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Hardscrabble Scramble
September 1999 Article

Hardscrabble Scramble Archive

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Rise To The Occasion

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Mike Whittington

If you have recently watched a professional tennis match on television, you have probably noticed the commentator talk about how well the top players take the ball on the rise. Let's look at what taking the ball on the rise means and how it can help a player's game.

Every player has an ideal contact zone at which point he/she likes to make contact with the ball. That zone will vary from player to player but for the average player it is usually around waist high. If you get into position and receive a shot from your opponent, you will probably see that the ball can be in your contact zone at two different times, once on the way up after the bounce and on the way down before a second bounce. Hitting on the rise means moving into the ball and making contact as the ball comes up into your contact zone. Hitting on the rise is common among today's top players but not too long ago players such as Bjorn Borg dominated play by letting the ball drop and making contact well behind the baseline. These days you only see the top players well beyond the baseline if they are in trouble and hitting a defensive shot.

Although hitting on the rise requires more precise timing, doing it well has a few benefits. One major difference is that your shot returns to your opponent much faster. The best example I can give is Agassi's potent return of serve. His compact backswing and on the rise return sends the ball back so quickly that even some the game's biggest servers are unprepared for it.

Hitting the ball on the rise also allows for you to attack the open court faster. Imagine that you've just hit a big forehand deep to your opponent's backhand and you have driven him/her off the court. Your opponent can only give a weak return to your service line area. If you move in and hit on the rise to the open court, your opponent will probably still be off the court and leave you plenty of room. If you stay back and let the ball come to you, your opponent may have time to recover and run down your attempted winner. The longer the ball takes to get to you, the more time your opponent has to recover.

Finally, one of the biggest reasons players hit on the rise is to keep from being moved into a defensive position on the court. Moving to the ball at an angle rather than backwards will limit the amount of court you will leave open. In addition, you are more likely to keep good balance due to the footwork and timing required hitting on the rise.

Try standing on the baseline while your pro or a friend hits you some deep shots. Shorten your swing and don't back up and you will quickly feel the sensation of hitting on the rise. It does require better timing and some practice but I think you'll like the results and better appreciate the talents of the top players.

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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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