Years ago, coaches would tell their students to recover to the middle. Nowadays, whatever shot you hit, you should recover slightly cross-court to that. If you hit to the center of the court, you should recover to the center as well. That is ideal, however, I was interested in what the professionals were doing, and I noticed something slightly different.
A player may not have the time to recover to the ideal position. The reason is due to the speed of the game. The game is simply too fast to recover to the suggested position. Players will stop when their opponent is hitting the ball, to split step, for the most part, no matter where they are on the court.
More importantly, you must understand the effectiveness of your shot and the tendencies of your opponents as well as their range. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have great down the line (DTL) backhands, and if you were playing either of them, you would be weary of their DTL backhand and would have to learn to recover appropriately.
Let’s talk percentages
Years ago, 80 percent of professional shots would be cross-court (CC) as the net is lower in the middle, there is more distance CC than DTL, and it’s easier to hit back from where the ball came from rather than change direction. It was the higher percentage shot. However, racquet and string technology, as well as elite physical fitness, has changed percentage tennis which, in turn, effects recovery position as we touched on above.
There are now three basic directions—DTL, CC and Angle. That's due to the spin that the strings of today can produce. Players today play inside and behind the baseline primarily with three shots, not just the CC. The game has become more lateral, with side-to-side movement inside and behind the baseline. The percentage of winning increases significantly with moving forward. Therefore, playing inside the baseline is still more important than moving your opponent side to side.
The DTL shot is not a higher risk shot. A few years back there was a study with the women that showed there was a one percent difference between DTL and CC in terms of errors. That is you might have an 86 percent chance of hitting a good CC, but an 85 percent chance of hitting the DTL in. Over many shots, it could help win the match, however, there is more reward when you do change to DTL as there was a higher percentage of winners and forced errors when going DTL simply because most players try to cover CC.
In my next article, I plan to discuss directional shot more in-depth, the battle of court position, as well the cat and mouse game to use your weapons more often.