We saw in an earlier blog on Tactics, that generally straight drives from the back, followed by straight drops is probably the most effective tactic. However, you cannot play straight every single time you are in the back corner as it will be too predictable. The cross-court from the back is required to add variation to your back court game, making you less predictable to play against. The only problem is cross-courts from the back come with great risk. By the nature of the situation, you are in the back corner and your opponent is in front of you in the ‘T Zone’. If they are close to the ‘T’, sending the ball across the court through this area is obviously dangerous as you are likely to set them up for an attacking volley.
How do we stop your opponent volleying your cross-court from the back?
Step 1: Choosing the right time is essential. You lure your opponent into thinking you are going to hit straight, by generally hitting straight and tight. You notice your opponent anticipating the straight drive by standing slightly to the side of the ‘T’ – this creates more space to hit the cross-court away from their volley.
Once you’ve addressed Step 1 and you’ve decided it would be an appropriate time to cross-court, then you have to decide what type of cross-court to hit. There are 2 options – hard and low or a high lob.
Hard and Low: This is a good choice as you are taking time away from your opponent, giving them less time to change direction and volley after anticipating a straight drive. It needs to be hard because you want to hit the ball low, so even if your opponent is looking to volley and in a position to do so, the ball is down by their ankles making the volley extremely awkward. As the ball is so low it needs to be hit hard to make the ball reach the back of the court. This shot is easier to play from the back forehand corner, simply because it’s easier for most people to generate power on the forehand.
High Lob: Nick Matthew uses this shot wonderfully. After a few fast exchanges it’s such a lovely change of direction, pace and rhythm. To play this well you need to get very low in the back corner so your racket can come from underneath the ball, pushing up through the bottom of the ball with your follow-through finishing high above your head. Height is everything. This shot is slower, so your opponent will have time to change direction and look to volley the ball, so the ball must be high enough to go over their head. Once over their head, if you have judged the length well, the ball can “plop” into the back corner and not come off the back wall much at all, forcing your opponent to boast. Generally, this shot is easier to play from the backhand back corner.
The type of cross court you need to avoid at all costs is the medium pace, medium height shot (the same pace as a tight straight backhand drive). This will give your opponent time to change direction and pounce on the volley as it runs through the middle of the court at a nice volleying height. Like a penalty in football, you need to hit the ball high or low, never in-between as that’s the perfect eye-level height for the goalkeeper to save.
LESSON – NEVER HIT A MEDIUM PACED, MEDIUM HEIGHT CROSS COURT! YOU MUST STOP YOUR OPPONENT VOLLEYING.
Here’s a still shot taken from The British Open of Nick playing a cross court lob from the back corner. His back and knees are bent and his racket is low. This will enable him to get the ball high over ElShorbagy’s head.