IMprove Your Smash

Active Away Tennis Holidays Blog: Guide to Improving Your Doubles Part 9

Did you manage to read part 8 last week based on improving your smash we focused on talking about the importance of the unit turn. People seemed to really like it. If you haven’t read it yet, click here to have a read.

In the part we are going to look at the next key element to improving your smash, your movement. The smash is an essential weapon in your arsenal since you are looking to spend the majority of your time at the net and closing the net down.

Essential Elements

The key to improving your overhead is understanding, learning, and practising a three essential elements:

  1. Unit turn
  2. Movement (footwork)
  3. The arm swing

In this blog post will will focus on your movement for the smash, the arm swing will be covered in part 10.

Before I start discussing the movement, again I want to reiterate the necessity to learn and to use the continental grip around the net, on the serve, and on the overhead. The continental grip, along with a good unit turn as described next, is what allows greater racket acceleration and, therefore, ball speed.


Beyond the technical differences in the preparation, the biggest difference from the serve is that the player must move to the ball. How a player moves his/her feet to position themselves on any shot is key to achieving great success in your game. But on the overhead, the footwork is especially important and can be the difference between having no overhead and a having a very good one.

On the groundstrokes, players with good hands can sometimes get away with bad movement and still make a decent shot. But the overhead is a different story. Unlike the serve, which is hit from the same position on the court every time, the ball on the overhead is moving toward your side of the court. You can hit an overhead from literally anywhere on your side of the net. The ball is also descending from a much greater height than the serve toss. This is important because as the ball drops, it accelerates due to gravity. For these reasons it is vital to be ready when the ball passes through the hitting zone.

The ability to use Carioka (cross) and shuffle (side) are the keys to moving upward and back. These steps can also be used to move on diagonals across the court when the player needs to move sideways at the same time. If you want to maximize your ability to move on most overheads, do not rely only on shuffle steps alone. This is where most players make their first mistake.

Shuffling is an inefficient way of moving either forward or backward when needing to move over a greater distance. There are many instances where you will see a great player shuffle back or forward to hit an overhead, but usually it is on a ball where they have a lot of time, and/or not much movement either forward or back is required.

They come into play on all the shots in the game at certain times. They are just especially critical on the overhead.

Mastering the ability to rotate your body and then use these crossing steps will increase the distance you can cover – and your power on the overhead. The tough thing about gaining this ability is to be able to do it with the arms moving upwards into the air.

Backward Movement

The key to moving backward is to take a cross step backward with the front foot toward the baseline. So the front foot actually crosses over the rear foot in this first move.

In many ways, the best way to practice this crossstep movement is without the ball. Put yourself into the turn position with your arms up and move backward with the front foot crossing in front of the rear foot. Keep practicing it until you can run at full speed and still feel secure in your balance.

As you get more confident with this movement you can experiment with jumping from the back leg to make the upward motion more explosive. Most good players do this on most overheads because they are moving back at the time of the hit to deal with the lob attempts of opponents.

Even on a bounce overhead, the crosscourt movement is usually crucial to getting into position quickly. Even when you get what seems like a relatively easy overhead, get into the habit of taking that initial backwards cross step. You will be amazed how fast and far back you can get using the correct footwork.

Forward Movement

The key to forward movement is similar to the backward movement. When they have any significant distance to cover, the players will use the cross step pattern. Now the first step is forward with the rear foot.

The side on which the rear foot crosses the front foot depends on whether the player is moving forward to the left or right. When the player moves to the right and forward, the rear foot will cross to the right side of the front foot. When moving left and forward, the rear foot will cross to left side of the front foot. In each case, though, the rear foot is stepping towards the net.

Sometimes there is a combination of cross stepping and shuffling after the cross step, depending how far or how fast the player has to move. But, most importantly, the first reaction with your feet is the key. The cross step is what facilitates and maintains the unit turn as a player moves to position for the lob.

Tennis Holidays are a great way to make real progressions in your game, it is an intense week of learning new skills in the morning and putting them in to practise in the afternoons. Being able to play for 20 hours in one week means that you can really make changes in your game fast! Our Tennis Holidays our suitable for all levels whether you are a complete beginner through to county level players – everyone is welcome!

