This is an excerpt from Tennis Skills & Drills by Joey Rive & Scott Williams.
Six Foundational Pillars for Strategy and Tactics
Players should be able to perform the following six foundational pillars (also called ball controls) at the level appropriate to them. Once they have accomplished this step, players are ready to learn tactics and formulate strategies. They can also perform a style of play and improve as competitive players.
Pillar 1: Consistency
Consistency can lead to getting the ball over the net once more than the opponent. Being consistent can lead to feelings of confidence, too. Each time players elevate to a higher level of play, they should try to establish consistency at that level. The following guideposts help players develop that consistency.
- Basic. Try to get the ball over the net as often as possible.
- Intermediate. Work to be able to hit 50 balls up the middle of the court.
- Advanced intermediate. Be able to rally 75 to 100 balls up the middle of the court with varying degrees of spin, including moderate topspin or underspin.
- Advanced. Be able to hit, with personal choice of spins, 100 or more balls up the middle or to whichever part of the court is desirable.
Pillar 2: Depth
Players should target three spots along the baseline: deep to the forehand corner, middle of the court, and deep to the backhand corner. Players can use the following guideposts to develop their ability to hit for depth.
- Basic. Play the ball deep by being able to hit the ball past the opponent’s service line while hitting from behind the baseline.
- Intermediate. Be able to do the same as the beginner level but use moderate topspin or underspin shots.
- Advanced intermediate. Be able to hit 10 deep balls total to any of the 3 depth spots.
- Advanced. Be able to hit 10 deep balls in a row to any of the 3 spots and then alternate hitting 10 balls in a row to all 3 spots.
Pillar 3: Direction
Hitting the ball in the intended direction and being able to place the ball on the court where the player wants it to go, signifies a degree of confidence. The player is now starting to focus on where, not how, to hit the ball. Players can use the following guideposts to develop their ability to hit in specific directions.
- Basic. Be able to direct the ball up the middle of the court.
- Intermediate. Be able to alternate hitting 50 balls from one half of the court to the other.
- Advanced intermediate. Be able to hit 75 to 100 balls to one half of the court and then the other.
- Advanced. This level can consistently rally hitting 100 or more balls to the forehand and backhand corners.
Pillar 4: Height
The ball height over the net is often misunderstood by beginner and lower intermediate players who, because of the camera angle on television from behind the court, incorrectly assume that the professional players are ripping every ball an inch or two (a few cm) over the net. Good players know that clearing the net is very important both for consistency and for creating higher-bouncing balls. The closer a player is to the net, the lower the ball is over the net. The appropriate height for these shots is roughly one to two racket face widths above the net. The farther away a player is from the net, the higher the ball needs to be hit to keep it deep into the opponent’s court. For this type of shot, the ball should be anywhere from three to five racket face widths over the net. Players can use the following guideposts to develop their ability to hit for height.
- Basic. Depending on level of control, be able to hit on average anywhere from 1 to 10 racket widths over the net. The aim is to be able to get the ball over the net and sustain a rally, so a higher net clearance is needed.
- Intermediate to advanced intermediate. Be able to vary heights hitting into the four square—each one of the four squares on the opponent’s side of the net—at will.
- Advanced. Be able to have the full range from 10 or more racket face widths for a topspin lob to 1 or 2 racket face widths over the net on a passing shot. Advanced players are able to control height and are more skilled to handle an opponent’s shots.
Pillar 5: Spin
Players hit with these types of spin: topspin, underspin, backspin, sidespin, and flat (even balls hit flat have moderate forward spin on them). Each type of spin has varying levels. Players can use the following guideposts to develop spin in their shots.
- Basic. Be able to hit with little or no spin.
- Intermediate to advanced intermediate. Learn about and practice topspin, underspin, and backspin. These players should be able to demonstrate ten of each type of spin while being fed from a basket.
- Advanced. This level of player can blend spins creating difficulty for their opponents. Advanced players should be able to play the Simon Does game. In this game, they match the spin that their opponent is hitting to them.
Pillar 6: Pace or Speed
When players go out to rally with a friend they use a rally speed with each other, designed to keep the ball to each other and maintain a rally. Once they get good at playing at a rally speed, they can vary the speed of play in various ways. The first is taking speed off the incoming ball (deflating), such as by adding height and spin or by softening the grip on the racket. The second is increasing speed (inflating), such as by hitting the ball harder or flatter, or by gripping the racket slightly tighter. Players can use the following guideposts to develop changes in pace or speed in play.
- Basic. Develop a rally speed by learning how to rally consecutive shots in a row, starting at the service boxes and backing up to the baseline. About 10 to 25 shots from inside the service boxes, midcourt, and baseline are achievable goals at this level.
- Intermediate to advanced intermediate. Be able to start differentiating between slow (30 to 50 percent of maximum possible speed), moderate (50 to 70 percent), and fast (70 percent and up) swing speeds. These levels of players should practice swing speeds by playing the Red, Yellow, and Green Light game. In this game, players call out the color representing the speed they are swinging. Green is fast, yellow is moderate, and red is slow. Players must remember that the slower they hit the ball, the higher they need to aim over the net.
- Advanced. Be able to inflate or deflate incoming balls. Players can practice in pairs; one player deflates each shot while the other inflates each shot.
Read more from Tennis Skills & Drills by Joey Rive, Scott Williams.