How high over the net should I play?
Watching a tennis match it is clearly visible that the main goal of this sport is to hit the ball over the net, and inside the court. You can win just one point at the time, and each one of them is counted in the same way. It doesn’t matter if you hit a beautiful winner from the baseline or if your opponent made an easy mistake because the result is always the same – one point won.
Coaches around the world put a lot of emphasis on learning how to hit consistent balls from the early stages of development. They teach that the worst mistake in tennis is to hit the ball into the net. I agree with this approach because there is so much space over it that it is kind of surprising that players are missing so many balls into the net. Of course there are many technical and tactical reasons why it happens all the time but coaches should always try to make players understand that there is no good tennis if you are not able to put many balls over the net in a row.
Hitting into the net happens at all levels. Kids learning the game can’t fully control the ball so that is why they hit it too low. Intermediate players try to put more power into their shots but too many times they forget about necessity to add spin to these balls at the same time so that is why the ball is going fast but into the net. Even professional players that we are able to see on TV miss less or more balls into the net because they don’t achieve good positioning to the ball or they try to take more risk to put the pressure on the rival. If we all are missing so many balls into the net should we play with 5-6 meters margin over it? Not exactly.
Each tactical option has own advantages and disadvantages so we have to learn how to effectively use low, medium, and high balls. Knowing why we should play this kind of ball is the first step to make right decisions during the match. Below you will find explanation and examples of situations where you should consider hitting balls with different trajectories over the net.
Balls going low over the net
This kind of balls is the most dangerous for players of any level. Trying to place the ball low over the net makes our chances bigger that less than perfect shot will end up in the net. Tennis is a game of control because precision decides about the final result of our shots. If we don’t position well to the difficult forehand or we hit the ball far from the centre of the racquet we can be sure that our stroke won’t be as good as we expected. It means that if aim low over the net and I make a small mistake in stroke’s execution ball will land in the net for sure. That is why we should limit this strategy only when the benefits of this shot are greater than the risk we have to take. For example it is a good strategy to try low ball over the net when we are trying to pass the opponent at the net because higher ball will give him a chance to place an easy volley winner. We can also try low-ball option when we are hitting slice approach shot because the ball will stay low after the bounce and the opponent will have to work really hard to challenge us at the net.
Balls going with medium-height over the net
Medium-high balls should be used in the most cases by players at any level. It means that the ball is going around 1-2 meters over the net. This option is the most effective because we can achieve good power and consistency of our shots at the same time. Hitting with medium-height is a typical rally ball that we have to use while being in a neutral tactical position or while we are trying to put more pressure on the opponent. We have to remember that when we try to attack we can’t forget about proper height that will balance the risk caused by putting more power into the shot. To sum it up: If we are not in defense we should all the time play the balls with 1-2 meters margin. This trajectory allows us to keep the balls consistently deep, and this strategy is the basis for players at all levels. Of course there are offensive situations when we can try to put more risk into the shot and place the ball lower over the net but most of the time we should hit the same medium-high balls to make sure that we don’t make easy unforced errors.
Balls going high over the net
The last kind of shots is when the balls are going high over the net. This scenario is especially visible at the low level of perfomance because players are afraid to miss the balls so they just place everything over the net. Of course this strategy is executed with the goal to make the opponent miss the ball but it won’t happen at higher stages. If you play against intermediate or advanced opponent you can’t still use only high balls but you have to use them in proper situations. The best moment to hit high balls is while being in troubles. This kind of shot gets us a lot of time for recovery as also doesn’t allow the opponent to hit another really offensive shot. So every time you are in defense hit the ball really high over the net and you will give yourself a chance to start the point over with the same chances to win it as your opponent has.
About the Author
Marcin Bieniek is a tennis coach from Poland and a former professional player (Polish National Juniors Team). He is a certificated tennis coach by the Polish Tennis Coaching Association and the Professional Tennis Registry. Marcin has worked with many of the top 20 Polish Juniors and the top 150 players in the world.