Tennis Crimes

Active Away Tennis Holidays Blog : Tennis Crimes part 4


Hi everyone and welcome to part four of our tennis crimes blog. At active away cannot stress enough how strongly we feel about today’s blog.  Nothing frustrates me more as a tennis coach than seeing one of our players on our tennis holidays about to return a serve but actually looks like they are waiting for a bus.

Ready-Position-Li-Na-Tennis-FixationThe “ready” position is the best way to prepare for an incoming ball, it allows you to be balanced but still allows room to be sharp and move dynamically either way, making it much more difficult for your opponent to cause damage with their strike.

We see a few crimes committed relating to this on our tennis holidays. Firstly the ‘lock up and throw away the key’ crime is never being ready; racket down by your side and flat footed. You are simply fighting a losing battle if you aren’t ready for the ball.

The second crime we see is almost as bad; the player that before the point is about to begin looks so sharp, so strong, so dynamic . However as soon as the point begins they fall back into the flat footed habits they had before just watching the game go past them.

The ready position is not the only thing you need to do be ready, it’s simply the start of having a ready attitude. The work you do in between your shots is crucial in the quest to make every ball you hit the best it can possibly be.

So ask yourself these questions:

  1. What does your ready position look like?

  2. When should you be in the ready position?

The ready position is the foundation for almost all of your footwork when you are playing tennis. How you move around the tennis court in one way or another relates directly back to your ready position.

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ready_position_pros_novak_djokovicA good ready position

  • You want your feet about shoulder width apart, or a little bit wider.
  • Your knees should be slightly bent and your weight should be on the balls of your feet, not the heels.
  • Your upper body should be relaxed, with your arms and the tennis racket out in front of your body.
  • Angle the head of your racket up a little bit.
  • It’s also important that your upper body should not be hunched over, bending forward. Your back should be straight so that with your legs bent it is almost like you are sitting in a chair.
  • Your eyes should be on your opponent and especially the tennis ball, not looking down at the tennis court.
  • Practically speaking, when you are in the ready position you want to be about a foot shorter than your normal height, which is a good athletic height.



Tennis Crimes

Active Away Tennis Holidays Blog : Tennis Crimes part 3

The ‘EASY’ Smash !!!!

Hi everyone and welcome to part three of our Tennis crimes Blog, I hope you are all enjoying them and getting the chance to practice guarding against committing the crimes!!

We are going to start this weeks tennis crime by painting a really clear picture.

You’ve hit a crushing forehand down the line allowing yourself to stride into the net ready to put away the inevitable ‘easy’ volley… however, here comes the problem, you’re playing against the most annoying player you can play, the dreaded “hacker”. He scrambles to the forehand and strikes the ball high in the sky… and in here lies the crime, its something we see time and time again on our tennis holidays, the net player has moved forward still looking proud of the previous forehand they hit but you forget to move, the ball goes high up above your head, somehow your feet suddenly feel like they are stuck in super glue and the rest of your body moves in slow motion.

rogerfederer smashThen comes the crime, despite being in a terrible position we still try and hit the ball as hard as we possibly can, the ball (if indeed any contact is made) goes flying at 200mph over the back fence and bounces away down the road.

So why do we see this happen so much on our tennis holidays, firstly we believe part of the problem is in the name! The name SMASH implies that we have to hit the ball as hard as we can, this simply isn’t true, a shot hit from overhead could have any tactical intention completely dependant on the ball you receive.  You could indeed be defending a ‘smash’.

So here is a drill to help you with your overhead shots.

Ask a friend/coach to hit a few balls to you that could be hit overhead, ask the player/coach to shout out “hit” or “catch” leaving it as late as they can, if you’re not in a good enough position to do be able to do both then you are not finding a good enough position to catch the ball in your left hand. This means you are probably not in a good enough position to be able to hit an effective consistent overhead.

