Seize the Moment

How to recognize and take advantage of opportunities to dictate play, establish momentum and control the tempo and flow of a match.

  1. A good starting point is to identify weaknesses in your opponent’s game. Look for opportunities to expose these weaknesses. Create situations requiring your opponent to have to hit off his/her weak side under pressure, such as a passing shot or a return of serve at game point. Hit to the strength of your opponent to open the court. Then hit with redirection to the weak side of your opponent. If your opponent has a low shot tolerance, work to get one more ball back in play. If your opponent is hesitant or ineffective at the net or in approaching the net, draw him/her into the net (on your terms) with drop shots and short angles. Raise the trajectory of your shots if your opponent has difficulty handling higher bouncing balls hit high or above his/her strike zone. Mix up pace and spin if your opponent has difficulty responding to variety. The objective is to make your opponent(s) uncomfortable and unsure of what to expect. The strategy is to provide your opponent with no rhythm and no balls in the strike zone. To the extent your intent can be disguised, all the better. With all tactics designed to disrupt and expose weaknesses, it is important to capitalize (and seize the moment) when you do elicit a weak reply. Attack anything siting up and left short in the middle of the court.
  2. Some of the best opportunities to dictate play are with first strike serving patterns. Success is generally predicated on your ability to hit one of three service targets and then your ability to recognize and hit to one of four targets for your subsequent groundstrokes and/or volleys. The patterns start with a purpose and a plan formulated prior to hitting the serve. An example is a serve hit out wide followed by a groundstroke hit to the opposite side of the court (either deep or angled) depending on the return. The idea is to map out two or three shots starting with the serve to a specific target prior to each service point. Your plan could entail serving and staying back as the earlier example, closing into the net immediately following the serve (serve and volley) or serving followed by a delayed response into the net. It could include hitting to the open court or hitting behind the receiver, hitting down-the-line (with redirection) or crosscourt (with angles or depth). The plan could purposely look to finish the point with an inside-in or inside-out patterned groundstroke. The objective is to take command by aggressively seizing control of the point with the serve (and your first one or two shots following the serve).
  3. The serve return provides opportunities as well not just to neutralize the point but to gain a distinct advantage over your opponent. Vary your positioning to return serve. Play further back and look to take a full swing with the return. Play closer in to take time away from your opponent. Move in with the serve (or even move back with the serve) to give your opponent different looks. Move with the serve to favor your forehand (or backhand). Stand noticeably over to one side to favor your forehand (or backhand) prior to the serve being hit to force the server to try to hit a narrow target or go out wide to your strength. If the server cannot hit (or consistently hit) the wide serve, continue to press your advantage by continuing to drift over in favor of your strength. Close in after the serve return (serve return and volley) or stay back after hitting the return. Attack short serves to apply more pressure on the server. Similar to the serve, have a plan to start each serve return point.
  4. Looking at opportunities from a doubles perspective, you can seize momentum and exert tremendous influence on the outcome of a doubles match when positioned at the net when your partner is serving and receiving. Look to be aggressive. Drift to the middle of the court when your partner hits an effective serve down the T and move to cut off (poach) the serve return with a punishing volley. Hit your volley down the middle or directly at the feet of the opponent who is closest to the net (and has the least amount of time to respond). Poach off the serve return whenever the receiver is jammed, stretched, or hitting from a compromised position. Similarly, cross and attack when your partner hits an effective serve return. Look for predictable patterns, “tells” and weaknesses (such as a tendency to float backhand returns) to better anticipate opportunities to move and poach. Poaching is not a delicate art particularly when spontaneous and not preplanned in communication with your partner (which is an option). The objective is to be aggressive and decisive which can lead to mistakes. The objective is also to disguise your intention by not jumping too early but there will be times when you will get burned by a down-the-line return. It often comes down to a numbers game in determining effectiveness in a risk-reward calculation. The expectation is not necessarily to win the point every time you move and poach but to win the point most of the time.
  5. Seize momentum by winning the battle over court position. Push your opponent back by hitting with depth. Play tight to the baseline. Quickly recover to the baseline after being pushed back. Take balls on the rise to better maintain your court position. Close in with the serve to hit your serve returns. Pounce on short balls. The objectives through aggressive baseline positioning are to take time away from your opponent, reduce your angles of coverage while at the same time maximizing the court and angles your opponent must cover and pressure your opponent into making mistakes (trying to do much from an unfavorable court position).
  6. Seize momentum through consistency and high percentage shot patterns. It is a long-battle approach in which dividends are not always recognized immediately. The objective is to extend the rally and wear your opponent down physically and mentally. It begins with sound stroke mechanics and an ability to repeat basic stroke patterns and shot combinations. It demands discipline, a high shot tolerance and a singular focus. To be successful, it necessitates hitting within high margins (high net clearance, hitting over the middle of the net, maintaining shot direction, and hitting to the middle two-thirds of the court) and minimizing your unforced errors (no mistakes in the net or out wide). Consistency as a strategy requires a philosophy of one more shot in play (or making your opponent hit more shot).
