Gameplan Request 1

This was an email I received from a relatively young guy who is just starting tennis, transitioning from another sport and playing an older more seasoned guy. I received the following thoughts and wanted to give an opinion on what might be a good game-plan going in. Of course, without seeing video of his opponent it’s hard to say what the best weaknesses to exploit are, but this is how my thinking developed upon reading his email:
He hits with lots of top spin and has pretty good control and is able to get me out wide.
     If he likes hitting angled balls to get you running, you can neutralize him by hitting deep and down the middle. Hitting a sharp angle from back and in the middle of the court is a low percentage shot, and you may draw errors from him if he attempts to do so. Angled balls are extremely low percentage against a ball down the middle that is also high.
He likes to hit from the baseline and isn’t good at runs or volleying (all relative- he’s pretty good at all of those things and certainly better than me…of course I’m faster)
    Sounds like since he’s hitting the ball with topspin, and is generally poor at moving, he may   be a typical old, stiff-legged player. These people are particularly vulnerable to low balls and slices. I would practice your slice and drop shot. Even if they are not good shots, you are giving him no pace which means he has to have good footwork and technique to attack them properly (which is unlikely).
I’ve improved playing against him by improving my top spin. To do so, I’ve been closing my grip more and working the wrist action more.
If your opponent is hitting high balls with heavy top spin at you, take the racquet back higher if you want to level it out. But the higher percentage play for a ball over your shoulder height is to hit a high topspin ball (almost a lob) back.
It helped so that he isn’t always able to make offensive shots. I’m not able to hit offensive shots with my backhand against him because he’s a lefty hitting to that side, and hits that shit with quite a bit of pace.
Damn. Lefties are tricky. Their main move is to rally with their forehand (stronger side) against your weaker side (backhand). Ideally you want to reverse this, and rally from your forehand (stronger side) vs. his backhand side (weaker). If he tries getting into a forehand-to-backhand rally with you, remember you can run around your backhand to hit an inside-out forehand.
You can also practice your slice down the line, as this is an easier to control shot generally, and the low spin will hurt the old guy as he cheats over on his forehand side. Worst case scenario is that you hit it towards the middle of the court or a bit short, and you bring him to the net which he doesn’t like anyway.
His strategy with me is to put lots of top spin on the ball, then get me out wide so that I have to pop up an easy one.
     This is generally a good strategy he is using. Keeping the ball low with slice can stop someone from hitting heavy topspin because they can’t get much below the ball. If they do start hitting heavy top-spin at you, the best counter is a high heavy topspin ball to their backhand (weaker) side.
Depending on how hard/deep he hits his shots, you may be able to move in and volley them out of the air. I’m thinking of someone who hits high slow short balls with some top spin, that bounce high into the back court. If you move in, you can take these out of the air and then play at the net.
If I’m able to hit shots from wide on the court with decent top spin, I can usually hold him off. If I can get him running, I can win points.
     With an older guy who has his game plan down pat, you may be able to get him running by being generally unpredictable. Mix up your shots using slice, lobs, angled balls, drop shots, rush the net, etc. By changing your shots all the time, it means that he cannot fall into his usual pattern of play and he will need better movement and footwork to adapt to your changing threats.
I’ve tried to be a bit more aggressive with my net play, but unless I make shots that puts him on the defensive before attacking the net, he can make a pretty nice shot to bypass me as I don’t quite ahave the anticipatory skills to read where he’ll put it.
     This is a good realization, and it’s important to recognize that the approach shot is important. The main things that make a good approach shot are
1: high margin of error (don’t hit it out!)
2: Hit it down the line
3: Get within 1 racquet length of the net when volleying. No further back or you’re toast.
4: Don’t try to hit a winner, it’s just a transition shot to give you enough time to get to the net
5: Follow the ball to the net, covering the line. You should be standing between 1-3 feet from the center line, on the same side of the court as your approach shot. The closer your approach shot ball is to the sideline, the closer you should stand to that same sideline on your side of the court. The closer you are to the net, the less angle he has to pass you (but he can lob you more easily).  Always cover that down-the-line passing shot at all costs, the cross-court passing shot is a lower percentage play for him to attempt.
6: If he has lots of time to prepare for his passing shot, and you feel like a sitting duck, try head-feinting one way in an exaggerated fashion and then moving another way. The motion is often enough to get your opponent to look up from the ball to see what you’re doing, and then miss-hit it.
7: Don’t get discouraged!! If you go to the net, you WILL get passed. But you have to be tenacious and keep coming back, attacking. Even when he passes you, know that you made the right attacking play and forced him to come up with a good shot.
Other thoughts:
Lefties often have very large looping forehand swings, that let the racquet float around behind them. A common weakness is if you hit the ball right at them. They struggle to get out of their own way, and either make an error or hit the ball late (down the line) which you can anticipate, and then follow up with a forehand.

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