How To Play Against Big Hitters
As we are in full swing of tennis tournament and tennis league season, I thought it may be helpful to investigate ways to offset those "big hitters" we may run into. Since more players these days come out swinging and swinging hard with the aid of new racquet and string technologies, playing against these big hitters can be intimidating. When battling a big hitter, there are some things you can do to keep these players off balance and neutralize their power.
Keep Them Away From the Strike Zone
One of the best things you can do against power hitters is to keep them from hitting the ball in their optimum strike zone - typically between their waist and armpits. The last thing you want to do is to hit the ball with top-spin softly landing at or a couple feet behind the service line - your ball will sit-up right where your opponent wants it and they will be able to step in and crush the ball right at their comfort zone. One way to keep the ball out of their strike zone - try slicing the ball to keep the ball low, this forces your opponent to have to hit up on the ball and makes it tougher to take a big swing - they're almost always forced to hit a neutral or even a defensive shot - not the big offensive ball they want to hit.
The Power of Placement
Placement is key. If you can keep your opponent deep in the court, that strategy will rob them of time to set up thereby making it harder for them to generate that power they have. Also, hitting short angled slices will force them to come forward and make them have to hit on the move. Keeping your opponent moving side-to-side behind the baseline or up and back is usually a good play, giving them less time to prepare and they will have fewer opportunities to step into the ball to take a big swing.
Don't Try to Match Their Power
There's no need to match a big hitter's power with your own. If you try to match power for power and that's not your normal game plan you will fall right into the hands of your opponent - typically making a lot of unforced errors and ultimately giving the match away to them. Try taking some pace off of your shots, perhaps hit high, loopy shots that rebound off the court high and out of their strike zone, forcing your opponent to
generate all the power on their own.This can help you draw more errors out of your opponent as they overswing to produce that power they want.
Handling the Serve
That booming "big" first serve may be the most intimidating shot we face. First, try shortening your backswing to catch up with the fast serve, enabling you to contact the ball out in front helping you to direct the ball where you wish and to (hopefully) get the point started. Sometimes, just blocking the ball back into play on a big serve may be your only option. But block with a purpose! Whether that's deep back to the baseline or angled to make your opponent move, you have to get them out of their rhythm, making it harder to step in and crush that next shot like they want.
Against big hitters, as soon as you determine whether your going to hit a forehand or backhand return, it's helpful to get your feet, hips and shoulders turned to that side immediately. That will position your body quickly and help take your racquet back in preparation for your shot. Against hard hitters, sometimes the best strategy is to just get the ball back over the net and good body and racquet position is key to that end. Many big hitters get impatient and go for too much, too early or they simply aren't consistent enough and will miss after one or two shots.
These strategies may be hard to do when your opponent is blasting balls at you right and left, but be patient, and try to work the point to your advantage. Try to take the big power hitters out of their power zone with spin, placement and patience. Make sure you do whatever you have to do to hit the ball back over the net. As I like to say, "never underestimate your opponents ability to miss their next shot". And that goes double for the "big hitters" in your life.
See Ya' on the Courts, Gary USPTA Elite Professional