As a tennis coach, teaching my tennis students to come to the net is really important after they have got their ground strokes and serve to a satisfactory level.
Moving to the net may come naturally for some but often tough for many. It may seem easy but may be much harder than anticipated.
We will be talking about 3 main points. When to approach, where to place your shot and where to position yourself when approaching the net.
1. When to approach
As a tennis player, it is really important to know when is the right time to approach the net > definitely one of the reasons why casual players do not like approaching is because they do not know when.
When you approach the net, the objective is to take time away for your opponent. However, the closer you are to the opponent, the less time you have for yourself as well.
Thus, you have to most likely be running at quite a fast speed and not talking your own sweet time or you will definitely get passed easily. There are a few main reasons I tell my students on when to approach.
- When you receive a weak shot from the opponent. Once you see your opponent give you a weak return. Move in and attack the ball with an approach shot, following (roughly) the direction of your ball into the net. A “weak” shot really depends on your own judgement, some players can attack from further behind the service line, others might have to wait for a ball that bounces before the service line.
- When you see your opponent stretch for a shot. Now, whenever your stretched out to return a ball, you will most of the time be on defense, whether it be a slice, or a top spin or a lob, 75% of the time it is going to be slower compared to your usual pace. Thus when you see your opponent stretch, that is one of the best times to go in an volley.
- When you have no choice. Sometimes the ball from your opponent makes you go all the way in even though it was not in your game plan or not what you anticipated. You want to be moving forward because if you try to move back to the baseline, it might be too far and back paddling back to the baseline is much slower than running forward.
2. Where to place your shot
Usually for singles, the best place to hit when trying to approach is down the line. The down the line approach shot encourages a cross court passing attempt, an inexperienced player can feel suffocated trying to thread the needle with a down the line reply.
If you hit anywhere else, it opens up the court for your opponent, and he would have a bigger percentage to make the shot whereas you would have to cover a huge surface area.
However if you hit down the line, you would be minimizing his shot selection to only a few. Thus your chances of getting the ball would be better.
This is just in general the best place to aim your approach, but thhere are several reasons why you could hit somewhere else.
- Your opponent has a weaker side. If by hitting cross court you hit to their weaker side eg. weak forehand, which produces errors or weak shots then hitting cross court to their forehand is a good choice to take advantage of the weak shots or unforced errrors
- You feel like you can win the point straight away. An approach shot in essence is a set up shot and should not be used for winners unless you are confident and it is easy. If you get a really easy put away shot, go ahead and finish it, even if it is hitting down the middle.
- If your opponent is on the far side of the other side of the court. Go ahead and hit a cross court since there is no way he can reach it.
- If you opponent is very far from the baseline. Go ahead and drop him as he probably would not even try running if you hit a good drop approach.
So, we hit an approach shot. Now, where do you position yourself for your volley? How can you close off your court best?
How do we close off the majority of the court and give our opponent a lower percentage shot well giving ourselves a higher chance to hit a win the point.
If a player hits it down the line straight ahead, he only needs to move toward where he hits the ball (slightly leaning a bit more to the center line). His opponent is forced to decide to do several things.
1. Try to get it through a smaller space eg. back down the line. Which would not require a lot of movement to close off their down the line shot and put it away.
2. Try to hit a short angle it in a small area over the net in the crosscourt direction.
By placing the ball nearly in front of us, we close off the big angles from our opponent. He then has a smaller court to hit in and has to be more accurate.
3. Where to position yourself
You need to get yourself in the best possible spot to cover as much of the court as possible regardless of where your place your approach.
How close you get to the net. Get as close to the net as you can following your shot direction. The closer you get the less space they have to hit to. Besides lobbing you.
Now if you are afraid that they might lob you, first decide if they can even lob well in the first place. If they can, then adjust and not go too close.
Not many people are good at lobbing, so do not worry so much. If they do lob and it is not a great one, just finish it with an overhead.
Right or left side of the net is solely dependent on where you place your approach. What you need to do is “follow the ball”. If you hit your shot to the right corner, you should be moving in and placing yourself to the right of the center service line.
If you hit your shot to the left corner you should be moving in and placing yourself to the left of the center service line. If you hit down the middle, goodluck.
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