a court with a real opponent, there is something missing when playing against a wall. For some, playing against a wall may be a dissapointing activity from the fact that you don’t see and experience the success of winning a ball, a game, a set and a match. Not to mention not seeing where the ball would have landed and missing out on moments of excitement in the form of playing a winner and lighting up the dirty line after a beautifully backhand down the line.
The most you can do is talk to yourself while playing against the wall. Self-talk is considered one of the healthy ways of self-fulfilment in psychology, but chatting with your partner about a great short game or a nice dropshot is priceless. However, as mentioned above, you can play on the wall with two people and chat directly while playing, standing next to each other.
The wall could have a speaker and a virtual coach that would announce various statistics about the ball hit. It would track the player’s movement and analyze his technique, split-step quality, movement coordination, reaction time and swing speed. An accompanying voice could encourage and motivate the player to keep playing and perform better. It could also record the player and store the recording on an external USB drive that each player would bring and plug into the wall. There could be additional sensors in the surface that would analyze the number of steps, their length, cadence, etc. Sounds crazy? Maybe, but I imagine they already have something similar in China or Japan. And young players might be more easily lifted off their couches and away from their cell phone screens by such a “tennis video game” wall.
Try it for a while
Now back to the reality. The wall is all about stereotype and drill, which everyone can’t stand. Few people today can stand to go to the wall, hit against it for an hour until the ball breaks. And not even make a sound, and go home happy. But if you’re missing a partner or the courts are full, don’t be ashamed of playing on the wall. It’s all about getting moving and sweating healthy. I’m not saying the wall is the salvation of tennis and you can’t do without it. But once in a while as a supplement to on-court training or a means to warm up for a few minutes doesn’t hurt anyone. Now there’s only one thing left to do. Find a workable wall.
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