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How to Play Against Short Players
By:  Scott Baker | Tennis4you  | Tennis Forum  | E-mail

I hope that this article does not offend anyone. I know that there are a lot of short players out there. There are also a lot of tall players out there. For that reason, I feel that this and the "How to Play Against Tall Players" articles are appropriate for this series.

There are always players who will defy the basics and play well in all aspects no matter what the height or physical condition, like Venus Williams who is extremely fast despite her height. However, we will look at the generalizations and hopefully they can help you in the future.

Before I start this article I would like to make one thing clear. I stand a whopping 5'-4" tall (Maybe 5'-5" with my tennis shoes on). I am short, very short! Especially for a male tennis player. So if you want to pretend that this article is entitled "How to Beat Scott Baker," go for it if it makes you feel any better. However, do not worry if your not 6'-0" tall, we will pick on the tall players in "How to Play Against Tall Players".

I will start with what I feel is the biggest weakness of shorter players, the high ball. Any ball that is above shoulder height can cause any player some problems. Above the shoulders is higher than the preferred hitting zone and makes it tough to return the ball offensively. Obviously the shorter you are the higher the ball gets relative to their strike zones. If you are taller, the ball does not get as high relative to your hitting zone and you should be more comfortable hitting those types of balls. There are a couple of ways to do this effectively to shorter players. The easiest way is to do it with your ground strokes. Lot of topspin deep into the court can really push a player back deep and force them to hit a less offensive shot than they may like. Another way to do this is with your serves. Use lots of topspin (and/or kick) and make the ball jump high. Again, this forces your shorter opponent deeper in the court to return the ball in their hitting zone, or forces them to try to take the ball off of the rise which is extremely difficult when returning serve!

Quick note: If you are playing an opponent with a one-handed backhand, high balls to the backhand side are difficult to handle for them. If they are a shorter player with a one-handed backhand that can spell double trouble for that opponent. Keep the ball high and to their backhand as a good strategy.

Another strategy is to force them to play the net. A quick player can compensate for their lack of wingspan at the net, but still has more open area to cover because their reach is just not as long. If your short opponent likes to play the net, the lob is a good strategy. Again, speed can catch up with a lob, but a good topspin lob is a deadly weapon against a shorter player at the net.

Players that are shorter will most likely have serves that are not as hard as the taller players. You will encounter shorter players who have big serves, or are great at using lots of spin and great placement. However, if you are not playing those opponents, look to attack a weaker serve!

That was a look at shorter players' weaknesses, now let's look at shorter players' strengths so you can try to avoid them during a match. Shorter players can be extremely quick. What shorter players have the ability to do is to start and stop very quickly since their center of gravity is lower and they have less weight/momentum to stop. Hitting behind a short player can be effective, but not as effective as hitting behind a taller player who will have a tougher time stopping and changing directions. Shorter players have less momentum to stop and start, so they may be able to stop and change directions in the blink of an eye.

Shorter players also have an easier time with balls that come right at their body and try to jam them. They have less body to get out of the way and shorter arms. It may be a better strategy to stretch your opponent rather than try to jam them. Of course mixing it up and keeping them guessing is important as well.

Low (slice) balls are easier for shorter players to handle because it takes far less effort to get down low.

That's a look at playing shorter players. Just because a player may be short does not mean they will be vulnerable to any or all of the weaknesses listed above. However, these are good tactics to try. Be aware of what your opponent has trouble with and be sure to exploit their weaknesses.

Good Luck on the Court!
Scott Baker