Having the discipline to play an opponent’s weakness over and over, and to adjust one’s patterns of play to exploit that weakness, is important at every level of play. If you can cause your opponent to hit on his/her stronger side (usually the forehand) as little as possible, like once every 15 minutes, chances are that your opponent's weapon is not going to be nearly as damaging as it might be if it were hit the majority of the time. Furthermore, when you send an opponent back and forth to the same corner, again and again, you force that opponent to load and change directions, which is far more physically demanding than flowing side to side.
The key to successfully “Pounding a Corner” is developing your inside-out forehand into a weapon, as the inside-out forehand is the second most devastating shot in the game of tennis, with the serve being number one. A powerful and dependable inside-out forehand allows a right-handed player to make life miserable for a right-handed opponent with a weak backhand, or for a lefty with a weak forehand.
The inside-out forehand occurs when a shot from an opponent lands on the player’s backhand side of the court and the player elects to hit a forehand cross-court to the opponent’s backhand, assuming that both players are right-handed, which is usually the case, or that both players are left-handed, which is rarely the case (we will deal with a lefty playing a righty at another time!). One might think, “Why not just hit a backhand when the ball lands on the backhand side of the court?”, but as I will explain, even for a player whose backhand is her/his more reliable ground stroke, the inside-out forehand is often the more desirable shot from the backhand side of the court. Here’s why:
►More often than not, a player’s forehand is his or her stronger shot. Therefore, by taking advantage of an opportunity to hit an inside-out forehand, a player has created an exchange with his or her best shot going to the opponent’s weaker side.
►Because it is easier to generate topspin with a forehand, an inside-out forehand is often able to deliver a higher ball to the opponent’s backhand. And because it is more difficult to deal with high balls on the backhand than on the forehand, this can create a big problem for the opponent.
►The most difficult exchange of groundstrokes occurs when a player, responding to a ball that has been hit cross-court, elects to change the direction of the ball and to hit down the line. Since going down the line is a difficult and error-prone choice, even though there may be a lot of open space on the player’s forehand side, most opponents will elect to go with the safest and easiest option: Hitting the ball back cross-court. This tends to perpetuate an exchange where one player is hitting his or her best shot (forehand) to the opponent’s weaker side (backhand), often resulting in a point won by the player hitting forehands. Only very accomplished players can routinely exploit the open court, created when a player hits a forehand inside out, by taking cross-court shots and hitting them down the line.
►By creating and maintaining the exchange of one’s best shot to the opponent’s weaker side, the opponent does not get to hit his or her best shot. It can be psychological tough to deal with not being able to use your best shot very often. Again, how good do you think an opponent’s best shot will be when he or she gets to hit it once every 15 minutes?!
►When staying away from a player’s weapon totally consumes an opponent’s attention, it makes it very difficult for the opponent to impose his or her own game plan. This is a huge tactical advantage.
As you can understand, hitting successful inside-out forehands can have a devastating impact. In order to execute this critical shot successfully, players have to develop the recognition, footwork and decision-making aspects of this shot. This takes many hours of practice.
Here are a few other additional helpful hints when looking to “Pound a Corner":
►Having a solid cross-court backhand to back up your inside-out forehand doesn’t hurt! You may be looking for your inside-out forehand, but opponents may have the shot-making skills to extend you too wide to get to hit it.
►Mastering your ability to vary shots using the five dimensions of the ball: height, speed, spin, depth and direction. Since multiple shots will be required to “Pound a Corner,” you will likely be faced with different responses, requiring different shots to continue the Pounding!
►Positioning yourself properly for the next shot. Good positioning gives you the best chance to hit another offensive shot to the corner you are pounding.
►Patiently assessing when it is the right time to hit to the opposite corner, when left open by an opponent. “Pounding a corner” does not mean simply hitting two shots to one corner then hitting to the opposite side. Good players are patient, waiting for the right opportunity, even if that means hitting 10 or more shots to one corner!
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