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Respected tennis writer Joel Drucker answers your questions about the thrills and spills of the recreational player. Got a hole in your game or a question for Joel? Drop him an email at therovingplayer@thetennischannel.com and you may find yourself in a future column.
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Q) Dear Roving Player:
What's the key to becoming better at serve-and-volley tennis?
-John, Ohio

A)  Dear John:

The first step calls for understanding the concept behind netrushing. Because so much of contemporary tennis at all levels emphasizes crushing groundstrokes, there's a lot less attention paid these days to the art of pressuring opponents into making mistakes. But if you want to be a netrusher, you better understand a different concept: cumulative pressure. In other words, the purpose of coming to net is not to hit winners. The purpose of coming to net is to force your opponent to try difficult passing shots. Yes, you'll have chances to put away volleys, but that's secondary to the goal of striking them in a way that helps you establish good court position and compromises your opponents. Once you grasp that philosophy, then it's a matter of practice and gaining experience. Keep in mind that yes, there will come times when you'll be passed. But the idea of netrushing is that over the long haul the odds are in your favor. At crunch-time, it's usually easier to hit a volley than a passing shot. Another key factor: within two to three games, you should be able to guess with 80 percent accuracy where your opponent's service return will be going. For example, as a lefthander serving in the ad court, I know that when hit to the backhand against my friend Cliff that most of his shots will go down the line. At heart, I will concede the crosscourt until he can hit it at least three times. If he can do both, then the guesswork is harder. Still, this degree of knowledge should dramatically aid your efforts to strike that first volley. But most of all, practice. Commit to playing entire matches serving and volleying. Make sure to come in both of your serves in doubles. And once in a while make time to merely practice and serve and volley 30-40 straight points. 


Q) Dear Roving Player:
One of my opponents is wildly inconsistent. He hits some great shots, but then he'll hand me one point after another. I'd like to think I should kill him, but somehow he makes just enough of those wacky shots to stay in every match, and it's very hard to tell what he's going to do point to point. How do I figure this guy out?
-Bewildered

Dear Bewildered:

Indeed, it's tricky to go up against these slashers. In many ways, the match feels like it has nothing to do with you. But it does. The first thing required is the proper attitude. If indeed this guy can hit 35 winners, so be it. Your job is to hit enough of the right shots that force him to attempt to do just that. If he makes them, clap your hands and say "well done." But along the way, you must play with precision and intelligence. Treat each of his errors simply as one point. Ditto for his winners. If his backhand is the weaker side, don't let his one running backhand down-the-line sizzler deter you from approaching to that side. Should he get hot and start winning one point after another, take a look and see if you're doing anything to derail him. Have you thrown in a moonball? Made a surprise venture to the net? Taken more time in between points? People who play this way thrive on a kind of mindless, traffic-free speed trip down the highway. Your mission: throw up smart roadblocks. 


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Oakland-based Joel Drucker is one of the world's leading tennis writers. Author of the book, Jimmy Connors Saved My Life, Drucker's work has appeared in a wide range of print and broadcast media, including Tennis, USTA Magazine, ESPN, CBS and The Tennis Channel. For The Tennis Channel he's worked as an on-air analyst and is co-producer of the program, Center Court with Chris Myers. An avid recreational player, Drucker's lefthanded 4.5 game attempts to combine the tactical array of Brad Gilbert with the variety of John McEnroe, a style he fondly refers to as "Spinning Ugly."