There are fundamentally three immediately recognizable incoming shots that require a specific positioning - both laterally and longitudinally - for an ideal ball-striking opportunity when in the back of the court.
Everyone's most preferred ball of the three, including pros, is the one that has a relatively small incoming rainbow arc, doesn't clear the net by a large amount and bounces not especially deep in your court. With well-spaced forward-back positioning, it can be played in its descending arc right into that knee high, "wheelhouse" power zone. Anatomically just right.
A less compatible dynamic involves the underwhelming, problematic, high-looping trajectory, high bouncing half-lob. Although extremely annoying, it can be effective in club play since players typically fail to play this shot aggressively, meaning well in front, and "up" at its highest post bounce point moment. Instead they spontaneously choose to retreat, often motoring well past the baseline trying to allow these balls to also drop down into their preferred knee high zone. One dimensional "track meet" play.
Photo by Shuan Ondak
The final recognizable incoming shot is the one that has to be played on-the-rise: the biggest difference maker of all. It's coming fast. It has a laser like flight path. And it's landing in very close proximity to your court position with very little time to adjust. There is no escaping by running backward and away from it as so many attempt. Playing it at the bounce's peak or as it descends is now not an option.
Holding your ground, feet still moving - stutter-stepping a bit to stay connected, getting low and staying low (see accompanying image), and connecting with it out in front just off the bounce at about shin to knee high at most, is your only out. The goal is to smother it, absorb it, redirect it back over with minimal pace and ride out the storm to just stay in the point.
A quick take-back is obviously required to, ideally, swing as slowly through contact as possible - staying under control to put the fire out.
Once you've acquired this shot, you'll find that you not only can handle your peer's occasional $100 balls, but comfortably stay in back court rallies with more experienced players as well.
And, after diffusing their best stuff, you'll also experience the satisfaction of a certain message sent: "Is that all you've got?"
Jak Beardsworth (USPTA) is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Club. Lesson information and appointments can be arranged by e-mail at JB1tennis@comcast.net, by calling 941-626-0097 or by visiting JakBeardsworthTennis.com.