June 8, 2016
Singles strategy tends to become too complex or simple to really get anything out of it. For example, you might have heard of hitting crosscourt and keeping the ball deep which is obviously true but too limited in rich content while the other side of the spectrum is so differentiated based on your opponent that you learn after the fact. Let’s break it down into a way that is more tangible for you to use. We will do this by looking at all the different positioning you have on the court to help focus the content.
You and your opponent are at the baseline
This is where the majority of your points probably happen. The only issue is that your mindset is more than likely off. At the baseline the only way for you to hit the ball in with a high probability is to hit up on the ball. This is already a nonaggressive shot. Also the ball loses half of its speed when it hits the ground, giving your opponent all the time they need to hit it back. Lastly, the time to react to the ball is the highest in this exchange of rallying due to the distance you are from your opponent. With all of that said, your mindset needs to be in the idea of not winning the points but rather about you not losing the points. I have told players I have coached countless times that the majority of the points won at a recreational level is through errors when there isn’t a need to miss. So what does “not losing” the point mean? The best thing to do is to keep the ball deep to the players’ weaker side. Figure out a few things as you have these exchanges. Are you comfortable with your chances of winning a baseline rally with your opponent? Are they hitting to your weaker side? Are you constantly hitting off of your front or back foot? All of these elements come into play to decide if you need to change the direction of the ball or the exchange (make your player come to the net or you come to the net). If you are content with the rally ball from the baseline, the last and most important thing to do is to wait patiently for a ball that is slow, short and to your stronger side. This is your opportunity to put more pressure on your opponent due to the fact that you are taking time away from them by moving forward and hitting your best shot to a corner that makes it difficult for them to get it back. This leads to moving to the net, where you can be more aggressive.
You are at the net and your opponent is at the baseline
As you walk closer to the net, you will notice that you can see more and more of the court. This means if you hit the ball eye level you can hit in a downward manner to any spot you see over the net. (By the way, you have to be 6’7” to see over the net at the baseline!) So the closer you are to the net, the more court you can hit into. This doesn’t mean hit into the open court all the time. The biggest mistake I see players make at the net is to hit a crosscourt volley. When you do this, most of the court is open for your opponent to hit into. I’m not saying don’t ever hit a crosscourt volley but make sure it’s a winning one because your court position is poor relative to where the ball is on your opponents side of the net. The best way to think of it is “when it doubt, keep the ball in front of you.” This allows for you to cover the majority of the court and force your opponent into a difficult shot. This includes hitting the approach shot. 80% - 90% of your approach shots should be down the line that keeps the ball in front of you. Are you still getting lobbed or passed a lot? Try hitting a short, low volley, giving your opponent a shot they are not used to. You can also follow Andre Agassi’s advice on volleys. “The cure to a bad volley is a good approach shot.” Hit a good approach and you won’t have as hard of a volley to contend with.
Your Opponent is at the net and you are at the baseline
During your warm-up, consider how well your opponent volleys the ball. Does he/she even take warm up volleys? How about overheads? This allows you to decide if it’s worth the risk to try to pass your opponent at the net. A simple lob or a solid shot at him/her might be just as effective and least risky. Most of the time when you hit it at your opponent, they will give you an angle to pass them with. Also consider hitting low at them to force them to hit up on the ball, allowing you to be more aggressive at the net. Andre Agassi made a living doing this against serve and volley players. Most cases your opponent knows this so they do not come to the net. This is where the short ball (drop shot) comes into play. Hitting a drop shot forces your opponent to move forward and to volley, making it very difficult for them to be in a comfortable position. If this is not the case, consider how they got to the net in the first place. Keeping the ball high and deep takes away their opportunity to come to the net in a solid position.
You both are at the net
This happens a lot when you are hitting a short ball (drop shot) or short volley. When this is the case, consider the time taken away when you both are at the net. This means fast feet and fast hands. Many players think that a hard shot is the best but in reality, it is not. The objective at the net is to get your opponent to hit up on the ball. This requires soft hands and quick reactions. When you hit it soft at your opponents feet they have to hit up on the ball, allowing you to move in and be aggressive on the next shot. If you hit it too hard, the ball stays up and allows your opponent to have the advantage
KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)
Singles can get complicated but by looking at the right match up from all of the described positions above, you can start coming up with a winning strategy as well as what position(s) to avoid that your opponent is better at than you. The more you practice this type of mindset, the easier it will come. Happy hitting!