  7. You can gain advantage through your conditioning. When your opponent is fatigued, press your advantage (and seize the moment) by controlling the tempo of the match. Play up-tempo pace of play when serving (careful not to rush your serve or service ritual). Without abandoning what earned your advantage, look to extend the point (lengthen the rally). Work your opponent with up and back (short and deep) and cross court angle patterns. Stress the mobility and footwork agility of your opponent. Hit behind your opponent to force your opponent to make quick changes of direction. Maintain a confident and resolute demeanor. Fake it if you are also beginning to struggle with fatigue. Give your opponent no indication of your vulnerability. Most importantly, focus on the things you can control and do not dwell on the condition of your opponent.
  8. It is very often your follow-up after hitting an effective shot that ensures the successful conclusion of a point. Look to cover all contingencies should your opponent get the ball back in play. A relentless commitment to retain your advantage after hitting an effective shot providing your opponent no outlet to escape is what is necessary to establish control and momentum. The point is never over until it is over and your quest to stay disciplined and focused to the end of each point is what defines you as a player. For example, after hitting a lob over the reach of your opponent(s), take these steps to seize the moment and assure a successful conclusion of the point. For singles, close into the net to about the service line. This puts you in a position to respond to just about any reply with a volley or overhead. Get too close to the net and you become vulnerable to a reply lob. Hang back at the baseline and you risk having to restart the point on more neutral terms if your opponent if able to successfully run down your lob and hit a lob back to your backcourt. For doubles, both you and your partner should close to about the service line. If you are at the net and your partner hangs back, move to a more center position on or just inside the service line. Your goal then is to jump on any return shot within your reach with a volley or overhead. Your role is to be the aggressor and finisher of the point. Similarly, after hitting a drop shot move into the net to a position just on or inside the service line to pick off the next shot with a volley or overhead and to ensure you are not caught flatfooted at the baseline should your opponent respond with another drop shot (his/her best option should you stay back). The trick in both these two examples is what you do after hitting an effective shot to take advantage of your opportunity to successfully complete a pattern and conclude the point.
  9. Just as it is your recognition of what to do after hitting an effective shot that effectuates a positive outcome, it is also your recognition of how to attack in response to different shots hit by your opponent that will allow you to seize momentum and exert pressure on your opponent. Every shot hit by your opponent requires a response from you. Your response can be defensive or offensive. The trick is to know how and when to be defensive and how and when to be offensive. For every shot you receive from your opponent, there are different options for you to reply in response ranging from high margin/less risk to low margin/high risk. For example, if your opponent has just hit a relatively weak, moderately deep shot to your backhand, you could attack with your backhand either with a cross court angle or a down-the-line redirection or you could respond more conservatively with a rally ball, crosscourt backhand hit with higher net clearance and depth. A still more aggressive option would be to run around your backhand to hit an inside out angled forehand or if confident of your ability to hit through the court an inside in forehand drive. Your ability and confidence to execute this more aggressive pattern in competition is acquired by practice and repetition (particularly in this case to master the complex footwork, spacing and loading/unloading requirements). For another case example, what is the best response when confronted with an opponent who is hitting high and deep (moonball depth and height)? To counter, you can fall back and attempt to take the ball in your strike zone. Likewise, you can adjust your point of contact and take the ball higher on the bounce. In both these options the result is usually defensive. To change the tempo of the rally and take a more aggressive stance with the intent of seizing control of the point, you can hold or close your position and take the ball on the rise or you can move in to take the ball out of the air with a swinging volley. Both these options require precise timing, soft hands and a fluid, quick stroke pattern. For a third option, you can close and take the ball out of the air (before the bounce) with an approach volley. Your choice of shots requires a risk/reward calculation. Do I simply defend, or do I seize the moment to respond with a more aggressive shot option?
  10. Every situation presents opportunities for success. It is important first to have situational critical awareness, a recognition of what is happening point to point and game to game over the course of the match. Why am I winning points? Why am I losing points? What is working and what is not working? What are the tendencies and patterns of my opponent? It is important next through this critical awareness to analyze how to take advantage of the situation, how best to transition from a neutral or defensive position to an offensive position, how to dictate play from the start with the serve and return of serve, etc. Success and is also predicated on your attention to detail, discipline, and work ethic in practice (before and after match play). Use your practice time to rehearse and hone your ability to successfully execute these transitional and offensive patterns and point situations.

