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Tue, Jan. 21

Working your approach shot; use the backboard

How many times have you reached that moment during a point where you hit a great groundstroke and then your opponent sends you the almighty short ball? How did you handle it? With confidence and ease to the spot you desired, or awkwardly and sent back to them for a no-pressure passing shot or lob?

We work hard to get our opponents to set us up with a short ball, so what's the best way to handle it, where and how should it be hit?

First things first.

Do you own a volley? If you don't, you'll hate short balls that bring you in. How's your over-head smash? Both of these shots will make you or break you at the net and you need to at least semi-own them before you worry about the approach shot.

There is no doubt that going to and being at the net creates a greater anxiety level. The ball is coming faster, giving you less time to react, and many times we hit our shot defensively instead of offensively which is what's really needed.

Know your short ball range. That's the area on the court where you can hit an approach shot to your opponent and reach a position halfway between the service line and the net as, or before, the ball is on your opponent's racquet. You'll have to experiment to see where that desired position is for you.

As you ready for your approach shot, start your racquet slightly high to the ball and underspin the ball (the racquet face slightly beveled back) high to slightly lower, compact backswing and keep your wrist locked and face of the racquet moving through the ball out toward your intended target area. Keep a decent amount of clearance as you site the ball over the net.

You will move your feet through this shot and learn how to aim at four-by-four foot target areas. First the deep ones (within a few feet of the baseline and to your opponent's weaker side) as well as the short-angled approach shots, off-paced to the corner of the service boxes.

After you hit your approach you will continue to follow the path of the ball and then split-step right before your opponent contacts your shot. This momentary pause is just long enough to get back your balance on both feet and be ready to change direction. Now you are ready to hit the next ball. Probably a volley or overhead to the opposite side of the court. You then shift to that side of the court and ready for the next shot from the net if your opponent dogs it down.

It's a bit more detailed than what I've written, but it's fun, it's important in becoming a better player, and it's a shot that's going to occur in singles and doubles and either put you in the driver's seat, or blow you out of the water.

"Backboard Can Be Good Practice Partner"

We are lucky enough to have a multitude of backboards at our public tennis facilities in Prescott. Do you know how to use a backboard to get a good workout?

First stand back 39-40 feet from it. Most players get way too close and thus their reaction time is very limited and the shots they practice are not normal for what will happen in a real game.

For groundstrokes hit one ball at a time from 40 feet back. First hit 10 balls from the forehand side and then 10 balls from the backhand side. They only count if you hit the ball over the white painted line and the ball comes back to you so you can catch it.

After that, try a rally against the backboard with just your forehands. But once you get out of control, or the ball doesn't go over the white line on the board, catch the ball and start again. Then do the same with the backhand side.

Bear in mind, that the ball may bounce two or three times as it returns off the backboard to your starting point, and that's okay.

For practicing serves, walk back 39 feet from the backboard.

Volleys are more difficult to do, but get within three feet of the board and rally soft and aim slightly up into the board. Forehands first, followed by backhands and then alternate sides. Once again, if you go below the white line on the board, catch the ball and start over.

Serve and approach against the board and don't worry if the ball bounces twice. Hit the serve, then the approach shot and the last is a rally of volleys.

The backboard can be a great teaching tool, warm-up partner and friend if you use it the right way.

(Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 30 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 445-1331 or

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