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Five Great Shot Combinations

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One of the marks of an experienced tennis competitor is thinking beyond the shot you are about to hit. Your odds of hitting a winner are far greater if you set yourself up for it than if you try to create it spontaneously out of sheer shot-making brilliance.

Here are five shot combinations that work especially well:

Suitable for advanced beginners through lower intermediates:

  • Hit short enough to force your opponent to move ten or more feet forward into her court. When she fails to get back behind her baseline, which most players at this level often do, simply hit the next ball deeper than her position and at least eight feet to either side of her. As long as your opponent isn't good at putting away short balls, this is a fairly safe tactic, and it can yield a ton of points. Keeping your short ball low will make it even safer--harder to put away.
Suitable for upper intermediate through advanced players:
  • Hit a high, deep topspin, preferably to your opponent's backhand side, that will kick above her shoulders. Most players can't generate much pace on a ball above their shoulders on the backhand side, so you'll usually get a high, floating ball that's easy to put away at the net. When your shot kicks especially high, your opponent will be looking up and to the side as she hits the ball, so she often won't see you moving in to volley. With this "sneak volley," you can catch your opponent sending what would have been a fairly safe shot (if you had stayed back) but is, instead, a perfect setup for your volley.
  • Hit to your opponent's "side pocket," the outside corner of the service box, then put the next ball away to the opposite side or, as your opponent hurries back toward the center of the court, hit behind him (wrong-footing him). This is a classic shot combination that can be started with a slice serve, a sharp crosscourt topspin groundstroke, or a delicately angled slice groundstroke, usually a backhand. One hazard though: if your opponent gets to your widely angled shot in time to set up a good reply, he'll be able to create an even sharper angle than you did, because of his wide position on the court.
  • The drop-shot-then-lob combination is always fun, but it takes considerable finesse to execute safely. If your drop shot is too deep or your lob too short, most opponents will easily take the point, but you'll find some otherwise solid players who have a lot more trouble putting away short balls and/or overheads than they should. When you practice drop shots, try to get them to bounce at least three times inside the service line of your opponent's court. A good lob should land no more than four feet from your opponent's baseline, and against some taller opponents, your margin might shrink to less than three feet.
  • If you want to try a combination shot your opponent might not have seen often or at all, the sidespin backhand approach shot should be fun. Hit a backhand combination of sidespin and backspin as you start toward the net. Usually, your opponent won't be able to resist trying to see what you're doing as you're coming in. With some of his attention diverted from the ball, he won't be quite ready for its sideways skid, and he'll hit off center if at all, giving you either an easy volley or no need to volley.
If you have any other favorite shot combinations, please share them at the tennis forum.
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