Grip Overview

There are five defined basic grips – the Eastern Forehand, Eastern Backhand, Continental, Semi-Western and Western grips. Included below is an overview of important things to know about grips.

  1. Grips are best referenced with two checkpoints on the hand, the base of the index knuckle and the heel pad of the hand. More specifically, the heel pad is the hypothenar eminence (the prominent, fleshy lower section of the palm directly under the base of the fifth digit or little finger). The base of the index knuckle is the section of the palm directly under the interphalangeal digital proximal crease of the index finger. If you want a more arcane/occult (palm reading) reference (which now becomes needless information), the two checkpoints are the Mount of Moon and the Mount of Jupiter. The reference points on the racquet handle are the racquet bevels numbered 1 through 8 (working clockwise for right-handed players and counter clockwise for left-handed players). In referencing the grips and numbering the racquet handle bevels, the racquet should be positioned with the racquet edge up (which aligns the racquet perpendicular to the court surface). With this alignment, the number 1 bevel or top bevel is pointing up. A common mistake with grip alignment is to “club” the grip which forces the heel of the hand to ride up on the grip in relation to the base of the index knuckle. With proper alignment (regardless of the grip), the index or “trigger” finger should be up in relation to the thumb.
  2. It is important to maintain soft hands (particularly in the ready and set positions). This relieves tension in the arm, allows for an easy transition from one grip alignment to another and promotes stroke fluidity and elasticity through the stretch-shortening cycle. Support the racquet with the third and fourth fingers and thumb (relaxing the top two fingers) for the groundstrokes and volleys. Loosen your hold with your third and fourth fingers (creating a gap between the racquet handle and palm of your hand) as you drop your racquet to the power position for the serve.
  3. The traditional starting grip for the forehand groundstroke is an Eastern Forehand grip. This grip aligns the two hand checkpoints (the base of the index knuckle and heel of the hand) on the number 3 bevel. The grip aligns the palm with the racquet face which facilitates hand-eye coordination and awareness of the position of the racquet face at the point of contact. It is a versatile grip allowing for contact below and above the strike zone. It affords players the ability to hit with varying degrees of topspin. Although not the recommended grip for hitting with other types of spin, the grip does allow players to hit with varying degrees of underspin and sidespin. The grip also promotes extension of the racquet face through the hitting zone.
  4. The Continental grip (which places the two hand checkpoints on bevel number 2) is the preferred and ideal grip when hitting groundstrokes (off both sides) with underspin and sidespin, when hitting forehand and backhand volleys and when hitting overheads and serves (which will be explained in more detail later). The grip opens the racquet face to the ball for the groundstrokes and volleys facilitating execution of the high-to-low, outside-in stroke pattern necessary for impartation of underspin and sidespin. The Continental grip is also the preferred grip for the two-handed backhand placement of the dominant hand (also to be explained later).
  5. A Semi-Western grip places the two hand checkpoints on the number 4 bevel for the forehand groundstroke or the number 6 bevel for placement of the left hand for a two-handed backhand groundstroke (right-hand dominant players). This is now the preferred grip for most professional players for the forehand groundstroke and the non-dominant hand for the two-handed backhand when hitting with topspin. As the Continental grip opens the racquet face in relation to the ball, the Semi-Western grip closes the racquet face to the ball. The grip generally promotes a higher strike zone contact in relation to your body in comparison to the Eastern and Continental grips. A more extreme extension of this grip is the Western grip which places the two hand checkpoints on the number 5 bevel. The Western grip promotes more topspin and raises the strike zone in comparison to the Semi-Western, Eastern Forehand and Eastern Backhand grips. Disadvantages are difficulty in hitting low balls and quick adjustment to the Continental and Eastern backhand grips.
  6. The preferred hand placement for the two-handed backhand is to set the non-dominant hand in a Semi-Western grip position and the dominant hand in a Continental grip position. This grip combination is ideal for hitting with a low to high, topspin swing pattern but is not ideal (not a good choice for hitting with underspin or sidespin. To hit with underspin and/or sidespin, it is best to drop the second hand and to hit a one-handed backhand using a Continental grip.
  7. The Eastern Backhand grip places the two hand checkpoints (the base of the index knuckle and the heel of the hand) on the top or number 1 bevel. This is the ideal grip for the one-handed backhand when hitting relatively flat shots or shots with topspin.
  8. The Continental grip is the grip of choice for hitting serves. The Continental grip promotes shoulder rotation and acceleration of the racquet head. The grip also promotes hitting both slice and topspin. The grip with minor adjustment to the swing pattern is also effective in hitting serves flat (with relatively little to no spin). Because of the grip versatility, the Continental grip is used almost exclusively by high-performance professionals. The trick in learning how to hit a serve with the Continental grip for players new to tennis is to master the shoulder rotation, extension of the elbow and pronation of the forearm to properly align the racquet face as the racquet head travels up and out to the point of contact.
  9. The non-dominant hand (left hand for right-handed players) plays a key role in adjusting the grip for the backhand groundstroke and backhand volley (whether hitting with one or two hands). Ideally the non-dominant hand should be positioned near the throat of the racquet in the ready position and in the unit turn takeback for one-handed backhands and at the top of the racquet handle for two-handed backhands. This support of the non-dominant hand allows for ease in adjusting and finetuning the grip for the dominant hand.
  10. In an emergency and adaptive response to a difficult shot or when hitting from an awkward position (above, below, behind, or ahead of your ideal strike zone), there needs to be manipulation of your hand position (and hand checkpoints) in relation to the racquet bevels outside of normal grip parameters. An example would be placing your hand checkpoints on the number 8 bevel to stretch and reach out and back to get a ball back in play with your forehand. More subtle adjustments are also necessary at times (even when not hitting from a less than ideal position). A forehand example is sliding the hand slightly under the racquet handle to hit with more topspin. Maintain soft hands (as mentioned earlier) to allow for dexterity in manipulating the angle of the racquet face at the point of contact as necessary to get a ball back in play or to hit a specific target.

