If you use your serve, return or ground strokes effectively, you are going to receive short balls from your opponent. Being able to capitalize and prey on these weak balls is often the difference in taking control of the match or losing your confidence and backing off the attack. Punishing your opponent for dropping the ball short is a a trait that all good players will eventually have to master and the first aspect of the short ball to address is your INTENTION for the shot. What are you trying to achieve with the actual stroke?
The mid court ball: NOT A 50/50 SHOT
Winners at the pro level flow freely from a mid court ball. Their movement around/to the ball disguises the direction of their shots, the balls are hit harder/lower and the time they take away from their opponents are more often than not, too much of an obstacle for the opponent to get a racket on. At lower levels of the game however players are still striking the mid court ball with the intention of hitting a winner. If this is your thought process you are making the mid court ball a 50/50 ball. Either you hit a winner, or you make an error. That’s not a good enough percentage for a ball the should put you in the box seat to win the point most of the time.
Treating your mid court balls as an approach however will give you a higher clip of mid court balls made and simply by volume you will be winning more points coming forward and putting the pressure on your opponent, giving them a chance to miss the passing shot or lob. (*if you have a below average net game, work on this until you are confident you can neutralize low volleys and put away easy high ones.)
Simply put. If you approach on mid court balls you will make more of them, pressure your opponent into hitting smaller targets to make the pass or lob and punish them for dropping the ball short in the point. Passing shots and lobs under pressure are MUCH harder to execute when the stakes are high. On top of that, players who commit to the approach hit the ball with their body weight moving through the shot as they head to the net, resulting in a more penetrating ball that has a higher chance of being a winner, even if that is not the intention. The winner is a bonus when you expect the ball to come back!
The mid court target: Attack the opponents WEAKNESS OR their POSITIONING?
Your mid court approach should attack one of two things that will change from opponent to opponent. A) Which side is their weakness? B) where are they positioned on the court?
The first thing you notice when you want up with your opponent should obviously be whether they are left handed or right handed. After that you need to pinpoint which ground stroke of theirs is the weapon. Which shot are they more aggressive/confident with. If you can’t figure it out, hit a ball down the middle and see which side they prefer to hit from.
Once you have found their preferred side you should plan on attacking their weaker wing. They are going to be less confident to hit a smaller target with this stroke under pressure.
The second thing to take into consideration is your opponents positioning. If your opponent is ready to defend and centered in the middle of the baseline or behind then you attack the weakness. If your opponent is favoring their weaker side considerably you should attack the open court.
You will find that after you have had some success approaching your opponents weakness, they will tend to favor covering that side on future approaches. This will leave the open side wide open.
Successfully executing the mid court ball consistently is a combination between intention and strategy. Approaching your opponents weak wing is statistically one of the most rewarding patterns at all levels of tennis and something that should be staple practice in your sessions. Gain confidence in your approaches and you will see more winners, errors from your opponents and easy volleys in your game than ever before.
See you on the courts,
USPTA Elite Professional