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Entries in Dropshots (2)


Steal This Drill: The Backhand Game



In honor of my dad's birthday, "MR. G", I present to you "the backhand drill". When learning to play, he always told me that you're only as good as your backhand and second serve. If both or either of those two components break down, it's going to be tough row to hoe. Anyway, the purpose of this drill is to get as much repetition and backhand practice as possible. This is particularly important for juniors who seem to hit forehands day-in and day-out but regard the backhand as a mere after thought. Here's a little tip from an old snake: don't let me catch you with a glaring weakness on your backhand; I don't care how good your forehand may because you're simply never going to hit it (don't even bother warming it up - j/k) or you're only going to hit it from the most awkward positions. I'm not too proud to slice you, dice you, moonball or junk your forehand to get enough of the backhand exposed. So make your backhand rock solid or be prepared to run.

Figure 1: this is a half-court game up to 10, 15, 21, etc. where the players (a) can only hit backhands; (b) the ball can only go cross court unless you go down-the-line drop shot (player chasing the drop shot CAN hit a forehand on that play only). Players cannot hit inside out forehands but can come to the net where they can hit forehand volleys. The point, however, is to stay back and grind with the backhand.

Figure 2: this game is the same as the one in Figure 1 although the players get to use "more court" (i.e., players can hit 2-3 feet in the down-the-line half (deuce side)). The purpose of this drill is to learn how to hit the backhand and recover to the middle (otherwise you get caught with a forehand). This is particularly useful for players who tend to plant themselves 2-3 feet in the backhand side of the court. Anytime you get complacent, a good player is going to take advantage of your positioning so it's always preferable to "stick and move".


Drop Shots

As much as I love watching a player who exploits the entire court (I am reminded of Federer's win over Soderling in the French Open final), it is disappointing to see a player who uses that particular tactic for the first time in the match. The match is not the first time when you should practice new shots - shots as the drop shot. Unfortunately, too many players either run out of gas or ideas and go for the low percentage shot at a key point in the match. Sometimes they make it; a lot of times they do not. In addition, players sometimes cannot control their urges - if they make the shot, they tend to go to the well over and over again. If they do not, they tend to retry it thinking that "I was so close last time".

The drop shot, just like any other stroke, should be practiced diligently and purposefully. However, baby steps should be taken in order for the player to FIRST develop the control necessary to hit a decent slice. In terms of hitting drop shots, I would recommend that the player practices alternating slices and drop shots in order to develop a feel for each stroke. The ball should be amortized with the legs as much as the arm (i.e., pace should be absorbed with the legs; similar to catching a football that punt). Furthermore, in the developing stages, I would recommend that the player hits the drop shot only after hitting 2-3 decent slices. Not only will this help the player practice his "range" but the opponent may be tricked into thinking that the short shot is in fact a deep slice. 

Nevertheless, how do you deal with a player who hits a drop shot at inopportune times? Well, sprints help. Lots and lots of sprints. You see, we talk to the players but a lot of times they think that they know better. They will continue to go for the high-risk shot if they perceive that there are no negative consequences. But, in a match, such consequences do exist. For example, if you try a drop-shot at deuce and lose the point, now you have to win THREE points in order to win the game. Had you played a solid point and won it, you'd only have to win ONE more point in order to win the game. In other words, a stupid shot costs you in terms of energy. And that's OK as long as you're willing to put in the effort to win those next three points. My favorite solution (rather than begging, pleading and being angry) is to make my players a deal: for every drop-shot (win or lose) at key points (15-30; 30-30; 30-40; 40-40; 40-30), the player will run a sprint (sometimes two). I don't do this to punish the player. I do this to make him understand what's at stake. If he's doing it with the forethought that if the play doesn't pan out he has to work twice as hard in the next two points, it means that the player has evaluated the risks v. the rewards. That indicates that the player is starting to think in advance as to the potential consequences of her decisions.