FOR TENNIS PLAYERS
HAWORTH PLATFORM TENNIS ASSOCIATION, INC.
FOR PADDLE PLAYERS
SOME HELPFUL PADDLE HINTS
Platform tennis can be a frustrating game when you see a player with obviously less physical talent absolutely annihilate you. The reason, of course, is that such people know how to play the game, while others who run faster, hit harder, and have greater emotion never seem to get it.
Here are a few of their secrets, which most of us actually know, but often fail to put in practice:
1. Most points are decided by errors, not winning shots. First rule of the game Ė DONíT MISS!! Take the high percentage shot. Be patient. Your chance will come if you keep the ball in play. Everyone makes physical errors, but if you reduce the number of mental mistakes, your game will improve tremendously. You might not have the skills of a top ranking player, but you can be world class on strategy.
2. Forget about the one shot winner. Against decent competition, that is by definition a low percentage shot. Winning shots are usually preceded by one or two shots that force the opposition out of position, making the winner an easy play.
3. Concentrate on your position in tandem with your partner. Think about how many points you have lost, not because the opponent has forced you out of position, but rather you were not in the right place to begin with.
A. Together with your partner, you can only cover about two thirds of the width of the court. Therefore, you must defend the portion where the ball is most likely to go; that is, where the high percentage shot is likely to go. Donít worry about the other third. That is reserved for you winning points on their errors.
B. While at net, if the ball is coming from the direction of the right corner, your side should be lined up to cover the right two thirds of the court. As the ball is returned from other portions of their backcourt, you both shift accordingly to form a wall that cannot be penetrated. Donít get lazy. Smart players will take advantage of open spaces that are easy to get to. Keep your spacing about two arm lengths, and move your position, not based on where your opponent is, but on the location of the ball.
C. Point B discusses lateral positioning, but you also have to be aware of depth. Nothing causes more of a problem than a deep lob. If you are close to the net, it can be a struggle to cover the area behind the service line. Usually your opponent will tip off the type of shot to be hit. Here concentration plays an important role. You must anticipate if a lob is going to be hit, both by the opponentís preparation before hitting the ball, and based on the observed pattern of his or her strategy. Do not be an idle observer. Back off the net a couple of steps if you anticipate a lob so you can maintain balance and the ability to move early to where the next shot is coming from. Try not to hit overheads alternately from one corner to the other because it creates too much movement at the net. That often causes those unwanted open spaces down the middle or up the line.
4. Where should you hit the overhead? In most cases it is best to hit to the backhand of either opponent. That causes a defensive return, although some players have the skill to drive from both sides. In that event, and at any other time, it is essential to keep the ball deep by having it bounce beyond the service line at a medium or slower pace. As long as you keep the opposition behind their baseline, there is a good chance you can handle any type of return. Also, when both you and your partner are right-handed, it is better to keep the ball either in the center or in the ad court. Then the proper teamwork is for you, when you are on the right side at the net, to give your partner all balls lobbed over your left shoulder or further to the left. Do not move left to hit a right-handed overhead. Just say ďYoursĒ. Cutting off volleys to your left is fine, but not the overheads.
5. The players at net always have the advantage. They control play unless they allow the opposition a high percentage offensive shot. The net players are most vulnerable on the return of serve because the server starts the point from behind the baseline. People with a hard serve often do not have time to get all the way to net, so they are subject to a return drive or chip beneath knee level. This creates a tough upward volley that often turns over control of the point. Conversely, a slower serve gives the server more time to get close to the net for an effective volley, but it also gives the opponent a better chance to move in and hit the drive. Either way, the pace of the serve can work against you, so the return becomes the only time at which the net team is at a disadvantage. To partially offset this, properly positioning the serve is the best answer. Find a comfort zone regarding pace that gives you confidence that the ball will be fairly put in play, and then work on positioning the ball to the opponentís weakness. Depth is always good. Try to stay out of the middle of the service box, and mix up your positions down the middle line and to the outside. Consider hitting right at the opponent, which forces her/him to move away from the ball while trying to hit an effective shot. If you have the ability to put spin on the ball, that is another variable that makes it somewhat more difficult to return, especially if the court is wet. The more you can vary the service speed, location, and spin, the more effective it will be, but always remember that the objective of the service is to gain control of the net, not to win the point outright.
