This happens a lot in doubles.
Here’s the scenario – your opponent hits a lousy approach shot, or a bad volley, something that pops up nice and high in the middle of your court. It’s a powder-puff short ball and you have all the time in the world. Your opponent is really close to the net, and you have a second to decide if you try to pass them down the line, crosscourt, or lob. Which do you think is the play that is most likely to succeed?
Here’s your view.
Most people will answer the above scenario by saying hit it to their backhand side volley. The logic would be that typically this is their weaker side. You’re too far inside the court to hit a topspin lob easily, and the ball you are attacking is high anyway, so it’s hard to swing from low to high on it.
What I would suggest in this situation is trying to hit the ball right at your opponent’s right hip (the hip on your left). As a volleyer, this is the most difficult spot to cover. You can react quickly and stab a volley that is going past you, but it’s very hard to get out of your own way and still maintain control. As the hitter in this scenario, by hitting the ball right at your opponent, you are also hitting over the lowest part of the net, and hitting down the middle, so you’re not going to hit the ball out. You don’t even have to hit the ball hard at them since you are so close to the net. They will have less than a tenth of a second to react, and at best they will pop up a weak ball that you can hit at them again, or then put away.
Some people might claim this is bad etiquette, and maybe if you’re playing with some club nancies then that’s something to consider. But at a high level of play, hitting at your opponent in this situation is a viable strategy. It’s your highest percentage play, and their lowest chance of success. So it is the shot I would recommend. My argument would be that your opponent should not be crowding the net, cutting down all the angles and forcing you to hit a tough shot (around them), when in fact they should be penalized for their poor approach. It is up to the opponent to either stand further back from the net to give themselves more time to respond, get out of the way, or to accept the fact that they might get pegged.
Note – if the ball touches any part of your opponent’s body, you win the point.
Here is the USTA’s stance on the etiquette issue:
Q. I looked through the rules but couldn’t find where this was addressed. What is the rule on intentionally hitting a player. I understand that its hard to prove but how many hard shots at your head/body constitutes a foul? I recently played a match that every time I approached the net my opponent would just hit as hard as he could right at me without any attempt to lob or hit a passing shot.
A: There is not a lot one can do. If the player says I am going to hit you the next time I get an opportunity and does so, that could be deemed unsportsmanlike conduct. Just saying it could be a conduct penalty if there are officials. Other than that, stay alert. There is no rule to prohibit a player from hitting the ball at their opponent at any pace.