Excerpts from How to Play Tougher Tennis by Jimmy Connors

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Excerpts from How to Play Tougher Tennis by Jimmy Connors
with Robert J. LaMarche, 1986, Simon & Schuster & Tennis Magazine
Out of print, but still readily obtainable used from Amazon.com via the link above.

    How to Play Tougher Tennis is the book to buy if you want to learn to play like Jimmy Connors, or simply to see an accurate description of his approach to the game. The book covers every stroke with text and photo sequences-- the excerpts here cannot do the book justice because the lengthy photo sequences are not reproduced. In fact, there are over 200 color photos in the book showing every detail of Connors' game. The book is ideal for teaching left-handers to play an aggressive game with a two-handed backhand and hit mostly flat (no spin) shots. For right-handed folks learning to play, all of the left-handed photos might be a bit confusing. Of course, you could try holding the book up to a mirror...

Gripping the Racquet: Find What Works Best For You (pages 17-18)

    ...I use only one grip for every stroke I own. Whether I'm hitting a forehand, a volley, an overhead, a lob, a slice serve or a kick serve, I've got just one grip. It's even the same on my two-handed backhand, except that my right hand is on the handle, too.
    I've been using my old, reliable grip for as long as I can remember, and that's going back a long way. I found it by simply picking up the racquet and gripping the handle the way it felt most comfortable in my hands.
    I think that's the best way for you to find your grip, too. I don't believe that instructors should force feed students a grip or two for every shot. Finding out which grip is most comfortable for you and what it's effect will be on your strokes and style of play requires some experimentation...
    If I had to classify my grip, I suppose it would be the Continental type. This grip is very basic and versatile because with it, you don't have to change grips often. You can use it to hit forehands, backhands, volleys and serves...
    To hold your racquet with a Continental grip, place the long, angled part of your palm flat against the back side of the handle. Now, grip the racquet and spread your index finger slightly as if you were ready to pull the trigger of a gun...

The Ground Strokes: Keep Them Simple (page 21)

    I think the key to my ground strokes is simplicity. For forehands and backhands, I get ready early, I take the racquet straight back, I make contact with the ball out in front of me using a fairly level stroke, and I take a full follow-through. There's nothing complex about my swing and no excess motion that could make timing the hit difficult.
    Of course, some tennis experts have criticized my ground strokes throughout my career, saying that I don't have much margin for error over the net with them. But because they've geen a part of my game for so long, I've learned to adjust on court so that they stay consistent.

The Volley: Make Every One Count (pages 48-51)

    ...My route to the net is usually behind a solid approach shot or ground stroke. In fact, I play my approaches hard and close to the lines so that it makes it tough for my opponent to hit a good passing shot.
    The result? I often end points with one volley. There's no cute stuff; I get the job done quickly. I like to pick off any ball above waist level and put everything I have behind it for a winning volley. That rattles opponents because they know I won't come to net behind a mediocre shot. They know they're going to have to thread the needle with a passing shot or they're in trouble.
    ...footwork can either make or break you at the net. I always keep my feet moving with tiny steps so that I can push off easily and quickly in any direction to cut off a return...
    Although your follow-through has to be compact enough to give you time to recover for your next volley, you shouldn't cheat yourself out of hitting the ball solidly by starting to slow down your racquet head too soon. My attitude is, if I hit the ball in the middle of my racquet firmly enough, my opponent probably won't have time to hit an offensive shot, so I'll have a fraction more time to recover into a good ready position. Think the same way, and I'll guarantee you'll close out more points at the net.

The Half Volley: Hang in There for Solid Contact (pages 132-)

    ...There's nothing fancy about the half volley because timing is critical. Your job is to block a return that bounces at your feet a split-second after it hits the court surface. Otherwise, the ball will get by you. In effect, the half volley represents an extreme case of having to hit the ball on the rise. You have to make contact a lot earlier than you would to hit a normal ground stroke return.
    To get that job done right, you should set two main priorities for yourself. First, you need to keep your weight forward. If you flinch when you see you're going to have to hit a half volley, your body weight will tend to fall backward at impact and that will virtually eliminate any chance you have of hitting an effective return.
    Second, you've got to get your racquet and your body down low to the court surface to help guarantee solid contact. That's where most players make their biggest mistake on the half volley. They stand up too straight, partly as the result of being surprised by the strong return, and have to use a big arm swing to meet the ball. Of course, there isn't a chance in the world that they can get any kind of accuracy with such a stroke.
    Another common problem occurs when you lower your body for the shot, but leave your racquet head too high on the backswing. In this case, a level or high-to-low swing is the result. Both are likely to send the ball into the net. If these symptoms sound familiar, then I'd suggest you exaggerate getting your racquet head down low in practice sessions by actually touching the court surface before you start your forward stroke. You'll soon see your half volleys clearing the net by a safer margin.

How to Get the Most Out of Practice Sessions (pages 174-176)

    I've never been one to go out every day and hit crosscourt forehands for 10 minutes, crosscourt backhands for another 10 and so on through all the strokes... I would much rather go out, hit a few balls to loosen up and then say to my practice partner, "Serve them up. Let's play!"
    ...On the day of a match, I'll go out in the morning and practice for about 40 minutes. That's all. I'll play a practice set or two with another player and then quit...
    During weeks when I'm off, I'll usually play sets for a couple of hours a day. If I can't find another touring pro to practice with, that's when I'll try to hit with a teaching pro. For example, when I lived in North Miami Beach, Fla., I'd occasionally work out with Fred Stolle, the former Australian tennis star.
    ...there is a way to incorporate some practice into your playing time without resorting to structured drills.
    How? By picking out a weak link of your game and working on it as you play...
    In short, set a specific objective for yourself before you walk on court. There's not much pressure on you to win and the added challenge is likely to make the game even more exciting. I'm certain you'll also raise the level of your play simply by working toward a goal...

    James Scott Connors, born on September 2, 1952, in Belleville, Illinois, won a men's-record 109 singles titles (in 163 finals) in a pro career that lasted from 1972-1992. He won 8 career Grand Slam tourney titles: Wimbledon in 1974 and 1982, the US Open in 1974, 1976, 1978, 1982, and 1983, and the Australian Open in 1974.
    In 1974 his match record was 99-4, and many think he would have won THE Grand Slam that year (all 4 Grand Slam tourneys in the same calendar year) if he had not been banned from playing in the French Open (along with all other World Team Tennis players). In 1991, at age 39, Connors reached his 14th US Open semifinal, having entered the tourney as a wild card ranked # 174.
    Jimmy Connors was ranked # 1 in the world for 268 weeks of his career (2nd highest all-time), including 160 consecutive weeks. He was also ranked in the top 10 for 16 consecutive years.

Jimmy Connors career record from the ITF

Jimmy Connors page at the International Tennis Hall of Fame

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