6. Half the time you spend in the backcourt trying to penetrate the net players. The temptation is to blast a big single shot winner, but that is a high risk approach that gives your opponents too many easy points. If you are winning many points with your drives, be honest with yourself. Are they really winners, or just volleying errors? If the latter, be careful about shaping your everyday strategy based on results playing inferior competition. The drive is a strategic tool that seldom wins points when the other team is in the proper position at net. Therefore, the first objective is to get them out of position and open up some high percentage space. The way to do this is to observe what the opposition is doing, and discuss this with your partner. If they are both hugging the net, the lob can really be effective. You donít have to try for the baseline. Thatís the one shot winner mentality. As much as possible, get it behind the service line. After several lobs like that, one or both will change position to two or three steps off the net. Then you can look for an opportunity to drive or chip the ball at their feet, opening up a potential change of point control. To be an excellent offensive player, you must always hit to the high percentage open space. When itís not there, work to create it. When you are in the backcourt, it is your job to keep the point going, going, and going until the proper opportunity presents itself. Then go for it. You wonít always hit the shot right, but you can always hit the right shot.
7. When you are back, that is primarily a defensive position that you are attempting to turn into an offensive opportunity. Your thought process should be to defend. Keep the ball in play. An excellent position is to remain deep about 1 to 2 steps from the back screen, and in front of the rear post closest to your corner, or 1 step toward the corner. That gives you the ability to block shots off the deck that are going into the corner while allowing you to play both single and double screen shots with a minimum of movement. To turn this defensive posture into offense, you must recognize the potential before your opponent even hits his shot. Some of the best chances come when there is a deep lob down either line beyond the service line or when the player must volley the ball from below the top of the net. Be ready to come in to pounce on a weak return. The earlier you hit your offensive shot, the better the chance for success. You want to strike the ball somewhere inside the baseline, giving your opponent less time to return to a proper position. Always hit to an open space, not directly at a player. The fastest reaction a person has is in self defense, and itís also the shortest movement of the paddle when the ball is coming right at you. When a ball is lobbed deep down your side, you should step away from the corner a step or two because the corner would not be available for the overhead coming your way. That is when you want to set yourself up for an offensive drive. If the ball does not come your way, retreat to position A, and start the process all over again. Patience is the best strategy from the backcourt. The other side is doing all the work, while you simply move a step here and a step there to keep the ball in play. Many players think that any ball to the forehand is a driving opportunity. If you are behind the baseline, and the opposition is in good volleying position, the shot selection should be a lob. The next time youíre playing a friendly game, try experimenting with this concept of never, never hitting a drive from behind the baseline.
8. Paddle is a sport of fast reactions, both physically and mentally. There are a lot of shots hit in a small space and at short time intervals. You have to make a multitude of fast decisions: shot selection, your shot or your partnerís, the ball is staying in or going out, ball placement, etc. In the middle of all this you and/or your partner could be having an off day. How do you break out of this negative rut? There are some old standbys to get you back on a positive path. First, focus on the ball, not on the other player or where you intend hitting the ball. While this seems elementary, it requires enormous concentration to continue throughout a match. Whenever you hit an errant shot, say to yourself ďWatch the ball.Ē. Tell your partner to remind you, which also serves to remind your partner. Second, put yourself in a ready position. The knees should be slightly flexed with your weight forward. The paddle should be around waist level and held a few inches from your body. Your muscles are then ready to instantly respond. Finally, cooperate with your partner and be supportive. Any negative vibes will lead to poor decision making.
Most platform tennis players have had some experience with tennis. However, there are many tennis enthusiasts who believe that paddle in some way will be harmful to their game. In fact, the reverse is true.
Paddle will neither help nor hinder your ground strokes. In this sense, they are different games, but you will not lose the muscle memory of your tennis strokes. Instead, you will benefit from several other aspects of platform tennis.
If you ever have the opportunity to play platform tennis, and you are not inclined to do so, please donít offer as an excuse that you fear it will hurt your tennis game. It just is not so, and there are tens of thousands of tennis enthusiasts constantly on the paddle courts around the country who will attest to that. Give it a try. It couldnít hurt.