Angle Control Sets Ball Breadth or Width In Rally Exchange – Racquetball Techniques
Angle Control, depth of serve, return of serves and all rally shots defines exchange between server and receiver.
Here we will discuss how you can use your strokes to produce your serves, returns of serve and rally shots to force or encourage either a preferred cross-court or instead a favored straight in exchange either as a single shot or as a continuing shot pattern with your fellow competitor. We’re going to review tactical serves, returns and shots and then present Situations and Responses, as experienced on court, to provide lots of options to stoke your offensive and defensive games.
First, the shot terms are defined. What is a basic cross-court? Also … What is a fundamental shot straight to the front wall? How do you impose a shot angle upon your competitor, as you battle together for control of the court. That includes, how do you switch a cross-court or DTL from an unfavorable to more favorable pattern for you or contrarily how do you switch the pattern away from your opponent’s strength to take advantage of their weaker stroke, weaker shot or weaker pattern of shots? Defensively how do you position yourself to make sure you are not preventing either the cross-court or shot straight to the front wall, while still covering those two angles from your first move into center court coverage and then how do you move to proactively track down the ball to shoot?
Definitions dealing with Angle Control
– A “cross-court” is a shot directly to the front wall that rebounds off and can angle directly toward the rear corner farthest from where the player hitting struck the ball. A cross-court may be as small an angle as to place a ball that’s on one side of the court barely on the other side or it can be an angle all the way over to the V cross-court angle directly into the far, rear corner. That V cross-court is a rule mandated shot players MUST allow from racquet to ball contact to form the V angle to the front wall target a little under halfway across the court from the far wall. The ball must be able to strike the front wall and rebound off to head all the way over to that far side’s rear corner. The tops of V are the place where the ball is struck and that far rear corner or angles short of that on in toward the center of the court. The bottom point of the V is where the ball strikes the front wall. Since a shot cross-court from back corner to back corner hits the front wall just a shade under halfway between where the ball is hit and the far sidewall that shot angle is about 45 degrees. Note that you don’t have to give up more than that or say allow a 50 degree angle or more because that would mean you’re allowing a wide angle pass (WAP). A “WAP” strikes the front wall and rebounds out to wrap around you by striking the far sidewall beside you. The WAP passes you and bounces behind you. WAP’s are almost impossible to cut off in the middle or front of the court. WAP’s must be tracked down in the backcourt by running extra fast back to then often having to play the WAP by whacking the ball hard up against the back wall or what is called a “back wall save”. The WAP is more angle than the rules require. Move to give up the V, not the WAP when the ball is behind you on one side in the backcourt. You will see you’re in good coverage when you’re between ball and opposite front corner facing ball side. From there you’re able to cover both sides or both the straight in and the V cross-court. Now here’s the definition of a shot straight to the front wall.
• Shot Straight to Front Wall
– A shot straight to the front wall from anywhere in the court where the player is hitting the ball must be not be prevented by the player who just struck (or served) the ball. That straight angle MUST be given up at all times. Here we’re talking about a straight shot hit on one side of the court down along that same side that’ll cause the ball to hit and rebound out off the front wall and angle back toward the backcourt on that same side *without* the ball catching the sidewall on its way either in to the front wall or on its way back to the back court. Sidewall contact gives the opponent a chance to return the carom unless it were to be an intentional jam serve that’s meant to veer into the opponent’s body off the sidewall to tie up the receiver’s stroke.
• Straight Shot Through Center Court
– Balls straight up through the middle do happen and work well tactically in doubles when the ball is shot between the two opposing doubles players, especially when they are spread so far enough apart that they may be passed easily. When they’re both split apart closer to each sidewall, they are covering possible front corner shots and passes aimed right at them or around them. That positioning leaves open a shot straight to the front wall thru the center.
• The DTL
– A down the line (DTL) is a high level shot that hits the front wall and, as the ball rebounds out, it fades or appears to deviate in its angle back to the back corner. The ball curves on its way into the nearest back corner. A DTL forms a cursive “i” by curving in the front wall and similarly or even more so curving back to ideally wallpaper the sidewall the last few feet on the way back to the back corner. Inside out stroke action or cut and selecting a target a little under halfway between ball and sidewall makes the DTL stroke angle click.
• DTL From Other Side of With Off Stroke
– A more unusual DTL stroke occurs when the player hitting the ball is on the opposite side from where they’d usually use that stroke. The “off stroke” being used is the other side’s stroke, like hitting your forehand on the side where the backhand is the dominant, space eating stroke. The off stroke mechanics are inside in swinging in toward you, along with a tighter follow-through wrapping in close to you, while you direct the ball to pass just behind you, as you face the far sidewall. The inside in stroke motion can crisp a very difficult to return passing angle into the rear corner back behind the player hitting the ball. This is not a common stroking method that a player often drills. It’s requires running around one stroke in preference for the other; so hustle helps and feetwork rules. The angle the inside in takes to the back corner hits the front wall under halfway between ball contact and sidewall and the ball curves out. After the ball hits the front wall and rebounds out, it breaks away from the shooter toward the rear corner at a trajectory angle that seems to grow, as it veers away from the cover player who is heavily taxed in making their cover run, while literally trying to hit a moving target.
• There’s DTL Serving, Too
– Not all racquetball rallies start with a cross-court. All rallies do start with a serve and a return of serve. The serve can begin from anywhere in the 20′ wide service box or the box. When a ball is served clearly from over on one side of center to angle the ball across the court toward the far, rear corner, it’s a cross-court serve. When a ball is served from along one wall from that side of center on over to the 3′ drive serve line, there the ball is being hit to travel along the wall on that side. The rally is starting with a ‘straighter’ shot to the front wall and it may approximate a down the line (DTL) when after striking the front wall the serve tails off while curling into that back corner due to server imparted ball spin.
• Start Pattern
– Strategically it’s all about how to use your serve, as well as how you return your opponent’s serve to establish or start your preferred pattern of play as either straight or cross-court. It also extends into to the rally when your chosen rally shot can also set the pattern for the next rally shot by the opponent.
