Tactical approach to deep balls
Modern game is based mostly on forehands and backhands. Emphasis put on acceleration of the racquet to generate tremendous power is an aspect that changed the tennis from technical game to more powerful sport. Even there were many changes in equipment, technique and physical preparation during last 15 years, strategy is still the same. Players on all levels try to force the opponent to miss the ball or hit clean winners to finish the match as a better player. One of the goals to achieve this tactic is to keep the ball deep.
From almost the first lesson on the tennis court we start to understand that keeping the ball deep is the priority to achieve success in tennis. Coaches put cones and zones close to the baseline to teach players proper placement of their shots. Trying to hit the ball behind the service line is another exercise that we all do so it confirms that depth of the ball is really important. Before we move to the specific examples of tactical approach to deep balls, we should understand the purpose of hitting the ball as close to the baseline as possible.
By hitting the ball deep, we are trying to get advantage over our opponent. Closer to the baseline we hit the ball, less time for reaction our opponent has so it forces the rival to play more difficult shot. Great players can cope with these challenges but less skilled players will often hit a short response or it is possible that they will miss it. At the top level of performance, we can observe long rallies with many deep shots in a row what shows how well-prepared world-class players are. On the other hand, local nad junior tournaments show different picture of skills and 3 deep balls in a row is a maximum that players of this level are able to maintain. We have to remember that deep balls force the opponent to move further back behind the baseline so it is a limiting factor for rival’s offensive possibilities. By keeping the ball deep, we can play more aggressive tennis while opponent will have to take more risk to dominate the point from the area behind the baseline. Some players like to stay closer to the baseline while others move constantly back and forward while answering deep balls. Both strategies have advantages and disadvantages – results are dependent on many factors like court surface, player’s reaction or ability to adjust technique. Right now we will move on to specific examples of tactical thoughts that we should always have in mind while playing against the player who can hit deep balls consistently.
Hit the ball over the net
The easiest tactic that we should always incorporate in this situation is to hit the ball over the net. It sounds a little crazy because we want to hit all balls over the net but here is something more behind this tactic. By focusing to hit over the net, we hit the ball with more topspin as also we are not trying to hit winners from the area behind the baseline. It is important to understand that we are in defensive situation so taking too much risk and trying to hit forcing shot/winner is an inappropriate decision that can cost us many points during the match. Higher ball over the net will allow us to come back to the baseline so we can be more aggressive on the next shot because of better positioning on the court.
Place the ball to the opponent’s weakness
Hitting to the opponent’s weakness is another way to be successful while answering deep balls. Everybody has weaknesses so we have to find this area in our rival’s game to have a target while playing from deep areas on the court. By placing the ball to the weaker side our opponent won’t hurt us with the next shot. Even when we hit the ball too short there is still a possibility that we are going to win the point because weaker stroke can produce more errors than the stronger one. If your opponent has a weaker backhand, hit all balls to this side while being behind the baseline to make your chances bigger for staying in the point and winning it.
Hit the ball deep
The best solution to effectively deal with deep balls is to play exactly the same kind of ball back to the opponent. If we are able to deliver ball close to the baseline we achieve 2 important things. Firstly, we check our opponent’s skills to cope with deep balls so we can get more unforced errors or easy put away balls. Secondly, our rival understands that deep ball is not a problem for us so he/she will try to change the strategy and it can result in more mistakes and drop in performance.
Examples given above are great steps to become more effective player. Applying one of these tactics will make your defensive play more successful so coaches should always deliver proper information about the strategy while working on defensive skills. Of course, being able to apply 3 of these rules at the same time (hit the ball over the net deep into the opponent’s weakness) is the best way to answer deep balls but without many repetitions during the practice and matches it will never happen. Coaches have to spend significant amount of time on specific drills based on deep balls to help players make these solutions automatic. Throwing the ball back behind the baseline is the easiest way to work with the players who struggle the most with deep balls because coach can control the feed as also quick feedback can be given immediately after the shot was hit. On the other side, more advanced players can work on this aspect during the practice match. Coach can set the rule that all deep balls have to be placed e.g. to the opponent’s weakness so if player hits the ball to the rival’s stronger side, he/she loses the point immediately.
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.