August 6, 2017
One time Novak Djokovic was quoted to say "everyone at this level has a good forehand." This is obvious but then if all the pros are great at hitting the ball what distinguishes the top players from the others? Execution on critical points is definitely a big one but an overall theme that the top players have is executing the right shot at the right time. This means that there are different shots to hit at different situations. For example when you are given a short ball your reaction should be different than when you are given a deep ball.
When told this to any recreational player, the response is usually "duh." But I believe that many of the players that struggle in match play do not practice the variety of situations you find your self in a match enough to be comfortable. For example, how many times do you practice a situation where you are on the offensive the entire time (or put in that situation to try to be)? Yes it happens when you hit once in awhile but that isn't focused practice. That is just a random event that so happened to occur for you to work on it.
There are three basic situations in a tennis rally; offensive, defensive and neutral. I feel like most practices from recreational players covers the neutral ball by hitting back and forth but there is rarely a deliberate drill to focus on offense or defense. First, let's describe what the strokes would look like in those situations.
The neutral ball is a ball you are hitting that does not allow your opponent to safely be aggressive with while also giving you plenty of margin of error (a few feet over the net, a few feet from the lines) where you are surprised you are missing. The defensive ball is basically when you are in a situation where your opponent has hit hard and/or near the lines, putting you in an uncomfortable situation. This requires a ball that is just trying to make your opponent hit another ball. Ideally it would be high over the net and deep but regardless, your mentality is get the ball in! The offensive ball is often mistaken for "hit a winner." While this can be the case, it usually takes a few offensive balls for the court to be open enough for that to happen. The main idea is that you are able to step into the court and hit the ball deep side to side to make it difficult for your opponent to hit a quality ball back to you. Having the right mindset of adding pressure to your opponent rather than hitting a winner can make a huge difference in how well you execute these opportunities.
I encourage you all to try to make your practices more meaningful and understand there are some key aspects to focus on with the different situations described above. To help, try this drill out demonstrated in the video below. I hope it helps!