The ability to control the angle of your ball and its speed and spin determines its effectiveness at continuing the rally in your desired pattern (with a solid pass or ceiling) or how well you change the rally angle. The shot’s placement may also pressure the opponent into a weak or attackable shot which affords you the chance to end the rally outright with a very low straight, cross-court, or sidewall winning shot, with winners like those a subject for another day. Controlling ball angle is why you shoot the ball to either keep it on your side of the court or place it on the other half of the court. As you play ask yourself, “What’s the best side to put under my attack?”.
Note sidewall shots and shots directly to the front wall that are struck intending for the ball to be very low and result in a “kill-shot” don’t set the breadth or width or side to side pattern we’re discussing here. That’s a topic for next time, with the pinch, straight kill-shot, 3-wall and splat shots. Although normally a very low shot is not hit with the intent to draw the opponent forward. Going for a very low target means you’re going for an untouchable winner! Your intent is to render their forward movement insignificant because you’re choosing to go “low board” for a rally ending kill-shot.
• Breadth and Depth
– Here we’re discussing setting the breadth or side to side pattern. We’re also looking to consistently set the width as very wide and depth as very deep in the court or achieving length with your passing and ceiling shots and serves. If your cross-court or straight shot doesn’t have a chance to make it to the backcourt because it is miss-angled and it catches a sidewall or it’s misplaced and hit to the opponent or it’s left off the back wall or it’s too softly hit and attackable, it’s not achieving your depth or length goal. If your shot is able to be cut off in the middle by the opponent and they can effectively place the ball either in the front court or into an angle toward the backcourt you can’t cover, your shot was too softly hit or it was hit into an angle which the opponent had well covered when perhaps another angle was most likely less well covered. Additionally an off angle ceiling or pass (unless it’s a WAP) that catches the sidewall too far up in the court or before it’s in the back 10′ or the backcourt can’t achieve the court depth goal you seek. Of course any pass or ceiling ball that pops off the back wall is very vulnerable to an assault by the opponent, as they may then go for a low front wall winner. Control your height on the front wall for passes. Although, when your pass is too low, it can be intercepted in the middle. If it is an uncovered angle, going for a low kill-pass is okay. A well placed pass bounces once in the middle of the court and a second time before the back wall. Passes can be hit extremely hard and as low as 1′ high or they can be up to 5′ high when hit softly to place the ball tantalizingly just out of reach of an opponent who is moving too early or leaving wide open a gap behind them to pass into. An overhit soft ceiling usually needs more backspin on the ball. An overhit harder hit ceiling needs to have a deeper ceiling target and no spin.
• Efficient Stroking Stance
– Producing accurate serves and shot angles, with dialed in pace and spin, are based on solid stroking stances and efficiency of lower body movement. From the beginning in a slight knee bent, upright posture you move from your solidly set back foot to your front foot after you step it up. The front foot must also be solidly set or not sliding the front plant foot out around in front of you as you swing, which could imbalance you and maybe cause your shot to skip. A partially closed stance is ideal, with the front foot half a tennis shoe out closer to the sidewall you face. An over closed stance cuts down on your shot options and puts undue pressure on your lower back and knees as you try to turn against an unturning front leg. Open stance stroking happens often due to the speed of the game, especially when shooting from the middle of the court. Find which of your angles and shots work when facing the front wall (and from all your stances). And, of course, seek to close your stance and prep as you step so the swing mechanics support low contact passes, (kill-shots when you’re setup) or on balance, facing the sidewall, smooth ceiling strokes. Open stance ceilings are tough to angle accurately deep into the back corners. Notice overheads aren’t included among the options for cross-court or straight shot placements. Overheads and even ceilings are both too often hit because a player isn’t positioned well to shoot with low contact or very low contact stroke. A player should be in position early to dictate play and not be relegated to either go for broke or play the defensive getter role, while the opponent gets to play the more fun, assertive attacker role.
• Serve to Dictate Pattern
– Serving well isn’t only about hitting aces or service winners that are un-returnable. Serving is knowing how to use your serve as the start of a sequence of shots that leads to success for you in rallies, by capturing points, and winning matches. That means use the serve to create either a cross-court or straight exchange. That placement control by the server or receiver puts the best angle director in the catbird seat, as they control the rally and dictate play.
• Return and Rally Attack
– The placement and quality of your return of serve or rally shot dictates how the opponent returns your shot. A forcing shot attacking a weaker stroke or an out of position opponent often gives you the opportunity to punish the next ball, if their forced reply stays in play.
• Returns Continue or Change Pattern of Play
– Your return of serve or rally shot can continue an exchange either cross-court or straight or it may switch the exchange or shot pattern by using certain shot selections that change the angle or cause the competitor to want-to (or have to) change the angle of the next ball they field due to how you place your shot.
Either a cross-court or straight exchange, when it’s expected, planned for, and directed toward your strength, can give you, as the server (or receiver), a major tactical and technical advantage. If you have a preference for *this* situation, what we’re going to discuss here is how to steer a rally your way with more than one option, as well as how to recognize when the pattern is being steered away from you, with how you can pick up the technique and tactical clues as to the opponent’s choice of shot. We also discuss many ways how to bring a pattern back in your favor and control.
• Known Patterns
– Most players hit their service returns, rally shots, or serves following very predictable patterns. The return patterns or patterns of play often depend on the location of the serve or rally shot when it’s being hit by the opponent or you. When being returned, the action on that ball, your hitting body position (both location and body) in the court, and often the opposing player’s movement into coverage plus any foreseeable movement toward the shot are all be factored in to how a ball is hit. By serving to the right spots, the server has a huge advantage by starting out most rallies in an exchange just the way they want it to start. Ideally *you* want to establish *your* preferred rally in your service games. Similarly, on the other side of the ball, your return of serve or rally shot is meant to capitalize on an attackable ball or turn the exchange of shots in your favor by setting up the rally to be played your way after one shot or more than one shot on your part. That multiple shot exchange is when, for instance, your first shot is a more defensive pass or ceiling when the opponent makes a great get or a tough shot (or serve) that keeps you playing smartly and defensively. Your hustling into coverage and then reading and tracking down the ball to take your best cut are all effort things. The final “in practice” stroke you use is the one you regularly use so it’s very familiar to you, comfortable and repeatable. If what happens for *this* ball is your Plan B stroke, like say when stroking from an open stance with a “QuickDraw” very compact stroke, play keep away by going for a big target vs forcing a rally ender or just hitting without making sure to always pick a target and use your *feel* stroke where you visualize finding your accurate shot placement.