In conclusion, high performance players often make subtle adjustments of these grips in finding the right fit for their game. A common adjustment is to hit the forehand groundstroke with a mild Semi-Western grip which places the hand between the Eastern Forehand and Semi-Western grips. Just as you see some players rotate their hand position underneath to a Western grip to hit forehand groundstrokes with more topspin, you will see players come over the racquet handle to place the hand checkpoints on the number 8 bevel to hit the one-handed backhand with more topspin. Another possible variation not mentioned above is the option of raising (choking up) and lowering your position on the racquet handle. Examples include choking up on the racquet handle to stabilize the racquet for the volley and lowering your hand position off the bottom of the racquet handle to gain more leverage for the serve. Although there are better ways to hit the ball off each side and standard parameters for grip variation, there is no absolute grip or set of grips that works best for all players. The important thing is to find a set of grips and versatility (as required) that allows you to control the racquet face at the point of contact for each stroke and promotes efficient transfer of power, precision, racquet head acceleration, etc.

How to Compensate for Limited Mobility (particularly when coming back from an injury)

  1. Play on or inside the baseline.  There is less court to cover the closer you play into the court. Positioning may be compromised creating more difficult shots at your feet but it beats the alternative of not being able to get to a shot.
  2. Develop good hands and the ability to volley from all court positions. Having the ability to control the angle face of your racquet with your wrist, hand and continental grip is the key to having success volleying from all court positions (particularly from deeper, mid-court positions). It’s important to learn how to open the face of the racquet (hitting up on the ball as necessary) to control the depth and angle of your shots. A great drill is to hit volley to volleys (working not to let the ball bounce) first from up close and then progressively from deeper and deeper court positions on the court.  (For the same reason it’s also good to learn how to hit a half-volley and how hit the ball on the rise or on the short hop).
  3. Move in with each shot.  Move in slowly with each shot to cut off the angle and take advantage of your newly acquired volley and half-volley skills.
  4. Stay balanced and centered.  Pay particular attention to your posture and balance. Stay centered with core stability.  Keep your head still (and centered above your hips). Avoid abrupt and sudden stops and starts.  Be careful not to lunge and reach (with your elbows out away from your body).
  5. Use an open stance.  Use an open stance to better facilitate a more effortless and smoother move to the ball and recovery after the shot.
  6. Get air under the ball and take pace off the ball. Hit with high net clearance and depth to buy more time.  Use spin and net clearance to slow down the pace of the ball (and the rally) and to give yourself more time to recover between shots.  Take pace off the serve to allow more time to close and/or recover. Likewise, control the tempo and flow of the match to your advantage.  Take sufficient time between points, games and sets.
  7. Make your opponent(s) run.  Easier said than done but the more you can move your opponents the less likely they are in a position to make you run.
  8. Anticipate.  Look for cues and tendencies to better anticipate the directional intent of your opponent’s shots.
  9. Become a “Court Physics Master”.  Study the dimensions and lines of the court and net height distinctions. Learn basic angles of probability and how to position yourself to bisect angles of possible and probable outcomes. Study flight path trajectories before and after the bounce and the best footwork patterns and path angles to the ball and in recovery after the shot. Develop “that sought after by every player” court awareness and presence. Apply this knowledge to get into the best possible position before and after each shot with efficiency and the least amount of energy expenditure and effort.
  10. Know when to say no to go. Following the theory of diminishing returns, recognize when and when not to exert effort and when and when not to go for the ball.