Tips fo Court Positioning in Tennis

Active Away Tennis Holidays Blog: KIS Coaching – Improve your doubles Part 4

Did you manage to read part 3? We focused on the importance of finding the right partner. People seemed to really like it. If you haven’t read it yet, click here to have a read.

Now that you have found the right partner and worked on the first ball (serve and return), it’s time to talk about court positioning. There are three basic court positions for doubles: two up, two back and one up, one back.

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Two Up

Two up doubles positionTwo up means that both players are positioned at the net. This is the best of the three because you are offensive and can cover most of the court from this configuration.The one wild card is the lob. Because there is nobody there to back you up, covering the lob can be tricky for the weekend warrior. You must learn to recognize the lob earlier by watching the opponent’s court position and racket face.For example, if you’ve come in behind a deep approach shot or hit a deep first volley and you see your opponent back up, odds are you will see a lob. Anticipation is the key to covering the lob effectively.

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 Two Back

Two back doubles positionTwo back means that both players are positioned on the baseline. Although most of the court is covered and you do not have to worry about the lob, this is not considered as effective as two up because it is difficult to be offensive from the baseline in doubles. This configuration should be used if you are and your partner are not good volleyers, or at times when your opponents are moving a lot at the net and outplaying you from there. Then the best bet is to step back to make it more difficult for them to hit winners and to make sure you don’t go home with a bunch of bumps and bruises courtesy of the other team drilling you with the ball.

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One Up – One Back

One up one back doubles positionOne up, one back means that one player is standing at the net while their teammate is on the baseline. This is the least desirable of the three configurations mainly because there is a big gap left open in the court right down the middle. As long as the ball stays in front of the player at the net, it is not as big a problem. But if the pattern switches and the ball is cross-court from the net player, then you are in trouble. It also makes poaching (the opponents net player crossing the middle of the court to intercept the ball) more effective because there is a big open target to hit to when the opponent gets the ball. Many times you will find yourself caught in a one up, one back situation. Don’t panic, it’s not the end of the world. But do try to get up to the net with your partner at the earliest opportunity to be more aggressive. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this because of the level of your volleys, then work on your volleys until you do feel comfortable. You will also find that the more often you move forward to the net, the easier it will become to see the lob coming before your opponent even makes contact with the ball.

Tennis Holidays are a great way to make real progressions in your game, it is an intense week of learning new skills in the morning and putting them in to practise in the afternoons. Being able to play for 20 hours in one week means that you can really make changes in your game fast! Our Tennis Holidays our suitable for all levels whether you are a complete beginner through to county level players – everyone is welcome!

Find The Right partner

Active AWay Tennis Holidays Blog: KIS Coaching – Improve your doubles Part 3

Did you manage to read part 2 last week based on improving your slice serve? People seemed to really like it. If you haven’t read it yet, click here to have a read.

In the Blog we are going to talking about the importance of finding the right partner. Now we might not all be lucky enough to have a sibling who also happens to play great tennis. The number one rule when playing doubles tennis is to find the right partner. Remember, this may not mean the best singles player, but someone who plays at the same or higher level and at the same time compliments your game.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]I’ll tell you one big secret singles players don’t care about doubles. Double is for practice “Ernest Gulbis” [/quote]

For example, if you are a good server and play well around the net, but have trouble breaking serve, find someone that returns serve well and can help you in that department.Conversely, if you return well but struggle to hold serve, playing with someone who likes to volley and moves well around the net may be the best choice to help you win your own serve and give you the best opportunity for success.

Team Work Imagae

It is also very important to find someone who is compatible from a personality standpoint. If you are the type of person that likes to be in control and call the shots, then playing with someone with similar characteristics may lead to friction. You should find someone who is more open to suggestion and will follow your lead.

Dissension among partners is a very difficult obstacle to overcome mid-match, and I’m sure we’ve all seen matches where it boils over. It’s not pretty. At the same time, two players with more docile personalities may not work well together because there is no leader or decision maker.Play can become less cohesive and the energy on court can become flat.So finding the right partner for your game style and your personality is crucial.

