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Positionally adapting to all the shots

July 7, 2010
By Jak Beardsworth

An earlier column addressed the importance of utilizing an energized brand of footwork in order to be in “the right place at the right time,” and, as a direct result, enjoy being a consistently smooth ball striker.

    When playing in the back of the court, an all-important “spacing” component — adjusting to the particular  trajectory, speed, spin and bounce point of an approaching ball both laterally and in the more challenging forward-back positional dynamic as well — is the GPS of the when and where to be in order to best return shots cleanly.

    Good news: There are basically only three distinct types of incoming shots that have to be recognized. Get dialed in by first identifying the most common, one that an opponent has struck with nominal speed, clears the net by a margin of approximately 3 to 4 feet, doesn’t land particularly deep in the court, and stays relatively low off the bounce.

    Allowing this ball to descend from its post-bounce high point down into your “wheelhouse” — knee to mid-thigh high — represents the most anatomically natural hitting zone where good things usually happen.

    Approaching balls that exhibit a pronounced “rainbow” trajectory, most often at a notably slower pace in clubland but with similar depth, signals a different positional tactic. Now, instead of attempting to allow this high-bouncing floater to drop low, it’s far more efficient, doable, reliable and aggressive to meet this ball right at its apex or highest point after bouncing. Not only will this tactic rob your opponent of some recovery time, but also simultaneously allow you to dictate play versus these “fluff-a-nutters” instead of vice versa.

    You’ll also have to respond quickly to the occasional fast-approaching “laser beam” that lands extremely deep and has considerable “gas” off the bounce. These shots must be played on the rise, or immediately after the ball has bounced at a height no higher than shin high. Trying to escape by retreating farther back into the court is best left to incredibly fit speedsters like Rafa Nadal.

    Holding your ground, getting down low, and absorbing the blow on the short hop with a smothering and slowed swing will keep you in the point and send an intimidating message to your opponent as well: “Is that all you’ve got!”

    At times awkward “tweeners” will complicate matters in that a hitting position that suits an approaching ball best is not quite achievable even with the best footwork. In those instances striking the ball in front, no matter what, as it’s descending or ascending, trumps all else.

    Reading and differentiating opponent’s shots, then adjusting your spacing accordingly — particularly the forward-back aspect — will allow you to produce your best and most efficient groundies and insure that you’re playing the ball instead of the ball playing you.

Jak Beardsworth (USPTA) is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Resort. He can be reached by e-mail at, 941-626-0097, or through his website:    


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