Other things to look at are your racquet and strings.  An oversize racquet may help to get more balls back in play.  A looser string pattern and lower string tension also helps to generate more power (which is important if physically you are not able to generate as much racquet head speed and/or if conditions require a more compact swing.)

Ten Ways to Successfully Finish the Point (Doubles)

  1. Serve and volley. The classic closing pattern to conclude the point in five or fewer shots is to serve and close into the net with the serve. The goal then is to hit a deep, penetrating volley to isolate the serve returner back behind the baseline with your next shot and then finish the point with a redirected or angled volley with your final shot.
  2. Poach off the serve. Hit a serve preferably down the middle to allow your partner to drift to the middle of the court with the serve. Your partner then either by prior signal or spontaneously reading the point crosses to intercept the return and finishes the point with a decisive volley hit at the feet of the opposing net player.
  3. Draw your opponents in and then lob. Serve and stay back. Draw the serve returner into the net (and preferably off the court) with your next shot. Hit an offensive down-the-line lob with your third shot over the extended reach of the partner of the serve returner to hopefully outright conclude the point. As necessary, hit a “mop up” volley or overhead with your fourth shot to finish the point. (Alternatively, the same pattern works with serve and volley. Hit an angled, short volley to draw your opponent in and to open the court. Then follow-up with a redirected lob volley to conclude the point.)
  4. Down-the-line pass. Serve and stay back. When presented with the right opportunity in the rally, hit a redirected, inside-in, down-the-line pass. With the right shot, it is possible to set early and freeze the net player or get the net player to over commit to the middle of the court.
  5. Lob off the return. Emboldened by serving out the first game at love, you go for a first strike with a return of serve down-the-line lob. Move into the net following your lob to be in a position to pick off any reply with a volley or overhead. Be alert to not close inside the service line (and advise your partner likewise to not close too tightly) to be in an advantageous position to cover the lob (which is the most likely reply by your opponents).
  6. Close in with the return. Hit a short angle or deep return and close into the net with the shot. Look to isolate the server and attack with the volley when taking the shot above the net and/or in your strike zone with a hard or soft angle or a hard redirection. Be patient when taking balls below the net (below your strike zone). Keep the ball low and cross court and look to attack with the next shot. If the server closes in with the serve as well, the goal is to win the battle to the net by getting in tighter than the server (so you are able to hit down at the feet of the server rather than having to dig low balls at your feet).
  7. Cross to pick off a weak reply. When positioned at the net (from a service return position), look to jump and cross whenever your partner hits a low, effective shot (particularly when your partner hits a strong return of serve). Close across the court on the diagonal and drive the volley to the middle gap or at the feet of the opposing net player. Do not be afraid to take a risk and commit even if the server occasionally proves able to successfully read your move and hit behind you with a down-the-line pass.
  8. Grind.  Stay back with your partner and keep the ball in play. Play high percentages. Work the middle of the court, aim for big targets and stay in the point (with a high shot threshold) until your opponents get impatient and make a mistake.
  9. Australian Shift. Position yourself on the same side of the court as your partner the server (to take away the cross court high percentage return). Either fake a move and stay (in which case your partner moves to cover the down-the-line return) or move to intercept a down-the-line return (in which case your partner stays to cover a potential cross-court return). The goal is to take command of the net by disorientating and confusing your opponents into making mistakes and indecisive shots.
  10. Straddle the middle of the court. Crouch down low in the middle of the court at the net prior to the serve by your partner. Signal to your partner your intention to move left or right. Following the serve move left or right as signaled to hopefully intercept the return or draw a mistake with the return.

