How to solve the cheating problem in tennis

This article was written and collaborated by Dan Travis and Styrling Strother, The Art of Winning


Not calling the score is the number one problem in junior tennis, not cheating

Cheating is often described as the scourge of modern junior tennis. When you speak with a parent after they have spent a day watching their child, it is as if they have returned from battle. There is almost always an account of how their child was cheated out of winning by an opponent who should not have been allowed to get away with it. Parents are frustrated, angry, and ultimately feel powerless. Watching disputes between children and their perception of ‘cheating’, parents can have quite a traumatic time of it when they take their child to a tournament. In fact, it is the first thing that parents want advice on. They ask,

“How do I motivate my child because they are lazy?” and “How can I help them beat the ‘cheats?

The problem of cheating is compounded by the fact that the parents can become directly involved in the dispute. This can often make the situation far worse. What starts as a ‘dispute’ can end in catastrophe that spoils the match and the whole day. Nobody wins.

What is remarkable, when you look at the problem of dispute from a distance, is that it continues week in week out. I have met some parents who seem to have developed a persecution complex (when in every other way they appear very reasonable people). They act like victims. You can often hear them say at tournaments when the stirrings of a dispute threaten, “Oh no, here we go again!”. It has puzzled me for decades how the dispute phenomena in junior tennis continues and why parents turn themselves into victims of some conspiracy.

A very significant part of the problem of dispute, is that no-one really looks to see what is actually happening. There is so much emotion and ‘justice’ mindset flying about that the perception of the problem starts to contribute to its perpetuation. In other words, because disputes are not understood, the problem is made worse. For example, parents will highlight character flaws or moral weakness in young players as the cause of dispute. Parents also blame other parents when they feel their child is losing out to cheating. What is never understood is how the problem develops in the first place. The answer is surprising.

Most people characterize disputes in tennis as arguments over line calls. But this is not the primary cause of dispute in tennis. The primary cause of dispute is confusion over the score. Confusion about the score is, in fact, by far the biggest source of dispute in junior tennis. Line calls play a fairly minor role in comparison. Bad line calls only really develop into full blown dispute when there is confusion over the score. It is important to look at the source of this ‘confusion’ and perhaps re-characterize it as arising from two distinct situations.

The first of these situations arises when the score is not called at all by either player. When the score is not called, it is almost inevitable that confusion will occur and then escalate into dispute. At the very least, one player will feel that they have been hard done by and have been beaten by something other than a better player. More often there is dispute and bad feeling between both players that creeps into the the stands.

The second of these situations occurs when the score is called late. As the diagram below illustrates, the score is called as the ritual phase ends and just before the ball toss by the returner or the server.

score called incorrect

The problem here is that the non-caller has no time to confirm and therefore no time to question the call. The problem is compounded by the fact that although the caller called very late, the call was not disputed and therefore it must stand (this is regardless of what happens during the proceeding point). The non-caller does not have a defence, even though the calling of the score was very late. Late calling is the cause of numerous disputes. So not calling and calling too late are the causes of disputes. The consequences of not calling the score make the dispute even worse and more destructive.

The consequences of not calling the score


The first consequence of not calling the score is there is no ‘confirmation’ of what that score is. Without confirmation, you have to ASSUME that the opponent agrees with you. Without confirmation, however, you have no recourse if there is disagreement about the score. Without confirmation, there is no agreement and you cannot have competition without confirmation of the score. In the absence of agreement, you simply have participation (you are just there). For competition to exist, you need confirmation. Then there is no confusion.

You can’t plan

If you have not confirmed the score you cannot plan for the next point. Different situations in a game require subtle (or not so subtle) changes in tactics. You will often play a completely different type of point if you think the score is 15 -15 as opposed to 0 -30. If your player does not confirm the score, you will be playing under assumption, rather than agreement. Not being able to plan, at the right time, means you are reacting to shots hit by your opponent. You are less able to steer the match in the direction that you want.

