GEOMETRICAL OFFENSIVE TENNIS
Swanberg is a former collegiate player at Livingston
University and each month he will give us a new tennis
Okay, since last month's fare was deep drudgery, I
will give you all a little breather this month. This
tip will be somewhat shorter and easier to understand.
As well, it is far less important to fully understand
this month's ideals than last month's. You all deserve
a break, a rest.
Okay, we have discussed the geometry of the tennis
court, its angles, its pitfalls, its heights and depths.
We also discussed what this means in a typical point.
Where do we hit the ball when there's no clear solution
presenting itself? Where do we move to after that shot?
And just how do we blame our loss on the sun when it's
I can't really help you with that last one, but the
others were examined in depths resembling the vast chasms
found in the grooves of a record.
Sorry. I guess the Roddick/Sharapova crowd isn't old
enough to remember records. But then, they're not all
that deep themselves!
Anyway, this month we'll be talking about what sort
of thoughts we should be having when on the offensive.
Where should we hit? Where should we move afterward?
As we'll see, the answers are basically "It depends"
and "It almost doesn't matter."
Attacking From the Baseline
The first thing we need to discuss is how to recognize
an offensive position from a defensive one. As a general
rule, when you are on the baseline, any time your opponent's
shot lands inside your service boxes, you are about
to go on the offensive. As well, there is a possibility
that you may feel that you are on the offensive if you
simply were able to set up early on a ball. But invariably,
you need to be moving forward into your shot with a
high degree of comfort and confidence to be truly on
Most players from an intermediate level on up to the
pros will take this opportunity to try and force the
point to a conclusion. Your offensive shot is an attempt
to do one of three things: win the point outright (a
winner), force your opponent to make an error (called
a forced error), or failing the first two to get your
opponent to hit an even weaker shot so that you can
hit an even more aggressive shot. Furthermore, the intermediate
to pro level players will generally take this offensive
situation and use it to transition to the net, where
points are frequently decided within two shots.
Okay, so we know we are on the offense because our
opponent hit a short ball. We also know that we are
trying to end the point in our favor on this or the
next shot. Where do we hit?
Well, the answer is a big fat "it depends."
And the reason for this is that there are a lot of factors
that can dictate what you believe to be the most effective.
Your opponent may have a glaringly weak backhand. Or
he may be far out of position. Or he may be running
full speed one way and you want to hit behind him (ths
is called "wrong-footing" your opponent).
These are all extremely valid points to consider.
However, in the absence of any of these glaring opportunities,
the good ol' fallback tactic of using the court's geometry
is always there. And the basic thing to do here is to
hit down-the-line. As we discussed last month, when
you are transitioning to the net (which you very likely
might be doing here), you want to hit straight ahead
to cut down your opponent's angles against you and also
to make your ideal ready position be the closest to
where you are now. This is still sound reasoning in
As well, while you are hitting agressively, your shot
will make it to its destination more quickly than a
crosscourt shot simply because the distance is shorter.
This gives your opponent less time to get to the ball,
set up, and make the shot. Note that if you are a more
advanced player and can hit winners without being well
inside the court, hitting down-the-line is your best
bet simply for this reason: your opponent will have
less time to set up.
Is The Bird saying that you should always hit these
shots down-the-line? Actually, no. You may survey the
situation and decide that you can hit an outright winner
by going for a sharp crosscourt angle. But in this case,
you'd better make sure it's a winner because you will
be out of position. If your opponent is quick or can
read your shot early enough, he or she may cut off your
angle and have an open court to hit into. So, make your
decision wisely. If you have any doubt, about your ability
to hit a winner or force an error or about how likely
your opponent is to get to it, you are best off going
Realize, of course, that the more confident you feel
that your shot will be a winner, the less important
it is to consider where your ideal ready position is.
Obviously, if the ball ain't coming back, it doesn't
matter where you stand.
