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Hitting Harder is not Always Better
By:  Scott Baker | Tennis4you  | Tennis Forum  | E-mail

There are a lot of players these days who like to hit the ball hard.  I love to hit the ball hard, but I also love to play smart tennis, and sometimes the two do not go hand in hand.  There are times when hitting the ball hard will help you, but there are also times when hitting the ball hard can hurt you.  When you are hitting hard shots how effective is your aim?  Are you allowing yourself enough time to recover from a poor position in the court?  Are you just playing into your opponent's hands by giving them pace?  There are certain situations in a match when it is better to flex your brain rather than flex your muscles.  Recognizing and understanding these situations can benefit your game immensely.  Let us look at some of the situations in which slowing the ball down, hitting with more spin and using better placement can improve your chances of winning.

1. Opponents who love pace - Slow down your shots and use depth, placement and spin.
For many players the harder you hit the ball the harder they return the ball.  Some players are just naturally better at hitting balls that are hit to them faster.  Maybe you are one of these players, but what if you are not?  If you are not a player who likes your opponent to hit hard shots you need to find a way to decrease your opponent's chances of hitting the ball with a lot of pace.

Many players have problems hitting harder shots off of slow deep returns.  These types of players thrive on pace, but not their own, yours!  If you are playing a match against one of these types of players think smarter, not harder.  An effective method can be to move the player around the court with medium or slow paced shots deep to the corners.  This forces them to move to the ball and to generate the pace if they want to hit the ball hard.  It is even harder for players to hit a winner off of slow deep shots when you use a lot of spin and keep your shots deep in the court.  Hitting with a lot of topspin will make it harder for your opponent to hit the ball in their comfort zone, likewise with slice shots that will stay low.  By keeping the ball deep in the court with a lot of spin you force your opponent to stand back deeper in the court allowing you more time to react to his/her shots.

2. Mixing it up - Throw in slow paced shots to not allow your opponent to get into a rhythm.
Mixing up your shots in a tennis match will make it tough for your opponent to get into a groove on their shots.  You do not want your opponent to know what is coming each time you hit the ball.  Even if you are a player who loves to hit the ball hard and is good at it, it will still benefit you to mix up your shots with some slower shots with more spin.  If you watch the pros you will notice that they mix up the pace rather than try to knock the fuzz off of the ball with each shot.  Using different spins forces your opponent to hit the ball at different heights and can keep them from hitting every ball in their strike zone.

3. Serve and Volley - Spin the serve to get closer to the net.
When playing serve and volley you want to be as close to the net as possible to hit your first volley.  The last thing you want is to be stuck in the middle of the court hitting a ball that lands at your feet as you try to get to the net.  The slower you serve the ball the more time it allows you to get closer to the net to hit your first volley.  If you hit a hard serve be prepared for a fast return.  There are two ways to look at the serve and volley.  If you have a monster of a serve like Pete Sampras or Andy Roddick than you can get away with the bomb of a serve and coming in behind it.  However there are players who don't have a 145 mph serve, just like most of us.  Instead of the huge flat serve, try mixing in a heavy spin serve and moves your opponent out wide.  By using tons of spin instead of pace it allows you to get closer to the net to hit your first volley.  The closer you are to the net the more offensive you can be with your volleys.  Being close to the net allows for better angles, more options and more room for error.

4. Defensive shots - Slow the ball down to give you extra time to recover.
When you are forced out of position to return a ball you need to buy yourself some time to get back into a good position on the court.  Hitting the ball hard will only cut your recovery time down since the ball will reach the other side of the court much 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 court position and get you back into the point.  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 crosscourt 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 into a decent position.

As you can see, hitting the ball harder is not always better.  For some of you that is great news because you may be a player who does not hit he ball hard.  Using different strategies with spin and placement can deflate an opponent's chances of hitting the ball hard which can decrease the number of winners from your opponent.  So do not be discouraged if your opponent can out power you from the baseline, use what you just learned to make the match look better for you.

Good Luck on the Court!
Scott Baker