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Cross-Court and Inside-Out

Top play­ers use a cer­tain game plan. They first adjust it to their own game, to max­i­mize the use of their own strengths, and then by who they are playing. Regard­less of their plan, there is one pat­tern they know is a must, inde­pen­dent of who they are play­ing.

They are aware that the safest response to a cross-court shot is another cross-court. There are sev­eral rea­sons for this. One is that it is eas­ier and more accu­rate to return the incom­ing ball per­pen­dic­u­larly to the angle of the rac­quet face than to mod­ify that angle with pre­ci­sion to change the direc­tion of your response.

In gen­eral, cross-court shots have more court space to hit to, requir­ing less pre­ci­sion. The net is lower in the mid­dle. It seems more nat­ural to hit a big­ger top­spin cross-court than down-the-line unless you mas­ter the inside-out shot.

Another rea­son is that play­ing the ball down-the-line will leave the court open on the other side, vul­ner­a­ble to another cross-court shot from your oppo­nent. This would even­tu­ally take its toll. If you are not too con­vinced of this par­tic­u­lar aspect, prac­tice it with a friend, or team­mate.

Hit only down-the-line while your friend hits only cross-court. You’ll see who loses the breath first. When the ball comes closer to the cen­ter and shorter, still on your fore­hand side, that’s your oppor­tu­nity to play it inside-out.

In this instance, your oppo­nent is vul­ner­a­ble to both shots, inside-out and cross-court. He won’t be able to tell your next aim, espe­cially if you dis­guise it until you make con­tact, and enforce it with a great “wrap­ping” follow-through.

Remember that you can hit across the ball, wrap­ping your fin­ish around your body, as if you were hit­ting cross-court, and still hit inside-out as a result of the angle of your rac­quet, drag­ging it behind your hand.

You can prac­tice the inside-shot with your part­ner, park­ing your­selves in your back­hand dou­bles line, and hit­ting fore­hands back and forth from there. Then prac­tice from the fore­hand sin­gles cor­ner, hit­ting only cross-court shots.

The shorter the ball, the more you can hit it cross-court. Rather than aim­ing for a deep shot, go for the inter­sec­tion of the sideline and the ser­vice line. In a match, this will drive your oppo­nent far­ther off the court and may give you, even­tu­ally, a big­ger and safer down-the-line or inside-out opening.

Top­spin is the key to avoid “over-hitting”, which is really a mis­nomer in mod­ern times, because with top­spin you can hit much harder, know­ing that the ball will drop in the court.

Pros “over-hit” top­spin shots as much as they like. Originally, pro­fes­sion­als uti­lized this tac­tic mostly with their fore­hands. Today, hav­ing two-handers com­pa­ra­ble with great fore­hands, many excel in using this pat­tern on the back­hand side.

Only a few one-handers have such con­fi­dence to hit big top­spin in a long rally on every back­hand ball.

Ana­lyze these pat­terns when you watch top ten­nis, study­ing how you could use this knowl­edge with your own game. And if you want to know what many play­ers are using to cause Rafael Nadal some trou­ble, watch them hit behind him after he hits short.

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