By Josh Staph
James Blake’s opponents finally get the picture. They’ve learned never to assume that the 6’1” speedster is out of a point. The fastest man on the ATP Tour earned his reputation by running down apparent winners—and returning them with demoralizing emphasis. Now ranked sixth in the world, James recently sought the training wisdom of Mark Merklein. Below, he describes one of the drills Merklein uses to keep him within reach of any ball on the court.
Mark has me do an on-court speed drill called the Ball Toss. I stand at the baseline, and he stands just past the service line. He tosses a ball anywhere on the court. I react by taking a few explosive steps at the proper angle to retrieve the ball off one bounce. We do sets of anywhere between four and 12 tosses, and usually repeat it 5 times.
This drill really works on my first step, which is extremely important in tennis. It also helps me react to the ball, because I’m not just running through a set movement or pattern.