There are two main things that should affect your decision on how you pass someone.
How forceful your opponent’s approach or volley has been, allowing him/her to close the net in a commanding position.
The other is:
How good you are at hitting a passing shot.
You may be stronger on one wing than on the other. In this article we’ll address passing shots as if you were proficient on both sides.
First of all, a good passing shot should have deception. You hold your guns till the last tiny moment, faking one thing initially with your body while you execute another with your hands, assuring that your shot either stays low or dips towards his feet.
If your opponent is one of those tight net closers it would be a good idea to lob quite often initially to stem his idea of getting very close. As a result of your lobbing he may choose a zone a step or two back from his original conception, to protect against a good lob.
I would continue lobbing until you see your tactic has affected his forward charge. Once you have accomplished this, the choices are simplified: If you have a good modern forehand and a similarly effective two-handed backhand, the amount of topspin on your shot will accomplish two things.
One is to have the ball dip to his feet, making it harder to volley with authority, and the other effect is that the ball’s rotation will grab your opponent’s racquet unpredictably, affecting his precision. Many attacking players, when subject to continuous lobbing in the beginning of a match, soon resort to volley from further back on their court, most likely weakly, and making a second passing shot possible and easier.
Modern topspin players hit passing shots down the line when the ball is short and there is some opening, reserving a surprise cross court when the player starts leaning early or closing the down the line side more than the other.
On deeper balls topspin players may risk a harder shot, either down the line or crosscourt, trying to thread the needle. With the advent of heavy topspin, there is more room than ever to go crosscourt, as the ball will go down sooner, allowing you to hit it wider and shorter.
This makes reaching the passing shot, especially if you faked it down the line, much harder to reach. If you have a one-handed backhand, the choices are up to your topspin proficiency. Only at the professional level, I have seen huge, powerful topspin backhands that dip quickly.
If your shot is quite flat or you only have a slice, keep up the alternate lob/alternate passing shot tactic. If he stays back a bit, you can slow down your passing shot so that he reaches it below the top of the net.
On the practice court, to get the idea of what to do on a passing shot, hit excessive topspin with your favorite strokes, brushing up a lot, to get the ball to bounce inside the service line both for the down the line and the cross court shots.
While you do this, fake one direction and go on the other. Sometimes try a double fake. And once in a while fake a passing shot and throw a lob. If you feel creative, practice some “forehand-looking” topspin lobs, another fake hard to predict.
Being creative is a big part of your defense. Just be mindful to keep your attention on the ball and not on your opponent. The first thing to do is to make the shot, and, if your opponent has guessed your placement, kudos for him.
At least you did not beat yourself with an error, and you may have more success in your next passing shot.—Oscar Wegner, [Editor’s note: this article is part of a series of articles from modern tennis guru Oscar Wegner. You may find more about Oscar at his site www.tennisteacher.com. Used by permission.]