A return of serve or rally shot that is used to set a straight in or cross-court pattern and dictate the exchange is based on hitting either a pass or ceiling shot and the shot’s effectiveness is based on the preciseness of your shot’s angle, pace, spin and ultimately it’s placement in the backcourt or along a sidewall, as well as whether and where your shot could be intercepted or cutoff in the middle by the opposing cover player. Think how sometimes you’re that player making the interception and it’s not every time a perfunctory put-away, but you try to make it look easy with shots like Tennis’ Williams Sisters’ swing volleys as the ball comes directly to you from off the front wall.
• Court Areas
– The backcourt is the back 10′ on either side of the center. The middle of the court is 20-30′ back from the front wall. The middle is between the short line that is 20′ back and 10′ further back from there, which is 5′ beyond the dashed receiving line at 25′. That middle 10′ deep slice of court is often where the game is won or lost because that where a player sets up in coverage and it’s also where a player frequently shoots to win!
• Non Breadth Pattern Kill-shots
– Note a shot intending to deposit the ball far up in the front court isn’t included among shots that set a desired *breadth* or width pattern for a shot or a repeating exchange of shots. Low, front court shots, like: (1) a direct shot to front wall that may be at any angle side to side or straight in is a kill-shot; (2) a near corner pinch (e.g. court-wide backhand into your backhand side corner); (3) a reverse pinch into the opposite front corner with other side’s stroke (e.g. forehand into backhand corner, even struck catty corner from forehand back corner); (4) a 3-wall shot (with close sidewall target just in front of shooter sending the ball diagonally across into far, front corner); and (5) a splat shot (striking the sidewall up ahead slightly below contact level at one of several targets to produce a low, squirrelly front wall splaaaaat audible and bounce reaction). All kill-shots are meant to end the rally, not extend it. A kill-shot is taken in the moment when you have a low contact stroke opportunity or you see you have the: (1) the opponent pinned behind you; or (2) the opponent is behind the dashed line; or (3) the opponent is stuck on one sidewall when the corner up ahead of them is no mans land for them, i.e., you may pinch them out of the play by pinching into the corner on the same side where they stand.
Here are some examples of intentional tactical serving to develop a certain pattern …
1. Serve a jam off a sidewall directly into the receiver’s body on the backhand or forehand side to generate a weak return that may be an attackable shot along that same side of the court where the ball caromed off the sidewall into the receiver or it may be an off angle, attackable cross-court return. From the receiver’s perspective, to be aggressive with your return, step back with your back foot and then move forward into ball to hit a heavier, better controlled ball, although think first pass and then ceiling.
As the receiver, a low serve off the sidewall that bounces and veers directly into you is a real challenge to return any time. Getting the ball back in play is your first impulse, even over redirecting the shot pattern. That first -get it in play- shot is the top priority when returning a jam serve or any really tough serve. One thing to not factor in strongly is the server’s position while you’re trying to set yourself to shoot. Go for your selected angle straight or across rather than be concerned about whether the server will clear out of your way to give you the rule required shot straight or cross-court. The server must give you those angles. You must hit the best shot you can from the best spot you can move to get your feet under you and usually hit first a straight return of serve, less frequently a cross-court and perhaps a ceiling ball when making either of the primary angles as a pass (or lower shot) seems undoable and would be forcing either angle.
2. A serve very wide and breaking away to the receiver’s forehand usually forces a running, but makable return cross-court or a usually very wishful down along the wall return attempt due to being on the run and the attempt to change ball’s angle. There’s a lot to overcome to change the direction of a cross-court into a straight angle. Changing the shot angle, while also removing the spin and hitting on the full stretch makes it a big ask. It’s easiest to return cross-court when receiving a serve (or shot) angled cross-court.
• Pattern Plan
– Patterned play is critical in learning how to win the match up pitting your game-style vs *this* competitor’s game-style based on shots taken from the backcourt and the middle, as well as your serve placements. It’s also about how you cover, track down and set up to hit your choice of angled response shot to the opponent’s shot, especially for the 50/50 balls that aren’t setups so you have to hit a good defensive/offensive shot that strains the opponent’s coverage and looks to flip the script so you get to go on attack the next shot you get.
Tactics and how to exploit your competitor …
The placement of your serve (or rally shot) can strongly affect the angle of the receiver’s return. You can use your placement to control or initiate a cross-court or a straight rally.
• Making Constant Adjustments Based on Observation and Attention
– A smart player makes small adjustments to their serves, even if they see they are yielding returns that are favorable for them. By using minor angle, pace or spin variations, the challenge remains a stiff one for the receiver and solving it a moving target for them. As server, also adjust your movement when the receiver’s returns are less favorable for you. If, for instance, your position allows a diagonal return (e.g. a reverse pinch into the opposite front corner) or the serve is well covered and answered with an irretrievable straight pass return. Adjustments are made with the next serve or shot and your follow on movement is also tweaked after taking note of the receiver’s return from specific spots.
If your pattern isn’t producing the exchange you want against this particular competitor, go with a different serve or serve placement and action on the ball. Change the pace and spin. The same goes for rally shots. If the exchange isn’t producing the shot angle you want, adjust your rally shot. Change its angle within straight or across to vary those two primary angles, like a V cross-court changed to a wider WAP or change a straight shot that’s coming right back to your foot to an angle back that places the ball very close along that sidewall, as the ball zips right into the back corner seeking a crack out there and a bad bounce.
Keep a running track of which serves (or rally shots) yield which returns. Note the relative strength of the return ball by the opponent, where it’s placed, what you assess you were able to do with it, and post shot what you could do better or slightly differently with your movement and what stroke adjustments in angle, pace, spin or a combination of those you could effect to your serve or shot based on well known skills you have in your arsenal. Racquetball is a game of constant reassessment and adjustments to improve upon today’s effort (today) and call upon your resources to better your effort and improve your results. It’s a game raising experience.
