Players Shouldn't be Stuck Deep Behind Baseline
Jul 29, 2023
Is it just me, or does it disturb anyone else when you see high-level players plant themselves several feet behind the baseline and continue to play balls from there, even though numerous balls land several feet inside the baseline ranging all the way to the service line? To me, these are wasted opportunities, and it drives me up the wall!
We train players to hit the ball deep because it puts more pressure on their opponents, reduces their angles, and makes it more difficult for them to attack. When the balls land short, it is a mistake. No one is trying to master the skill of hitting the ball on the service line. I hope.
If we don't take advantage of our opponent's mistakes, then there are no repercussions for them when they make those mistakes. By moving in and taking those balls sooner, we can become more directionally aggressive, our shots will carry more weight, and we will take away the valuable commodity of time from our opponents.
Taking time away from our opponents is often at the heart of achieving competitive success. I am not necessarily talking about coming to the net behind all these balls but merely increasing the pressure and making our opponent's lives more difficult. We also are sending them an important message that anything less than a very deep ball will spell trouble for them.
So, why is this such a widespread problem? My answer is that coaches have allowed this to happen. In many cases, coaches have actually cultivated it, but players are also responsible for this being the norm.
How many times do we see players just go out and hit and perpetuate this pattern? They are not competing, so they are just out there banging balls and staying behind the baseline because it is the easy non-competitive thing to do. It becomes habit, and it becomes culture. Is it fun to do this? Heck yeah! Is it making us more competitive tennis players? Not really.
When we as coaches allow our players to go out and practice in this way, we are creating a generation of players who are not developing the necessary instinct and skills to take advantage of their opponent's short balls. These are qualities that must be practiced often and over a long period of time to become second nature. By allowing this to continue, we are doing an incredible disservice not only to our players but also to the game itself.
We can change this pattern by simply training our players to always move forward to take the ball inside the court when the opportunity presents itself. If they are just hitting in a non-competitive way, they don't need to be directionally aggressive and go for winners but can use depth and power to pressure the opponent. In this way they are still developing the skills and instincts necessary to make this natural and organic. They are also allowing each other to experience the repercussions of hitting the ball short. When they continuously do not experience this, it creates the illusion of competence. It's not real. When they inevitably come up against a player who can take advantage of their short balls, they are in for a rude awakening.
I believe this has gone on long enough. Let's start training our players to move in and take the ball early at every opportunity, develop the skills necessary to do so, and change the future of tennis in the process.
Howard Chodak is a USPTA Master Professional with over 43 years of teaching experience. He is the author of the Seven Deadly Sins of Doubles, a primer on recreational doubles play, and the creator of the Perfect Practice video learning system. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos: Christopher Sessums / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Jim De Ramos / Pexels. This article also appears in the July-August 2023 issue of Florida Tennis Magazine. Be sure to subscribe for expanded coverage, exclusive interviews, and in-depth tennis news.