Temptation and Opportunism

The problem with locating the problem of disputes as bad line calls is that it turns the problem on its head. Bad line calls do not necessarily cause disputes. It is calling out the score that prevents disputes from occuring. Commiting a sin (cheating) and doing evil acts are very rarely done by choice. A ‘sin’ is committed because of temptation. Temptation arises because of opportunity. When the score is not being called, it gives a player the opportunity to call the score in their favour.  Added to the temptation is the desire to win. The desire to win is often so strong that the player will take a ‘score win’ by awarding themselves extra points.  It gives the player the opportunity to cheat. Sadly, some players will take advantage of this situation and award themselves extra points at certain times in the match where they think they can get away with it. Because the opponent has not been calling out the score, he leaves himself open to this type of opportunism. This is a major cause of dispute in junior tennis and leads to a further problem.

The Circle of Trust

The foundation of a competition is an agreement of the score that is confirmed before the start of the next point. In tennis, this requires a level of trust between players who do not have the luxury of an umpire. It requires confirmation of the score before the next point begins. It requires that you take your opponent’s calls as accurate and that you can challenge them and resolve any dispute. This Circle of Trust is broken during dispute and ruins matches. It can be catastrophic.  The consequences of breaking the Circle of Trust can be felt during matches where disputes occur. It changes the composition of the game and makes playing and watching an entirely unpleasant affair. So uncomfortable are the consequences of breaking the Circle of Trust that the threat of it being broken acts as a form of deterrence.

Deterrence and the Circle of Trust

If one player breaks the Circle of Trust, the other player will resent them and will either retaliate or will ‘withdraw’ from the match. The player that withdraws from the match will go through the motions of playing. They will participate but they will not compete. This is heartbreaking for parents to watch. This is where parents and players feel cheated and can start to develop a persecution complex; typified by the “Here we go again” mindset.

The consequences of breaking the Circle of Trust are so bad that they are normally sufficient to deter both players from being tempted to cheat when the opportunity arises. Mutually assured destruction is almost inevitable once the circle is broken and there is no turning the clock back.  To permanently avoid dispute and the probability of a series of unpleasant experiences, we need to look at why players do not call the score.

Participation versus Competition

Defacto Chair Umpire

When our junior players are playing in tournaments we are asking them to take on a huge responsibility. We are asking them to ‘play their best” while at the same time (whilst serving) to be the chair umpire. Being chair umpire is a big responsibility that most players of this age are not prepared for. They simply do not have the maturity to cope with this role.

Every player can ‘get lost’ in the heat of a match. There are many pressures to negotiate through. This makes forgetting the score a very frequent occurrence for the younger players. Combine this with an almost overwhelming desire to win and the temptation will be there to cheat and change the score in their favor.

The Culture of Non-competitive Activity

As well as the pressure to be a chair umpire and trying to win a match, we leave our players uniquely ill prepared for competition when they are not taught to score in practice sessions. There has been a significant cultural shift in recent decades. The way that sport is played, taught and the meaning that we attach to it has changed. There has been a shift from ‘competition’ to ‘participation’ based activity. You can see this trend clearly in tennis when we look at the practice court. There is an emphasis on ‘how’ you hit the tennis ball, in this case, technique. This is where most tennis teaching time is spent. There is now an increased emphasis on the ‘physical’ side of tennis, making sure that the player is in good shape. There is repetition through rallying and drills. Unfortunately, what is almost completely absent, is teaching the players how to compete. We keep our players in this ‘Zone of Improvement’ and do not train in the ‘Zone of Competition’. This means that we are teaching our children to ‘participate’ (receive instruction and work hard) as opposed to compete (make tactical and strategic decisions and problem solve).

How to avoid Dispute

Teaching our children to score addresses a far deeper challenge than simply avoiding conflict and dispute (although many parents would accept this as a major benefit)!  When teaching to keep, call out and confirm the score we are teaching the fundamentals of competition.

-Without score, there is no competition-

We need to encourage them to play competitive games in practice and keep, call out and confirm the score. At first this is the coaches job with the parents helping along the way. It is not an easy task because often children are less confident and therefore less courageous. And yes, it will make them feel more self conscious. Some children have no problem calling out the score but they must be reminded to do it on every point and to obtain confirmation.

