Speed control is a topic in tennis that is not given as much attention by players as much as perhaps mechanics or strategy, but it is equally as important. Utilizing speed control adds an extra dimension to your game which can work for you to help you win more points over tough opponents.
Here’s how it works …
When in a match, or even just hitting with another player, there is a rhythm that develops from the ball being struck back and forth. This cadence that develops is something that is taken note of subconsciously. When examined though we can consciously change that cadence to make our opponents feel uncomfortable and illicit mistakes and create fortunate opportunities for ourselves.
What I do in order to make the concept of speed control work for me is to give myself a scale of one through five, where one is the easiest I can hit a ball while not hitting the net and five is the very hardest I can hit the ball while still keeping it in play. Most of my drop shots are going to be around a one or two, my aggressive approach shots are going to be around a four, and my serves and overheads are usually around a five.
While rallying with an opponent, the cadence that develops is usually a 3-3 rhythm. Sometimes when things get heated and there is a lot of action going on this will increase to a 4-4 rhythm. At times, I’ll be on the defensive and a 2-4 rhythm will develop. This is where my opponent is hitting the ball at a speed around four and I’m returning the ball at a speed of around two. It is most often the case that when you are in trouble, you’ll slow down the pace of the point with a slice, lob or just a slower ball.
Now that you have given yourself a scale (meaning that you know what your own personal one through five is), you can use that information to throw your opponent off balance. In my last article, I talked about how our bodies and minds are constantly seeking equilibrium; this concept applies to speed control as well. In the course of a point, the two players will usually settle into a particular rhythm that is usually only broken when one player makes a mistake. You can change the rhythm purposefully though to try to gain an advantage. Varying the speed at which you strike the ball makes you unpredictable and makes your opponent think more, eliciting more errors from them, and more opportunities for you.
The more tools you have in your toolbox, the better prepared you will be for any opponent. The next match you play, consider giving your opponent a hard five serve, then a high two ball six feet over the net, followed by a fast four approach shot, finishing off with a one drop shot. Changing the speed at which you hit the ball gives you an edge over opponents since most don’t want to think that much on the court, it’s much easier to settle into an easy 3-3 rally.
Take advantage of your opponent with speed control. Be well and safe.