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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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Q)Dear Roving Player:
I am a baseline singles player, but am trying to add some diversity to my game. I would like to be more aggressive with my shots. When should I come in for the approach?
-Crosscourt Forehand Girl
A)Dear Crosscourt Forehand Girl:
It's a good thing your name isn't Down the Line Backhand Girl, as by favoring that low percentage shot you'd be starting from a very tough position. But a crosscourt forehand is a great base for improvement.
Even if you only play twice a week, you can be more aggressive not by rushing points, but by looking for ways to elicit a short ball. And by short ball, I mean any ball that's even two feet behind the service line.
To help you become more aggressive, let's start with your namesake shot. Do you ever try and take pace off it and roll it crosscourt and short to get your opponent off the court? Or how about aiming it even higher over the net, a deep, crosscourt moonball? Or the occasional drop shot? All of these can be exceptionally nasty for your opponents.
Once you've elicited the short ball, then it's time to think in terms of a two-shot combo. Rather than try and hit a winner, keep in mind that you've established superb court position. So instead, hit a tidy down-the-line approach shot and get yourself into the net position. Once you're up there, you're in the ideal position for aggression: You have forced your opponent to try and pull off a very good shot. This is what people overlook about net play. The purpose of coming to net is not to hit volley winners but to force passing shot errors. Yes, you'll get your share of winners, but most of all, you're trying to disturb your opponent's tempo.
Finally, to ensure your aggression pays off, put in a lot of practice time on your overhead. Far too many recreational players dread lobs. Accomplished aggressors look forward to hitting overheads. Q)Dear Roving Player: I am a 4.0+ player that enjoys playing singles and doubles. In singles, I hold my own pretty well and play against all players, even those rated higher than me. But in doubles, my friend and I keep losing to 4.0 teams that we should be doing better against. My friend is a 3.5 player. I try to poach, change formations, etc., but we are still having trouble. To me, a 4.0+ and a 3.5 should be able to at least hang with two 4.0's. Any ideas?
It all depends on how skilled the respective doubles players are. For example, you and your 3.5 partner might each be far better receiving in the ad court. Who bites the bullet and moves over depends on a number of questions related to strokes, how the point is built, etc. On another front, just how much are you able to take command of the court and cover for your weaker partner? Or, for that matter, how good are the two 4.0 players? If they're a cohesive doubles team and effective at exposing your partner, you're in for it. But if they're just a pick-up pair, indeed you should be able to hang.
Here's a new way to think about this: The issue is one of deployment. In other words, how are you going to best take advantage of your 3.5 partner's particular skills and keep his weaknesses in the closet? If you're competing seriously rather than merely playing a practice match, do not make the mistake of merely letting him try and be a versatile player. Instead, look for ways to maximize his strengths. If he's a good volleyer, tell him to get closer to the net and declare that you will cover any lobs. If he's got a good serve, maybe he should serve first so that you can take charge at the net. Do not - repeat, do not - let him try and hit winning service returns or aces. But encourage him to lob early and often. Email Joel with your question.
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l View past columnsOakland-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."