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Buliding and attacking

effective patterns of play used from the baseline
By: Rob Antoun

Many baseline tactics involve the serve or return being used as the first shot in a winning pattern of play. However, there are many times when these two shots are neutralised completely and a longer baseline rally continues. When this happens, it is vital that your players maintain a specific purpose to their play.

At any given moment during a baseline rally each player will usually be doing one of three things – building, attacking, or defending. Building shots create chances for a player to attack, while attacking shots create chances to finish the point. Defending shots simply aim to prevent an opponent from attacking and finishing the point instead. Let’s look at the main building and attacking tactics used on the Tour today:

Building Tactics

1. Using crosscourt patterns

Building shots are typically used when neither player holds an advantage in the rally. They are hit with purpose and conviction – using a combination of consistency, accuracy, and variety to create an attacking opportunity. Most building shots are hit crosscourt with the intention of forcing a short, weak, or late reply from the opponent. This allows the player the chance to attack down the line at the right time:

rob antoun d1                                  
Diagram 1 shows one of the most important building patterns in the game.  The right-hander’s backhand ground stroke is hit crosscourt to a consistent length. This forces the opponent into hitting short – allowing the player to step up and attack down the line.

Being able to change direction of the ball is a crucial building tactic. Doing this allows a player the chance to use the back behind option really effectively because an opponent is often forced into anticipating the direction of the ball too early.  Also, players will want to switch the direction of the ball in order to get onto their favourite crosscourt building pattern. For example, a player who strongly favours the forehand side will hit the backhand down the line early on in a rally in order to switch the play to the forehand crosscourt pattern.

Crosscourt building tactics can be used from both sides of the court using a variety of shots. Some players choose to hit the aggressive, high ball crosscourt with lots of topspin that pushes an opponent deep and wide of the baseline. Some will choose to hit the low, short angle slice shot that drags an opponent up the court. Whichever combination of shots are chosen, the key tactical intention is to create an opportunity to attack from the baseline.

rob antoun d2

Diagram 2 shows a player hitting the short angle ground stroke before attacking into the space that has been created. This short angle could be hit with slice (to keep the ball low) or with topspin (to force the opponent extremely wide of the court).

2. Using Variety

Other building shots include the absorbing slice that is hit deep down the middle of the court, the drop shot, and the short, low slice hit down the line. These shots often frustrate or surprise opponents enough to force an error or a short ball.  

Watch the Pros:

· Note how the target area for the switch shot down the line doesn’t have to be as accurate as the crosscourt shot before it. This is because the change of direction (and often the more aggressive court position) increases the pressure on the opponent.

· Pro players will use building shots in a number of ways. However, they will always be ready to attack at the right time – seizing the moment to finish the point without hesitation.

· Make sure that you link building tactics with attacking tactics so that your players read the game better. In many cases, players who create opportunities to attack don’t always recognise them until it’s too late!

Attacking Tactics

1. Court position

Tennis is being played at a higher tempo than ever before. The game now requires players to be able to attack from the baseline – irrespective of their game style. The most common form of baseline attack is to play from a more aggressive court position. Let’s look at the benefits of this tactic more closely.

Players like to attack from inside the baseline because:

1. It creates more time pressure on an opponent since there is less time to recover from the previous shot.

2. More pace can be created since the oncoming ball is travelling faster.

3. Players can be more accurate since they are closer to their intended target.

4. There is easier access to the net.

5. Different angles can be created from inside the baseline.

Watch the Pros:

· Pro players regularly contact the ball at shoulder height when playing from inside the baseline. This is an important skill for your players to develop if they want to increase the time and pace pressure on an opponent.

· Pro players have groundstroke techniques that are repeatable and efficient. Your players need swings and grips that are ‘uncomplicated’.

· Players using aggressive court positions have less time to prepare for their shots, therefore, reading the ball and movement to it is crucial!

2. The big forehand

Many top players use a ‘big’ forehand groundstroke to attack with. This tactic requires a player to hit forehands from almost anywhere on the court after building a strong advantage in the rally. A common way of doing this is for a player to rally deep crosscourt to the right-handers backhand side until an opportunity to run around their own backhand arises. The player then hits a big inside-out or inside-in forehand to win the point (see Diagram 3).

rob antoun d3

Diagram 3 shows a right handed player building with a deep, crosscourt backhand (1) before attacking with either a big inside-out or inside-in forehand (2).

The shaded area represents the part of the court that the big forehand will be hit from.

Another common way of employing the big forehand is to rally crosscourt from the right-handed player’s forehand side. As soon as the opponent hits a more central shot, the player runs around the ball to hit an aggressive inside-out forehand (see Diagram 4).

Diagram 4 shows a right handed player building with a deep, crosscourt forehand (1) before attacking with a big inside-out forehand (2).

The shaded area represents the part of the court that the big forehand will be hit from.

Watch the Pros:

· Pro players create space around the ball in order to execute the big forehand effectively. They usually hit with a semi-open or open stance - allowing maximum upper body rotation and increased disguise.

· They also use their non-hitting hand to help take the racket back. This creates a store of elastic energy in the upper body and also helps disguise the direction of the shot.

· Encourage your players to hit more inside-out forehands than inside-in ones – particularly from a wide court position. Not only is the inside-out forehand a higher percentage shot, it also minimises the angles of potential counter attack for the opponent.

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