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Defeating Energy Sappers

There is one time of player who is very difficult to defeat and this player is known as the "energy sapper". In earlier stages of your development, the player can take the form of your classic moonballer. Later on, the player's shots will have developed and he may actually hit the ball with a decent amount of pace. However, this player thrives on utilizing the pace of your shots and redirecting the shots into a position where you will have to move and be off-balance. 

In my opinion, a classic example of an energy sapper is Andy Murray. Sure, he can certainly crank his serve and groundies but what he's really good at is redirecting the ball in such a way that it causes confusion in the opponent's game. Often times, the opponent just feels (certainly by looking at him - we don't actually know what he feels) that he has to either go for more than he's used to or utilize an untested strategy. You can spot the energy sappers a mile away because (1) they are good - often times, they beat players who are far superior to them on paper (i.e., measure the strokes pound-for-pound); (2) they are fast - these players have figured out that the most effective way to play is to be fast enough to get to every ball and take it "on the rise" (or around the strike zone); and (3) the pace of their shots increases with the pace of the opponent's shots - when the opponent crushes the ball, so does the energy sapper; when the opponent pushes, so does this player. It's not that these players can't generate their own pace; it's just that they simply prefer utilizing yours. 

The key to beating the energy sapper - and he will be a difficult foe to overcome - is to mix things up and force him to come up with pace from various positions around the court. Simply blasting the ball in the middle of the court will not cause problems for this player since his set-up is quick and and he can utilize the pace to throw you off-balance. That's exactly this player's bread and butter play. In order to hurt an energy sapper you must learn to combine high, heavy top-spins (which force the player to, initially move in to take the ball on the rise, but as the match progresses - and energy levels decrease - to move backwards), with short angle slices (i.e. just enough to force the player to move in, but not so short that it opens up an approach shot), followed by blasting a shot into the middle of the court. For the most part, I would suggest never hitting the same ball twice (particularly in the same spot); force the opponent to make as many adjustments as possible throughout the point/game/set/match and, if you're successful in pushing him to the point of exhaustion, to approach and make him pass you (in other words, make him generate his own pace).

Often times, players play against these energy sappers in a way that is completely wrong. They blast the ball and if that doesn't pay immediate dividends they blast it even harder. If you bang your head against a brick wall, the only dent that will appear will be in your head. Pretty soon, you will be exhausted and entirely at your opponent's mercy. What you need to do is identify the energy sapper from the beginning and then make a conscious effort to pack your lunch and be on the court for as long as it takes to get the job done. Also, stay focused from start to finish. Energy sappers are notorious for stealing victory from the jaws of defeat. Don't relax until you've turned in the score. You know when you're starting to get under this player's skin because the payer will start to force her own shots (things that she's not accustomed to doing) - thereby making more errors and giving you more openings for pressing the gas pedal ever so slightly. 

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