When the score is called

Just as important as calling the score is calling the score at the right time. The score should be called within 4 seconds after the end of the point. This allows for confirmation by the opponent. You must train your child to call out the score and get confirmation before the next point begins. Muttering the score quietly under your breath is not good enough. Your opponent must be able to hear and to respond. Rehearse this again and again. It has nothing to do with ability, standard or level. Very talented and highly ranked players can be just as guilty at not calling the score.

Final thoughts

I have recently been introducing a call scoring ‘clean up with my players’. Almost without exception, they were guilty of not calling the score. The excuses are hilarious. “I forgot” (why?! It is the most important thing!) “I’m not very good at math” (this is not math it is counting!) “I feel stupid” (Too cool for school?) “It’s not my job to call the score” (maybe not, but it is your job to win).

With my recent purge, parents have been relieved that they are not the only ones suffering from watching their child give away the match with free points. They say, “…before we even get to technique and training, they surely have to be able to score.”

When calling and confirming the score, the young player is learning about competition and part of that is learning to take responsibility. When I am at tournaments I hear it time and again from parents who complain of ‘cheats’ and the need for across the board umpiring. I feel like turning and around and saying “You’re encouraging your child to be a victim, rather than take responsibility. It is your child’s responsibility to confirm the score rather than play snow white’. (In fact, I have said this on several occasions to a mixed response).

Calling and confirmation have a considerable effect on the way a player plays the game. Scoring requires certainty and encourages focus. I think this is because the players both have time to prepare and plan for the next point. With uncertainty there is no planning and preparation. We have anxiety. We have to rely on the other player too much and we do leave ourselves open to being taken advantage of.

Dan Travis and Styrling Strother discuss this in more detail in the podcast. This is part of the Art of Winning project that helps parents, players and coaches negotiate their way through competition.

If you would like to talk about your own or your child’s competitive challenges, we would love to hear from you and help if we can. Please get in touch by Facebook Messenger.

Click on the link below to hear Styrling and Dan talk about this solution –>


How to solve the cheating problem – Podcast Episode


Anticipation: Your Best Weapon to WIN!

The following article is written by Styrling Strother. Styrling is the Director of Player & Coaching Development at Transforming the Practice Court.  Check out Styrling’s new book, 7 On Court Strategies to Experience Your Play State: How to Win Every Time You Play.

What if I could tell you the secret to successfully winning more points and being more in control of a match? Would you want to know? Of course you would! It’s not a secret but sometimes, we look past it, forget about it or take it for granted. You must know the road ahead, because if you know what’s coming next you have an incredible power called Anticipation. Anticipation is the ultimate advantage! The first step in increasing the power of anticipation is to realize and affirm the number one body part that you’ll use to play tennis – your eyes. The skill of shifting the eyes from what you just did – striking the ball – to noticing the body position and the racquet position of your opponent, is a critical one. The main reason we lose points and get beat is we fail to anticipate what’s coming next. Players often become captivated by what kind of shot they hit and where it’s going to land (in or out), instead of focusing on what their shot is doing to their opponent.

Are You Reacting to Your Opponent or Are They Reacting to You?

I doubt that you’re losing points, games, and matches because you’re slower than the other player. You’re not less intelligent and their forehand isn’t that much better than yours – that’s if you’re playing an opponent of similar skill. Players that lead in the score and win are anticipators. The reason you lose points is because you don’t know when and how the ball is coming back to you. So what do you do? You react. Reaction is always stressful and yet so much of the game is predictable. If we were to study and practice in a proactive way – with appropriate patterns – the game would become a lot simpler. Tennis can be predictable when we reflect on what has happened in past matches and remember the possibilities that arise from certain shots and the various court locations. When we play competitors, remembering their personal tendencies, what shots they like and dislike, our ability to anticipate and be more proactive is the competitive edge we need to win. Professional players know this about their competition and the difference between winning and losing depends on which player reacts and which one anticipates. If you put a strategy in place, shift your eyes at the correct time and predict with confidence the next move, you’ll win more.  As players, we must first take control of when and what we are focused on. And we must do that with our eyes.

The ‘Ball-Player’ Challenge

Many players have difficulty reading and reacting to the opponent’s shot, and they find themselves out of sync, out of position, and off balance. A major solution to all of these problems is to develop better ball-player recognition skills. One of my most fundamental and impactful player challenges is what I simply call ‘Ball-Player’.  I created this challenge to help players solve a problem. Students come to me desiring to have a better forehand, backhand, or serve, in an effort to reach the next level of play.

