Does it seem like you are always running more and working harder than your opponent in your singles matches? Exposing this next tennis "myth" may explain why.
Myth: I should hit all of my ground strokes cross-court, because that is what I have always been taught.
Reality: Unless you can consistently hit cross-court aggressively, to both back corners of your opponent's court, you are no doubt hitting yourself into a running situation more often than you realize.
In singles, when you hit the ball cross-court very often it opens up the court — meaning your opponent now has the option of hitting the ball down the line or sharply cross-court, creating a wider distance that you now must cover. There are always exceptions (for example: if you are right handed playing a lefty), but geometrically speaking, hitting cross-court too often usually explains why it feels like you are running more and working harder than your opponents.
Another big no-no in tennis strategy is to unnecessarily hit down the line. Unless you are in a position to hit aggressively and move forward toward the net or make a good approach shot, you should avoid hitting down the line as well. If you watch tennis matches carefully you will notice that more often than not the first player to unnecessarily hit down the line will lose the point — even at the pro level.
I know exactly what you are thinking right now, "Coach Brian, if I should avoid hitting cross-court and avoid hitting down the line, what choice does that leave me?"
The answer to that question is the tennis "elephant in the room".
Most of your baseline ground strokes should be hit deep, down the middle of the court. This singles strategy is the "elephant in the room" that no one else in tennis instruction seems to notice or talk about nearly as much as we should be.
Here is a list of the advantages to hitting most of your ground strokes deep down the middle of the court while you patiently wait for a ball that you can attack (note: "deep" means that your balls are consistently landing in the back 2-3 feet of your opponent's court):
- You have a wider margin for error. If you happen to make contact with the ball a little late, your shot will still find its way safely inside the side lines.
- Your ball stays in the air longer. Once the ball bounces, it loses much of its speed. You take time away from your opponent and you give yourself more time if you consistently hit deep.
- Focusing on hitting with depth helps you to clear the net. With moderate pace on the ball, gravity will still bring it down and it will bounce higher, above your opponent's "strike zone." Add some heavy topspin and your balls can push your opponent back to the fence, from an area where their shots can't hurt you.
- When you hit deep down the middle, you are only "flirting" with one line instead of two lines. This cuts down on your unforced errors.
- At the very least, you are forcing your opponent to make a decision whether to hit a forehand or a backhand. This alone, is often enough to cause a weak reply or a miss-hit ball that you can attack.
While recreational players win most of their points by their opponents making an unforced error, the pros must create opportunities to hit winners or point-ending shots. This down-the-middle strategy works for both.
It is interesting that the National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP) on the United States Tennis Association (USTA) website lists players that "can control depth of their shots" are at the 4.5, or college level tennis. However, this coach believes that learning how to control depth on your ground strokes should start on your very first lesson! Other interested tennis instructors are welcome to contact me about how this can be done.
For more free singles tips and strategy, feel free to send me an email.