Tennis Holidays are a great way to make real progressions in your game, it is an intense week of learning new skills in the morning and putting them in to practise in the afternoons. Being able to play for 20 hours in one week means that you can really make changes in your game fast! Our Tennis Holidays our suitable for all levels whether you are a complete beginner through to county level players – everyone is welcome!

Myths about grips in Tennis

Active Away Tennis Holidays Blog: Myths about Grips


We have had a busy time recently out in Turkey meeting loads of fantastic new people as well as seeing lots of friends that have been away with us previously.

Today I am going to give you a few tips on how you can improve your set up.

First of all we have to define what I mean when I talk about set up. The set up is a combination of your grip, the preparation of the swing, the movement to the ball and the position of your feet at contact. As you can see there are already four different teaching points within this one area of our coaching process and if you cast your mind back to the previous email we talked about how important it is to work on one teaching point at a time – work out what comes first”

I would use the below as a guide as to what you should be working on first:

  1. Using an appropriate grip
  2. The preparatory phase  – turn of the shoulders and begin your movement to the ball
  3. Using an appropriate stance at contact

As well as all of the above, you also need to be able to read the ball effectively to help you maintain a consistent contact point as without this you won’t be able to maintain your balance once you are set up…this is the old “chicken and egg” conundrum. We need to be in a good position with a strong set up but in order to do this, you need to be able to read the ball effectively. We will be talking about developing your ability to read the ball in the 4th instalment of How to Win More Points.

For the rest of this article we will be discussing how to find an appropriate forehand grip for you; I have focused on the forehand as this is an area where there are many people doing many different things and you have to find out what works for you.


The Forehand Grip

You will not be pleased to hear this but there is no one answer nor one correct grip; there is simply just finding a grip that works for you. When talking about various grips on the forehand there is always a trade off between power and spin/control. The further round you go on the grip the harder you find it to generate power but ieasier to generate more spin and therefore more control.

Over the last 20 to 30 years players have evolved from relatively defensive players into athletic, physically dominant baseline players who also have all court capabilities.

Part of this evolution has been the technical development of more powerful, whipping, heavy-spin, but versatile forehands. These forehands have allowed players to continue to defend unbelievably well, but also attack with aggression and force. Rafa Nadal’s forehand—one of the best weapons in the modern game– is the epitome of this trend.

Although Nadal is famous for his relatively extreme grip, I believe that a Rafa style forehand can actually be built with a range of grips, ranging anywhere between a strong eastern (bevel 3-4) and an extreme semi-western (Bevel 4-5).

grips image

The result of this incredible shot comes from a combination of the speed of the racket and the path of the racket through the shot – more on this in future articles.

An example of a strong eastern is Roger Federer’s grip, with the index knuckle between the third and fourth bevel. An extreme semi-western is Rafa’s grip, with the index knuckle between the fourth and fifth bevel.

grips image 1

Most, if not all modern pros, have grips in the same range as discussed above. This is one reason why players have very versatile forehands and can transition to fast court play more effectively than in past decades.

It is a common mistake to call Rafa’s forehand grip a full western or extreme western, with the palm of the handle completely under the grip. This is inaccurate, it is a simply a myth that top pros use a western grip to hit big, heavy, whipping forehands.

I would always suggest using a forehand grip in this range and ideally a strong eastern grip (Roger Federer’s) as this gives you a great combination of power and spin.

I have covered a lot of information in this article, although bear in mind I have really drilled down in to what comes first. I have been talking about developing your set up of your shot; the first element being the grip and in particular the forehand grip with an aim for you to become more consistent from the back of the court and help you win more points.

I have concentrated each article on one teaching point to help keep you focused. Remember to focus on improving “what comes first” – always ask yourself if you are working on improving the most appropriate point for you and where you are on your tennis journey or are you jumping ahead down the coaching process.

I look forward to seeing you soon working on these in person on one of our holidays. Dates are now live on the site click here to have a look for 2014.

All the best,


Matt Allen profile pic

Flying travel tips

Active Away Tennis Holidays Blog: Top 10 Flying Travel Tips

Active Away Blog March – Flying Travel Tips!

