There are many different recommendations for the shots placement in tennis. I like two particular ones: first is based on a street light concept that splits the court into 3 depth dimension areas: red (the deepest), yellow (mid court) and green (closest to the net) progressively allowing and recommending more aggressive play depending on which zone the ball goes to and the player is in. (Positioning is a big factor in successful strategy implementation).
The second is based on its own name: “Circle of Death” – the area on the court that would be right in the middle, surrounding the service line and center line “T”. Keep the ball out of that area yourself, but recognize and take advantage of the balls that come to that area on your side.
Based mainly on these ideas I suggest players to picture Tic-Tac-Toe squares on each side of the court. Obviously the middle one is turning into “square or the box of death” and there are three rows corresponding with red, yellow and green areas. Additionally, there are 3 lanes, like three lanes on a highway: the right, the left, and the middle lanes. Those areas outline the lateral dimension of the court. (I am definitely returning to “dimensions” soon in later posts). Obviously, all the areas are rather conceptual and suggestive and the lines are not concrete court division lines. At the same time, they are easy to refer to and to follow as guidelines for most players:
When the ball is deep, play it back deep.
When the ball is in the mid range area, especially in the “Box of Death”, attack by directing shots away from opponent.
When the ball is short and you are at the net, play it back short (angles, drop shots) and mix with deep volleys away from opponent once again and keep it unpredictable.
At this point we are discussing 2 geometrical dimensions of strategy: very simplified and not spiced up with different flavors of spin, ball speed, player’s strengths and weaknesses, score, and many more. Even 3rd geometrical dimension of height is not discussed, yet.
Based on the plain 2 dimensional geometry and considering that both players positioned somewhere behind the baseline in a regular ready position for a baseline exchange, why do we play defensemost of the time? Because the ball comes deep. Where would you want to direct your defensive shot than? Deep, just “return the favor”. Here is interesting possibility: both players would play defense for some time, if they are good at keeping their shots deep. Or, if they don’t want to take a risk, even, if the ball comes shorter and easier, or, if the players are younger kids that figured that they can keep the ball in play waiting for the other person to make a mistake and they are too small, yet, to hit winners consistently, or, if players are “pushers” or whatever the reason could be. Tennis can be very “dull” sometimes when both players, consciously or not, rely on defense. There are situations like this in soccer sometimes in preliminary rounds of the World Cup, when both teams are OK with tie to qualify for the next round. Risk taking would be minimal. But in tennis there are no ties, even in 10 and under tennis. And even defensive both way rally/point will end up as a win for one player and a loss for the other.
Here are some basic psychological conflicts and demons that are quite possible for the player that lost: I am doing something wrong; my opponent is better, and even: “I suck…” All that after losing just one point that might have went long, because of that defensive, “push” exchange. Winning that type of point may be pretty tricky, also. Especially when you are younger, you may get conditioned to non risk taking attitude. You starting to know you can win by doing “bare” minimum and fear to make a mistake by going for more is still a fear after all. This can be a whole new chapter on “mental toughness.”
This brief example illustrates how very plain and “dull” strategy can still lead to full array of emotions and excitement.
But let’s stay on track with geometry. When the ball comes shorter, considering you are positioned behind the baseline, there are potentially, but not always, two advantages:
• you may have slower ball that gives you more time to set up (at least more time after the bounce) and
• You can set up inside the court closer to the mid court area or even inside that area to take the ball sooner. That second “trick”, if performed well, allows potential two more additional advantages:
o To take recovery time away from opponent and have larger “open court”, as well as
o Potentially better angle for placing the shot out of opponent’s reach.
This situation, in my opinion, definitely falls into the offense category. And where should we aim offensive shots? Virtually anywhere you want. Let’s start with away from opponent option. Second very logical choice is to hit behind the recovering opponent, wrong footing him or her. Both choices would suggest to play to the “outside lanes of the court”. That way it can be a winner or potentially “court opener” for the next shot.
I like one more court areas concept for offensive shots that seems relatively simple and interconnects with Tic-Tac-Toe grid. I call it “4 Corners”. Picture the deeper rectangle area of the court that is deeper than two service boxes. That rectangle has 4 corners: 2 deep ones and 2 short ones. Those are the “4 Corners” to choose as targets when attacking. These corners match with two deep quadrants of the Tic-Tac-Toe areas and two outside areas to the right and to the left from the center quadrant. Of course, the more choices you have at the time of attacking the worse it is. I think a lot of players can relate to the situation when changing mind about the shot selection right before the shot actually leads to the error. Solution, in my opinion, is to practice to hit aggressive shots to each of the 4 Corners to develop confidence in each of them, so when opportunity presents itself you just pick the one intuitively without thinking.
After successful offensive shots the most logical thing would be to proceed forward to the net, looking to finish the point with the volley or overhead. Ideally, from the 2 dimensional geometrical standpoint, you play volley in the shortest areas on the opponent’s side with opposite direction to the previous shot thus creating the largest contrast for court coverage. Overhead is to be directed away from opponent or behind with extra “zest”. This temporarily may complete the Tic-Tac-Toe and 4 Corners concepts until the 3rd geometrical dimension of height kicks in.