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Entries in Consistency (6)


Tips for Playing Against Heavy Topsins

With the Australian Open fortnight upon us - a tournament generally known for higher ball-bounces (although the Plexicushion has sped things up quite a bit resulting in slightly lower bounces) - let's take a look at some tips for playing against a player with high-bouncing topsin strokes. 

1. It goes without saying ("well, why are you saying it then, genius?!") that if you want to handle high topsins from the opponent, you should be practicing against people who hit with a lot of topsin. This will allow you to read their body language and ball trajectory so that you can anticipate the type of bounce as well as depth thereof. It can be a daunting task to try to take on such a player for the first time in a match. So improve your chances by playing against similar players in advance. 

2. Footwork; footwork; footwork. When you're trying to handle extreme topsins, you must be prepared to not only move forward and backwards but also sideways. Remember that an opponent can generate topsin that rotates "top-wise" or even slightly lop-sided (by brushing upwards AND to the outside/inside of the ball)If the latter happens, you must be prepared to for a ball the explodes sideways slightly and take an extra step or two before striking the ball. Don't get set too soon (as you would against a flat shot that is driven into the contact point); keep moving until you're in optimal position to strike. Adjust the angle of attack so that you're always moving forward and slightly to the side. If you get set too soon, there's a possibility that you may be either too closed or too open - making for an ineffective stroke (which the opponent can demolish) - or that you will allow the ball to bounce over your shoulder (which is exactly what your opponent wants to see happening). 

3. When the ball comes high, think "low". It is tempting, when seeing a high ball, to want to stand straight up "since the ball will end up bouncing high anyway" (DOH!!!). However, this type of thinking can be dangerous. When the ball bounces vertically and you swing horizontally, the two paths (1. path of the ball; AND 2. path of the racket) form a "plus" sign. Unless you have picture-perfect timing, there's a strong chance that you will either (a) mis-hit the ball, (b) generate insufficient pace, or (c) hit a ball without much arc (resulting in either an error or a short ball). To correct this, think about getting low as soon as you see the high ball leaving your opponent's racket and, after you've set up (see step #2 above), come up with the ball. If you you manage to do this well, although the racket will still swing through horizontally, the path of the racket will be at an upward angle (synchronized with the upward movement of your body). In other words, when compared to your body, the racket moves horizontally just as before; however, when compared to the ground, the racket actually moves upwards. This allows for not just better timing but also for a ball with more arc (and margin for error) over the net.  Furthermore, by working with the legs, you don't have to tinker with the path of your stroke. 

Closely related to this concept is trying to shorten the backswing a bit in order to have better timing. Remember that an exploding topsin has, in fact, pace. However, this pace is vertical (produced by spin as well as gravity) as opposed to horizontal (such as on a flat shot). A smart player will redirect this pace (by adjusting the face of the racket) and send the ball back to the opponent in an effective manner. If, however, you try to do this with a huge backswing, either your timing will be affected or you will mis-judge the amount of pace required. Therefore, try to cut down on your backswing just a tad and see how that works (particularly if you actually "stay down" and take the ball close to the bounce). After a couple of shots, you should be able to feel the amount of pace required. 

4. If all else fails, match the angle of the racket with the angle of the bounce. Assuming that you cannot adjust to a ball as outlined above, you may have to recognize that your opponent has managed to put you in a defensive position. In that case, rather than trying to hit a flat shot against a high-bouncing ball (which may end up going into the net), try to match the angle of your swing (i.e., path of the racket) with the angle of the ball-bounce. For example, if the ball explodes off the court at 80 degrees then try to drop the racket under the ball so that you can swing upwards at 80 degrees as well (towards the ball). Too many players try to "cover" a high-bouncing ball resulting either in a mistake in the net or a short ball. Forget it! Match the angle of the bounce and send the ball back high and deep to the opponent. Let HIM try to fight off the high ball - if you're lucky, he may just miss or hit you a short ball that you can thump. 

What suggestions do you have for playing against someone with massive topsins? 


Best 2nd Serve Returners of All-Time

Most coaches will make you feel inferior if you don't step into your returns, as if you don't understand the essence of hitting a great second serve return.  Maybe you are always feeling awkward being in "no-mans land" after making contact with a big kicker well inside the baseline, leaving you vulnerable on your next shot.  Or maybe you are making too many errors trying to play aggressive tennis.  Maybe you aren't wired to take risks, so you are fighting internally with yourself.   

There is nothing wrong with "cutting off the angle" or "taking the ball earlier."  All great advice.  By all means, if you can do it, I highly recommend stepping into the return.  However, judging from the stats taken straight off the ATP website, I notice a different breed of players.  Atleast half of these players are risk-averse players who like to hang back well behind the baseline and give the forehand a heavy ride (granted these stats could be inflated from claycourt play).  With servers generating massive kick and height after the bounce, taking the ball early isn't as easy as it sounds.  For starters, you need to be well inside the court, potentially leaving you in a weird part of the court if you don't do enough with the return.  Secondly, you might give away too many free points doing something that isn't comfortable for you under pressure. 

