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‘Use their pace and laugh in their face’

Tennis tips

September 1, 2010
By JAK BEARDSWORTH, Special to the News

One of the great equalizers in tennis is the ability to effectively negate an opponent’s  power game — their shots that have extra speed, depth, and “gas” off the bounce.

    Dealing with these penetrating “$100 balls,” the ones that can be run down, represents an exceptional opportunity to send a challenging message to an opponent fully expecting a winning outcome: “Is that all you’ve got?”

    Being consistently able to absorb, smother and neutralize any big blasts, nothing more, and routinely re-directing them back across the net will get an opponent’s attention in short order (note the jaw drops).

    Too often, upon recognizing an incoming bomb, players panic and foolishly fight the ball, attempting to match or even surpass its pace.

    No, no, no. Pouring gasoline on a fire will not bring the desired result. The goal is to just ride out the storm and re-level the playing field.

    There is nothing more frustrating to a player who has just launched their best stuff than to see it come back — seemingly effortlessly — without making a dent.

    Surprisingly, even experienced veterans will sometimes take umbrage and begin attempting to hit not only harder, but closer to the lines as well, a sure-fire formula for self-destruction.

    Voila. You’ve got ’em.

    The two most satisfying shot outcomes in tennis are: a) hitting a clean winner or service ace — the obvious one, b) observing an opponent’s shaken demeanor when you’re continually parrying their A-game with relative ease and luring them increasingly into unforced errors — the not so obvious other one.

    For me personally, it’s the latter. What fun, particularly since one’s own power quotient typically drops off once you’ve graduated into age group club play and learning to be a “counter puncher” becomes begrudgingly attractive.

    The technique involved in this demoralizing tactic is to prepare the racket very quickly — albeit softly versus the temptation to overgrip the racket in full fight-or-flight mode — and then immediately, seamlessly initiating the forward movement of the racket through the ball at as slow a rate of speed as is possible.

    Again: absorb, smother, use.

    A tricky gear change at first try — this fast to slow — but absolutely learnable and absorbed into your motor subconscious quickly enough. The resulting capability to diffuse that $100 ball and transform it into an equalizing $50 response, one that lands deep and cannot be capitalized upon, is one of the biggest difference makers in the game.

    Knowing that you can handle pace comfortably is huge confidence builder, and will give you membership into an entirely different play group.

    When you do find yourself up against opponents with known firepower and they hit an unreachable winner, just say “nice shot.” No worries. They won the point, you didn’t lose it.

    But if you’re generally not able to handle pace on balls in your court coverage zone then you’ve lost the point right then and there without even forcing one more shot. And any thoughts of being invited to sub-in with that really good foursome are best put to rest.

    As a solid all-around player I know likes to say: “Just use their pace and laugh in their face.”

    Enjoy the experience

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

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