As the ball in today’s game travels faster than ever due to racket construction and string technology, plus bigger, stronger and more powerful athletes playing the game, absorbing and redirecting pace have become two very important skills to master.
Here is a cliffs notes presentation of these two topics:
Absorbing pace occurs when an opponent’s shot is too fast to control with a player’s normal stroke. One way to try to deal with pace is to back up. However, backing up is generally not a successful response, as the incoming ball is usually moving faster than a player can retreat. Most often, absorbing pace successfully requires a player to shorten or slow down his/her swing. A shortened, simplified stroking motion has fewer “working parts” and offers a player more control. And it can become quite frustrating to an opponent when every big shot she/he hits is effortlessly returned.
Another, more advanced, way of absorbing pace is to turn ball speed into spin. Underspin shots tend to have less pace, making them easier to control, and they can be difficult for an opponent to deal with, as underspin, or “slice”, shots tend to stay low and out of a player’s strike zone. Changing pace to underspin also occurs when a player hits a drop shot, chip shot or touch volley. Turning pace into topspin can be effective as well. Topspin allows a player to hit higher over the net, without the ball going out, as a ball with topspin drops to the ground faster than a flat or underspin ball. And when a ball with topspin bounces, it shoots forward, often forcing the opponent deeper behind the baseline.
If executed successfully, all of the above options and techniques give a player controlled and effective responses to balls with a lot of pace.
Redirecting pace occurs when a ball is hit with a lot of pace and the receiving player positions herself/himself to take the ball early and to use that pace to hit an offensive shot. The shot can be directly back to the opponent, or to an open court. Similar to absorbing, a player needs to shorten or compact his/her swing to redirect. But redirecting is different than absorbing in that re-directing is usually an offensive play. The biggest advantage to redirecting pace is the time that it takes away from an opponent.
While redirecting pace takes quite a bit of skill and practice to execute, it can be very frustrating to an opponent. The opponent hits what she/he thinks is a high-caliber offensive shot and the ball comes back before the opponent finishes their follow through! Or the ball gets redirected to an open court for an outright winner.
Both of these require lots of repetition and a lot of trial and error. However, once competency is reached, absorbing and redirecting Pace can be two very effective tools to have in one’s tennis toolbox.
Lawrence Kleger is co-director of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy. He is recognized as one of the top developmental coaches in the United States. He has trained more ranked juniors than anyone in the history of the USTA Eastern Section. His students have won numerous National and Regional Championships, and 20 USTA Eastern Year-End Sportsmanship Awards