Historically, most Spanish players have been averse to attacking the net. Typically they would be content to grind from deep behind the baseline and win points through attrition and defense. That stereotype has now been shattered in the modern pro game. Spanish players have become well known for their offensive capabilities, particularly their forehand weapons, and they have also become well-rounded all court players who can finish consistently at the net.
Rafael Nadal is a prime example and exemplifies this trend on the ATP Tour. Nadal has become more aggressive over the course of his career and also more willing to attack the net. Carlos Alcaraz is another good example, and he is a fantastic Next Gen player with a prototypical modern Spanish all-court game.
I’ve noticed in my travels throughout Spain that the net attack and transition game are taught differently than in the US and other countries. In the US and other fast court dominated countries, such as England and Australia, the net is usually regarded as the ultimate place to finish points and to dominate your opponent. In Spain, however, coaches and players have a more nuanced and different philosophy regarding the net attack.
From the Spanish perspective, the net is potentially advantageous—but also potentially very dangerous. I’ve observed that most American coaches and players don’t view the net that way. Spanish players and coaches understand that being at the net is not ALWAYS a good thing and that you can win points quickly there —but also lose points quickly too.
Therefore, because of this more nuanced understanding, Spanish players tend to be more circumspect and judicious in terms of attacking the net. They are willing to move forward but only after good point construction and a thorough assessment and calculation of the risks and benefits. The legendary Spanish coach and player Jose Higueras describes this as being a “responsible” attacking player. He teaches his athletes to be responsible and selective when choosing to approach the net.
This mature and conservative style is a hallmark of the Spanish mindset vis-à-vis attacking the net.
Selectivity is very important from the Spanish point of view. By being more selective, the approaching player increases the odds of winning the net point and often will produce a win/loss point ratio at the net of 60-70 percent, which is remarkably high. Typically, analytically speaking, Spanish coaches and players like to make fewer total approaches per match with a higher win/loss percentage while players from other countries attack the net more frequently and have a win/loss ratio closer to 50 percent. From a Spanish perspective, a close to 50/50 win/loss ratio means the player is probably not approaching responsibly—assuming they have good net skills.
To simplify the discussion, here are some important bullet point differences between the American net attack style and the Spanish that I have observed over the years:
►In the US, attacking the net is usually viewed as the ultimate finishing move. Players are often taught that they should always finish points by moving forward.
►In Spain, attacking the net is generally viewed as one of many viable options to win the point. Players can move forward to win, but can also move backward to win.
►In the US, players are typically taught to take every short ball and go to net.
►In Spain, players are typically taught to selectively take some short balls to net while incorporating other short balls strategies such as drop shot and forehand winner. This creates some uncertainty for the defender and less predictability by the attacker.
►In the US, there is a predominant philosophy that players should approach down the line.
►In Spain, famous coaches like the legend William Pato Alvarez actually argue for the efficacy of the crosscourt and crosscourt angled approach shot.
►In the US, it’s common for players to be taught to slice deep and approach the net.
►In Spain, the slice approach is not the preferred way to attack the net. For example, Luis Bruguera, the revered Spanish coach, discourages the slice approach in most instances, especially on clay. Rather, forehand topspin drive or topspin swing volley are the preferred shots to approach with.
►In the US, players are commonly taught to hit the first volley deep and players almost always volley flat or with underspin. Topspin swinging volleys are rarely encouraged or taught.
►In Spain, players are encouraged to look for short angled volleys and drop shot volleys, even on first volleys. Topspin swinging volleys are actively taught as an excellent way to finish points.
►In the US, going to net is almost always viewed as giving the advantage to the attacking player. Going to the net means the attacking player is “applying pressure” to the defender, who will eventually buckle.
►In Spain, there is a recognition that the net is a double-edged sword and can be just as advantageous for the defender as the attacker. The Spanish believe that a good defender can often pick apart and defeat a net rusher under the right circumstances.
►In the US, serve and volley is regarded as a bold strategy or game style.
►In Spain, serve and volley is a dangerous tactic to be cautiously employed.
So how do you view going to the net? Can you see the interesting differences between the Spanish way and the American way? Who is right in your view?
In the end, the better way can often depend on the speed of the surface, the matchup between players, and the skills of the player attacking and also defending. If the court surface is slow and the defender passes well, it’s probably smarter to move to the net, or “rise” to the net (as they say in Spain) very selectively. If the court is fast and the defender struggles to pass, attacking the net more aggressively may be the winning way to play.
In the end analysis, the Spanish style of attacking the net is more balanced and conservative, and I believe makes for a great foundation to teach most players of all levels and personalities—especially younger kids. On top of this foundation, it’s fairly simple to accommodate the rare serve-volley player or ultra aggressive net rusher as a higher level later developmental stage.
In my latest video and audio podcast, Prodigy Maker Show Episode 57, I discussed this topic at length. Check it out on your favorite podcasting platform or the Chris Lewit YouTube channel.
Chris Lewit is a former number one for Cornell and pro circuit player. He is a high-performance coach, educator, and the author of two best-selling books: The Secrets of Spanish Tennis and The Tennis Technique Bible. He has coached numerous top 10 nationally-ranked players and is known for his expertise in building the foundations of young prodigies. Chris is currently working towards an advanced degree in Kinesiology/Exercise Science with a focus on Biomechanics. Chris coaches in NYC and year-round at his high performance tennis academy in Manchester, VT, where players can live and train the Spanish Way full-time or short-term. He may be reached by phone at (914) 462-2912, e-mail Chris@chrislewit.com or visit ChrisLewit.com.