Things to Look For in Evaluating Ability, Skill and Talent

Here are the 10 plus things I look for in evaluating playing ability and potential for development.

  1. Directional intent and control – Ability to hit specific crosscourt, down-the-line, angled and deep targets and target areas.
  2. Consistency and shot tolerance –Ability to sustain a rally (as long as necessary to win a point) and repeat shots, patterns and set sequences.
  3. Depth and control of depth –  Ability to control and vary depth of shots from different positions on the court and in response to shots hit with varying depth, spin, pace, etc.
  4. Trajectory, net clearance and bounce – Ability to control and vary net clearance and trajectory and ability to influence the bounce (by managing net clearance, trajectory and spin). Also, ability to control the bounce and point of contact in relation to the body (spacing) and court position in response to balls hit with varying spin, trajectory, depth and direction.
  5. Court presence –Racquet and footwork preparation and court positioning prior to the shot and in recovery after the shot.  Ability to anticipate and read shots and ability to make adjustments to maintain rally tempo, rhythm and flow.
  6. Use of spin – Ability to respond and manage a rally with spin (how you use spin to respond to low balls, high balls and balls hit with more and less spin, pace, etc.). Ability to change and match or mirror spin.
  7. Pace – Ability to both generate pace and take pace off the ball as necessary to maintain consistency and accomplish identified goals.
  8. Footwork and court coverage – Ability to cover the court (left, right, up and back) and ability to move with agility, balance and core stability both to the ball and in recovery after the shot. Also, ability to slide on clay composition courts, hit from an open stance, load and drive off anchor leg, etc.
  9. Technique – Ability to extend, maintain and control the racquet head through the hitting zone. Swing patterns and ability to generate racquet head speed. Kinetic incorporation and synchronization of the major body components and muscle groups. Stroke deficiencies that could hinder execution and performance.
  10. Serve and serve return –First-strike capabilities (the ability to dictate playa and finish the point with the serve and serve return). Ability to hit targets, vary spin and vary pace. Ritual in preparation to serve and receive and positioning adjustments prior to receiving the serve. Recovery after the serve and serve return and ability to execute specific “set” patterns with both the serve and serve return.
  11. Physical Condition – Complex coordination and movement, dynamic balance, linear/multi-directional speed, strength, endurance or stamina, flexibility, core and shoulder stability and explosive and reactive power. Ability to generate force production through the stretch-shortening cycle of eccentric and concentric contractions, loading and unloading of weight distribution, horizontal and vertical linear momentum, and angular momentum. Ability to stabilize the musculature of the trunk and lower extremities.
  12. Mental fortitude – Mental toughness (when ahead and when behind), concentration, focus, self-discipline, body language, routines, stress control, spirit and other attributes affecting mental and emotional control on the tennis court.
  13. Intangibles – Athletic ability, enthusiasm, energy, spirit, receptivity to learning, problem-solving skills and other factors influencing performance and performance potential.

Ten Ways to Successfully Finish the Point (Singles)

