Tennis is not just a physical sport; it is incredibly tactical as well. Having a variety of shots in your repertoire is vitally important, but without understanding when it is appropriate to employ each shot in your arsenal, a smarter player could beat you even if your technique is far superior to theirs. Though there are a wide variety of shots, and there can always be exceptions, the majority of shots can be broken down into three categories depending on your court positioning and the position of your opponent. These categories are as follows: Defensive shots, neutral shots and offensive shots.
Defensive shots are hit when you opponent is in control of the point. Usually, you would be in a vulnerable court position, generally far behind the baseline. You may also hit a defensive shot when you are on the run or if a large part of the court is open. The idea of a defensive shot is to keep the ball in play and hopefully allow yourself time to get into a better position before the next shot. Oftentimes, this means that you want to hit them high over the net, deep, cross-court and with topspin. The higher and deeper you hit the ball, the more time you buy to try to reposition yourself. Cross-court shots are safer in general and your opponent’s highest percentage shot would be back to you. If you hit down the line from a defensive position, your opponent can attempt to change the direction of the ball and go to the open court with less risk then off of a cross-court shot. Topspin will ensure a higher bounce, making it more difficult for your opponent to reply with an aggressive shot.
Neutral shots are your average dependable shots. Generally, you will hit these shots standing relatively close to the baseline. They are not meant to win the point, but to keep you in the point, and ideally, give you the upper hand so you can play more aggressive shots later in the point. Since the tennis court is a rectangle, the longest distance is corner to corner diagonally, and because the net is lowest in the middle cross-court shots are safer for simply geometric reasons, as you have the most court you can hit to before the ball goes long, and the lowest part of the net to worry about clearing. For these reasons, the majority of neutral shots should be played cross-court.
Offensive shots are usually employed later on in the point when your opponent is in a defensive position (far behind the baseline or where they leave a lot of court open) or if you are in an offensive position (moving into the court, either transitioning to the net off the ground or playing the ball out of the air.) It is safer to play shots down the line from inside the baseline, and as you get closer to the net, the angles you can create to open up the court get better and better, and the time your opponent has before having to return the next shot, you hit gets shorter and shorter, two huge advantages.
As a general rule of thumb, the more you move into the court, the safer it is to take a little risk and go for more aggressive shots with lower clearance over the net, and the further back you are, the safer you want to play keeping the ball well over the net to increase its flight time and help you to better position yourself. If you begin to play shots more intelligently based on your positioning and that of your opponent, the percentages will be on your side to construct better points to get yourself out of jeopardy and to get your opponent into trouble.
<p>Daniel Kresh is a USPTA-certified tennis professional who recently accepted the positions of director of junior tennis and assistant tennis professional at the Three Village Tennis Club in Setauket, N.Y. He is also the assistant professional at The Port Jefferson Country Club at Harbor Hills. He may be reached by e-mail at <a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.</p>