No one ever played closer to the baseline in the "Open era" than Andre Agassi.
Why was he able to play so close?
Because his half-volley groundstrokes - off either wing - were the game's best at not only handling opponents' deep, heavy, penetrating shots, but doing something offensive with them as well.
Photo by Shaun Ondak
Jak Beardsworth demonstrates the half-volley groundstroke.
He was the pro's pro at the short-hop on-the-rise. As a result he was able to take time away from big-hitting opponents recovering to defend their court, and suddenly turn the tables by transitioning from what appeared to be a defensive position to offense in a moment.
Here, with the ball already struck and in full flight, you can see my head is still down - as close as I'll ever get to being reminiscent of Roger Federer - and that I'm finishing the shot with an open stance. It's the Nadal-inspired "lasoo" with the follow-through back over my hitting shoulder behind my head. This is typically out of necessity in fending off quick-strike, deep bombs, especially when on the run.
A similar technique used to be called the "buggy whip," but the game's lexicon is constantly being updated and rewritten, and the current version of the shot is definitely more extreme in today's faster game with 90 mph groundies.
The lasoo enables an acute brushing up behind the ball that produces considerable topspin with "safe air" space over the net. A quick flick when there's no time for a full swing that bends the shot back into the court.
Since there's almost no time for repositioning when opponents play shots this deep - backing up trying to buy space and time as many attempt - don't try to. Hold your ground, lower your center of gravity with a still head to stay visually connected to the ball, and stay down to prevent last-moment stroking path deviation - the head moves, the trunk follows, the arm is connected to trunk, the racket is connected to arm. Mis-hit.
This shot comes in handy for club players who get caught in no man's land - often after they had properly positioned themselves there to return a weak second serve - and become victimized by a server's response, now able to place it well past the service box.
Don't the majority of in-point ground strokes land, on average, halfway between the service line and the baseline?
So do not hang out there unless your opponent hasn't hit a deep ball since Billie Jean King won her last US Open.
But since it's not uncommon to face less than lethal second serves in club level tennis, it's important then to either follow the return into the net and create pressure, or retreat to a safer baseline position.
Yet, on occasion, even the game's best movers get caught in between by opponent's smart shots. So you'd better have the half-volley groundstroke in your tool box.
As is often the case, you can practice this shot by yourself. Take a position at the baseline, best with the previously noted open stance. Then drop-hit low bouncing balls, about shin high, with a contact point that replicates the less in front one that you'll have to deal with in live play. Aggressively lay on the extra topspin with the lasoo. Nothing to it with a bit of practice.
This marks the final offering of the 2012 summer instructional series in the Lake Placid News. Since it's never too late to improve your ball-striking skills, you'll hopefully continue to believe in the possibility. The offerings, along with the 2010 and 2011 series, is also available for your review anytime at my website: www.JakBeardsworthTennis.com.
Do your best. Always aspire higher. Love the game.
Jak Beardsworth, USPTA, author of "More Than Just the Strokes," is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Club. For adult and junior lessons through mid-September, email JB1tennis@comcast.net, call 941-626-0097 or visit www.JakBeardsworthTennis.com.