In the beginning sessions with these players I noticed that regardless of the mastery of their technique, every player was having a difficult time reading and reacting to the next shot. There was a noticeable delay in response to the next ball coming at them. More often than not, developing players tend to read and react very slowly to the shot coming back to them. They lack the ability to take mental notes about what to expect when a certain shot goes to a certain place on the court, and against a certain player. As an example, it’d be great if they knew the fairly universal responses to a high lob over the backhand side, or a very deep crosscourt shot to the forehand. When players begin to understand the possibilities, and the highest percentage shots that come from those positions, along with the tendencies of their opponent, their reaction time immediately improves.

  Track the ball as it comes your way...then, once you made impact with the ball, shift your eyes to your player and pick up important cues. 

Track the ball as it comes your way…then, once you made impact with the ball, shift your eyes to your player and pick up important cues. 

A great tool I use to guide a player through self discovery of this new skill of ball recognition is through a series of questions.  After a number of similar answers, I jokingly ask myself “Is this some sort of conspiracy? Are they all in on it? Have all these players decided together to answer me the same exact way?” Joking aside, my first question to them is, “After you strike the ball and look up to the opponent’s side of the court, where are your eyes focused?”  By far the most common answer is, “I focus on my shot or my ball.”  The next thing I would say, in a humorous tone, “You were admiring your shot, weren’t you?”. While not all of them verbalize it, either in speech or in body language, they say, “Yes!”  Their answer honestly makes perfect sense – our eyes tend to focus on what we think is most important, and the natural assumption is that we should watch the ball.  Players are also fascinated by the outcome of their shot, and judging it – was it a good shot or a bad shot? The main problem with focusing on the ball after it leaves your racquet is your eyes are now stuck in the past.  Once you look up after contacting the ball, your eyes will stay in the present moment by focusing on your opponent’s movement and reaction to your shot.  As you focus on your opponent’s response to your shot, you’ll be able to track the ball coming off your opponent’s racquet and remain grounded in the present moment.  Staying in the present will increase your response time to the spin, direction, height, and speed of the oncoming ball.

The most powerful way to improve your response time as a player is being able to shift the focus of your eyes from ball to player and back again.

Why You Need to Focus on More than JUST the Ball

As a tennis coach I’m on court striking tennis balls every day either through direct feeding or playing points.  My eyes are mostly focused on the player, their movement, racquet swing path, balance, etc.  My eyes stay in the present moment when this occurs because I’m looking to what the player is doing or going to do instead of what the ball is doing on its flight path. I’m not even looking at the ball as it strikes my racquet in coach-mode feeding because that’s not what I want to see, it’s not where my focus is. As a coach, I want to see what the player is doing, in order to offer instruction for improvement. As a player, however, your focused eyes are the portal to your thinking and analysis of how to play the game. Vision enables your anticipation to understand the tendencies of how an opponent plays different shots.

The human mind is fascinated by motion, and when we watch a tennis match from outside the fence or even on TV, the ball going back and forth holds our interest.  We watch the ball going back and forth over the net instead of watching either player in isolation.  Some of the visual skills that go into coaching have to do with seeing what is most helpful from an ideal perspective. When I’m coaching my players in a live ball situation, I stand behind them so that I can look through the court to the other side.  I do that so that I can:

1. Track the relationship between the ball and the player.

2. Focus on player movement, swing path, or any other aspect of play in order to give better feedback and coaching.

My eyes stay in the present moment simply from adjusting my position of where I coach, which is behind the player on one side of the court, and keeping the action directly in front of me.

Progressions of Ball-Player

When a player’s mind is in the future or the past, they are less likely to play at the tope of their game. ‘Ball-Player’ is a strong on-court intervention to help keep players minds in the present moment. How does it work? The first stage in the progression is that I ask the player to say out loud to themselves the word “player” as soon as they look up from striking the ball. They then say, “ball” as soon as they see the impact of the ball coming back from their opponent’s strings. This audibly triggers their minds to refocus on the right object in the present moment, directing their eyes easily, without saying ‘watch the ball’. Triggering the eyes to attend to what is important also helps the player stay in the present moment, not the past or future, increasing the amount of time played in a flow state.