• Forehand to Forehand Rally
– If your preferred rally is straight and your opponent shares your handedness, like righty vs righty, here’s a scenario to produce a forehand to forehand exchange. Serving to the right, there are 2 serves which routinely generate a down the wall pattern. Note these aren’t your run of the mill serves which kinda shows you how easy (or hard) it is when serving to entice a certain return against a righty forehand (or against a lefty backhand, too) to make them want to hit their return down along that same wall where you’ll be camped out and ready to pounce.
1. Jam Um – The first serve is a hard hit waist to shoulder high jam serve that rockets into the front wall, rebounds out and angles off the left sidewall veering directly into the body of the receiver at their spot in the backcourt. The jam may result in a quick reaction self defense flick return, a quick drop back and shoot or more often the receiver spins around with the ball to return the ball after it pops off the back wall as a “jam fly” serve.
As a jam fly veers off the left wall, it bounces, heads toward the receiver and then, when it’s not flick returned, the ball goes to the back wall and deflects off angling toward the far, right sidewall. The jam fly ball springs out several feet further than the routine depth where a receiver sets themselves to return serve.
When returning a jam fly serve to the right, shooting down along the right wall is routinely attempted. That predilection is despite the fact that the jam serve is angling away from the receiver, heavy ball spin has been built up by multiple wall contact and therefore there’s a requirement to remove that spin by where the racquet face strikes the ball. The trick is to pull the ball in on your strings slightly and also create very solid racquet to ball contact. If those adjustments aren’t made, the straight shot could skip very badly on its way in to the front wall. As server you’re ready to jab step your back foot to the sidewall, diagonal step the front foot, prep with the step, and intercept the straight ball to shoot your best responding shot available.
• Better Returns of Jams
– Either a splat shot or cross-court pass are both better tactical and doable jam fly return options, but most still force their return shot straight to the front wall.
• Jam Server Technique
– Offensively, as the jam server, move just right of center. Hit the serve so that is glances off the left sidewall in the service box or just behind it. Then get back and position yourself to take away the diagonal angle into the left, front corner while you hedge over to camp out on the line and get ready to cover the down the wall shot. Be ready to jab step with the back foot, diagonal step forward with the front foot out along the sidewall to blanket the whole passing lane along that side of the court and prepare to shoot the ball away from the receiver behind you.
2. The Corner Flyer – the new serve that’s all the rage uses either an overhead or medium height contact (waist to mid thigh) stroke intending to bounce the ball very deep right in the rear corner. The ball then catches the corner and the ball flies out right along that sidewall causing a running -I hope I hit the ball at all- return by the receiver. Both medium low and overhead contact serves generate a down the wall return because that’s about the best shot the receiver can manage while having to hit on the dead run trying to catch up to a ball that’s jetting by them out along the sidewall.
As a second return of serve choice, lift the flyer to the ceiling, but it may be hard to create the deep corner result with a ceiling return because of lifting to the ceiling while in the midst of an all out run forward. Instead of taking the ball after it flies off the back wall, as another option, interrupt and virtually short hop the served ball carving or slicing the ball up to the ceiling for actually a quicker more pressuring return because the server will have to react quickly and get back to return the ceiling ball deep in the backcourt. The server will have to factor in getting back quickly to cover this passing shot type of ceiling return.
3. Wallpaper Serve – An extremely tight to the wall medium or high lob is a sidewall-scraper return situation. To return the wallpaper serve, some players try to pluck the ball right off the wall. That’s tough and it’s going to produce iffy results. Instead put the frame of your racquet right up against the wall behind contact and slide the racquet up along the wall to scrape the ball up as a ceiling return. Most of the wallpapers are returned straight in. It’s hard enough to do that let alone go cross-court on a ball that’s stuck against the sidewall as you scrape it off.
• Forehand to Backhand Rallies
– Serve to the left corner to attack the right hander’s backhand:
1. Jam Fly To the Left – Intending to attack the left, rear corner, one option is to serve a medium height ball to angle off the right sidewall about halfway back so the ball veers to and jams the receiver’s right hip. If the receiver doesn’t flick a reflexive return and instead let’s the ball go by, the jam serve turns into a jam fly that bounces, strikes the back wall, and angles off the back wall toward the left sidewall. Like a jam fly to the right, a jam fly to the left wall tempts a down the wall return off a hitting on the run situation. However, often a running backhand return ends up angling cross-court because the on the run backhand is harder to hit down along the wall for many a weak gripped righty backhand.
2. Cut Lob – Another serve looking to tempt a return along the left wall (or right wall) is a wide, off speed lob serve that veers toward the left, rear corner. It’s usually served from 5 or more feet off the sidewall with cut or sidespin racquet action causing the ball to turn or spin into the sidewall. In most cases, the receiver will attempt a down the wall return, especially against a right handed server’s backhand. That return could either be a passing shot or ceiling ball. As the cut server, your main move after you serve is to hedge over to cover that line, but don’t fly over there too fast or so far over that you could get wrong footed by the receiver, who may pick you up peripherally out of the corner of their eye and pass you cross-court or just lift a ceiling cross-court. One exception to the down the wall return is if the receiver feels they can hurt you with a very early return cross-court by moving up and short hopping the serve right after it bounces making contact behind the dashed line and well before the ball can get to the back corner. Also, an aggressive receiver may go for a high to low overhead pinch into the right, front corner. They also could crank a High Z return up high into the opposite front corner, front wall first. The technique used to influence a down the wall when putting some heavy cut or inside out spin on the off speed lob is worthy of spending time practicing this cut serve. Any imparting of spin by the server makes the receiver have to combat that spin or remove it as they return the ball, while attempting to control their return’s direction and height, too. If the return catches the sidewall on the way in or after it rebounds out off the front wall, it gives the server a chance to attack the return. The main reason why an inside to out service motion and cut sidespin is applied is to cause misplays or miss angled returns. Spin wins. To return a cutter draw the ball in on your strings and lift the ball up strongly. Shooting high to low is chancy. Push the server back and shoot the next ball.
