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The Roving Player - The Long Season

One of the benefits of life as a Roving Player is the chance to watch and learn lessons first-hand from the world's very best tennis players and wisest coaches. As the Madrid Masters airs on Tennis Channel this week I thought it would be best to share some pointers from some of the games best.

The Chill of It All

It's getting colder, and while ATP and Sony Ericsson WTA Tour pros have full-time trainers to keep them supple, most of us aren't so lucky. And a great many of us weekend warriors are older and less flexible.

Mine is the tale of a man who once hated stretching. You might well have read that Andre Agassi doesn't even stretch, or even heard research that says it doesn't necessarily help, but I urge you as you head onto the courts this fall and coming winter to get yourself warm and loose.

One simple method: Before you hit a ball, jog two laps around the court. It's that easy. And keep those warm-ups on until you're starting to feel significantly hotter. I won't bore you with details on various stretches, but I will tell you that once you start hitting the ball, put the emphasis on smooth stroking and footwork over power. Give yourself the chance to take long, smooth strokes through every shot. If your opponent fires a ball too hard into a corner and you don't feel warm enough to get it, then let it go. That's right - let it go. The five minutes of a warmup are not designed to showcase your footspeed. The purpose is to get yourself in the right frame of mind for playing.

At the net, don't just run up, hit a volley and then retreat to the baseline. Instead, get up there for a few dozen volleys. But make sure you practice them from back near the service line. This way you'll get your legs more involved - you'll get warmer and use your whole body more efficiently.

Another great warmup technique: Hit plenty of overheads. Though folklore has it that John McEnroe never practiced too much, I know for a fact that when he did he took dozens of practice overheads - a shot that really helps you move, get your body engaged and primed for agile movement.

When you're through - and this I too find very hard - take 10-15 minutes to stretch. Indeed, it can be so boring. But the only thing more boring is getting hurt and not being able to play.

The Long Hard Season

For the men competing this week at the ATP's Masters Series event in Madrid, this is the time of year when the tennis season can seem exceptionally long. Though indoor surfaces are quite friendly for most playing styles - free of distracting elements such as sun, wind or unsettling temperatures - competing week after week indoors can make even the most formidable player a bit stir-crazy.

Recreational players can also find themselves subjected to competitive fatigue. Just how do you stay fresh while trying to compete and improve? 

Most people tend to play at one venue - a club, a park, a school. While this can be cozy and convenient, it can also narrow your selection of opponents, triggering a significant rut. 

Avoid this by constantly looking for new people. Unless you play four or more times a week, I'm a great believer in not having a regular game with the same people or group at the same day and time. Instead, mix things up with new opponents - from guests to juniors to others who you haven't played with that often.

You might also occasionally opt not to play sets and instead practice a few specific shots. 

In doubles matches, spice things up by returning in a different court. You'll see that you need to master different shots - and perhaps even consider lessons to improve them. Or get yourself into a foursome of players worse than you - and do what you can to take charge of the match with your shots. You'll be surprised how much work it takes to really assert yourself in a doubles match. 

After all, what is burnout but complacency gone too far? As a lifetime sport, tennis is a game where you can constantly improve. The trick is to take steps to keep yourself refreshed. Far too many players either just play the same opponents each week or devote themselves too much to nonstop league play. If you seek out new opponents, new drills and new approaches you'll never get bored on a tennis court. 

Check the schedule for complete details on times for the Madrid Masters

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Oakland-based Joel Drucker is one of the world's leading tennis writers. Author of the book, Jimmy Connors Saved My Life, Drucker's work has appeared in a wide range of print and broadcast media, including Tennis, USTA Magazine, ESPN, CBS and The Tennis Channel. For The Tennis Channel he's worked as an on-air analyst and is co-producer of the program, Center Court with Chris Myers. An avid recreational player, Drucker's lefthanded 4.5 game attempts to combine the tactical array of Brad Gilbert with the variety of John McEnroe, a style he fondly refers to as "Spinning Ugly."