I’m currently onboard an Easyjet flight to Sofia – heading out to Bansko for our Skiing weeks. After many years of flying, both long and short haul, I’ve found there’s certain things I do to help make my journey a little easier, and wanted to share those with you.

Flying has definitely become far less glamorous than in say the 70’s or 80’s with the general consensus of Airlines being ‘low cost, ontime, no frills.’ This allows much more of the population to venture abroad than before, something that I believe is fantastic!

I’ve outlined 10 of my ‘top flying travel tips’  below…

1) Purchase a ‘1 Size Fits All’ carry on bag!

Many airlines (including BA) offer ‘hand baggage only fares.’ This means that when booking, the price excludes a check in bag/suitcase (normally around 20kg) and you will be charged extra for this. Fortunately when travelling with Active Away, this is included in the price of your holiday! However if you are flying short haul quite a lot, you can take advantages of some cheap fares by packing everything you need in your carry on bag and saves you paying for a bag which is normally around £50.

N.B. Buy a carry on that can be accepted in by all Airlines – sizes do differ from Airline to Airline, I would personally recommend the: Stratic Suitcase Agravic, which is currently able to fit in every hand baggage allowence.

2) Check in Online

An obvious one that will save you time at the airport is to check in online. All you require is your ‘booking reference number’ and surname, enter these on the airlines website and simply follow the steps. Some airlines, for example Easyjet require you to check in online before you travel.

3) Mobile Boarding Passes

I love my iPhone, and am a big Apple geek, and keep discovering it’s capabilities! With the latest iPhone software, inbuilt is an app called ‘Passbook’ which allows you to save your boarding pass to your phone. I hate being unorganized and having loads of paper in my pockets. Most airlines now offer a service whereby you can download your boarding pass to your phone, and simply use that at the airport to scan and board with. I find it really handy, as I have actually ended up loaing my boarding card before, and you can also keep a record of your trips!

4) Give yourself time!

I find airports intriguing and also strangely productive. I don’t like to be rushed, so tend to give myself time to grab a coffee and do some work on the laptop. You may find there are long queues at security or at the check in desk, so allow for this!

5) Use public transport to get to the airport!

Most airports in Britain now have a pretty good transport link to the nearest city. With parking prices consistently increasing, I find travelling to the airport on the train a very relaxing and cheap experience. I ‘persuade’ a family member/friend to provide a 10 minute drive to Sheffield train station, where I can catch my train directly to Manchester Airport, all for £17.50 return, with a reserved seat and no stress of driving!

6) Join the Rewards Club/Airmiles

I tend to travel on British Airways and Emirates fairly regularly and am a member of both of their rewards schemes (free to join). Everytime you travel just remember to claim your miles, and before you know it you’ll have a free upgrade! British Airways is known as one of the most generous rewards schemes with their ‘Avios’ system.

7) Ask the question + Be polite!

Being 6 foot 2, sometimes it’s nice to have a little extra legroom on the flight! I always speak to the person at the check in counter and see if they have extra legroom available (for free). I would guesstimate the success rate to be around 50% and has provided me with a little more comfort! Ask the cabin crew again when you are on the plane, as if the extra leg room seats aren’t sold they will often tell you that you are able to take the seat after takeoff.

The amount of times I’ve seen customers be rude to try and get around a situation (delays/cancellation/seat change etc) astonishes me. The chances are you aren’t going to change things anyway, so being rude is going to get you nowhere!

8) Bring Entertainment!

Yes, if you are travelling on your own, flights can be monotonous and boring, so do bring some kind of multimedia device. Ipads/Mp3 players/Laptops can save you from boredom! Alternatively if you are travelling with friends discuss your upcoming trip!

9) Food/Drink

Accept that you will pay more! I like to eat well before I get to the Airport, as I know that the chances are if I find I require a snack I end up out of pocket!

My personal highlights were paying £3.50 for a bottle of water in Amsterdam Airport, and a slice of Pizza at Dalaman Airport for £8.00!