3. Short Angle Jam – Another serve that will tend to generate a down the wall return is a low drive into the receiver’s body that’s usually served from the same side as the side under attack. That happens when a serve pops off the sidewall to then bounce and go directly at the receiver usually on their more easily jammed backhand side. The ball angling off the sidewall rushes the receiver making it very difficult for them to shoot the ball sharply cross-court. It ideally encourages a return down the wall or a left up pinch shot into the near front corner, which is the ball side corner or the same side where the ball comes to the receiver. Then, as the server turned cover player, track down either the down the wall or pinch, one option is to take your shot #3 cross-court to run the receiver hard. Deeper sidewall contact helps this short angle jam be its most effective at crowding the receiver, shrinking their reaction time and forcing a weak return. Although it’s possible to serve this jam from far over in the service box closer to the far sidewall, the best angles are often found from one step in from the 3′ drive serve line. Practicing this serve makes the angle work for you in matches when a ref is calling your score.
4. Wide Angle Cutter – A wide angled serve that’s struck from way over on one side of the service box and hit with an inside out swing action on its way to the front wall causes the ball to rebound out a and break away toward the far, rear corner encouraging a running cross-court angled return both because of the serve’s origin cross-court angle and because of the desire to wrong foot you, the server, as you must hustle to get into the center. Due to serve’s widening angle and heavy spin, a miss angled down the wall return may contact the sidewall on the way in or on the way back out. After serving the cutter, move center toward the ball as your post serve move to initially position yourself to cover the possible down the wall return. However, move center reading the receiver’s contact in case a cross-court or sidewall first shot is being attempted or the result is the return shot due to it being misdirected and the angle may be tough to read and anticipate.
• Cross-court Rally
– Depending on the exact placement of the receiver’s or rally player’s cross-court return, use the following guidelines for your next shot:
• If They Cover the Line …
– Let’s say their return comes deep to the right corner and the competitor is hedging over to cover the down the wall shot along the right wall. The play for you is to judge whether you can go deep cross-court with your response shot to push the competitor deep cross-court into the left, rear corner. If you can’t pass them, you may lift a ceiling as another way to push them back.
• In Middle Court, Let It Fly
– If the rally shot or (return of serve) were to fall short and to your right, slide up to the ball and look to break the cross-court pattern by attacking with a shot down the wall trying to get the ball to hug the sidewall on its way to the back corner. If it’s easier or it’s where the ball wants to go, hit a sidewall shot like a near sidewall splat looking to leave the ball short or very far up in the front court. If you’re rushed, think first cross-court. If you want to put the ball away and you’re closing in on the sidewall, factor in a 3-wall shot into your options. If you’re really hard on the run, a lifted high Z ball high into the opposite front corner front wall first is a good planned safety valve shot. A high Z gets you back in the rally. The high Z could result in several situations. Having the Z not even come back is one nice result. Or the Z might give you a setup from your opponent’s return. Or their return might cause you to have to D up with a pass or ceiling, which your Z has given you time to produce as a good defensive, forcing angle. If your Z bounces, catches the back wall and angles out toward the far sidewall, either a straight in shot or splat shot (best choice) may be attempted and you’ll need to move to get in position to cover for those shots by moving up to center court.
• Breaking the Cross-court Pattern Directly
– One way to break the cross-court pattern is to change an incoming cross-court into a looping medium low, moderately hard down the wall pass on the side where you field the cross-court ball. The higher angle of the pass and the ball bouncing in the middle of the court creates difficulty for the opponent to swing volley attack this pass. Instead of the looping pass another option is to lift a down along that wall ceiling. After passing or lifting, dash forward with the ball and move centrally to pressure the competitor’s answer to your straight to the front wall shot. To hit the pass or ceiling while changing the cross to straight angle, place your strings on a little more than half the ball or contact the outside of the ball. Make solid contact and follow-through toward your wall target.
• Changing the Rally
What if you want to mix up the rally?
• All Returns to Your Backhand
– What if your opponent breaks the typical patterns and returns exclusively to your backhand when you serve into either back corner? You can still get the favorable rally by changing the exchange in the following way:
1. Rally with Straight Shot
– If the receiver’s return comes to your backhand when you serve either cross-court or when you serve from along either sidewall to that side’s back corner, one option is to make a quick move and cut off their pass at 3/4’s court and hit a swing volley shot down the line or go with your best wall target. Then, as you slide into the center, tempt your competitor to hit cross-court as you cheat over to cover the lane you just hit into and put pressure on their shot choice.
2. Diagonal Cover Run
– If the receiver’s return of your serve is lower or faster and a swing volley isn’t possible and you still know it’s going to your backhand … you’ve hedged over to cover that side in your center court position behind or on the dashed receiving line. Now diagonally drop back as you cover their pass as it slows down and as you get more time read the ball and lift your racquet up to prep. Pick the best shot available looking to exploit either a positioning error by the opponent or attack a part of the court where you’ve noted they’re less adept at shooting. As soon as you shoot, recover to center court and play off their left up ball and position yourself again to cover your backhand side.
• Start Cross-court Exchange
– If the return comes deep to the right side and you want to attack the left side, play a looping driving pass deep cross-court and then move quickly to center court looking to attack their next rally shot. The loop action vs a low on a rope drive buys you time to get into coverage, tempts the opponent to try an especially difficult, higher swing volley or, when the pass bounces in the middle, a very dicey short hop pick up on a ball that would be dropping from higher angle due the pass’s looping arc. The true challenge for a your hitting a looping pass deep cross-court is taking something off your contact and having mastery over the shot so your pass bounces twice before the back wall and so that the ball doesn’t pop off as a set up. Also, the looping pass is higher and slower so hit it a little wider and plan for it to bounce, rise up and glance off the sidewall deep in the court to drop right at the back wall as its second bounce.
• Double Your Attack
– As a right hander, to rally attack the left side one tactic is to run around your forehand on the next ball on the right side and play an inside out backhand cross-court. Or, from the left side, switch to an inside in off stroke forehand to shoot down along the left wall. Those two shot angles and the heavy spins they impart on the ball place heavy pressure on the covering competitor playing the ball veering at a growing angle and with sidespin toward the back left corner, especially when your shot gets tight along the left sidewall. Those are patterns where you know how to do them due to drilling, you recognize the opportunity on a ball when you see you have time to run around that side’s stroke, and you’re ready to deviate your routine forehands on your forehand side, backhands on the backhand side space occupying stroke pattern by following through into the center, to go for shots with the off stroke or the stroke usually reserved for the other side of the court. Off strokes create unusual spin and tough to read and track down shot angles.
