Tactics for the Slow of Foot: How to Play a Faster Opponent

By Larry Hodges

Are you tired of reading about players looping winners from all over the court? Are you sick of reading about serve & follow techniques, knowing that you can't possibly do it yourself unless your opponent cooperates? In other words, are you a member of the Slow of Foot Majority?

Let's face it; very few players will ever come close to world class in footwork speed. And many of us will never play their forehand from all over the court, except when given an easy one. Most of us are endowed with mortal foot speed. So what can the slower of foot do to even things out against a faster, trimmer, younger opponent?

• Play wide forehand first, then come back to backhand. If you play to the backhand first, your fast opponent will step around, hit a forehand, and then get a second forehand on your next shot! It's often better to go to the forehand first, then come back to the backhand, where even the fastest of opponents will have to take a backhand. In other words, give one forehand away, not two.

• Go to the forehand. Since many players move to step around their backhands too soon, by playing the forehand first, you'll often catch them going the wrong way, leading to an easy point. Even a quick push to the wide forehand will win a point cleanly, if done at the right time.

• Anticipate, especially when serving. When serving, you can often learn to anticipate what type of returns your opponent will make – i.e., if you serve short backspin, some opponents will push it back deep to the backhand over and over. Take advantage of this, and move early (at least until opponent catches on). You may be slower, but you're smarter!

• Develop strong backhand. Obviously!

• Develop fast down-the-line serve. So your opponent thinks he's so fast he can step around and loop your serve with his forehand from the backhand corner? He probably is. But he probably moves too soon, since he's looking to step around so much, and so is vulnerable to a sudden fast serve to the wide forehand. Go for that ace!

• Heavy push, quick block. If your opponent is quick enough to use his forehand on most shots, force him into mistakes with spin and quickness. First, give him the "ginsu" push, the one where the backspin makes the ball smoke. When he weakly lifts the ball up (we can only hope!), quick-block it to a wide corner. Between the heavy backspin and the quick block, your fast opponent will often make a mistake. Alternate strategy: push quick off the bounce, then block quick – i.e. use quickness to force a mistake. Even the fastest of feet makes mistakes when rushed.

• Wide angle play. Your opponent may have feet like a cheetah, but even a cheetah takes longer to cover eight feet than five. Make sure to keep all your shots at wide angles, outside the corners if possible.

• Serve short, push short. If you can serve short or push short, then your fast opponent won't be able to loop the ball.