There are many factors which makes a tennis
player a good defensive player. Speed, anticipation, footwork,
and of course how you hit the ball when you are in a defensive
position. How, where and why you hit the ball can get you
back into the point and possibly turn the tables and put your
opponent on the defensive end of the point.
Many of us when pulled out of position go
for the "all-or-nothing" winner. Typically these types of
desperation shots might land in the court 1 out of 10 times.
That is a very low percentage. A good defensive player has
more options all of which are safer and smarter than the "all-or-nothing"
(impatient) desperation shots.
So what are safer shot selections to hit
in these situations? Let us look at some different scenarios
and how you can play the points out.
1. You are pulled way off of the court:
The problem here is that you will be way out of position to
get to the next ball your opponent hits. You need to buy yourself
some time after you hit your shot to get back into a good
position on the court. Hitting the ball hard will only cut
your recovery time down since it will reach the other side
of the court quicker. A smart shot would be to hit a deep
lob and get back to the middle of the baseline. The more advanced
players can hit a heavy topspin lob or a high heavy topspin
shot. These shots allow you time to get back to a good defensive
position and get you back into the point since the ball is
traveling at a much slower speed. It is also harder for your
opponent to hit winners off of deep high shots that are slower
(Unless you hit the ball so high that they can get underneath
the ball for an overhead). Hitting the ball cross-court will
also allow you more length to hit the ball. The further the
ball can travel the more time you have to recover. Just remember,
the harder you choose to hit the ball in this situation, the
less time you will have to recover and get back to the center
of the court or a decent position for your next shot.
2. Your opponent comes to the net on a
great approach shot:
In this situation you are pinned on the baseline and your
opponent has hit a great approach shot and you cannot take
a big swing at the ball. In this scenario you have 2 options
for good defensive play:
2a. The lob is always a good shot,
but when you are playing taller or quicker opponent's they
can make you pay for such a shot if you do not hit the perfect
lob. Always be sure to hit your lobs deep in the court. If
you can hit the lob with topspin, that is an added bonus.
However, sometimes that is very difficult in this situation.
If you have time to hit the ball with topspin you may have
time to set up for a hard hit winner.
2b. Another good option to have here
is to just get the ball over the net. At a minimum you have
to make your opponent hit one more volley. The last thing
you want to do is to go for an near impossible shot and miss
which is almost like giving them a free point. When stuck
in this situation, hitting at their feet is very effective,
especially against taller players. What is even more effective
is to hit the ball low and try to get your opponent to change
directions. If they are moving in one direction make them
change direction and turn to hit the ball. Forcing them to
hit another shot to finish the point increases the chance
that they can hit an error or a less offensive shot that you
can take advantage of. The ultimate goal here is to make them
hit a shot that was not as effective as the approach or the
last volley. If you can force them to hit up on a volley or
hit a sloppy shot you can quickly take control of the point
and put your opponent on the defensive end.
3. You are being out powered while on
When your opponent is on the baseline and you are being out
powered and forced to move a lot, hitting the ball becomes
much more of a challenge. At this stage of the point you do
not want to try and match power with power if it is not your
strong point. Instead of hitting harder, slow your shots down
and aim to hit the ball deep in the court. It is much harder
for your opponent to generate pace on the ball when you do
not give them much pace to work with. You also do not want
to change the direction of the ball. If they hit the ball
cross-court hit it back cross-court if you are in trouble.
It is much easier to hit the ball back in the direction it
came from rather than trying to hit it down the line if your
opponent hit cross-court. It is more difficult and takes more
timing to change the direction of the ball. If you are in
trouble and stretched out, play it safe and send the ball
back from where it came from.
4. Defending against a good lob:
If you are at the net and your opponent hits a good lob that
you can barely reach you do not have to try to hit an overhead
120 mph. If you are backing up extremely fast and are fully
stretched to hit the overhead chances are swinging big will
only get you in more trouble. It is perfectly acceptable to
hit an overhead at 50 percent pace and keep yourself in the
In the end, percentage tennis, although not
always as fun, can keep you in the point and help you to turn
the tables on your opponent. Play it safe when you need to
and try to incorporate the above options into your game. I
know it is tempting to go for the big winner when in a bad
spot, but I guarantee you that in the long run, you will win
more points by playing smarter rather than playing fancier.
Good Luck on the Court!