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Beating a "Moonballer" without Beating Yourself
by: Dave Winship @ On The Line

Players sometimes get in such a stew when they're confronted with a defensive moonballer. I hear this type of opponent described in the most derogatory terms. According to most of the victims I meet, the moonballer should not have won, doesn't play "proper tennis" and won't get anywhere in the game.

Well, tell that to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario - amongst others!

The problem arises because dogged persistence is a relatively uncommon trait. You kind of get used to opponents who oblige you with a liberal helping of unforced errors when you offer them the opportunities. It can be very baffling to encounter a player who is resolutely intent on doing nothing more than get the ball back without making a mistake.

Let's face it, though, this opponent has no weapons and is relying on you inflicting wounds on yourself. The danger lies in your own reaction to the problem. If you become a headless chicken and select shots you never practice, adopt tactics you never rehearse and allow yourself to be totally manipulated by a situation that really isn't all that threatening, then you will find yourself in deep water and no mistake.

So, DON'T PANIC! You don't have to suddenly conjure up drive volleys in the mid-court - especially if you can only just cope with the orthodox variety. There's no point rushing the net at every opportunity - especially if lunging and jumping are anathema to you. Risking a strategy of drop shots and lobs may prove disastrous - especially if your touch is suspect. In short, if the relevant weapons are not in your arsenal, then all the conventional wisdom about playing moonballers can be discounted.

Changing tactics is only an option if you can execute the required shots with competence and confidence. And if it's not an option, tackle the problem from a psychological perspective as opposed to a tactical one.

In this case, focus on the strong points of your own game - your most reliable shots (or sequences of shots). Accept you're going to have to be a whole lot more patient than usual and accept it will take longer to construct your openings. But keep believing in your own weapons!

Keep believing even when your best shots keep coming back. Keep believing even when they appear to have no visible effect on your opponent whatsoever. After all, this type of player loves having to react and loves having to defend. Your task is to keep a positive mindset! Your weapons will gradually have an effect, albeit a drip drip effect. Persist! Eventually, you'll get a shorter ball. Eventually, you'll create space on the court for a really incisive blow.

Play according to the score. When you're 40-0 or 40-15 up, for example, you can probably afford to risk a little more. Working your feet is important too. Just because you don't need to move fast, you can get lulled into sloppy shot preparation. So keep your feet busy!

Playing a moonballer can become hypnotic. Be a bad hypnotic subject by resisting the suggestion that you should get frustrated. The ability to resist depends on belief and expectations. Make sure you're equipped with both.


Dave Winship