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Entries in Defense (6)


Steal This Drill: Offense Defense

In the fields of athletic competition, war and, sometimes, business it is often said that "the best offense is a good defense". Of course, when it comes to putting the ball away in tennis, being the master of defensive shots is often not enough. Many times, players work the point to perfection, get an easy sitter in the middle of the court and then fail to convert on the occasion. Whether they overhit, underhit or it the ball right to the opponent, these players could be well-served by practicing some offense-defense type drills. 

Here's a good and SIMPLE drill that two players (or a player and coach) can incorporate in their practice in order to develop the ability to "pop" the ball. One player (the practice partner) stays in one half of the court and simply moves the opponent (the "principal") side to side with SOFT, medium-height shots (i.e. balls should bounce above 6ft). The principal tries to thump these balls back to the practice partner with hard, penetrating shots. By performing this drill, the principal learns how to move his feet for the ball, load his body weight and also generate racket head speed. Remember that the practice partner is not generating any pace (he simply blocks the ball back - hence the "defense" in the name of the drill) so all the pace is provided by the principal. The principal goes to the point of exhaustion (up to 3 minutes is good; beyond 3 minutes it's great). Thereafter, the players switch roles so each gets a chance to dictate. Sprinkle this drill throughout your workouts and very soon you will master the put-away shot. By hitting these shots with confidence, your whole game will change. You will hit more winners (from an optimal court position); you will force the opponent to go for more on regular shots (since she knows that if she gives you the floater you will put the ball away); and you will develop a more aggressive instinct.


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? 


Hellooo!? You Play To Win The Game!

Nobody is good enough to only play offense and never play any defense.  Nobody, period!  Defensive astuteness is a very real skill that needs to be attended to and developed.  It makes logical sense if somebody is on offense, inevitably somebody must be on defense.  Against a very good player, evenly matched with yourself, there is a very good chance you will be spending half of the match on the defensive end playing hockey goalie.  

Below is a slideshow of all the top pros on the run (dead sprint!), in nasty, uncomfortable, and mind-boggling positions.  Yet they are fighting like sunsabitches to weasel their way back into the point. Many juniors fall into the trap of only doing drills that are warm and fuzzy, working on their technique, minimizing the movement. Ahem, crosscourts! Ahem, feeding drills!  

On a funny and serious note, here is Herm Edwards, the infamous NY Jets and Kansas City Chiefs Coach talking to reporters after another poor performance.  "Hello!? You play to win the game!" Yes, in tennis, you play to win.  Technique goes out the door when you are sprinting 20mph...backwards....into the corner...snot up your nose...opponent on top of the net...switching your grip to find the right angle...sliding into the shot...breathing heavily...odds stacked impossibly against you...diving into the shot...PLAY TO WIN! Perfection is out the door, you play to win!  



Steal This Drill: Offense/Defense Drill

If you have a willing partner, this is a good drill to work on your offense and defense in a productive manner. Many of the points you encounter in the match will be on the extremes- either you will be on the offense or on the defense.  Many people like to practice their rally ball, but this is not what happens in an intense match. One person is usually defending, while the other is attacking.  

Player A is the offensive player and Player B is the defensive player.  Player A is allowed to pick 1 of 3 offensive patterns:


  • Hitting the ball side-to-side
  • Hitting the ball twice to the deuce, then once to the ad
  • Hitting the ball once to the deuce, then twice to the ad

Player B has to defend each pattern and return each ball back to the center of the court (return to a cone in the middle of the court, halfway between service line and baseline).  Player B is working on resetting the point back in the middle of the court, working on digging balls out of the corner.  Usually by putting the ball in the middle of the court, you give your opponent no angle to hit winners.  

Since you know the pattern Player A is attempting, you should be able to get most of the balls (Player A must not hold back, but really go for his shots).  Player B is not going to be able to be on top of the baseline while on defense, you are on defense!  Defense means give up court, retreat position, and look to buy time.  Try to anticipate the next shot, but getting a headstart.  This is how slow players defend well, they understand what shot is coming next.  

Variation: Player A (offensive player) does not tell Player B what the pattern is beforehand.  Player B must try to figure out the pattern Player A is trying to execute.  When you are on defense, you can learn to sense where the ball might be going.  

Most American players (huge generalization, which is why Jose Higueras is pushing for clay courts), believe it to be a character flaw to be on defense.  Many young kids are not proud to run, to defend, to get nasty, and to even look ugly. In the same vein, many parents/coaches believe the fallacy that offense is always the best defense. American tennis did just fine 20 years ago with only hardcourts in America, it's a mentality to compete and not look for the easy way out.  


Take Away Half of the Court


One of the most frustrating things I see weak-minded players do is give up on a play. I understand not everyone is wired like Rafael Nadal with a relentless attitude to chase down balls from seemingly impossible situations. However, here is a good trick that makes logical sense and something you can implement into your game right away.

Lets say you are in a tussle and slowly your opponent pushes you deep into the corner. Without meaning to, you cough up a short ball so short, you quickly calculate the odds of winning the point to be less than 10 percent. One option is to give in and just turn around. Another option is to run to the center of the court and see what happens. The BEST option is to guestimate the one place the winner will go and run to that spot. This means taking half the court away and take away the easiest shot for them to hit.

Standing in the middle of the court opens up the edges. However, most people who play great defense have a knack for guessing right. What these players are really doing is reading the ball, the opponents body language, and checking where the most probably place the next ball could potentially go and taking that option away. Make them hit the most difficult shot and maybe if you are strongly covering one-half of the court, good things could happen- like the ball coming onto a crash collision with you.

Like chess, you always want to apply pressure and think a couple steps ahead. Now if you continue to chase these balls down (Lendl said: "I run after everything, even if I think that I can't get there"), however dire the situation may be, and continue to take away half of the court- they will start to feel the pressure deep into the set or match. Easy shots suddenly aren't so easy, muscles start to tighten, and shots that were once manageable without blinking start to feel like catching a mosquito with chopsticks (well maybe not that hard, but anything is possible when you get underneath someone's skin). Good things can happen and these types of points can switch the momentum and cause rookie players to crack mentally.