Depending on how well you as a player can master this task, and generally within three to five minutes, the next stage in the progression would be to whisper the words to yourself. What tends to happen is you’ll begin to internalize the words “Ball-Player” inside your head at the right moment. Things can break down at this stage. Sometimes you may forget to ‘say’ the words in your mind. If the voice inside your head isn’t loud enough or it’s delayed, return to the first progression of saying the words out loud.  When you see a clear improvement in performance from saying it out loud compared to in your head, that’s clear evidence that something broke down during the internalizing of the skill.

This is a good time to stop and think about why this is happening?  Sometimes, the player reports that they were thinking about something else entirely – like how to hit the shot – or are distracted by giving attention to something unrelated to the task at hand. This audible projection increases the awareness of the ball and the situation on court for the player.  By saying the words out loud, I can hear them both as the coach and as the player. We can then reconcile together whether they are recognizing the ball or player soon enough in the present moment to increase the anticipatory skill. Once the player is hearing their inner voice loudly, their eyes will then begin to be automatically be attracted to the right object at the right time. Over time the player is trained so deeply in the habits of pattern recognition that there will be no need to say anything.  Ultimately, this progression is about you practicing new instincts to see what’s happening on the court rather than to give attention to other events that have no bearing on performance.  As a result, you’ll begin to increase the amount of ‘flow time’ and ‘zone time’ when you play.

More videos and drills like this in Styrling’s new book – check it out on

Why are We So Fascinated by a Tennis Ball?

What is it about a tennis ball that makes us want to watch it?  Part of the reason, as stated before – our minds are attracted to objects in motion.  Many people tend to be so outcome oriented that they want to see the flight of their shot so they can immediately evaluate it, good shot or bad shot, so they can try harder to do or not do that again. In training, sometimes it’s a great thing when players realize the product of their stroke in terms of height, speed, spin, and placement. In competition, it’s much more important to focus on how that shot has affected the opponent.  By focusing this way, a player begins to play shots based on how their opponent reacts to these shot-making variables perfected in practice.

Why is Keeping Your Eyes Focused on the Right Objects So Important?

We as human beings love to succeed, and love to see the results of our efforts.  On the tennis court, it gives us great pleasure when we strike a fantastic shot and see it happen in real time. That is such an awesome feeling!  The major issue with watching or admiring a shot is that it immediately puts the player in the past mentally. When someone strikes a tennis ball and it’s moving away from them, their eyes have a difficult time of keeping up with the speed of the ball as it moves away from them.  By the time you register in your mind a ball that was fifteen feet away, it will then be much further away, so the image you have in your mind is one from the past.

To understand this, we must understand our eye movements. There are two types of eye movements that are used to track moving objects – and as players, we want to use the best visual strategy for ball tracking. The two types of eye movements are smooth pursuit and saccadic movement. Bear with me as we get into more of a scientific discussion of how the eyes work. A saccade movement is a quick, simultaneous movement of both eyes between two or more phases of fixation in the same direction.  Smooth pursuit movements are slow eye movements that stabilize the projection of the moving target onto the fovea (the small, central pit composed of closely packed cones in the eye).

The upper limit of velocity or highest speed that these slow eye movements (smooth pursuit) can track is about 80-100 degrees per second or 17.5 mph.  After impact, the ball exceeds this highest speed and the eyes will switch to use saccadic movement which can shift the eye at upwards of 900 degrees per second.  Saccadic movement is more akin to when the eyes are “scanning”.  Of course, we don’t know too many people who have eyes that can do a 360 degree turn, but this is to show exactly how fast the eye can shift. For saccadic vision, the eye could be tracking an object at 78.525 meters/second or about 175 miles per hour.  The partial function of this is to allow us to move through areas during flight or fight situations so that we’re not able to see every small obstacle which might stop us from escaping a wild animal or another very dangerous situation.  Since the level of danger on a tennis court is relatively small, our use of saccadic vision is many times more a hindrance than a help.  Saccadic movements lead to a graying out of the ball during its flight path.

