Most players attack mostly crosscourt. There are good reasons for this – you have more table, and doesn’t give the opponent an extreme angle away from you on the return. But many players way overdo this. So let’s examine the facts about down-the-line attacks.
- Down-the-line is 9 feet. Crosscourt is about 10 feet 3.5 inches. That’s an extra 15.5 inches, making it a safer attack. But if you overdo it, it’s low percentage, since your opponent will be camped over there expecting it.
- Opponents often leave down-the-line open. When they see you attacking, they’ll immediately cover the crosscourt angle. Most players fall for this, since they are afraid that if they attack down the line, they’ll be open to a crosscourt angled return. It’s a legitimate concern – if the opponent is covering that line. At all levels, even among top players, there are many who guard against the crosscourt attack, and so are very good at it, relying on opponents who are afraid to go down the line.
- Aim crosscourt, go down-the-line. From the wide forehand, set up and backswing to attack crosscourt – then, at the last second, rotate your shoulders to the right and go down-the-line. The opponent will likely have moved to cover the crosscourt and you have an easy winner. Similarly, when doing a forehand attack from the backhand side, set up and backswing as if going crosscourt – then whip your shoulders around vigorously, taking the ball a little quicker, and go down the line. Again, it will often be an ace.
- What to do after a down-the-line attack. Since your opponent has an extreme crosscourt angle to block into, your ready position after your attack should be far enough in that direction that you can cover that angle – but you have to get there quickly. Don’t finish your follow through, and then move into position; you should follow through into that position. When you do a forehand from the wide forehand, you can use the momentum from your swing and from the right-to-left weight shift (for righties, reverse for lefties) to help get back into position quickly. When attacking a forehand from the backhand side, your weight should finish on your left foot (for a righty), and so you can push off that during your follow-through to get back into position.
- Practicing down-the-line. It’s great practice to attack down-the-line to a practice partner’s block. If you can attack this way consistently, then crosscourt is easy, plus down-the-line attacks in a match situation becomes natural from practicing that way.