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Tennis Strategy #8 Creative Ways To Get To The Net

Pressure Time And Space

If I were to say that I want to pressure my opponent’s time and space, but all I do is stand 5 feet behind the baseline hitting high loopy shots, then I’m not really achieving the objective, I would essentially by lying to myself about my strategy, because my actions are telling a different story than my stated intention. Yes, sometimes you can give your opponent more time and space, but with that strategy, you want to major in taking away their time and space. As an exception, giving them more time and space can cause the opponent to get impatient, but it also sets up the next time you will take their time away, so it feels even more rushed. Your kick serves by themselves might not take away time, because they are naturally traveling more slowly than your flat serve, but when followed up by an approach shot, or taking the volley out of the air, then it can be a good first shot. The first shot in the sequence can take away or give more time or space, or time and space, while the next shot can also do the same. You want to hit some flat serves to take time away, but your main objective is not to hit aces, instead target more shots at the opponent’s body, to force them to get out of the way of my shot.

Net Play Is Fundamental To Time And Space Game

The number one most effective tactic for taking away time and space is coming to the net, and there are many ways you can do that. Consider that the court is 78’ long, so if both players are at the baseline, their is an average amount of time the ball takes to pass back and forth. One of the reasons why people don’t come to the net more often, is that they are stuck with conventional wisdom for how to get there. When you are near the ideal volleying position which is about 9 feet from the net, the ball only travels 61.5% of that distance, but because the ball did not slow down as much in the air, and so much more after a bounce, the actual time taken away is closer to 50%.

The Prioritized Ways To The Net

Serve and Volley

Believe it or not, serve and volley yields the best win percentage in tennis of any play outside of pure first serve results. A well developed game with this tactic can win you 67% of the points, or more than two thirds. My friend Styrling Strother tells me that 30% of the time when someone serves and volleys, the opponent misses the return. I know I always loved that, and would say to myself “I didn’t even have to volley”. The returner feels tremendous pressure to thread the needle on the return when you come to net, they don’t have a safe shot up the middle, so you can gain some percentage points in missed returns. Missed returns will account for about half the points you will win with serve and volley. Another big chunk of points you will win will come from successfully volleying the first ball, then the opponent misses the second shot. It’s really not that sexy, but when you start to account for how many forced errors you commit. If however you get hung up on the volleys you miss, or the times you get passed cleanly, then you will not realize the advantage gained. When you make a winning volley, that is the most satisfying play, but it’s not really the bread and butter of winning serve and volley points. So if you place too much importance on hitting immediate winners, that can be a problem as well. Of course, you do have to learn and practice a reliable serve and volley. “I made you miss” is a nice mantra!

Even my high school players can serve and volley. The ones who are excellent could do it exclusively, the only very good might do it a couple times per game, and the ones who don't like it might still do it three times in a match as a suprise. There are team matches where I have asked everyone on the team to serve and volley on the first point of their first serve game of the match for shock and awe. I have heard other players say "He was a serve and volleyer" even though my player only did it 5 times in the entire match.

Inside Out Approach

The second best tactic for coming to the net is to take a ball in the middle of the court, you will hit an inside out forehand to the other player’s backhand and approach the net behind that. Forehands travel faster than backhands for most people. So attacking in that direction starts you with an advantage. The number one thing you should prepare for is that two handed backhands may be good at directing the shot, and having good disguise, so you will need to read and react, but the speed of shot advantage should be on your side with some notable exceptions. Some players have dramatically better backhands than their forehand.

Forehand Down the Line To Backhand

What was once considered the best way to approach the net is actually the third place option, but still can be quite effective. Coming to the net on a down the line approach shot from your forehand to the other player’s backhand is still effective, but it allows the opponent to hit the ball back down the line with minimal direction change, so the maxim, “Guard the line first” is still in play for this style of approach. The fact that the opponent will have to change the direction of the ball to make a cross court passing shot means they will have more errors, and less effectiveness, as the challenge of timing the ball is greater. The best most frequent way to do this is on second serve return in the deuce court. Recently my friend and hall of fame coach, Dave Borelli, who won 7 national championships, made a post about how this is one of his favorite plays and today it is vastly under utilized. Using it on second serve return also places the server under the pressure of recovering from their serve, regaining their balance, then immediately needing to make a passing shot. It’s a great way to introduce much more pressure to their service game. At first you will have the element of surprise, and if you do it well, you will have the element of dread on your side.

Unconventional Approaches

Drop Shot Approach

When you drop shot your opponent, you also want to take a position closer to the net, so that you can volley away their reply. Instead of thinking of the drop shot as a winner, think of it more as an approach shot that can allow you to win the point at the net. Your priorities are to guard the line well enough that the opponent cannot easily steer the ball past you down the line. You also don’t want to be too close to the net, so that you will be easily lobbed. You will find that anything less than a perfect cross court drop shot will be something you can retrieve and have a full court open in front of you. If the opponent does execute a relatively perfect shot, applaud them, because it won’t happen often enough to give them an advantage. If they do happen to be so quick and skilled up close that they win the majority of the points, then you will want to remove this tactic from your menu for the day. What you will find is that the player who initiates the first good drop shot will have the upper hand in the point.

Moon Ball Approach

When you play an opponent who hits lobs, or high deep loopy shots, this is a good to time have the skill to also hit the ball hit much higher than they hit it. Make sure it’s a deep shot in the last 5 feet of the court, then you can run into the net, while the ball is in the air for maybe two full seconds, which is quite a long time in our sport. There is quite a bit of time to move in while your ball is in the air. Most importantly be ready for them to lob it back. Be ready for at least a high volley, but you really should be most prepared to hit an overhead, so if you get just inside the service line, you should not only be able to easily move back to clobber their lob, but you will also be able to move forward quickly if they attempt a passing shot, which is not really a high percentage play for most people. The moon ball approach is not often used, and can leave the other player truly demoralized.

Short Angle Approach

You can also hit a slower speed, heavy topspin shot that lands within two feet of the singles sideline and inside the service box on the opposite side, following your shot into the net. You will want to face toward the contact point of the opponent, so that you can easily move laterally to get the obvious down the line shot. You may even need to contact a ball outside the doubles alley, because the smart shot is to try to hit the ball that is not inside the lines until it lands. The tempting shot for them is to hit cross court, so you must be ready to read, react and attack that ball at a 90 degree angle. This is a play that you should not often use against someone who makes great angled shots, but it mixes up your approaches enough to keep the opponent off balance even if you only win 50 percent of them, you will make your other approaches more effective.

Setting A Goal For How Often To Come In

If you are really going to pressure time and space, you should set a goal for how often you want to come to the net. It may take some time to build up the confidence to come in closer, to take away time and space. At first, you might want to set the goal of coming in once per game, because that is easier to measure than 5 times in a set, and also it doesn’t let you off the hook. You won’t be able to say to yourself “I will come in twice next game to make up for it”. Forcing yourself to come in during matches that don’t count for as much, like practice or flex league matches you get more comfortable. Once you gain more confidence you might want to up that to coming in at least twice per game. It’s hard to say that you are making the best of the strategy, if your tactics only include coming to the net five times in a set, and you are not really measuring how often you really came in to pressure the opponent into making a passing shot now.

Use Tech

This is where using SwingVision comes in handy, because you don’t have to have someone chart your match, and you can have the A.I. take your stats for you. When you get real data about what really happened in the match instead of what you hoped it would be or perceived it to be, then you might find yourself a little shocked at how few times you came in to volley.


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