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Brain Game: Seven Ways to Force an Error

7/20/2011 6:00:00 PM

by Craig O'Shannessy

As we know, 70% of all points end with an error. That's the reality of our game, and we need to think and play accordingly. So our primary strategy is to force errors from our opponent. But what's the best way to do that?

Glad you asked.

Here are the 7 ways to force an error from your opponent.

1. Consistency
2. Direction
3. Depth
4. Height
5. Spin
6. Power
7. Pressure

Let's understand these key concepts and how they relate to one another.

Consistency - Think Lleyton Hewitt. Think David Ferrer. Think about being the guy on the other side of the court, knowing that one more ball is coming back into play. You know your opponent is not going to miss. The rally is already 20 shots long. You know you should stay in a cross court pattern, but you have had enough. You mentally crack and pull the trigger down the line and go for a low percentage shot that you HOPE goes in - but misses. Guys like Hewitt force you to hit a shot you don't really want to hit. They know they can hit one more ball over the net than you, and they turn the point into a battle of patience and attrition. Consistency can definitely force you into making some bad decisions.

Direction - This one works a couple of ways. Your opponent constantly pounds the ball in one direction, probably to your backhand, and it forces you to go for a low percentage shot to try and get out of the pattern. Direction also attacks your shot tolerance. I know you can one or two backhands, but can you make 5 in a row? I doubt it. Direction is also side to side - the lung burning, hamstring popping sideline to sideline running that Agassi would inflict on his opponents. You can hit it in the same direction, or change directions, and be just as successful at forcing errors.

Depth - This is the key to the start of every point of tennis at every level on the planet - hit it deep. The player that hits the ball deeper first gets control of the point first. Making the ball land at least half way back between the service line and the baseline makes it very difficult for your opponent to step into and attack. Most likely, you will be pushing your opponent further back behind the baseline, pushing them onto their back foot, and delivering a weak ball back to you that you can dominate with. Then you can use direction. Depth comes before direction at the start of the rally. Depth is also drop shots. Hitting the ball short in the court is also a very effective weapon that drags the baseline grinder out of his trench. This is a fantastic surprise play that should be worked on a lot in practice before you start using it in matches. Go deep early in the point, and you will force a bucket load of errors.

Height - Let's put it this way - hands up if you like to hit high backhands? I didn't think so. Getting the ball up high out of your opponent's strike zone is an awesome tactic. Most players like to make contact between their hips and their shoulders, but who likes hitting it above their head? I am not sure Federer likes hitting high backhands every single point against Nadal. Height also means low as well. Use your slice to keep the ball low and under your opponent's strike zone. A lot of players will dump this low ball straight into the net. Figure out how to use height to your advantage against your next opponent, and you will be banking on a steady stream of errors from them.

Spin - Spin spin, and more spin. Heavy topspin is a staple of our game. It not only helps to keep our powerful groundstrokes in the court, but it jumps up and makes a very tough shot for the opponent. A hard, kicking topspin is a fantastic ball to force errors with. It messes with your opponent's timing and kicks off the court in such a way that it makes it very difficult to attack. A lot of opponents will still try and do too much with this ball, and that's where the errors start flowing. Spin also means backspin or slice, and that will skid through and also make a very tough ball. Then you can vary your spins and mix them around, giving your opponent no rhythm at all. Spin is a little beauty!

Power - Ahh yes, power. Where have you been all my life? Hitting the ball hard takes critical time away from your opponent's preperation and will rush them into hitting a weaker shot. Power also means weight of the ball. Hitting the ball hard changes the inertia of the ball, and makes it a lot heavier to handle. That's not fun to deal with. Power also means hiting the ball softer - like with very little power. Who likes playing a pusher? Not me that's for sure. Giving your opponent no power at all is a complete pain for them. Everyone wants some power to work with. So use both ends of the spectrum to force errors from your opponent.

Pressure - This is the pressure of your court position. You opponent misses their first serve, and they bounce the ball and look up at you getting ready to hit their second serve. You look at them, and take a couple of steps into the court and put some pressure on their 2nd serve. They double fault. Thanks for coming. You approach the net and force the passing shot wide with the pressure of your court position. You are in a grinding baseline rally and improve your position up to the baseline and your opponent feels it. They know you are just waiting for a short ball to pounce on. Your court position makes them hit it a little deeper than they normally would, and they hit it long. The pressure of your court position just won the point. Applying pressure to your opponent in a number of ways can force errors all over the shop.

Multiplying

Think of it like this. You are in a rally, and you start to get control because you are doing one of the 7 really well. Maybe it's a deep ball. Maybe you crack a hard groundie. Whatever it is, it has just given you control.

Think of it like an arm wrestle. Getting control of just one of these 7 is like pushing your opponent's hand down to a 45 degree angle in that arm wrestle. You can feel you have got control. You can see you have got control. Well, in the point, you have now got a slower, weaker ball to hit.

Now imagine getting two of the 7 ways to force an error both happening at once. Think of power and spin, or direction and depth, or height and consitstency. When you get two working together at the same time, your opponent's ball will nearly always be so weak it comes back only into the service boxes. That's all they can manage.

Now the ultimate - combine three together on the same shot. Let's go with height, spin and direction, or power, depth and pressure. Doesn't really matter what 3 - just make it 3 - and the ball will not come back into the court. Three is the magic number to force an error almost every single time. Sensational!

The Diamond

All 7 have made the list because they all are great at forcing errors. They are the all-stars. They are the crown jewels. But there is only one diamond. There is a ruby, a saphire, an Australian opal, topaz, etc., but there is only one diamond on that list. One of them is better at forcing errors than the rest. One of them is so special it is gets diamond status.

Which one is it?

Ok - let's play the scroll down game, and see if got it right. Scroll down slowly, and no cheating.
 
What do you think the diamond is?

The diamond is......

DEPTH! - Congratulations for making it this far down the page. If you guessed depth, go and reward yourself with some peach cobbler. Depth is indeed the diamond. Hitting the ball deep will force more errors than the others. It's so hard to handle deep balls. So hard to take them consistently on the rise. Depth is your #1 weapon when trying to force errors.

Depth is the diamond.

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Craig has worked extensively on the ATP and WTA tours the past 15 years, and is currently working with South African #1 and Top #60 player Kevin Anderson. Craig’s work focuses on developing the right style for the player, creating a winning match-up, and access to the world’s best data base of pro matches. Come on tour with Craig and see what it’s like behind the scenes. Click here for more instruction and subscription info for The Brain Game.