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Holding Your Ground – Court Position and Shot Selection
There are many darn ways to play this game, and many styles to choose from.
Patient retrievers (and they are often the club champs), bold serve and volleyers, two-fisted bangers, drop-shot lob artists, and more. But often, when players at our club practice their tennis using the ball machine, nearly all strokes are played from well behind the baseline – the incoming ball descends comfortably into the contact zone to be met with a long flowing stroke.
But there is another alternative. One could practice those same shots from on, if not inside, the baseline. Agassi played the ball early, McEnroe played the ball early, and the majestic Roger Federer will often take incredibly deep shots from the opponent with deft half-volleys – playing the ball on the short-hop, and making the difficult appear routine.
Hold Your Ground
Think of this as holding your ground – preparing early, taking the ball either on the rise, or sooner than that, playing it on the short-hop. The art lies in the simplicity and in the timing. No huge windmill backswings. No massive topspin hits. No preplanned winners. Rather allow the depth of the incoming shot and your court position along the baseline to dictate the tone and tempo of the shot. Jazz musicians improvise and you can learn to do the same. But for this you must step out of “the box” and beyond the normal (playing well behind the baseline as the ball descends with long and flowing strokes) point of view. Court position may be as important if not more important than the nuts and bolts of your forehands and backhands.
Crafting a Half-Volley
Playing the half-volley is no mean feat, but you probably already know this. In fact, it may be that the term “no man’s land” simply arose to describe a player’s inability to time and execute a half-volley. Unfortunately the solution, avoiding this area of the court, obscures the need to convert these same shots if you are a net-rusher. And at the end of the day, there is little difference between this shot on the short-hop from the service line or from the baseline.
When it comes to the actual stroke, you must simplify, simplify, and simplify yet again. From the waiting position (Tom Stow used the terms this way and it is a refreshing change), once you determine if the incoming ball is a forehand or backhand – turn to that side with dead hands (no herky-jerky movement) to assume the ready (to hit) position. But the art to this ready-to-hit-position lies in keeping your hands low and near to the contact zone.
Further, the turn to this ready-to-hit-position is all about placing the weight on the back foot, and the waiting/weighting is now about timing a quick step-and-hit. Too often players struggle with this shot by stepping in to assume the ready position, but truly preparation and stepping in are two completely different issues. Turn to the ready-to-hit-position, and now wait and let the ball enter the contact zone. The stroke will be short and firm, more a block than a blow, but the power will occur from the momentum of the incoming ball. These shots can be hit firmly, but they will require timing.
So what is the big deal about court positioning anyway?
Good question. Borg played well behind the baseline. Rafa plays well behind the baseline. And there are 18 Grand Slam titles between them that attest to this particular style of play. But (as always there lurks a “but”) when playing deep and well behind the baseline, if you do not possess the legs of a Borg or the will power of a Nadal, you will be running back and forth, giving your opponent more time to react, and you will be playing to a smaller and smaller hitting angle. In short, you will be working much too hard (remember how early Borg retired!).
Moving forward reduces the opponent’s reaction time and increases your angle of play, but that only occurs if in fact you can and do move forward. And to my eye, players who routinely practice from behind the baseline on descending incoming balls, rarely move forward with skill, confidence, or with winning results.
The half volley, improvised on the short-hop from on or inside the baseline, will never be an approach shot, but by holding your ground from this position, you will much more easily move forward if and when your opponent plays short.
At the end of the day, we are simply playing a game within a box. And the more you know about the nuances of this box (rather than just the nuances of the swing) the better you will play.
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
Power for the Inside-Out Forehand
The inside-out forehand is one of the most widely used and most effective shots on both the men's and women's pro tours. But how do elite players generate so much power on this shot? The truth is, generating the kind of power the pros produce involves far more than just swinging from the heels. Many technical elements come together to make the forehand a major weapon for elite players. Here, using the SportsCAD Analysis package and Tomas Berdych's as his model, Michael McDowell breaks down this tremendous shot.
Orientation and Swing-Path
Once upon a time this game of ours was much simpler. Groundstrokes were long, linear, fluid, and picturesque, but that game was played at a much slower pace. The modern game is all about power and the angular, rotational, momentum that makes all that power possible. Doug King uses a ground clock device and three poles to illustrate this concept and provide a another way of looking at it that just might clear things up and make a real difference in the way you approach the ball.
Roger Federer and the One-Handed Backhand
For anybody who wants to hit a one-handed topspin backhand, there can be no better role model than Roger Federer. In this in depth video analysis, Christophe Delavaut focuses on the common threads of Roger's swing. These are the parts of his stroke duplicated by all great players. Incorporate these common threads into your own swing and you too can be hitting topspin like the pros.
Quiet Eyes: Giving your Strokes a Chance
You’ve worked your mechanics, honed your groundstrokes, developed solid volley techniques, and established a reliable swing path on each shot. You have quieted your mind, focused your mental image to visualize the desired trajectory, spin, and target. You get the shot you want, like a nice easy second serve...And you shank it. So what happened? One of the most common errors players of all levels make is the lack of maintaining a steady or quiet head during a stroke. Dave Smith
ProStrokes 2.0 – Ai Sugiyama's Backhand
Ai Sugiyama retired at 34 years old, in September of 2009 after playing 19 years on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. During that span she won six single singles titles and 38 doubles titles. Her best ever singles ranking was 8th, but she excelled at doubles becoming the first Asian women to hold the No. 1 ranking. But her most notable achievement was her Grand Slam streak, playing in 62 straight Grand Slam events. Never a big hitter, she played a baseline retrieving game, but she was solid off both wings and held her own–and then some–staying remarkably fit for years. New this issue, Sugiyama's backhand.
TennisOne Writers Store
One of your many new benefits as a TennisOne membership is your ability to purchase selected instructional DVDs at 20% off ($7.50 off each) in our new TennisOne Writers Store (login in first to access members links):
- "Building Your Serve from the Ground Up," Jim McLennan Members Public
- "Building Your Ground Game," Jim McLennan Members – Public
- "Building a Kick Serve," Jim McLennan Members – Public
- "Underspin Backhand - Weapon," Jim McLennan Members Public
- "Achieving Peak Performance the Wholistic Way: The Mental Game," Happy Bhalla Members – Public
- "Building a World Class Serve," Phil Dent Members – Public
- "Building a World-class Volley," Dave Smith Members – Public
- "Keys to Modern Tennis Technique: One-Handed Topspin," Doug King Members Public
- "Best of Ken DeHart," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Corrective Techniques & Myths," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Defeating the Monsters in Your Mind," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Skills, Drills, and Games for Beginning Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public.
- "Drills for Intermediate Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Drills for Advanced Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public.
- Click here to see all the benefits of a TennisOne Membership.
- Click here to sign up for a risk-free, TennisOne 30 day free trial membership.
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