1. We could tell where the ball was going; this would allow us to get into position, and once we were in perfect position, we could ‘start time’ again and hit an awesome shot, because we’d be ready for it.
2. We could analyze our opponent’s position on the court, and decide where we wanted to hit the ball – obviously, to a spot on the court that would make it difficult for our opponent to return the ball.
3. We could see what type of spin was on the ball, and be ready for it.
4. We could see where our opponent’s body position is relative to the center of the baseline, and perhaps try to ‘wrong-foot’ our opponent.
There are all kinds of things you could do, and in this ‘magical’ scenario they would all help us to win a match. There is, however, one thing that this scenario would allow us to do is ‘steal time’. What I mean by that is, even when you magically ‘started’ time again, the same number of seconds would continue to tick off, and we’d still have to properly execute the shots that all the above ‘analysis’ allowed us to be ready to hit.
There is, however, a way to steal time from you opponent. What I mean by ‘stealing’ time is giving your opponent less time to react than normal. If you and your opponent are both on the baseline, slugging ground strokes back and forth to each other, hitting the tennis ball at the peak of its bounce, the advantage will always go to the player with:
– More powerful & more accurate ground strokes
– Better movement
– Better physical conditioning
This is a given. Just watch a couple of early round matches on the slow red clay at the French Open and any doubts you may have will be swiftly removed. However, there is a way that the ‘better’ player can be beaten, if you can learn how to ‘steal’ the time they need to prepare for their next shot. There is one time-tested, match-proven, Grand Slam Tournament proven way to steal your opponent’s time. The way to do it is to…drum roll please….ready?….hit the ball on the rise.
This is a sure-fire way to reduce your opponent’s reaction time. Most players, however, back up when a tennis ball is hit deep into their court. Their logic is to get into position to hit the ball after it peaks, while the ball is traveling down, and into their ‘wheelhouse’ (approximately waist level). They are more comfortable doing this because:
– That’s how they’ve been taught to do it, so they won’t ‘miss-hit’ the tennis ball
– They’ve been fed thousands of tennis balls this way by their local tennis pro when they were first learning how to hit ground strokes.
– It’s easier to hit the tennis ball on the ‘way down’ from the peak of it’s bounce because the ball has slowed down, making it easier for the player to hit with their current level of hand-eye coordination.
– Since they’ve ‘backed up’ well behind the baseline to wait for the tennis ball to drop into their wheelhouse, the odds of hitting a ball ‘long’, past the opponent’s baseline, decrease.
You could call all of the above reasons ‘logical’, but they won’t help you beat a ‘better’ tennis player because of the following:
– Just getting the ball back over the net is not enough to beat a ‘better’ player.
– While you were ‘backing up’ behind the baseline waiting for the ball to fall into your wheelhouse to you could hit it, your opponent was recovering from their shot and moving back into position to get ready for your next shot. This will not help you to beat a ‘better’ player.
– Now that you’re well behind the baseline when you hit your shot, it will take you extra time to get back into position for your opponent’s next shot – and remember, they’re already in position for your next shot (that’s one of the reasons they’re the ‘better player’)! This again will not help you to beat a ‘better player’.
Fear not, however. If we stand our ground on or just behind the baseline (6-12″) during ground stroke rallies and hit the ball on the rise, all of a sudden a world of possibilities opens up for us. If you make sure to stand your ground and don’t back up, then what happens is the following. When you receive your opponent’s shot, the ball will still be traveling through your wheelhouse, but it’s traveling from the ground up, and it’s moving faster than it would be if we let it reach its peak and start back down again. Here’s how you benefit and your opponent suffers:
– Since you’re now hitting the tennis ball as soon as it bounces up off the court, you are giving your opponent less time to react to your shot. Tennis players are human beings, too; and most humans look for the ‘easiest’ way to do something, rather than the most ‘efficient’. It’s human nature; so most players, including so-called ‘better’ players than you wait for the tennis ball to bounce up and back down again before they hit it. Since this is the case, your opponent will not be used to playing people who hit the ball on the rise. They are not prepared for a tennis ball that comes back at them so quickly. This will help you to beat a ‘better’ tennis player.
– You are now in better position to react to you opponent’s next shot, because your not six feet behind the baseline trying to get back into position; you’re already there! Your ‘better’ opponent is used to hitting winners and forcing errors because again, most of the ‘better’ player opponents are behind the baseline waiting for the ball to drop into their wheelhouse. By being proactive and hitting the ball on the rise, you make your opponent work harder and harder to pull you out of position. This will help you to beat a ‘better’ tennis player.
Why don’t more players hit the tennis ball ‘on the rise’? Simple answer: It takes practice, and timing, and faith, and persistence; in short, it takes work. But you can do it. Persistence is the key. If you can commit to it, and not rest until you get the results you want, you’ve won 90% of the battle; and a whole new – and better – game awaits you. There are several techniques I utilize when teaching my students the ‘how’ of hitting the ball on the rise that I do not have the space to fit into this article. Just remember that you don’t have to get it perfect; just get it going. Start hitting the ball on the rise, and practice, practice, practice! Then watch that ‘better’ player wonder just why you’re so hard to beat these days!