Tennis tactics: The priorities of successful passing shots

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Nowadays, all levels of performance are focused mostly on baseline game. This is the primary goal of every training session, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that players possess good technical level of forehands and backhands. However, focusing on just one area of play creates deficiencies in other areas that opponents can use during regular match play. If an opponent discovers a tactical weakness in our game, we can be sure that they will use it to their advantage and look for every opportunity to put us in uncomfortable situation where we will be forced to use our weaknesses. One of these areas is passing shot. Our monthly contributor, coach Marcin Bieniek, founder of instructional Enjoy Tennis Blog, will explain why we should pay more attention to practicing passing shots.

Modern game is played mostly from the baseline. Players use their powerful groundstrokes and solid serves to put pressure on opponents and force them to make mistakes. Even on fast surfaces like grass or hard courts, players tend to look for winners from the baseline, instead of moving forward and trying to win the point while hitting volleys or lobs. However, there are still some competitors like Karolina Pliskova, Roger Federer, or Milos Raonic who look for opportunities to execute a successful net game.

Karolina PliskovaNot too many players train skills that are required to play effectively against net players. It happens because of two reasons:

  1. They think that passing shots are regular forehands and backhands, which is not true;
  2. Not too many players come to the net a lot and they want to spend valuable practice time on abilities that they are going to need more often during competition. However, we have to remember that one or two points in a match can decide the final result, so if these two happen to be with the opponent at the net, it is better to be equipped with the skills that will help you to leave the court as a winner.

There are several crucial factors that we have to implement into our passing shots:

The opponent’s positioning

Number one thing that we have to consider while trying to pass a rival at the net is their positioning. Even the best down-the-line shot will cost us a point if the opponent is already there before we hit the shot. Being aware of where the other player stands at the net is an asset that allows us to take less risk with our passing shot and maintain desired effectiveness.

Taylor Townsend
Taylor Townsend approached the net more than 100 times to upset fourth seed Simona Halep in the second round of the 2019 US Open.

Height over the net

Players come to the net to win the point in an easier and faster way. They are able to do that if the ball is played with lack of power or when it flies high over the net. That is why it is crucial to keep the ball low over the net while hitting passing shots in order to limit rival’s offensive possibilities to finish the point. When the point of contact of net player is around the net tape or below it, they can hit only defensive or neutral volleys which is good for us.

Variety of skills

To be successful against net players, it is important to use different passing shot skills. If we try to win points by hitting down-the-line balls all the time, the opponent will quickly realize it and move earlier to cover that direction. Mixing up deep and angle cross-courts, balls played into the legs, down-the-line shots and lobs will make the opponent guess about our next response. This will have huge impact at their positioning at the net, so we can expect many easily won points with the opponent at the net.

Patterns of the opponent’s play

We all have conscious or unconscious patterns of play that we use all the time. The same rule applies at the net. We should always try to analyze our opponent’s game during the points and think about some patterns of play that they try to repeat. Knowing where they attack using forehand or what kind of volley they love to play is information that can give us big invisible advantage to win points even against technically-sound net-game players.

There are less and less net rushers in today’s game, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be prepared for scenarios with opponent at the net. A complete tennis player has the biggest chances to achieve success in sport, so practice sessions should lead to developing a variety of skills that will let us compete against different styles of play. Let’s make your training routine more interesting and effective by implementing some passing shots.

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