One of the strangest things I see repeatedly at tournaments is watching players warm up for a match without warming up the actual shots they’ll be using. Most warmup with forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand, then perhaps looping versus block (and vice versa), perhaps a little footwork. Some will play out points, thereby technically using (and therefore “warming up”) all the shots that they use in game play, at least against that practice partner. But are they really maximizing the benefits of such a warm up?
Examine your game and see what shots you actually use in a match. Warming them up in the free-play of playing out points isn’t the most efficient way to warm each of them up. Instead, you want to systematically get each shot warmed up. That’s why experienced players come in early so they have extra time to get each shot ready.
Let’s start at the beginning. Do you serve in a match? Of course, and yet how often do you warm up your serves? Or are your serves so basic that they don’t need a warm up? If so, then you better practice your serves until they are more front-line weapons that need warming up. Any serve you have will be better if you warm it up, which leads to more and varied spin, and better control. Better control means you serve lower to the net, more accurately to the opponent’s side, and with the depth you choose. Warming up deep serves is especially important, since they are most effective if they go very deep on the table – but can you really risk serving that deep without risking serving off if you don’t warm up the serve?
Then there’s the receive. Do you warm this up, or try to do so one receive at a time in an actual tournament match? That’s not every effective, and likely will lead to many early losses. Instead, arrange with your partner to do some receive practice, where you throw common serves at each other. Probably over half of tournament serves are forehand pendulum serves to the backhand, so why would someone play a tournament match without warming up against this serve? Better still, scout out your early-round opponents to see what serves they use, and try to get warmed up against them.
And then we get to the actual shots you use in a match. Forehand to Forehand, backhand to backhand, and looping against block are a good start, but what about looping against a push? Isn’t that what loopers will be doing over and over in a match? And yet many only loop against the block, then try to get this shot going in the heat of a tournament match. Do some serve and loop drills with your practice partner – serve backspin, he pushes, you loop. When it’s your partner’s turn, that’s when you warm up your block against an opening loop against backspin, which is usually spinnier than one against a block that most players warm up against. (And then they wonder why, in the tournament, they block off when the opponent loops against backspin.)
Oh, did you forget about your backhand loop? Yes, everything you warm up on the forehand needs the same treatment on the backhand. Amazingly, many players “forget” to warm up their backhand loop, and wonder why they aren’t comfortable using it in a match, especially early on.
Then there are all the other shots you might use, both forehand and backhand – pushing (both short and long), smashing, flipping, counterlooping, perhaps some off-table defense – chopping, fishing, or lobbing. If it’s something you use in a match, you should warm it up. If you sometimes lob, do you think you’ll lob better in the middle of a match without warming it up or if you do a few in advance to get the feel of the shot?
Lastly, you don’t want your first points you actually play to be in a tournament match. So after your shots are warmed up, play out some points. Some play games; most just play out the points for practice, with whoever has the ball serving. Play real points, with real serves, just as if they were tournament matches. Mentally, play it like it’s your first-round match. Then, when you do play your first match, you’ll feel like you are already into the second round, mentally and physically warmed up and ready to play.
So perhaps put together a checklist of all the things you need to warm up for a match, and bring it to tournaments as a reminder. It doesn’t have to be completely comprehensive; there are dozens of loop variations, for example, and you might not be able to warm them all up in the time allocated. (That running off-the-bounce inside-out sidespin forehand counterloop might not make the list.) Perhaps create two lists: things you must warm up, and things you should warm up.