One of the most basic things I recommend when attempting to understand what the pros do is to observe the player and not the ball. You’ll see an interesting aspect. The game slows down. One of the most misunderstood phenomena in tennis is how slow the game really is.
Because we live on a planet that has a dense air cover, the ball is affected with a decelerating phenomenon that makes it a slower, easier sport.
From baseline to baseline the ball loses, on hard courts, about sixty percent of its speed. A ball struck at 50 miles per hour at one baseline gets to the other end at about 20 MPH.
A 100 MPH ball becomes, for you to handle it, a 40 MPH ball. A serve, coming from a greater height, loses on the average 55% of its speed.
Being that these changes of velocity are perceived against a subjective measurement of time and that the perception of time is affected by one’s mental activity, a person may see the ball slow down or still see it fast.
In the higher echelons of the game, in the ZONE, where the player’s “thinking” activity is minimal or practically non-existent, the player is fully aware of this slow down aspect and “takes his time”. If the player is focusing on any aspect other than finding the ball and using his usual stroke, he “sees” the ball as “fast”: his apparent time to strike is reduced.
It is of note here that a top player’s ability to “stop” the ball in flight, although incomprehensible for the layman, is his champion’s ability to shut off his mind and see it from a higher observational viewpoint.
In other words, he perceives the situation from within his real nature, the one he really is, not with his “mind”. Some philosophers and religions call it the spirit, others the soul, the essence, the awareness, or the “I”. You can’t touch it, but that is who you really are.
My experience is that this ability to stop or slow down the ball can be taught from the start. It is an intrinsic human capacity that, unfortunately, because of “early preparation” and its derived phenomena, gets shut off.
The more you prepare, the less time you’ll feel you have. Rather than observing the ball’s flight throughout, the player “makes up his mind” as to where the ball is going to be and “sees” it there.
What he is actually doing is making an imagined mental image picture of where the ball is going to be and pays attention to that, thereby ceasing to observe the ball all the way to contact. In essence, tennis is a sport for the being, the spirit, rather than the mind.
The being thrives on feel, aesthetics, on beautifully coordinated moves, while the mind thrives on pictures, perfect poses, right-wrong computations.
The best tennis pros are artists who operate at the higher harmonics of aesthetic flows with little thought involved, like a concert pianist at his best. When performing, they are immersed in present time!