• Backhand Cross-court Rally Change-up
– If the competitor’s return of serve or rally return comes cross-court deep and wide to your backhand, one option is to play a deep cross-court right back to that far side. If the competitor’s following cross-court return is also to your backhand and if the ball is well off the sidewall, optionally run around your backhand and switch to an inside out forehand stroke and look to shoot back cross-court. Or, if you have time and the ball allows it, you may change up into an off stroke forehand and an inside in stroke for a shot down that wall behind you. In these cases, you have accomplished your goal of establishing an attack from your backhand side. Use these options when you have the opportunity and time to take control of the rally. Practice them first with stationary drilling and then simulate the game situations with either a practice partner or a via a multi wall feed in your innovative solo drilling.
Backhand to Backhand
Serve to the backhand OR Serve the body on the backhand side
• Backhand to Backhand Rallies
– If your preferred pattern is backhand to backhand, here are serve and return scenarios to play backhand to backhand:
1. Along the right wall one serve typically produces a return cross-court to a righties backhand or lefty forehand. The ball is served into the body as the ball caroms off the right sidewall. The server contacts the ball in the box at center court (or a step away or a step toward the sidewall targeted). The ball is angled deep to deflect off the right sidewall at 25-27′ back, bounce and veer right into the server’s hip (if the server hasn’t had a chance or taken the opportunity to turn sideways yet). Typically this serve will be returned across the court to the left side, which is to a right hander’s backhand (or lefties forehand). That’s to begin the server’s preferred attack on the left side to a righty’s backhand or lefty’s forehand. The server then takes the cross-court return and hits it DTL and the rally is played along the left side of the court with DTL backhands (or to a lefty forehand). Or you may run around that side’s stroke to hit an inside in off stroked shot back behind you into the left, rear corner.
2. The second serve to generate a cross-court to the righty backhand is an inside out cut heavily spinning ball angled deep into the right, rear corner. The wide cut serve will encourage an angled return from along the right wall sending it deep cross-court to the left, rear corner. When returning a cut serve on the run and at a full stretch, it is very, very difficult to hit a return straight to the front wall.
Similarly, when serving to the left, back corner, a very wide serve, with inside out spin causes the receiver to be typically stretched and usually an attempt is made to return cross-court to the right side to the righties forehand or lefties backhand. This form can be broken when a player’s strength is their big backhand (or lefty forehand) and they can hit an offensive return down the line by taking the ball early up closer to the front wall by diagonally cutting off the angle, drawing the ball way in on their strings, making especially stinging contact, hitting with a little inside out vs too much cut, and crushing the ball down along the left sidewall. Due to it being a cross-court serve it is hard to hit down the wall, but it’s worth the time to learn how to do it and practice it, as the straight in shot will pressure the server who is hoping your return will go cross-court. Here again the early return of serve DTL is a tactically strong option, especially before the server can get back out of the box.
• DTL Lob to Left
– Serve off speed lob breaking at an angle into the left, rear corner to attack a righties backhand or lefties moving forehand. This angling off speed lob often generates a straight return, especially against a fellow right hander.
Depending on the lob serve to the left and its exact location, Plan B for you, as the receiver, is to move up and hit a cross-court return and then the basic righty backhand to backhand pattern is being broken.
A cut or inside out off speed lob to either corner puts significant action on the ball spinning out and into the sidewall. That spin must be removed to hit a shot straight to the front wall. Or the sidespin may be used to hit an inside out shot into the sidewall on the side targeted by the serve. The key to the cut lob is accuracy. When it heads for the back corner, it’s trouble for receiver. When the serve angles too much to catch the sidewall well before the corner, the ball pops off for an easily attackable chance for the receiver.
• Situation —> Response
In the following situational game scenarios first a situation is described and then a response and supporting technique and tactics are outlined to respond to the situation as the attacker or defender.
• Situation: Deep wall hugger serve (or rally shot, like a ceiling ball) to the left rear corner. The serve (or service return or rally return) goes deep, wide and tight to the left sidewall to the righty backhand or lefty forehand —> Response: as a change-up, move wide very early, very fast and play your return deep cross-court by cutting off the serve or rally shot in the middle of the court. When the ball is about to get tight the left sidewall, get even tighter to the sidewall with your racquet head before the ball gets back deep in the backcourt. Swing aggressively through the ball toward your cross-court placement. Or, if judged doable and for that reason it’s picked, control the angle and spin to stroke a shot straight to the front wall. Plan B after the cross-court and DTL is to lift a ceiling and exchange positions with the server in center court.
Situation: The serve (or competitor’s rally shot) is going deep and angled wide to the left side, but an early cut off is planned and tried. —> Response: cut off plan is to play a shot into the right corner that angles the ball off the front wall and then right sidewall causing the ball to veer directly through the center at the competitor‘s body seeking to jam or handcuff their stroke. A hard-hit cross-court pass would be very hard to accurately place as an accurate V pass to the far, rear corner and also avoiding feeding the server (or rally player) an attackable swing volley opportunity ball in the middle. Also, it would be implausible to hit a WAP when either contacting the ball while on the run moving forward and interrupting the ball before it can get deep in the backcourt or when attempting the WAP from deep in the backcourt. Also, cutting off a serve angling to the left, rear corner and attempting a straight in or DTL shot is a big ask when having to change the incoming ball angle and remove the spin on the ball, too.
If you do determine a straight shot is your better tactical choice but a low shot would be tough to control, consider lifting a down the wall ceiling. Perhaps select a deep target on the ceiling which will cause the server to have to retreat extra fast to field your faster moving ceiling ball. Avoid the sidewall and leave your ceiling short of popping off the back wall.
When on the run, it’s again very hard to control the wide angling ball as a DTL return back behind you. Cross-court to cross-court angles are often the best choice. Remember though that if all cross-court low shots and passes seem covered or you just feel like you’re going to feed the ball to the cross-court positioned competitor, you may always lift a well placed ceiling ball. Go for a harder hit, deeper ceiling target and your ceiling ball will run the opponent back. Go for a straight or cross-court ceiling. That hard hit faster type of ceiling will avoid the risk of your attempting a sliced, softer ceiling while hitting on the run and it being overhit and left off the back wall for a setup for the opponent. Also a harder hit ceiling eliminates the chance of it being cut off by the opponent’s poaching play as they try to short hop softer hit ceilings in the middle or just a step into the front court in front of the short line.