Judge for yourself, but the proof is in the pudding.  One can never underestimate the value of putting one more ball into the court.  See what works better for you.  It might not be pretty or efficient, but atleast you increased your odds of winning!  That's the only thing that matters at the end of the day, stop being so dogmatic and perfect!  Most coaches can't hit a heavy kicker inside the court, it's not that easy!  Take some pressure of yourself and let the shot develop and give the ball a ride.  One possibility is using a hybrid of staying back and picking opportune times to step in.  Plant the seed inside the servers mind for those moments deep in the set or match at 4-4 deuce or 5-5 30-all.  Those are the little chinks in the armor that change matches and tip a rookie player over the cliff.   


Steal This Drill: The Iron Butterfly 

Here's a neat little offense-defense drill that CAtennis.com dreamt up last night. This a two-player drill where one player (the PARTNER) stays in the corner and moves the other player (the PRINCIPAL) around. The pattern is as follows: Shot #1 - deep forehand; Shot #2 - deep backhand (or deep inside-out forehand); Shot #3 - short backhand; and Shot #4 - short forenahd. Rinse and repeat. The PARTNER's role is to work on ball control and perfect placement. His focus is to "look good" (perfect strokes and movement) and give the PRINCIPAL a good workout. 

When moving from the deep forehand to the deep backhand, the PRINCIPAL sprints forward around the cone (blue line). When moving from the short backhand to the short forehand, the PRINCIPAL circles backwards around the cone (white line). This way, the PRINCIPAL learns how to (a) hit and recover (short groundstrokes); and (b) turn defense into offense (deep groundstrokes). 

After a couple of sets, the players trade roles. The point is for each player to learn how to "hit and move" particularly when the opponent has managed to push you deep off the court and out of position. Much like Aikido and Jiu-Jitsu, tennis is a moving sport where you must learn how to use your opponent's energy (offense) against them in order to gain control (and put them on the defensive). 

One of the basic mistakes that players often make is to remain on the defensive when the opponent has managed to get them out of the comfort zone. They play the defensive role for the duration of the point without figuring out how to get back on top. In this drill, the PRINCIPAL learns that when he's pushed back, he can hit the ball high and deep and recover forward around the cone. Similarly, he learns how to recover backwards (in order to bisect the opponent's angle) when being pulled off-the court slightly short. By being moved out of his comfort zone, the PRINCIPAL manages to make his movement and his shots more effective and efficient under the given circumstances. 



Steal This Drill: Ball Control

One of the key characteristics of a good tennis player is to have sublime control of the ball. However, one must master ball control in the context of a live point; not when it's fed from a basket. In doesn't matter how well you pound a stationary object because your opponent's primary responsibility is to deliver the ball in such a location, with such spin, height and pace, that you are unable to place your shot exactly as intended. Reference is hereby made to our prior tip where we are stressing juniors' need to practice more against other juniors with a can of balls as opposed of constantly being fed balls from a basket. Speaking of which, is it just me, or does your practice partner's missed feed cause a great deal of consternation?! I don't know about you, but one of my all-time greatest pet peeves is when a 15+ year old misses the feed. After hitting 1,000s of fed balls you'd think that they would have mastered making the first ball in the court. When a practices partner misses a feed, it's either a sign of incompetence or lack of concentration - both signs of disrespect for the nature of the situation. But I digress.

How do you know how good of a player you are if you never practice consistency and ball control?! This skill can only be properly practiced through a live-ball scenario. In this first drill (picture on the left), the players play cross-court backhands and/or forehands. This is a drill where the players can play up to 11. Initially, they both get to use one half of the court (within the red lines). After a player wins a point, the opponent's side of the court "shrinks". That is, the player who won a point now must hit within the opponent's "white" lines. If he wins another point, the player who won must hit the ball within the opponent's "blue" line. As the opponent's side of the court shrinks, the opponent will have a greater chance of winning the point; so, in theory, the opponent will be in a better position to win the point. Eventually, the players will play within the deep corners only. When this happens, the opposite corner "opens up". At this point, the players can play cross-court but may also hit down the line for the deep corner on the deuce side. Of course, if you miss, you lose the point so select your shot for going down the line carefully. If you hit it, the opponent can still chase it down and hit it back (either deep backhand corner or go for the risky shot cross-court in your deuce corner).

In the second drill, the partners play down the line but the court shrinks outwards towards the sideline. Same rules; play up to 11. Feel free to put zones in the deep corners on the other half of the court and use those targets similarly to the drill above. Again, the purpose of these drills is to practice controlling the ball in an intended area. Often times, juniors aim for one target and miss it by 15-20 feet. If they aim for the lines, chances are that they will miss the court by feet, not inches. Some juniors hit the ball incredibly hard but cannot master a simple 5-ball rally that should be basic for anyone within 1 or 2 years of playing experience. Remember, "you are only as good as your opponent allows you to be;" if you do not have an easy sitter, you will have to grind. Grinding entails adjustment to whatever your opponent throws your way without sacrificing positioning or granting an opening to the opponent. In addition, when your goal is to play in college, one additional thing to keep in mind is that you don't just have to win for the team, you also have to be a good practice partner for your team-mates. All workouts have a dual-benefit component where both players must benefit equally from the practice.


Backboard Training for Volleys Redux 

16 Years Old:



Thanks, Lisa.