How We Draw It Up
(Not always how we do it)
How are you going to get an edge over someone of your equal ability and win matches consistently? Hoping to win the long rallies, and just make more balls than your opponent is not the way. First of all, that takes unbelievable mental and physical conditioning, and secondly, in my opinion, it leaves too much of the outcome in your opponent’s hands. The way to win matches against your equal is to find ways to attack and apply pressure while still playing high percentage tennis.
Faced with the problem of having to win matches against my equals, I decided to start watching and charting matches to see what the top pros are really doing. So I charted every first attempt passing shot hit over 20 matches, and found that 5% are missed, 10% are hit for a clean winner, and 85% are hit so that the attacker has to hit a volley; all of these situations allowed for the defender to get a decent look at a passing shot. This tells us that 85% of the time, the defender intends for the attacker to hit a volley, which should make the volleyer relax. If you get passed off your approach, it’s not gonna happen every time, so don’t even worry about it. Only 5% of passing shots are missed, which makes me think that approaches should be hit solidly, hoping to put the passer in a difficult situation, rather than risk missing an approach by hitting too close to the lines or with too much speed because 95% of the time, your opponent will get to your approach and hit some form of a passing shot back your way. Good passers are going to make you hit a volley; likewise good attackers are going to make you hit a pass.
From last week’s article, we know that only 10 percent of shots land in Zones A & D, which holds true even when we attack and are at the net. So as you approach, you can relax knowing that 85% of the time the ball will be hit back to you, because even when not under pressure, most players still choose to hit the ball through the middle of the court, so under more pressure they are even more likely to play it safe and go through the middle. Just because the passing shot comes to you, doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy volley, but at least you won’t get passed out right.
Almost all players can create more with their forehand, that’s why 50% of shots get hit to our backhands. The same is true with passing shots; 4% of the passing shot winners happen from a forehand pass. Of course, 4% is not much, but it’s more than the 1% of backhand passes that go for winners. What this tells us is that players hitting backhand passing shots are almost always going to try and win the point with a combination pass, meaning they’ll try to hit a good pass on the first one and then try to track down the volley and find themselves presented with an easier pass on the next one.
So when we are attacking, and stuck with a half volley, or a volley that can’t be hit for an easy winner, we should volley to our opponent’s backhand side. This way, even if we don’t hit a great shot, our opponent is already preprogrammed to hit their passing shot back to us, giving us another look at a volley. The same way passing shots are typically a combination, and not won on outright winners, the same mentality can be applied to becoming a good volleyer. If you have a put away volley, take it; if you don’t have a put away volley, play it to the backhand side. Volleying to the open court is no longer the right play. A forehand passing shot on the run is more dangerous than a stand still backhand pass.
The hardest part of playing sports is improving. As athletes, we are always working to take our game to the next level, whether that is from JV to Varsity or from College to the Pros. Right now, I'm faced with the reality that i must really improve as a player if i want my professional career to continue. I always spent time in the gym and on the court, but what i've been missing is an understanding of the game and how it's really played at the highest level. Tennis is a game of split second decisions, where to hit the ball, how hard to hit it, where should we recover to after our shots; all these decisions have a most probable answer though, and that can help slow the game down for us. So how can you get to a new level? The chart above can help.
I have watched 20 sets of men’s professional tennis at the ATP level and charted every shot to see where their shots land on their opponents side of the court. Every set was a righty against a righty so that there would be no mixing up forehand and backhand sides, and of course the chart above only shows one side of a tennis court with the green line representing the net. The blue lines are about four feet from the singles sideline; those are “Zone A” and “Zone D.” Zone A is on the forehand side of a righty, and zone D is the backhand side. The percentage you can see in each zone is the overall percent time the ball landed in each “Zone.”
These percentages shocked me because I thought the top pros would have played more balls into Zones A and D of their opponent. Hitting closer to the lines opens up your opponent's court and makes it easier for you to get the advantage in the rally. I thought hitting close to the lines reaped such huge rewards that the risk of missing wide was worth it, but apparently I was wrong! They’re only hitting 10% of their shots within four feet of the sideline on both sides. I took into account every shot; passing shots, volleys, overheads, mishits, every shot except the serve.
With this knowledge we should be able to take the court with a sense of relaxation because we know where our opponent is going to hit the ball, and where we should hit most of our shots! Do you aim for zones A and D more than 10% of the time? Should you make adjustments to your game that would cut down on unforced errors and personal frustrations? This was just an introduction to the work I have been doing, and over the next four weeks I will be releasing more strategies and findings that I have realized the pros are using that can help all of us, so stay tuned and let me know what these percentages reveal to you!