PRACTICING AT HOME
* Hit against a wall, a rebound net, or even your garage door. This is a fine form of practice away from the courts. The ball will bounce back too fast for you to practice your actual strokes, but a backboard is a great place to practice racquet control and footwork and touch. To make it more interesting, you can create targets, set goals of consecutive shots without a miss, or turn it into an aerobics session as well.
* Serve into a wall or an open garage or a fence or even a hedge. Without the net and those lines to put pressure on you, you can relax and just concentrate on the service motion. Focus on the feel, the flow, the timing. It is not always important where it goes but more how it feels. Remember to hit up on the serve. And then remember to take "this serve" with you the next time you go to the court.
* Hit imaginary strokes. Shadow tennis can often help you correct mechanical errors or help establish some good habits like getting prepared early. As in shadow boxing, shadow tennis is practicing your strokes and footwork and timing without a ball. Just imagine shots being hit to you and try to return them with form, grace, and timing. Be sure not to break any lamps with these great strokes.
* Go over different tennis patterns in your head. As simple as it is, actually repeatedly "seeing" a serve-return combination, or a cross-court exchange, or perfect poaches in your mind's eye can transfer to the court. Talk about an easy way to practice!
PRACTICING FROM COURTSIDE
Whether you are waiting to get on a court or cooling down courtside after a match, you can practice effectively while you're just sitting there watching. You don't even need a racquet.
* When you watch a singles or doubles match, try to "read one shot ahead." Predict where a shot is going before it is hit, then where the return will go. You'll soon find out you are brilliant at this. Now apply this newly discovered "reading" brilliance the next time you are on the court.
* Concentrate on the most effective player in a foursome. Try to figure out exactly why this person is the best. Is this person stronger or faster or smarter or simply more consistent? Don't get fooled. Often the player that looks the "best" at first is not the most effective player on the court.
* Study a few doubles teams. Do some teams seem to cover the court more effectively and play better together than others? Do some teammates seem to be tripping over each other? Can you figure out what the differences are?
* Count how a dozen or so points end in your head as you are watching. Chances are very good that this little counting exercise will remind you once again that tennis actually is a game of errors, not winners.