  1. Cross-court, down-the-line redirection. Work the cross court hitting lane until you get a shorter ball or a ball you can attack.  Then redirect the ball down-the-line. Flatten the ball out and drive the ball through the court to give your opponent less chance of recovery. Follow your ball into the net in the event your opponent does get to the ball (to finish with a “mop up” volley).
  2. Grind (extend the rally). Determine your opponent’s shot threshold and then work the point to get that one extra ball in play to force an error by your opponent.
  3. Draw your opponent in and then lob. Draw your opponent into the net with a chip, drop shot and/or angle and then hit a lob with your next shot over the extended reach of his/her racquet.
  4. Draw your opponent in and then pass. Similarly, draw your opponent into the net on your terms with a chip, drop shot and/or angle. Hit a cross-court angle or down-the-line pass with your next shot.
  5. Hit behind your opponent. Work the cross court hitting lane. Draw your opponent off court and then when your opponent scrambles to get back into the court hit behind your opponent preferably with a cross court angle.
  6. Serve and volley. Serve and close into the net with your serve. Follow the line of your serve and then volley deep to set up your next volley and/or volley to the open court.
  7. Approach and volley. Pounce and close on the short ball. Follow the line of your ball into the net (protecting the line and down-the-line pass) and volley to the open court. Hit most of your approach shots down-the-line for the best positioning coverage advantage.
  8. Drop shot. Hit a drop shot when your opponent is pinned back behind the baseline.
  9. Use your serve to open up the court. Serve out wide and then redirect your next shot to the open court (opposite side of the court). Serve down-the-middle drawing your opponent to middle of the court. Hit a cross-court angle with your next shot.
  10. Disrupt the rhythm of your opponent. Elicit an error by your opponent by varying pace, spin, net clearance, trajectory and where and how you hit the ball in relation to the bounce and court position. Take time away from your opponent by hitting the ball earlier on the bounce, mix heavy topspin with slice, change the trajectory of your shots, vary velocity and depth, etc. Make things uncomfortable for your opponent.

How to Solidify Your Volley

Here are 10 drills and exercises to solidify your volley.

  1. Volley holding your racquet at the racquet throat (or top of the racquet handle) to help shore up your wrist and head position on the volley.
  2. Hit an up tempo volley-to-volley exchange. Start up close midway between the service line and net.  Hit up on the ball to keep the ball in play and to maintain the rally without a bounce. For variation, establish a cross court, down-the-line and alternating cross court/down-the-line exchange, progressively work back, dynamically work up and back together, play a no bounce (hit only up) game using two service boxes for court boundaries, maintain a forehand (backhand) only rally and a low ball/high ball rally.
  3. Hit against a wall (backboard). Check out this Cara Black YouTube video (
  4. Hit two touch volleys. Catch the ball with the first racquet contact (using backspin and soft hands) and then hit the ball over to your hitting partner with the second racquet contact. Use QuickStart red, orange or green dot balls if you experience difficulty initially with the two-touch technique.
  5. Hit for repetition and rhythm. Maintain a groundstroke to volley rally. Define a specific target area for the volley and establish progressive goals for the number of volleys hit in succession to this defined target area.
  6. Rehearse specific volley shot combination patterns with a hitting partner.  For example, practice hitting a pattern or sequence to include an approach shot followed by two volleys. Introduce more difficult variables with success such as a requirement in this example to hit both volleys past the service line.
  7. Play no bounce (or one bounce only) points. Start each point from the baseline or a designated deep court position to work on your ability to aggressively close the net.
  8. Set a three to four foot high obstacle on the service line. Practice hitting low and high volleys over the obstacle (and into the court).
  9. Work on move, hit and recover volley patterns with a partner willing to feed a series of balls in succession. Move up, left or right to hit each volley (preferably with the goal of hitting a specified target or target area) then fully recover back, right, or left after each shot. It is a great way to work on stretch volleys, digging out low volleys and footwork to the ball and in recovery after the shot. The pace, frequency and location of the feed and distance required for movement both to the ball and recovery after the shot can be manipulated to make the drill more or less difficult and/or complex.
  10. Respond with your volley to a series of alternating and rapid low/high feeds (like a hockey goalie four corner bean bag drill).

How to Avoid or Counter the Groundstroke Woes

(How to eliminate unforced errors and keep the ball in play with confidence.)

  1. To increase your margin for error, aim to hit each ball over the center strap (middle or low part of the net).
  2. Hit to the largest target areas or target areas with the most shot directional allowance (which translates to hitting predominantly cross court).
  3. Maintain high net clearance for high margin and consistency. Hit four to seven feet above the net on most rally balls.  Use net clearance to establish depth and to buy more time (particularly when pressured by the tempo or pace of the rally).
  4. Maintain rally direction when hitting from a neutral or defensive court position. Only hit for redirection when hitting from an advantageous court position (e.g., when hitting from inside the baseline).
  5. Set a goal to never make a mistake in the net or outside of the singles (doubles) sidelines. Make your opponent(s) hit more balls.
  6. Stay in the point. Develop a high shot threshold with patience to hit as many shots as necessary to win the point.
  7. Actively engage your feet. Take multiple adjustments to get into the best possible position to hit each shot. At the same time, maintain core balance and stability in moving to the ball to maximize groundstroke efficiency.
  8. Manage the pace and tempo of the rally. Learn to take pace off the ball and/or create more air under the ball when the pace of the rally is becoming too difficult to sustain.
  9. Use spin (particularly topspin) to increase your margin.
  10. Mirror or match trajectory and spin (i.e. hit high and loopy in response to a ball hit high and loopy).

