November 28, 2016 - Follow the Elbow

Many players are aware that one of the best places to attack is an opponent's middle, i.e. his playing elbow, roughly the mid-point between forehand and backhand. There are multiple reasons for this, as noted in the previous Tip of the Week, Attacking the Middle. Many make the mistake of looking for a chance to attack the middle instead of just attacking it, period. Why wait?

However, often a player is told to attack the opponent's middle to set up shots to the corners. This is a highly effective tactic, but unless you do it regularly, it's actually difficult to do correctly. The problem is that after attacking the middle, one of the corners usually opens up – but then you have to almost instantly judge which one that is. If you get it wrong, the opponent often gets an easy shot. Top players are so used to attacking the middle and then going to the corner that opens up that it's instinct – they find it so easily they don't even realize how difficult this is for others.

How do you judge which sides opens up? In covering the middle, the opponent has to move sideways to play a forehand or backhand from the middle. That leaves one side open. After the shot, they are usually either slow in returning into position, thereby leaving that side open, or almost as often move too quickly, often still moving as you hit your next shot, and so leave the other side open. You just have to see and react to which side is open.

But there's a simpler tactic which anyone can do which is just about as effective and is easier to do – and that's to simply keep going after the middle, i.e. "Follow the Elbow." This is an especially good tactic in fast exchanges, especially backhand ones. All you do is keep punching or looping the ball right at the opponent's elbow, no matter where they are. If they start edging over to cover it, you follow the target and keep going after it. The tactic isn't too effective against super-fast forehand players, but most players are two-winged in fast rallies. Even if they know you are going to go to their middle again, they can't really position themselves for it – all that does is move their elbow, and you simply go for it again.

Against such an onslaught to their elbow, many players will just wilt, unable to rally effectively. Have no mercy – keep going at their elbow until they either miss or give you an easy put-away – and then you can go anywhere.