By Scott Devoy, U.S. National Junior Women’s Coach
One of the biggest differences between players at lower levels compared to the upper levels can be seen in their variety of play—or lack of it. Whether the pace put on the ball, or the height, or even the variety of shots selected, players at lower levels tend to be relatively consistent by always hitting the ball hard, or rarely hitting lobs, or doing little more than hit straight drives or crosscourts.
As players progress, however, we begin to see some subtle changes. Balls that are hit straight, tend to be hit tighter to the side walls , and some shots will be hit hard while others are hit by taking pace off the ball. Pace of play also begins to change as players begin to volley more, thereby taking time away from their opponent. Even more important, players begin to use different shots to move their opponents around the court with the goal of getting them out of position.
To further progress, it will become increasingly important to build a larger arsenal of shots—short, long, high and low—as well as being able to change the pace of play during points rather than just from point to point. Watching your opponent at the upper levels will help you to determine which shots, and at what pace, will be most effective to exploit the position of your opponent, not to mention your own position on the court.
Players at this level can put a rally together but often will struggle with variations in play. Not being able to change pace or use height and width consistently results in a lot of points being played the same. Points are won and lost on racquet errors which are the result of being out of position or not reading the play in time. To become more consistent players should look to practice basic drills (boast/drive; boast/cross/straight) and simple variations like this to work on positioning, balance and rhythm, thus allowing for better control around the court.
Players at this level are now more consistent with shot selection and being able to keep the ball relatively tight. Players will look to volley and take the ball short more to make the court bigger for the opponent. As the structure of the rally becomes better, players can now maneuver each other out of position to create openings to win points. To make the jump to the next level, players should work on accuracy, using targets to hit to with the idea of progressing to smaller spaces to hit at. Players should also work on recovery to the T—something that will help with tempo and being able to absorb pressure which will be key at the next level.
Players now have an array of shots—short, long, fast or slow. The variations are now built into your game. Tempo and controlling the pace of the game is now key. Knowing when to go short, when to slow down or increase pace are all things that are now added. The ability to recognize areas in your opponents’ game that you can exploit and create pressure; being able to dominate the T will create openings to attack. Training at this level requires pressure sessions with hitting partners and conditioned games of attacking to certain areas while your partner defends. Ghosting to work on movement to cover the T, and get on the ball quickly. This means that you will control the pace and tempo of the match, hopefully resulting in a win!