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How to Play Against Hard Hitters
By:  Scott Baker | Tennis4you  | Tennis Forum  | E-mail

More and more players these days come out swinging and swinging hard! Playing against hard hitters in tennis can sometimes be intimidating. There will always be players who hit bigger than you and are more consistent. However, you will find at all levels there are players who take a lot of big swings and are not always pinpoint accurate and can only hit 1 or 2 balls in the court in a row.

When battling a big hitter there are things you can do to throw your opponent off of their groove to try to neutralize their power. There are also things you can do to prepare to return the hard hit strokes if you are not comfortable doing so.

There is no need to match a big hitter's power with your own power. Most of the big hitters like it when their opponent hits the ball hard because it helps them generate power as well. If you try to match power for power and that is not your normal game plan you will fall right into the hands of your opponent. Take some place off of the ball and use placement. Force your opponent to generate all the pace off of their shots. This can help you draw more errors out of your opponent if you can place the ball well.

One of the best things you can do against power hitters is to keep them from hitting the ball in their strike zone. The strike zone is where your opponent would naturally swing the racquet and come into contact with the ball. The last thing you want to do is to hit the ball with little spin landing a couple feet behind the service line. If your opponent is able to step in to hit his/her shots they will definitely be in their comfort zone. Using spin is a big help against power players. Try slicing the ball to keep the ball low. This forces your opponent to have to hit up on the ball and makes it tougher to take a big swing at the ball. Lots of topspin also makes it tough for your opponent to take big swings at the ball if you hit the ball deep enough in the court.

Placement is also key. If you can keep your opponent deep in the court it will be harder for them to generate power and will give you more time to react to their shots. Hitting short angled slices will also force them to move forward and have to hit up. Keeping your opponent moving side-to-side is usually a good play so they have less time to prepare and they will have fewer opportunities to step into the ball to take a big swing.

That covers what you can do to try to neutralize your opponent's power. However, they will still hit plenty of hard shots and you need to be prepared to return these shots.

The serve is one shot that you cannot affect; all you can do is to react to the ball. The problem with big serves is that you do not have enough time to take your normal swing to return the ball. If that is the case with your return of serve, try blocking the serve back. I play a lot of big servers who force me to block back their first serves. As long as I can keep the ball deep when I block it back I can still be in the point. What you have to watch out for with this method is not to get lazy and just block the ball down the middle of the court every time. A good player will recognize this and sneak into the net after the serve and put away an easy volley off of your weak return. Try to block the ball with a purpose if you can. If you can block the ball to their backhand or down the line it is probably a safer play than just blocking it back down the middle. If you refuse to give in and start blocking the ball back and you have to swing at the return, make sure you take small backswings to give you enough time to swing at the ball. By the time you take a large backswing the ball could already be past you for an ace.

Another thing that I find helps when playing against big hitters is to bring the racquet back sooner than I normally would to hit the ball. This helps to reduce the feeling of being rushed to hit your shots. If you bring your racquet back sooner than you typically would you will feel like you have more time to react to the ball. As soon as you see which side the ball is coming to get your racquet back to that side immediately.

If you have to block back some of your ground strokes I say go for it. Sometimes your opponent can hit the ball so hard it is all you can do. Against big hitters the best thing you can do is just get the ball back over the net. Just because your opponent hit two big shots in a row does not mean they can hit three. A lot of big hitters get impatient and go for too much to early or simply are not consistent players and will miss after 1 or 2 shots. Put the ball back in the court and see what happens. Do not be afraid to lob if you have to. If your opponent hits the ball too hard for you to handle, do not be afraid to throw up a deep lob to stay in the point.

I realize all of these things are hard to do when your opponent is blasting balls. Be patient, and work the point to your advantage. Take the big power hitters out of their power zone with spin, placement and most importantly patience! Make sure you do whatever you have to do to hit the ball back over the net. It is very tempting to try to match the power of your opponent, but sometimes that is the worst thing you can do, especially if it is not your typical game plan.

Good Luck on the Court!
Scott Baker
Tennis4you.com