Imagine yourself standing on the court, ball in had, ready to serve. Picture your opponent staring back at you. Their stance, their focus, their willingness to go to war with you. Ask yourself: what does your opponent know about you? Are they familiar with your style? Do they know what to expect?
If you’re now worried that your serve will be returned faster than you can say Wimbledon, then chances are you’ve become too predictable.
Effective tennis is strategic tennis. There’s no doubt that we all want to lead with our most powerful weapons - whether that’s a big power serve or a vicious backhand, but often it’s the under-used shots that are most effective.
If an opponent doesn’t see what’s coming then it will be a lot more difficult for them to stop it.
Short of putting a blindfold on your opponent like a 21st century karate kid, here are 3 under-appreciated shots to put to work for your game this spring.
A well-placed drop shot will land just on your opponent’s side of the net, forcing them to attack the net and sacrifice some of their positioning. This shot requires a soft touch, but it can powerful effects. The best drop shots have some degree of backspin as well, decreasing their bounce and making them even more difficult to return. Learning how to perfectly place a drop shot will tire your opponents quicker, even those with already-quick feet.
Focus: surprise your opponent. Get them scrambling. Gain the advantage. Keep your positioning.
The progression of the drop shot made famous by American tennis player John McEnroe, the drop volley follows the same principles as the drop shot (dropping the ball near the net), it’s simply hit before the ball has a chance to bounce on your side. This requires loosening your grip on the racquet to absorb the force of your opponent’s shot instead of blasting it further back into the court. Utilizing the drop volley will give you plenty of options to place the ball while keeping your opponent off guard. You can hit deep, at sharp angles and short provided you’re moving fast enough to stay one step ahead of your opponent.
Focus: build momentum. Keep up the pace. Dictate the match.
Now it’s time to really mess with the other side. A lob shot can be used both in defensive and offensive situations. On the defensive, lobbing the ball high and deep can buy you time to recover from a rally and regroup. Offensively, if your opponent is near the net at the time of contact, a lob will force them to retreat and attempt a return without a clear picture of the net or your positioning. Every match will have ups and downs (literally - get it?). A well-timed and well-hit lob shot can help you maximize the highs and minimize the lows.
Focus: use court space to your advantage. Keep your opponent guessing. Give yourself time to recover.
Every athlete is more effective when they have more tools at their disposal than their opponent. Sure, excelling at one area or another is natural and can win games on its own from time to time, but it’s the athlete who’s good at everything who wins out in the end. Having a wide range of skills and shots will help you outlast your opponent and give you more options.
And tennis, as we’ve learned, is all about options and how you use them to your advantage.