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"Pertinent Tennis Instruction for the Club-Level Player"
Be it singles or doubles, too often we get stuck in a service line to service line rally, wishing our opponents would just miss their shot and lacking the initiative to make things happen! To better understand positioning and shot selection, imagine each side of the court split into equal thirds. Zone 1 is closest to the net, Zone 3 nearest the baseline, and Zone 2 spanning the area between. From Zone 3 and behind our priority is simple...hit the ball deep and pin our opponents behind their own baseline. In Zone 1 we have more potential to attack and inflict damge. In Zone 2 we must alternate between offense and defense based on the relative difficulty of each ball. The way to make smart shots in tennis is to stay focused on our priorities from each of these zones, not over or underextending ourselves needlessly.
Because the threat of being passed at net is greater, in singles we should be more ambitious with our approach shot, combining increased power or spin with more risky shot placement. The sharp angle or down-the-line approach will make our opponents' passing shot more difficult than by safely hitting over the lower middle of the net. In doubles risk is less necessary, however. Keeping the ball out of our opponents' Zone 2 should be our primary focus. The pressure on the baseliner to hit a passing shot or a perfect lob is all we need to force a short pop-up or an unforced error most of the time. Think of this shot as strictly "set-up" for your following volley or overhead. To this end, avoid risk, vary your shots, and aim for the centers of Zone 1 and 3.
Now that we have made our way up to net, how should we end the point? If you have been hitting your volleys harder and harder, cringing as your opponent lobs with irritating consistency over your head, you are probably going about things the wrong way. There are two main drawbacks to attacking with power at net; lack of control and providing the impetus for an impending lob. By simply hitting our volley a little softer we can force the baseliner to stretch for a low ball, angle with fewer mistakes, and more precisely hit the opposing net players' feet. In my experience, the trick is not "overdoing" at net and staying relaxed. Take power off, consistency with improved placement will follow. During practice spend time honing your drop volley and use targets to help sharpen your accuracy, precision, and touch.
Practice smart and keep improving!