To actually follow the ball with your eye, smooth pursuit would likely be required but because the maximum speed of eye tracking ability is only about 17.5 mph (and the ball moves much faster than that after impact), trying to track the ball moving away from you is not beneficial.  As the ball is moving away from you towards your opponent, your response time to the next shot is negatively affected.  Your opponent, however, isn’t moving faster than 17.5 mph and you can effectively track their movement, balanced or unbalanced, stretched or loaded, with smooth pursuit vision.  By tracking the other player, you are able to steady your eyes in the present moment to read and react to what’s coming next – and improve anticipation abilities.

The Ball – Player Strategy is a solution to the visual problems presented by the tendency in players to use saccadic vision and rely more on using smooth pursuit vision.  Ball-player redirects the mind to train the technique to better anticipate your opponent’s tendencies.


1. Improved anticipation of the opponent’s tendencies based on their position in the court and type of shot they are returning.

2. Faster reaction time because focusing on a player’s court position allows you to see how, when, and where they are limited to the types of shots they play back to you.

3.  You will be better able to read and respond to whether the opponent is attacking, neutralizing, or defending a shot.  Resetting to a more ideal position to cover the opponent’s next shot can improve dramatically.

4.  Your decision or split step as well as first step quickness will improve as a result of the Ball-Player strategy.  Improved anticipative movements as a product of proper eye shifting can lead to being at the right place at the right time to increase your chances of winning more points.

5. Players play more efficiently mainly because of proactive instead of reactive responses.  Being more proactive is beneficial mentally, physically and emotionally.  When a player is more proactive on court, they are less likely to be subject to responding to their opponent’s shots with overreactions.  Players who are proactive find themselves on balance, on time, and in position during their match.

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Federer Serve vs. Cilic GAME POINT

Federer’s Serve vs. Cilic in the 2018 Australian Open was sensational.  The following chart displays where Federer chose to serve on GAME POINT of each Serve Game in the match vs. Cilic.

Federer served a total of 23 Game Points on his Serve.  He won 21 of those Game Points.

In the 2nd Set Tiebreaker, Federer served 6 points, winning 4 of those points.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 11.43.47 AM

Federer served 3 Inside Run Serves, he was 1/1 from the Deuce Court and 1/2 from AD Court.  Federer served 3 Outside Run Serves, he was 2/2 from Deuce Court and 0/1 from AD Court.  These two mini-breaks of serve by Cilic was enough to win the 2nd Set Tiebreaker 7-5.  Notice that Federer did not hit a Cage Serve in the Tiebreaker.

Federer hit 134 successful serves in the entire match vs. Cilic.  Here’s the breakdown of Inside Run/Cage/Outside Run Serves.

Federer’s winning % for the match was 72% (97/134) – 3 double faults in the match were not counted in the data here, these are strictly made serves in the match and their corresponding location.

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 8.40.46 AM


This great information in the fact that Federer was unpredictable with his serve placement overall in the match and he only choose hit 20/134 (15%) Cage Serves into the body of Cilic, and 0% in the tiebreaker set.

Now to the most important analytics, where did Federer play his Serve on GAME POINT!  Here we go ->

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 8.20.10 AM


Federer won 8/9 Serves on GAME POINT when he hit an Inside Run Serve.

He won 3/3 on the IR Serve to Cilic’s Backhand in the Deuce Court.

He won 5/6 on the IR Serve to Cilic’s Forehand in the AD Court.


Federer won 10/12 Serves on GAME POINT when he hit an Outside Run Serve.

He won 3/3 on the OR Serve to Cilic’s Forehand in the Deuce Court.

He won 7/9 on the OR Serve to Cilic’s Backhand in the AD Court.


He was 2/2 when Fed chose on GAME POINT to serve to the body of Cilic (Cage Serve).


Next is the breakdown of # of hits per point on GAME POINT when Federer was Serving.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 12.39.38 PM

As you can see, Fed was accurate when it was GAME POINT on his serve, focus level very high.  He was broken 2x during the 5 set match, one time in the 6th game of the 4th Set, rally length was 4 shots.  The other service break was in the same 4th Set, the 8th game, the rally length was 8 shots.

