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Tennis fundamentals: perfecting shot selection

Once the key tennis strokes have been honed, such as topspin, slice, flat forehands and backhands, plus the various serves, shot selection is of the next importance. Deciding when to play a type of  shot will take a player’s tactical game to the next level, as just hitting the ball over the net is not enough  to win games at a higher level.  

Cross-court and down the line  

In a regular rally, where both players are on the baseline, it is important to move the opponent  around on the court, while also making sure to keep the ball in. Deciding when to go cross-court  or down the line is a decision most players do not think enough about when playing. If a player  receives a ball out to their left or right and is behind the baseline, the best shot to hit is back  cross-court. Hitting down the line when outside the court leaves less time to recover and also  leaves the whole other half of the court wide open. The exception to this is when the opponent  has a stronger forehand than backhand or vice versa. If cross-court shots go into their dominant  side, it would be advised to hit a higher ball down the line. This allows for more time to recover, while  also placing it on the opponent’s weaker side.  

When a player receives a ball on their strong side and is a little outside the court, it is best to  continue to go cross-court, as it is likely that the next ball will come back cross-court again to the  player’s stronger side. For example, if a right handed player is playing a left handed player, and both have strong forehands  and weak backhands, both players should be trying to hit cross-court with their forehands. This keeps them on their strong side, while also going to their opponent’s weaker side. Continually targeting their weakness will eventually lead to a shorter ball that can be attacked, or the  opponent will eventually misplace their shot.

The best time to go down the line is when receiving a ball when standing on or inside the  baseline. By being inside the baseline, the player takes time away from the opponent, making the  shot harder to defend, and also means the player’s weight can be transferred forward since the  player is inside the court already. Whenever the ball is shorter inside the court, or when the ball  received is slower and the opponent is playing defensively, it is best to go down the line if the  opponent is not already there.  

Drop shots  

Drop shots are not used as much as they should be, especially in the modern game. Having the  ability to hit a good drop shot can be effective in a lot of matches. This is particularly effective against a less mobile player who is not as able to get backwards and forwards from baseline to the net.  Also, if the  opponent does not like coming into the net, hitting a drop shot is a good way to bring them to the  net and put them at a disadvantage. 

Hitting a drop shot is like hitting a short slice, as both use the same continental grip. The  difference is the drop shot is hit softer, and it involves a lot more ‘feel’. When hitting the drop  shot, the player must hit as little of the ball as possible, which creates a lot of spin, thus basically stopping all forward progress of the ball when bouncing on the opponent’s side. When hit  perfectly, the ball will bounce just over the net, and when the ball bounces, it will stay low and  will almost stay in the exact same spot when it first bounced. By hitting the slice with a lot of  spin, it causes the opponent to have to cover even more ground to get up to the tennis ball.  

The best time to hit a drop shot is when the opponent is behind the baseline, and the player  hitting the drop shot is inside the court. It is much easier to hit a drop shot when closer up to the  net, so therefore the drop shot should be used when receiving a shorter-length ball inside the court. The  drop shot is used as an attacking shot, since the player is trying to win the point with it, and it is a  risky shot if it is not done at the right time. Having a good drop shot gives a player another  weapon when attacking and can keep the opponent guessing on whether they will attack with a  flat forehand or backhand, or if they will hit a soft drop shot.  

Approach shots  

Approach shots are when a player hits a ball while standing inside the baseline and is coming  forward after the shot to come into the net. This is usually done with four types of shots, a flat or  slice forehand, or a flat or slice backhand. A flat forehand or backhand is used when the tennis  ball is higher up and the player can make contact at around shoulder height, as the player will be  able to hit through and down on the ball, getting more power and also keeping the ball lower  when it bounces on the opponent’s side.  

The slice is used when the ball is short and low, and it is not possible to get enough topspin to get  the ball over the net while also keeping it inside the court. The slice is a much better shot  selection than topspin, as topspin is slower and jumps up higher, giving the opponent a perfect  contact point to be able to hit a great passing shot. A slice stays low and jumps to the side when  it bounces, making it really difficult for the opponent to hit a good passing shot, as the player at  the net will most likely receive a higher ball from the opponent that they can put away with a  volley.  

Majority of approach shots should be hit down the line. This is because when coming into the  net, the player should follow the same path as the ball after hitting the approach, making it much  easier to follow the ball down the line then going the other direction and following cross court.  When hitting the approach cross-court, the other half of the court is wide open, meaning that the  opponent will have a great opportunity to play a down the line passing shot. When approaching down the  line, the player does not have to move as much after the shot, meaning that they can get to the  right spot at the net faster and will be prepared for any type of shot they receive from the  opponent. 

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