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Tennis 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 – DON’T 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.  Don’t worry about the other third.  That is reserved for you winning points on their errors.

Net positions with ball in the ad court

Net positions with ball in the center

Net position with ball in the deuce court

       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.   Don’t 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 opponent’s 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.

Hit overhead deep to opponent's backhand or ad court screen.

Hit deep overhead deep to opponent's backhand.

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 “Yours”.  Cutting off volleys to your left is fine, but not the overheads.

Serve deep down the middle or toward the sideline.  Vary positions.

Return serve.  Hit early to open space.

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 opponent’s 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 don’t have to try for the baseline.  That’s 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 it’s 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 won’t always hit the shot right, but you can always hit the right shot.

Short lob, protect corner, stay back.

Deep lob, step in, set up forehand.

Deep lob, set up forehand

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 it’s 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 you’re playing a friendly game, try experimenting with this concept of never, never hitting a drive from behind the baseline.

It's a small court.  Play is fast.  Reactions are quick.  Strategy beats power. 

 

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 partner’s, 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  “Watch the ball.”.  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.

 

TO THE TENNIS PLAYER

     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.

Serve - The serving stroke is similar to tennis, although, due to the shorter paddle, your extension is not as great.  What does change is attitude and confidence.  Since only one serve is allowed in paddle (Miss it and you lose the point.), and because you can’t afford to set up your opponent by easing it in, you learn to adjust to the single serve challenge with a combination of pace, spin, and placement.  All of this is a great help when you face making a second serve in tennis, with the game, set, or match riding on it.
Volley - Platform tennis is primarily a doubles game played on a court about one quarter the size of a tennis court.  The serving team always controls the net, so when your opponent drives the ball, you will only be a maximum of 25 feet (8 or 9 paces) from the driver, and usually less.  Result – you improve your volleying skills in the natural course of playing the game.
Court Coverage - Probably the most important benefit for the tennis player is that your eyes automatically adjust to seeing the ball right on the paddle of your opponent.  Your added skill in the volley is largely based on your earlier sighting of the ball, and this translates into, not only a better tennis volley, but also the ability to see the ball sooner and get one or two extra steps in support of your ground strokes.  You will be amazed at the balls you get to that used to be winners, or I should say losers.  Out of necessity, you train your eyes on the paddle court without even realizing it.
Overheads – Hitting overheads is a major part of playing platform tennis.  As a result, you will adapt by using footwork that positions you properly to hit the shot.  That alone is a great benefit to your tennis game, but there is more.  The overhead in paddle is not a power shot, but rather one of control, angles, positioning the ball, and depth.  It is not a shot hit thoughtlessly.  You must know exactly where to hit it and how hard, and this translates over to tennis where all too often the player simply smashes it.  Often points last for more than 20 shots, and any lapse in concentration while hitting overheads can lose the point.  It’s a thinking person’s game, which tennis should be, as well.
Ground strokes – In most cases, the only true ground stroke hit in paddle is the forehand drive.  There is more of a premium on hitting it early; that is, a step or two inside the baseline, than waiting behind the line and hitting it with more pace.  If you have a good tennis forehand, it will probably follow you onto the paddle court, but you won’t gain much advantage going from one game to the other.  In platform tennis the backhand is generally used to lob defensively, but there are some players who can drive the ball from both sides, and that’s a clear advantage.
Screen play – Once the ball bounces in your court, it is in play until it bounces a second time.  Of course, that is the same rule as in tennis, but in paddle it remains in play even if the ball hits the tensioned screen after the first bounce.  Therefore, a ball hit past you can be returned, having caromed off either one or two screens.  This changes the strategy of the game from one of power to one of touch and teamwork with your partner.  Screen play has nothing to do with tennis, but it adds a dimension to paddle that puts a premium on patience, concentration, and control.
Speed - Due to the small size of the court, you will not have any long distances to run at top speed.  Instead, you develop quickness of not only the hands, but also your feet.  Reactions speed up because of the confined space and early sighting of the ball.  You won't get from point A to point B on the tennis court any faster in feet per second, but you will have an earlier start and a quicker return to position due to the skills picked up on the paddle court.

     If you ever have the opportunity to play platform tennis, and you are not inclined to do so, please don’t 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 couldn’t hurt.

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