As noted, a serve angled wide to the left side places intense pressure on the receiver. Off speed but still pacey lobs hit into the back corner put a lot of pressure on the righty or lefty receiver. Having several practiced options makes your situation as receiver very doable.
• The Jam Return Concept
– To hit the jam return of serve or rally shot up through the middle, hit the front wall so that the ball hits at almost the same angle as a drive Z serve does when angling the ball back toward the back corner. The shot hits the front wall and then ricochets off the sidewall to veer into the center at the competitor’s body looking to tie up their stroke. Practice this shot. It’s a great backup plan return of serve or rally response when the cross-court is judged that it won’t pass the opponent by and your DTL won’t stay off the sidewall or back wall. It’s a tactical doubles shot that’ll place the ball between the two doubles partners who will look at each other, as if to say, “You had it, right?” The one caveat for the jam return is either contact the ball early up father forward or, if contact is from deeper court, the opponent must be further over on the other side of the court. The angle to the front wall for a jam return shot is more than the rule imposed cross-court angle allowing V angled shot to the far, rear corner.
Situation: Ball left short on the left in the middle of the court about 25′ back, as a result of a serve, return or rally shot. The return of serve of an attempted but slightly left up crack out past the short line (or rally cover of a shot, like the result of a left up pinch) comes up short to your righty backhand or lefty forehand. —> Response: move up especially fast and turn sideways. Use a low, short racquet take back and then: (a) attack down the line with a judged doable kill-shot winner or pass; (b) use the sidewall responding to a squirrelly, but controllable bounce by hitting a sidewall first or front wall first near corner pinch into the corner just up ahead of the ball; or (3) when rushed or you sense neither the straight shot nor pinch are doable, when responding to this quick reaction situation, drive a cross-court pass either toward the far, back corner or wider around the opponent as a wide angle pass (WAP). Use a compact stroke, active feet and focused eyes, as you track down the ball, prep, pick your shot while making your final approach on the ball and shoot the shot you settle on just how you mentally picture it in your mind by visualizing its shaped placement and your familiar stroke that’ll execute the shot.
Situation: Serve (or rally ball) going low and deep to your right, rear corner. The incoming drive serve or rally shot is aimed to pierce the right rear corner. —> Response: loop a lengthy pass right down along the right wall with a righty forehand or your lefty backhand. Use a strong grip and solid contact while drawing the ball in ever so slightly on your strings for control. Pinpoint both your contact point and your front wall target and exaggerate your flowing follow-through toward your wall target. Find a slightly higher front wall target to achieve a deeper pass and look to angle the ball back so that it glues to the sidewall on its way to the backcourt. Avoid catching the sidewall with your passing shot. Using a little top or topspin will keep the ball off the back wall and the spin will cause your ball to be tougher to swing volley for the opponent if they attempt a high cut off when the ball passes thru the middle of the court.
Changing the angles … If the returner breaks the cross-court (or straight shot pattern), you can switch the rally back to get, for instance, your favorable forehand (yours) to backhand (theirs) rally, as follows …
Situation: Ball going deep and wide to right, rear corner. The serve, serve return or rally shot is going deep and very wide to the right sidewall as a result of the opponent’s cross-court or their shot is going straight and you’re in good coverage right of center tending toward covering that line —> Response: track down the ball and play an angled stinging shot cross-court, which may open up the backhand side for your next attacking shot. The reason the backhand opens up is because very often an opponent will decide to switch the attack and hit your cross-court down the left wall especially to pressure your righty backhand (or even a less covered lefty forehand). They may look to start a straight rally by initially attacking the open side of the court based on your having returned from the far, right side of the court while hitting cross-court. Therefore, move quickly across court following your cross-court and prepare to cover that possible straight angle. Know the attempt to switch an incoming cross-court into straight could produce an odd angle or unusual ball spin, so move your feet and use a compact, adaptive stroke while you move to cover that line or the oddly bouncing return ball. Play the next ball looking to shoot straight. If straight were judged to be undoable, go cross-court. Also, you may always lift your shot up to the ceiling to make sure you’re pushing the opponent back when you sense other shots can’t be placed deep or they might not get by the opponent to make it into the backcourt.
… Getting it to be an up and down the sidewall game …
Situation: Ball going deep to the right, rear corner. The serve, return of serve or rally shot is going deep to your righty forehand (or alternatively it’s going deep to the left side to your lefty forehand). —> Response: play a looping pass down along that same line, with the goal to wallpaper or stick the ball right up against the right sidewall as it angles back directly to the corner on that side. In response to a tight to the wall DTL, few cross-courts are tried because changing the pattern could produce a miss angled shot that doesn’t go all the way into the far, back corner. Note that a pass DTL should be attempted only when there’s some daylight or the opponent isn’t hovering on the line ready to cut off any straight in to the front wall shot. If the line is well covered, go cross-court when you judge that passing angle is makable. Or lift to the ceiling and push the opponent back and over and look to go DTL when the wall you’re on is less well covered.
Situation: Ball short to right in the middle of the court. The return of serve or rally shot (or possibly a crack out serve just past the short line) coming to your righty forehand or lefty backhand in the middle of the court close to the receiving line. —> Response: one option is to attack with a shot down the line, if the ball is quickly judged to be attackable and your shot judgment tells you that you can find that angle when moving up quickly to play the ball that is checking up there at that depth in the court about 25′ back. Both missing the sidewall on the way in and on the way back out, as well as not overhitting and leaving the ball off the back wall factor into your, “Can I do it?” thought process before you pick and take a DTL shot. If your second nature tells you to pick your Plan B option, go cross-court to the far, rear corner, which is a longer, more forgiving angled cross-court shot. When it’s more of a pure setup and time is your ally, you may select a front corner pinch or pick a deeper sidewall target for a splat. If you’re on the run, an aggressive 3-wall shot is plan C. If you’re on the dead run, rocket up a High Z into the far, front corner. After any of those shots, spin, shift back and make a curling run into the center court spot you read is the best place to set up to cover the opponent’s possible cover run to retrieve your shot. Again, when the ball is tougher to field, usually shoot across the court vs down the wall, which includes shooting a wide angle pass (WAP) that catches the far sidewall next to the closing in opponent. After hitting cross-court, move across the court to cover a possible answering down the wall shot by the opponent.
