With 25 teams competing in nine different leagues at my local club, it seems like there is always a match to play. Playing in a game to prepare for a match and then playing in a match may improve your match play, but it is a difficult scenario to add new shots to your repertoire. Even clinics, while beneficial for shot-making and strategy, is not the place to develop new tools. A private lesson, training with a partner, or hitting with the ball machine are better systems to add shots that you will own.
What shots can you add to your game? Consider the following:
The Drop Shot
If you own this shot, you will win more matches than you lose. Grips are important. Experiment with using the backhand grip for the forehand drop and forehand grip for the backhand. Use drops when the ball is below the level of the net, not above, and perfect the drop so you are hitting it from the baseline. Sweeping under the ball from further back will stop the ball once it bounces.
The Bump Lob
Not a high groundstroke or a topspin lob, but a controlled placement lob. “Keep the plane the same” as you set the face of the racket at various angles to just clear the doubles opponent at the net, or hit it 50’ high in a defensive posture. Following the ball with the head of the racket maintains the angle of the racket face for greater control.
The Lob Volley
The ultimate control and touch shot to dazzle your opponent, the Lob Volley is a spectacular shot when all four players are at the net and you drift a ball over their racket just out of reach to the baseline. “Soft hands” with a Continental Grip allows you to imagine a rainbow trajectory, following the ball with the head of the racket for the correct pace.
Spin on Groundstrokes
Very few players try to develop less spin or flatter shots because spin is a desirable weapon that allows you to hit with pace and accuracy. Grips are the key here. Try adjusting your grip in baby steps, moving it slightly to the right on forehands (for righties) for more topspin, and to the left on backhands. Don’t ignore slicing either. Move the grips opposite of topspin grips to cut balls and dig low balls off the ground.
Better called a “Swinging Forehand” since this shot is better left to this side of the body, experiment taking balls out of the air from deeper positions on the court. Not used as a winning shot, rather a positional advantage shot, it avoids defensive back-pedaling with a little pop.
While we all have this shot out of necessity, striking the ball on a short hop next to our body, it doesn’t have to be a defensive shot if you dedicate some time to it on the practice court. Shortening your backswing, staying low and moving forward will turn the half volley into a full weapon.
While not a shot, the Split-Step will get you there to execute. Getting on your toes at the right time just before your opponent strikes the ball allows for a quick first step to the ball in any direction. Split too soon, and you are on your heels when you need the movement; too late, and you will never get to where you need to go. Split-step just prior to your opponent hitting the ball. A split-step must be included before every shot your opponent hits. The tennis body is like a car that uses more energy with stops and starts than it does with constant motion so stay active on the court and focus on your movement.
These are just a few innovative shots to have fun perfecting that will improve your game and creativity on the court. There are many more for you to develop with a little thought and dedicated practice time.
Mike Puc has been the Director of Tennis at Gleneagles Country Club in Delray Beach, Fla. since 1998. A winner of 15 national titles and an ATP world ranking, Mike directs 25 teams with 350 players in nine leagues, while offering the most extensive Calendar of Events in South Florida that includes tournaments, lectures and social round-robins.