Hitting cross-court or down the line is always the big question for any player at any level. The cross-court shot is the high percentage shot over the low part of the net, while down the line is the lower percentage shot because it is over the high part of the net.
There is a tactical side of both options. The simple approach is to stay cross-court while you are behind the baseline, and then hammer the shot down the line only when you are on or inside the baseline. The down the line shot is the kill shot and is best played when you have a short ball to drive.
I like to take it to the next level. Extraordinary players like Andre Agassi or a modern day great like Novak Djokovic use their backhand drive down the line as a massive weapon. Agassi would always feel that his game was on when his backhand drive down the line was on target. In the game, we see the forehand being the dominant weapon from the ground. Most players look to run around the backhand side as much as possible to rip the forehand to control the rallies. Agassi and Djokovic do the same. Their “backhand down the line play” is used AGAINST an opponent who runs around the backhand and rips an inside-out forehand to the Agassi or Djoker backhand.
As soon as that sequence begins to unfold, our heroes are waiting to spring the backhand trap and fire down the line while the opponent has left that side of the court exposed. The dominance of Djoker over Rafael Nadal in 2011 is a great example of this deadly down the line play. Rafa is a lefty, so the dynamic is a little different, but Djokovic taking Rafa’s lefty forehand and redirecting the ball down the line works right into the weaker backhand groundie of Rafa. You can You Tube last year’s U.S. Open Finals match and see this pattern played out over and over.
I'm a big fan of down the line play on both sides. On any surface at any time the down the line, this shot can change the look of any baseline exchange. I used it often when I felt outmatched from the ground, and going down the line first put me in control of the point if I was able to execute the first ripping shot down the line.
Use your down the line shot next time you compete and always remember what the Big Guy says: "It’s not about the big fish eating the little fish. It’s about the fast eating the slow."
Go hit some winners!
Raised in Ludington, Mich., Luke Jensen’s resume includes 10 ATP Tour doubles titles. He was also a member of the U.S. Davis Cup teams that reached the finals in 1991 and won in 1992. His ambidextrous play, including his ability to serve the ball with either hand at 130 mph, earned him the nickname “Dual Hand Luke.” Luke is currently director of racket sports at West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, N.Y. He may be reached by phone at (315) 403-0752 or e-mail LukeJensen84@yahoo.com.