The 7 out of 11 games he won ended either on a rally length of 1 or 3 (0-4 shots).

64% of GAME POINTS when Roger was Serving ended in the First Strike phase of the point.


One of the main focuses of Transforming the Practice Court is players spend a lot of time on the Serve and the S1 (+1 FH or BH after the Serve).  I’m finding the more time players spend on this sequence in practice, they are demonstrating higher levels of performance on these 2 shots in match play with regards to 3 main areas:

  • Focus
  • Familiarity (resetting better after the Serve to play the S1
  • Knowledge (self-aware that approximately 6 out of 10 match points end here)


Link to Serve/S1 practice (medicine ball & shadowing serve)

Link to Serve/S1 practice (court)

Link to Serve/S1BH practice (wall)

Link to Serve/S1FH practice (wall)







K.Juvan Wins Girls 18s Orange Bowl Championships – How did she do it?

Kaja Juvan (SLO) won the Girls’ 18s singles at the Metropolia Orange Bowl International Championships stifling top seed and No. 1-ranked Russian Anastasia Potapova 6-1, 6-4.  The ITF Grade A, USTA Level 1 tournament is the showplace where the best junior players in the world come to battle for the coveted trophy.

The 55th Annual Junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship is one of the most distinguished and paramount junior tennis tournaments in the world! This globally recognized event brings together over 1,500 of the top ranked male and female junior players representing more than 76 countries.  Over the past 55 years, tennis legends such as Chris Evert, Jimmy Conners, Mary Joe Fernandez, Monica Seles, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf have showcased their athletic talent as well as current pros, Caroline Wozniacki, Genie Bouchard, Maria Sharapova, Sloane Stevens, Roger Federer, Juan Martin del Potro, Kei Nishikori, and Andy Murray2012 Olympic and 2013 Men’s Wimbledon Champion.  As Kaja Juvan adds her name to this prestigious list of Orange Bowl champions, I’m sure she is looking forward to continuing her dreams of becoming the best she can be on the Pro Tour!


Kaja Juvan 2016 Girls’ 18 Singles Champion

How did she do it?  Beating the #1 seed Potapova in straight sets 6-1, 6-4 was in no way an easy task.  My analysis of her match is based on a Point Tracking Chart I developed 4 years ago while tracking the length of points in junior tennis matches and tournaments.  It is evident when analyzing the numbers that Juvan was well-prepared in the First Strike Phase (0-4 shots) going into the Finals this year.  Breaking down and going beyond the numbers to get a glimpse into what led to her stunning victory is where we go next.

I’d like to add that this match was played on a “wet” clay court surface on December 11, 2016.  The numbers here were collected using the Point Tracking Chart, successfully mapping the length of each point.  Thanks to my friend and colleague Todd Nassief for the data entry.

Juvan played an absolutely flawless 1st set by winning 75% of the First Strike points (0-4 shots) when returning serve.  Here are the numbers:

Return of Serve – 1st Set

(0-4)  6-8  75% pts won

(5-8)  2-4  50% pts won

(+9)  1-1  100% pts won

In the 0-8 shots (First Strike Tennis and Patterns of Play), Juvan won 8 out of 12 points in these point phases winning 67% of the points.  I’m beginning with the Return of Serve numbers because this led to a big confidence booster for Juvan in the 1st set.  Putting pressure on the #1 seed’s serve right out of the gate set the tone for the Slovenian to storm through and break serve in the 2nd and 4th game of the set.

Serving in the 1st set was equally as lethal, Juvan won 9 out of 14 points in the First Strike phase projecting a commanding presence starting the point.

Serve – 1st Set

(0-4)  9-14  64% pts won

(5-8)  3-3  100% pts won

(+9)  4-4  100% pts won

 Juvan was perfect in the Patterns of Play (5-8) and Extended Rally (+9) phases, 100% pts won.  In the 0-8 shots, she won 12-17 points for 71%.  So what are these numbers really telling us?  Kaja Juvan was simply the better player between 0-8 shots in the first set, either serving or returning serve, she was on fire right out of the gate.  As my good friend and colleague Craig O’Shannessy, lead analyst for the ATP Tour, says “Just when you think the point is beginning, it’s about to end, and that’s where all the action is!”  As you can see from these numbers, it’s exactly where all the action was played as well in the 2016 Girls’ 18s Final at the Orange Bowl.

