January 26, 2015 - Play the Ball

Often players ask me how to play different surfaces. There are obvious and easy answers for that, and beginners do need to know how the various surfaces play different. For example, long pips tends to return whatever spin you give it, and they need to understand that to be able to play it. Short pips tends to return flatter (i.e. less spinny) then you'd expect from the more common inverted. And so on.

But the more important thing is to simply learn to play the ball. You don't really need to know that long pips will return your spin, except perhaps as a help at the start of a match. Very early in any match you'll see how your opponent's surfaces and strokes return your shots, and that's what you need to play. For example, knowing that long pips will return your spin is fine, but some types return more than others, and some strokes with long pips return more than others. Players need to match what actually is happening in a match to how they react, not just memorize something they can read in a book.

The same is true of adjusting to an opponent's strokes. If he does something strange, ignore the strangeness and just adjust to playing the balls he's giving you. (And remember that if a player has strange shots, then there's a reason they are strange shots - they are not orthodox, and so likely have major technical weaknesses in them, if you can find them.)

Once a player understands how the ball comes off an opponent's racket and strokes in a match, he can play the balls he's getting, knowing what they'll be based on how they have been coming off the racket so far. Then he can figure out how to adjust, and what type of shots he should do to get the type of balls he wants. For example, you might have trouble against the fast dead shots of a pips-out player. But then you'll realize that you have to contact the ball differently, perhaps lifting slightly more with more topspin (assuming you are a topspin player), and even noting that if you keep the ball deep, you have more time to react and adjust to these deader balls. You could read that in a book or article, but it'll sink in a lot better when you actually face such a situation and adjust, learn to play the ball your opponent is giving you, and actually make the adjustment and win!