10a Practice with a purpose. Continuously work on your ability to respond to varying pace, spin, depth, etc. Look for opportunities to hit whenever possible with whoever is willing to hit. Use this time on the court to learn how to keep rallies alive no matter the hitting style and ability of your hitting partners.

How to Avoid or Counter the Serving “Yips”

  1. The key to solidifying your serve is to hit a lot of balls. One of the best ways to establish range and directional control in practice is to start serving from a position close to the net. Start serving from inside the service line and then with repetitive success progressively work back to the baseline. Another option is to practice serves using a countdown sequence. Start at a count of X (e.g. 25) and countdown to zero, counting down by one every time you hit your service target and counting up by one every time you miss your service target.
  2. Give yourself only one serve when playing points in practice matches and in competition focus on getting the first serve in and maintaining a 70% or higher first-serve percentage. Develop confidence in a 3/4 pace serve that you can get in no matter the circumstances or conditions.
  3. Establish a ritual (consistent routine) prior to hitting your first and second serves. It could be as simple as bouncing the ball three or more times before hitting each serve. Use the time to settle your mind, clarify your purpose and plan your course of action.
  4. Manage the time and tempo of the match to your advantage (particularly on your service games). Never allow yourself to feel pressured or rushed to hit your serve.
  5. Focus on your toss and tossing arm. Focus particularly on extending and holding up your tossing arm as long as possible.
  6. Likewise, focus on your head position. Keep your chin up with your eyes focused up at the point of contact through the follow-through.
  7. Develop a high margin, topspin or hybrid spin serve. Use the spin for high net clearance and to create an accelerated dipping action on the ball.
  8. Focus on the process of hitting the serve (preferably no more than one or two specific areas of focus such as keeping the chin up and/or extending and holding up your tossing arm) rather than the result.
  9. Be positive. Use positive affirmations and “self-talk” for motivation and to acknowledge good serves and serve sequences.
  10. Stay in the present. Do not dwell on mistakes, missed opportunities or bad turn of events. Deal with the bad bounces, unlucky breaks, etc. by “moving forward and putting things behind you”.

Develop a Solid Foundation to Your Game

Here are ten areas of focus to develop a solid foundation to your game.

  1. Groundstroke technique – Ability to coordinate all body components with efficiency and to develop a complete, fluid, relaxed and adaptable swing pattern maximizing racquet head speed and control over the path and direction of the swing initially at a slow and controlled pace and then progressing to a higher tempo and pace
  2. Serve technique – Ability to coordinate all body components with efficiency and to develop a complete, fluid, relaxed and adaptable swing pattern maximizing racquet head speed and control over the path and direction of the swing initially with feet planted and use of just your upper body and then progressing to more dynamic use of your lower body (legs).
  3. Net play technique – Ability to coordinate all body components with efficiency with emphasis on balance, weight transfer and racquet head position for the volley and a complete, fluid, relaxed and adaptable swing pattern maximizing racquet head speed for the overhead
  4. Shot control – Ability to hit to all parts of the court with varying levels of spin, pace, net clearance and trajectory from all court positions and in response to balls hit with varying levels of spin, pace, net clearance and trajectory
  5. Mental and emotional skill – Includes stress and anxiety control, resolve and resilience, ability to relax and focus, desire to win with pride in performance and intrinsic motivation and ability to solve problems and make sound, quick decisions
  6. Physical fitness – Ability to control and coordinate the body through complex movement and hitting patterns with speed, agility, balance, strength, power, endurance, flexibility and core and shoulder stability
  7. Court coverage – Ability to move efficiently with agility, dynamic balance and control to the ball and in recovery after the shot.
  8. Consistency and shot tolerance – Ability and willingness to keep the ball in play from different court positions and in response to balls hit with varying pace, spin, trajectory and net clearance
  9. Shot recognition – Ability to judge in the process of hitting where your shot will land and how your shot will land in regard to angle of incidence, bounce and carry and the ability to judge (with quick reactions and response time) where and how your opponent’s shots will land in the court.
  10. Court presence – Spatial awareness of where you are in the court and where you need to be after each and every shot