After wining the 1st set 6-1, with a commanding lead Juvan took this great confidence into the 2nd set where her percentages may have dipped a little but her ability to keep the numbers above 50% in all three phases launched her towards victory.


Juvan continued with a solid performance by applying pressure to Potavova’s service games in the 0-8 shots (21-33), winning 64% of the points played when returning.  Even though Juvan had a lower winning percentage in the +9 shot phase, she overwhelmed her opponent by winning the majority of points in the (0-4) and (5-8) shot phases.

Return of Serve – 2nd Set

(0-4)  14-23  61% pts won

(5-8)  7-10  70% pts won

(+9)  5-13  38% pts won

Serving in the 2nd Set, Juvan stumbled just a little on the Serve and S+1, winning just 53% and 50% of the points there, but was able to make up the difference once the point reached the extended rally phase by winning 63% of the points.

Serve – 2nd Set

(0-4)  8-15  53% pts won

(5-8)  5-10  50% pts won

(+9)  5-8  63% pts won

Winning 52% of the points in the (0-8) shot phases when serving and combined with her performance when returning was enough to finish the match with a win.  One of the keys to victory for Juvan was when leading 5-4 in the 2nd set and now serving for the match.  The 10th and final game was tracked and looked like this:

Point 1:  11 shots  (15-0)

Point 2:  13 shots  (30-0)

Point 3:  5 shots  (40-0)

Point 4:  3 shots (Game)

My sense after looking at the numbers of the 9th game, which lasted 10 points total, was that Potavova was trying to stretch out the rally length of points while hoping for a downtick in Juvan’s confidence and focus to finish the match.  But Juvan was able to maintain her focus out of a long point (+9) to the next short point that would ultimately land in the (0-4) shot phase.

I really enjoyed going through the numbers of this incredible match and found that player’s who train on the practice court like they will eventually play on the match court, find more wins, more often when it counts the most.  Handling the pressure of beginning a point well is a key factor to becoming one of the best players in the world.


Drilling Deeper Beyond The Numbers

The first 4 shots are made up of the Serve and S+1, the Return and R+1.  The next two shots that a player plays is the S+2 and S+3 when serving.  The R+2 and R+3 when returning.  Here’s a chart to help see this a bit clearer:

Serve (1-shot)          Return (2-shot)

S+1 (3-shot)              R+1  (4-shot)

S+2 (5-shot)             R+2  (6-shot)

S+3 (7-shot)             R+3 (8-shot)

The shots played from the Serve player are the odd numbers:  1,3,5,7

The shots played from the Return player are the even numbers:  2,4,6,8

I found that even as well as Juvan played, there were places of improvement in her game.  Exactly “where” the adjustments and improvements can be made are found when drilling deeper beyond the numbers in this match.

The 1st set Juvan played was practically flawless in the (0-4) and (5-8) phases, as stated before winning 10-12 points when returning serve and 9-14 points when serving.  Total 19-26 points in the 1st set.  I’d like to focus more though on the 2nd set because the final set score was 6-4.  Here’s a closer look towards exactly where the errors (forced or unforced) showed up.

Return of Serve – 2nd Set

Return:  5 errors

 R+1:  4 errors

R+2:  2 errors

R+3:  1 error

Serve – 2nd Set

Serve:  1 DF

S+1:  5 errors

S+2:  1 error

S+3:  4 errors

Juvan returning serve in the 2nd set made the majority of errors (9-12) on the Return and R+1.  When serving, she made 5 errors on the S+1.  This is certainly a place to look when making adjustments and training on the practice court.  Combining the Serve and Return, Juvan made 15 errors in the (0-4) phase of the point and 8 errors in the (5-8) phase of the point.  Training these two phases of a point can make the difference between winning 6-4 and losing 4-6.  Juvan executed better in these phases of point play in this match than her opponent.

Congratulations to you, Kaja Juvan, on your impressive win at the 2016 Orange Bowl!