Being Offensive at Net
Last month we discussed the idea that when you are
at net, you are defensive when you make contact with
the ball below the level of the net. So, it stands to
reason -- or maybe it doesn't, so I'll lay it out there
anyway -- that you are on the offensive when you're
point of contact is above net level. Additionally, the
higher the point of contact, the more offensive you
are (to a point. At a certain altitude you cease to
be volleying and are suddenly being lobbed).
So, where is the best place to hit the next shot? Well,
as with the baseline offensive ideal, it depends. The
same factors apply: is your opponent out of position?
Do they have a specific weakness? Can you employ additional
power/spin/angle in the particular situation?
But as above, you still have a fall-back idea. In the
absence of any obvious avenues to victory, you can always
lean on the geometry of tennis.
For this situation, you need to look to hitting crosscourt.
But you also want to make the angle sharp enough to
increase the likelihood that the ball will not come
back. For instance, say for the sake of argument that
you are hitting a high (right-handed) forehand volley.
If you simply hit toward your opponent's (right-handed)
forehand corner, he will have a much better chance to
get to the ball than if you hit more toward the intersection
of his service line and side line on his forehand side.
Basically, the rule of thumb here is that you have the
opportunity to make things really difficult on your
opponent so you want to go for it.
Of course, right after that shot, immediately move
laterally to the other side of your center service line
so that you are in the best position to make the next
shot should your opponent get to the ball (or, in many
of our cases, in the likely event that the "winner"
we were going for was far from the great shot we had
Now, I must mention, there is a big caveat here. You
really have to watch for the lob. This is not the case
so much when you are first hitting aggressively and
coming toward the net. Most players do not feel so threatened
by their opponents approaching the net, even aggressively.
But once you are at the net and have hit a volley, a
great many players will go to the lob. Of course, as
a smart player, you will want to take note of your opponent's
habits. A lot of players, particularly at the lower
levels, will panic whenever their opponents get close
to the net and will throw up the lob immediately.
Tying It All Together
Okay, I know this has been a lot for you all to absorb
these past few months. We've covered a number of reasonably
advanced ideas related to tennis. There was even some
math, which I've noticed makes most people simply pass
out. But smart players will take this stuff to heart,
learn it, and use it to their advantage. Most tennis
matches are played against opponents of similar skill
level. This means that the slightest advantage can turn
defeat into victory.
Many of the more advanced players will no doubt already
know this stuff, although they may not have truly understood
the reasons behind all of it. Phrases like "when
at net, cover the down-the-line" are drummed into
a lot of players' heads, and they comply, without fully
knowing why. Well, this is why, people.
For those of you who are less-advanced players, you
most likely have never been exposed to these ideals.
For you, I can foresee your regular partners walking
off the court shaking their heads wondering how you
were suddenly able to get to more balls and he or she
was suddenly able to get to fewer. For these players,
I caution you about sharing this information. Let them
wonder for a while while you beat them ten times in
a row. Then, if you're feeling particularly generous,
clue them in. They will thank you and then you can go
back to being friends.
Beginner levels and beginning-intermediates will probably
not derive much benefit from this month's lesson. But
they can certainly benefit from the previous two months'
discussions. Hey, you may not be able to fully control
your own shots yet, but you can certainly react to them
and stand in the best place to be able to get to your
opponent's next shot. And even more so than advanced
players, you need to get into this. Advanced players
can go to the next level, reading their opponent's shots
and even baiting them into doing their bidding. But
beginners don't have the control yet, so their shots
are far more random. I recall having difficulty against
an inexperienced player not too long ago simply because
I couldn't predict where he would hit the ball. It is
an odd feeling having that sort of frustration after
more than 30 years of on-court experience. To be sure,
the end result did not change much, but it is a very
real factor to contend with.
But I digress. In the end, be aware of the angles,
the lines, the very geometry of the tennis court and
you'll be far more successful.
Send your tennis questions and comments to Mike
Read more tennis tips.