If there was one commonality in my life, it would be that I have observed (coached) thousands of matches over the last forty-five years; too often inexperienced tennis players continually go against the odds and attempt risky shots. Clearly, most tennis players buckle under pressure and they lose sight of reality. More than likely adrenaline kicks in and the player feels invincible at that precise moment and with this feeling of euphoria…they tried the most difficult angles I have ever seen! Case in point, the player is forced into the net on the short ball and now must cover a difficult lob to the backhand side of the body.
Without a doubt, the only percentage play is to leap to the backhand volley and try to hit it safely down the middle and then re-position at the net and await the next offering. Unfortunately, the doubles player jumps for the impossible backhand volley (one of the toughest strokes in the game of tennis) and tries to hit the ball down the line near the deep corner of the alley. Even if I lined up some of the greatest volleyers in the history of the game: John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg, Patrick Rafter or Martina Navratilova – they would NEVER consider that impossible high backhand volley down the line nestled deep into the corner of the alley as they know they would not be able to convert this stroke. I can not tell you how many players I’ve observed who try the impossible on a regular basis? For example, the serving team has the net-person standing too far away from the net (the net player is a foot or two past the service line) and the returning team tries to hit the lob down the line over the person at the far-away position. Now, if we factor in some interesting conditions like a stiff, cold wind, it would make it too difficult to produce such a delicate stroke. What would I propose if my opponent was standing too far away from the net?
I would coach my team to hit the return right at this defensive net-player because their positioning is telling me that they would rather not hit a volley. Remember, when we study the great Bryan brothers doubles game, they stand so close to the net that it often appears that they may run into the net on every volley. One of my biggest hurdles as a coach, is convincing the 3.0/3.5 level player that the point is not over when the opponents rush the net. There is this growing misconception that the aggressive team will automatically gain the edge in the point. But, with most matches being contested on a slow clay court, the net rusher may have more pressure to succeed. In other words, if the aggressor hits a tentative approach shot, the baseliner can either pass with ease or hit a lob that wins the point.
Not only must the approaching player hit a solid approach but he also must hit a pretty good volley to have the edge. My top recommendation for CTA/USTA league players – be patient and don’t let your anxiousness force you into a hurried stroke. The other key is to focus in on what you do best as a tennis player in competition; if your strength is at the net, move in often and push your will on your opponents. If you have steady, consistent groundstrokes, try to win from the baseline. The next time you are ready to compete in competition, focus on what you do best and stick to the plan. Good luck.