10) Airport Security

This is a point of frustration for me – I’m the person that always gets their bag searched and gets frisked!

Be prepared – you know you have to take your laptop out of your bag, your belt off, and your coat/jacket off  – so do it before you get to the desk! If everyone was to do this, Airport security would move a lot faster (even if they do frisk me!)


I hope you enjoyed my tips!

If you have any questions please feel free to email me:


Look forward to seeing you on a flight soon!

Josh Thompson

How to Find the Right Tennis Racket for You

How to choose the right tennis racket?

How do you choose the right tennis racket? For many tennis players, including myself choosing a tennis racket can be a difficult and daunting task.

There are many things to consider, brands, head sizes, weight, string pattern, balance, and many more! One of the most common questions I get when I’m on court coaching is ‘What do you think of this racket?’

Racket manufacturers such as; Babolat, Wilson, Head, Prince and Dunlop offer power-oriented rackets.

Option 1: Short Length Swing/Beginner/Power

These rackets usually have a larger than average head size (the average being around 100in²), these rackets being 110in² or larger, and are described as ‘oversize’.

  • Length – The length of the racket is normally 27 inches, with some being slightly longer (28 inches max).
  • Balance – They are balanced head heavy or evenly balanced, to allow enough weight to travel through the contact zone.
  • Weight – Weight wise they are normally less than 280 grams, meaning that they do not put too much stress on the joints.

These rackets are perfect for players who have shorter, slower swings and want a racket that is going to generate power easily for them.

A great example of a power-oriented racket is the ‘Head Graphene PWR Prestige’ which can be viewed here

Option 2: Medium Length Swing/Intermediate/Blend of Power + Control

There are many options for rackets that offer a mixture of features from a Power focused tennis rackets and a Control focused tennis rackets. This type of racket will normally have an average sized head size – around 95 to 102in², and are described as ‘midplus’.

  • Length – The length of the racket is 27 inches.
  • Balance – These rackets are balanced anywhere from slightly head-light to slightly head-heavy.
  • Weight – For the weight they are somewhere between 285 – 310 grams, with the average weight for a tennis racket being around 295 grams.

This type of tennis racket is ideal for players who have a medium length/speed swing, and are looking to choose a tennis racket that is versatile in all areas. They appeal most to intermediate/advanced tennis players.

A great example of a Intermediate/Advanced tennis players racket is the ‘Head Youtek Extreme Midplus’ which can be viewed here

Option 3: Longer Length Swing/Advanced/Control

This brings us too the rackets that are designed for the advanced players. These ‘weapons’ will have a smaller head size – around 90 to 98in² and sometimes have ‘tour’ after the name of the racket.

  • Length – The length of the racket is normally 27 inches, with some being slightly longer (28 inches max).
  • Balance – The frames of the racket are usually thinner, and are balanced head light, which means the racket will not be particularly powerful for someone with a slow swing.
  • Weight – These tennis rackets are usually 300-330 grams

This racket is perfect for someone who has a fast swing and generates power very easily.

A great example of a Advanced players racket is the ‘Head Graphene Speed Pro’ which can be viewed here

Grip sizes: This is a really difficult subject to get right as it does come down a little to personal preference.

Here is my guide for you below with a list of grip sizes:

L0 | L1 | L2 | L3 | L4 | L5

In general ladies should choose grip sizes L1 + L2. Men should pick, grip sizes L2 or L3 with a maximum of L4 for those of you with extra large hands! My personal preference is L2 with an overgrip. It’s always best to go for a smaller grip size, and then use an overgrip, as these are easy to replace. The grip size is the most important part of the racket, mainly because if your grip is too big you are unable to get your hand round the racket and feel the ball properly.

I hope you enjoyed this blog, and when you are purchasing your next racket, if you require any more advice, please email: and I would be happy to help.

Why not try a few of our demo rackets on one of our tennis holidays!

Active Away are specialised tour operator, we organise group tennis holidays to exclusive 4 & 5 star resorts, where you can meet new people, make new friends, share your great experiences whilst having lots of fun. Active away tennis holidays are suitable for everyone.