Just recently I was talking about what my racquet specs were for when I was playing in high altitudes and quickly realized that high altitude tennis can be a bit of a foreign concept. There is an art to mastering high altitude tennis. After spending several years playing and coaching tennis in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I feel a bit entitled to talk about the adjustments that need to be made to your game, racquet and gear when changing altitudes.
First things first, your balls will fly at high altitudes. However, high altitude tennis is great for training; similar to how Olympic athletes train at higher altitudes, you will feel great and won’t tire once you return back to sea-level. If you are new to the altitude, give yourself a day or two to slowly get adjusted because you will feel winded much faster and may even experience headaches after an hour or two of hitting. Stay hydrated and keep your electrolyte intake up (I recommend grabbing some Nuun Electrolyte Enhanced Drink Tabs to throw into your water, citrus fruit is my personal favorite) because you won’t realize how dehydrated you may get. It may sound crazy, but being that much higher, the sun is stronger, so make sure you are wearing sunscreen or SPF protective clothing (tasc offers some great performance wear with SPF protection that you might want to check out, I’m a big fan of the Women’s Fall Streets V-Neck Top) before spending more than 30 minutes on the court.
The altitude gain means that your ball will be flying through the air at a faster rate, and because of this, you will need to make some adjustments and will want to play with high altitude balls. High altitude balls are recommended for any altitude above 3,500 feet in elevation.
Making some string changes will help you tame your game immensely. Start with upping your tension by at least 3-5 pounds. If you don’t already use a poly string, you may want to try a poly or hybrid to focus on gaining control. You may lose some feel with the higher tension and stiffer string, but you will thank me later after realizing your balls won’t be hitting the back fence any time you feel like wailing on your forehand.
I string up my Babolat Pure Drive GT with Babolat Hurricane Feel in the mains with any Babolat synthetic gut in the crosses. I like to hit a big ball and need the extra control so I string tight to begin with, so at higher altitudes I string as high as 60 to 62 pounds (again, I wouldn’t recommend anyone going from a low to mid-50 pound string range and jumping up to the 60s, but try a few pound increase to see if that helps). I also recommend stringing up a couple racquets at slightly different tensions until you find what you like.
Strategy on the court changes as well with altitude. Points are much faster, which favors the player who can attack first. First serve percentages become crucial, as a point can be won with the strike of two balls. It will be important to remember that if you have a big take back on your groundstrokes, specifically your returns, you will want to shorten that up since you will have less time to react. Lobbing can be tricky, so make sure you add some spin to the ball to keep it from flying.
Keep these tips in mind even when playing in the slightest altitude gain. A lot of players often don’t realize how altitude affects their game until they step on the court and don’t understand why their balls are flying. If you are a tournament player, be aware of where you are traveling for your next tournament, make the appropriate changes — try to get there a day early to get adjusted and make any necessary string changes before competing.
Best of luck out there and enjoy the quicker points while playing high altitude tennis.
Play with heart,
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