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Hitting To Your Opponent's Strengths

It is a misconception that the player should only hit to the opponent's weakness. First of all, most good players make a conscious effort to improve their weakness from match-to-match. Therefore, you may find yourself 2-3 games in a hole before you figure out that the weakness is really not that weak. Second, if the player cannot improve the weakness, he will do a heck of a job masking it. Take for example the standard player who has a better forehand than backhand. Often times, you will watch two juniors engage in the battle of the "inside-outs" - each trying to get to the opponent's backhand. It seems that, a lot of the time, the thought to hit to the opponent's actual forehand side never enters the mind. Under these circumstances, the player who manages to squeeze the ball inside the sideline without missing usually wins. 

I don't condone playing to the opponent's strength exclusively - although Jim Courier preferred to pound away at the opponent's strength in order to show that he was the Alpha Male - but it's important to know how to do this in order to change things up and actually expose the opponent's weakness in the process. For example, just because the opponent has a killer inside out forehand, how good is this shot from the Deuce side of the court? Test her. See how well she handles the high balls, short, low slices, or hard shots. The beauty is that you don't have to take too many chances on these shots. Often times, she will simply move to the forehand and send the ball right back towards your backhand. Of course, now you have the angle on her and can start yanking her around the court. 

The key to this strategy is to develop shots that are difficult for the opponent to handle. You have to master the slice (in order to keep the ball low), you have to master the heavy top-spin (in order to keep the ball high), and you have to master the drive (in order to give the opponent less time to react). Your primary motivation is to make the opponent hit his strength but ON YOUR TERMS. In doing this, you will expose certain patterns or biases by your opponent. For example, if you slice down the line with the backhand, 90% of the time, the opponent will flip a cross-court forehand (because pounding the down the line will be difficult). However, you already anticipating this shot and are able to cut off the angle and drive the ball down-the-line to the opponent's backhand. In effect, you're learning to play "one shot ahead". 

To summarize, don't be afraid to pick on the opponent's strength as long as (a) you're doing it in a manner in which she cannot hurt you, and (b) you have a game plan for what you want to do with the next shot. 

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