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Four Safe Ways to Be More Aggressive

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More aggression can be your safest tennis strategy.

Many players do well playing mostly defensive tennis. For all but the top 2% or so of the playing population, errors are more common than winners, so simply giving a less-patient opponent a few opportunities to miss will usually win the point. Almost every tennis player, though, can move up a few notches on the tennis ladder by learning to be more aggressive at the appropriate times.

Aggressive tennis usually carries more risk than defensive tennis, but there's a risk in failing to be aggressive, too. Every ball you hit during a point that you should have already won is a needless chance for you to miss.

Here are four ways to be more aggressive, ranked from least to most risky:

  1. Hit more topspin.
    Topspin lets you send a tougher ball at your opponent--and with a greater margin of clearance over the net. Executing a topspin stroke is more difficult than hitting flat, so there's more risk of a mis-hit, and if you generate less topspin than you intend, you'll probably hit long. If you do execute properly, though, balls that leave your racquet at a given speed with topspin will arrive at your opponent's racquet faster than those you hit at the same speed flat, because the ball will lose less speed as it bounces. You'll be able to hit harder at any given height above the net than you could hit flat, and the topspin ball is more likely to bounce above your opponent's comfort zone.

  2. Get to net for easy floaters.
    Once you start trying to anticipate when your opponent will pop up an easy floater, you'll be surprised at how often you get a chance to move in and put away a sitter volley or overhead. Almost any time an opponent has to run away from the net to get a ball, for example, you can be pretty sure he won't hit a powerful drive. If you've just made him chase a deep lob, you should always come to net--it's one of tennis's "automatics." Even if he's just angling backward to get one of your deep drives, though, you should move up. You'll force him to either try a very difficult passing shot or, if he's smart, a lob. As long as you have a decent overhead, the odds will be greatly in your favor. Failing to move up will let him just hit a safe, slow, high ball over the center of the net. He'll be right back in the point with a shot that he never could have used if you had moved up.

  3. Take balls early, on the rise.
    Instead of meeting the ball as it drops from the peak of its bounce back into your power zone, try moving forward and hitting it as it comes up from the bounce. By meeting the ball several feet farther forward, you'll be able to hit sharper angles and get to net more readily, but most importantly, you'll give your opponent less time to react to your shot. If tennis players had all the time in the world to get to any shot, power would be almost worthless. Reducing your opponent's time has the same effect as hitting harder, but with less risk--as long as your timing is good enough to execute the shot. You'll also have less court to cover by cutting off your opponent's angle shots sooner.

  4. Mix in some serve-and-volley.
    If you follow professional tennis, you probably know that serve-and-volley is not for everyone. Even among the world's best, only a small minority are really proficient. Fortunately for you, though, your opponent is probably not a world-class returner, either. If you're letting your opponent get away with floating back high, slow returns of your serve, you're blunting your serve's edge. Many players who can block hard serves back consistently can't even begin to hit a decent pass or lob on the return, and if you make them try, you'll earn a lot of easy points as they miss. If you're a half-decent volleyer, the floaters will be easy pickings for you, and you won't have to come in on every point. If your opponent merely thinks you might come in, she'll be afraid to use her trusty floater return.
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