Tips and Tricks with Carl Danner: Two Approaches To Close Games
By Carl Danner
In the old days, many 21 point games were runaways in which one player took a large lead, and coasted to victory. Today’s 11 point scoring doesn’t allow that luxury, with many more games decided by a few points or at deuce. To be a winner now, it’s more important than ever to handle tight situations well. Let’s look at two different approaches — one of which should work for you.
Some players are strong attackers who look for big shots to win points. If this is you, it’s usually vital to be the one who opens the point by landing the first topspin attack. When you are serving in this situation, offer your opponent something that encourages him to be passive (ideally, to push) so you can loop the return. Usually, this will be a short serve with underspin, or a nothing ball with an underspin fake. When returning, force yourself to loop any deep serve (if you possibly can), while returning short serves with either a flip, a short push, or a deep hard push to an awkward position like your opponent’s body. Then prepare once more to loop anything that comes back deep.
Some players like rallies. They don’t hit many big shots, but outlast their opponents using counterdrives or softer loops. At lower levels, they may also push and block to keep the point going. Their objective for close games is somewhat different — to deny the opponent a chance at a big swing. These players should serve to encourage a topspin return, but without a lot of power or heavy spin. Short to medium depth topspin serves are good for this, as is the occasional surprise fast serve to a location the opponent can’t easily reach with a forehand. Getting past the initial chance for the opponent to swing hard is a success in itself, and the control player can then use her advantage to win the majority of long points that will follow. The same advice applies to service return, but in reverse. Find some way to put a little topspin on the ball while aiming it to a safe place. If your opponent can’t loop the return strongly, you are once again headed into the kind of point you want to play.
Two last things. First, be sure you have a plan for close games, whether or not it is one of these. There’s nothing worse than looking at your racket at 9-all and wondering what you are supposed to do. Second, be aware that many players use a hybrid of attacking and steady styles. You may be a stronger attacker than some opponents, while better off playing steady against others. You can use these two strategies interchangeably depending on how you match up against a given opponent.