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Hardscrabble Scramble
June 1998 Article

Hardscrabble Scramble Archive

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The Shot Before The Shot

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Mike Whittington

Recently I had a lesson with a player that had just lost a match due to a faulty volley -- or so she said. She scheduled the lesson and was determined to turn her game around with a few quick tips on improving her volley. After a brief warm-up she came to the net and we started to exchange volleys. Her racquet was out in front, she kept a firm wrist, she had a short compact block that seemed to hit the sweet spot making a crisp volley just about every time. Everything she did at the net seemed to me to be a great shot that she should be able to rely on in match play.

She had told me that a weak volley had just cost her a big match and that she didn't know why she couldn't carry these practice volleys into her match. I moved her back to the baseline and brought her in with a short ball that she could hit with an aggressive approach. VOILA! The problem was immediately clear to me but I'm sure she didn't pick up on it in match play. Her approach shot was extremely weak and with very little control. In fact, she really just kind of got the ball in play and felt good about it even though the ball landed in the middle of the court with no pace or directional intent.

What I believe happened to this player is that in match play she hit a weak approach which set up her opponent for an easy and probably powerful drive. This put her in a much weaker position to hit an aggressive volley, as she was doing in our lesson. But because she was missing the volley, she automatically assumed that was the problem. I think it is important to look at the shot before the shot that ends the point. For instance, if you hit a nice approach shot, isn't the purpose of the shot to set yourself up for an easy volley? The key is to set yourself up and put yourself in a position to make each shot easier. My student didn't set herself up for an easy shot but instead set her opponent up for an easy drive.

Do you really know how and why you are losing points? Next time look at the shot before the shot that ends the point. I think you'll learn a lot about how and why you are winning or losing points, and you will also develop a better understanding of what parts of your game truly need work.

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Hardscrabble Scramble Archive

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This column is copyrighted by Mike Whittington, all rights reserved.

At the time at which he wrote this column, Mike Whittington was a USPTA pro in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he served as director of tennis at the Hardscrabble Country Club.


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