August 18, 2017
I still remember from a few years back a lesson I was giving a middle school kid that wanted to start learning the game (now plays varsity for a local high school). During our first lesson, there was a 3.5 adult match a few courts down. I stopped our lesson and had him watch the match. I asked him to keep track of how many winners the players hit from the baseline. As you can imagine, none happened for a while until finally someone did hit a winner from the baseline. I asked him how many errors did it take to make that winner? He said “a lot.”
Playing With Margin
I made a blog post about how much margin the pros play with on their ground strokes. If you focus on their rallies, you will mostly see a lot of safe shots. Once a player hits a shorter and/or weaker ball the other player is now able to be more aggressive and hit the ball at different parts of the court that they would otherwise not hit at if the ball were deep. In essence, tennis is a game of short balls. Low-level players win by hitting short balls while high-level players lose when they hit short balls. As you improve your game and play more difficult players, your ability to keep the ball deep is crucial. The other part of this is having the right mentality based on where you are on the court.
Changing Your Mentality
Court positioning is directly related to shot selection. No matter how pretty your ground strokes are, they are not going to win matches for you if you are staying at the baseline. Now, you can notlose from the baseline, meaning keep the ball deep and wait for your opponent to make a mistake, but rarely are you going to hit a winner from behind the baseline during a rally. What you want your ground strokes to do is to create a short ball from your opponent. This means keeping the ball deep, with pace and velocity to make it difficult for them to do the same back to you. Once you get a short ball, it will be crucial for you to step into the ball and create pressure on your opponent. Let’s take a look at two pros you’ve heard of that do both parts of this very well.
What makes Novak Djokovic so tough to beat is his incredible ability to keep the ball deep during rallies and not fall for the trap of going for too much. He will wait for his opponent to do this instead. By allowing his opponent to be more aggressive, angles tend to open up for him to put pressure on his opponent to go for even more risky shots, often leading to a mistake. Having this approach at the baseline is a great way to give you the best opportunity to winning your matches. Try watching some of his matches to get an idea of what this looks like. You will come away with describing him as “disciplined” and “mentally tough” which are great indicators of a solid baseline player.
Once you do get a short ball, you need to be able to create pressure on your opponent. By doing this, you are sending a message to your opponent that they cannot get away with hitting short balls. This means moving forward and hitting balls to your opponents weaker side with pace. If done correctly, your opponent will start missing more shots as they know that if they do hit it short they will most likely lose the point. There is no one that does this better than Roger Federer. Watch some of his matches to see how he is able to come to the net for a lot of his points to create that pressure and force those errors or create easy volleys for himself. This is a difficult thing to do but once you commit to this in practice you should be able to transfer this into match play.
To recap the ideas of this blog, check out this video that will give you a great visual on what this all means. Happy hitting!