Situation: You hit a big serve right up the center of the court intending to jam the receiver. —> Response: jammed receiver reflexes back your central jam serve, while you set up your initial coverage for the return on the side from where you served. A low contact stroke drive serve with the forehand or a backhand drive or a forehand overhead motion delivers the ball from just off center and as far over as very close to either sidewall. The up the center ball is returned right after the bounce with a selfdefense cut off flick or after it often pops off the back wall. Then the receiver must hustle forward to play the ball as it flies forward off the back wall. You move to a coverage spot near center that still allows a pass straight in even when the ball is a little bit over on your side of the court, too. If the served ball goes directly up through the center and it pops off the back wall going right up the center or a cross-court angle to either rear corner can’t be prevented by your positioning. Passing angles to both rear corners must be allowed by where you position yourself defensively. Obviously the middle jam is a surprise serve tactic and it usually is better responded to by the receiver the second time that it’s attempted; hence it’s not used too often in a game or match unless it were to be wildly successful. When positioning in coverage, get between the ball and the front corner on that side that you occupy. Plan B coverage is to stay central and jump over the passing shot on its way to the front wall before it rebounds out and angles to the near, rear corner on that side. You don’t need to jump over pinches into the corner on the same side as you and the ball. If the ball is slightly over on one side, based on the rules you don’t have to give up the angled pass to the rear corner on the same side as the ball, as the rules state a cross-court to the far, rear corner must be allowed. But it’s recommended you do allow that angle rather than get hit by an angled shot headed into the near, rear corner on the side where the ball and you are positioned. Taking away the pinch allows the pass to the closest back corner on your side which also puts you in position to cover that angled pass around you.
• Inside Out Pattern
Looking for an Inside Out Righty Backhand or Lefty Forehand from the Right Side Shooting to Left Side Rally Pattern … This pattern is more difficult to initiate with the serve, return, or rally shotmaking. Some situations in service patterns or rallies offer you the opportunity to hit your first attacking ball as an inside out cross-court with the off stroke or what is normally the other side’s stroke. Given time spinning and taking the ball by running around a stroke to attack cross-court with the off stroke places lots of pressure on the opponent to handle a ball coming toward them with decided sidespin as the ball spins in towards them and out toward the sidewall by them. Also, the inside out cross-court ball angles at what appears to be an ever increasing angle breaking away from the cover player toward the far, back corner.
Situation: A rally ball you’re tracking down is giving you time and the chance to spin around and dial in the off stroke, like a forehand from your backhand side of the court and a moment to pick out a shot angle with the opposite side stroke. —> Response: fielding a rally shot or serve when you can run around that side’s stroke or that side’s dominant stroke creates an opportunity an inside out both for cross-court angle to the far, rear corner plus the WAP cross-court around the opponent. The off stroke also opens up an angle that’s not hard to do but hard to do really well, the inside in stroke. It’s like a forehand from 29′ back on your backhand side and shooting the pass hard by swinging across your body to angle the ball directly into the rear
corner behind you. An inside in stroke keeps the ball on the same side where the ball is struck, like a backhanded stroke down along your forehand side, when a last second assessment tells you the inside out cross-court would be bettered by your inside in DTL shot placement with your off stroke. Drill inside out and inside in backhand and forehand strokes so you’ll be ready to call upon those skills when the opportunity pops up for you to use the off stroke instead of the dominant stroke.
Situation: If the return of serve ball by the receiver is close enough to the center or over on that far side … —> Response: as server, you may be able to run around that side’s stroke to hit the ball from the left hand side of the court with an inside out off stroke righty forehand or lefty backhand. Also, instead of an inside out motion the run around stroke from that side could alternatively be hit as a crushing inside in stroke to shoot the ball behind you into the back left corner on that side, like an off stroke righty forehand into your backhand back corner. The point here is picking not only what is the best shot to shoot, it’s choosing the best stroke to make that shot.
Situation: A serve to far corner from a spot way over on one side of the service box can be hit with either a cut inside out motion for a touch serve or as a stroke generating a more flat, less spin, faster ball angling and zipping into the far corner. Optionally you may also shoot just slightly wider than the V angle to generate a different result. The wider ball will bounce, deflect off the sidewall deep in the court 35-36′ feet back, and it will take its 2nd bounce right up against the back wall, as the ball almost appears to angle around the receiver. —> Response: there’s always a way to defend, so it’s important the angle and spin of served ball you’re returning be accommodated by paying extra close attention to the ball going in to the front wall and then how it rebounds out and breaks away from you toward the sidewall. Track down the inside out ball (or more directly angled ball bolting directly to the corner). As you track down the ball with a diagonal move, prep and then swing thru the ball, pulling the ball in on your strings when cross-court is plan A or draw it in only slightly when shooting stiffly (solid contact) down the wall, as plan B. Or you may allow the ball to spin out toward the sidewall and help it along on its way into a near sidewall target a little ways out in front of you if that is your plan C. A down the wall shot can be a true adventure. A ball moving cross-court to a deep corner that is tracked down and caught up to can be redirected, even when you’re hitting on the run, although solid contact will be required when, by feel, drawing the ball in slightly on your sweet spot of your strings, as you flow the racquet head thru the ball and right on to your front wall target to shoot the ball straight to the front wall to cause the ball to rebound out, miss the sidewall and stay along that sidewall and away from the hopefully not going to quite make it cover player who is moving feverishly across the court to cover.
Situation: Doubles jam serve to the right. A medium high jam is served to the front wall so that the ball angles off the front wall and then caroms off the left sidewall just in front of the doubles partner, who is standing with their back to the wall right next to the short line. The jam then veers directly at the receiver on the right side of the court, with the ball bouncing right before it gets to the receiver. —> Response: the receiver may attempt an <early> return of the jam serve a couple of ways. One, the receiver may short hop the ball right after it bounces and flick their return ideally between the retreating doubles pair. The pressure on the receiver’s defensive flick return may cause them to leave the ball in the center of the court. As the server, you and your partner need to escape the box quickly and attack the flicked return or control your best answering shot, while communicating with one another. Two, instead of flicking their return, the receiver may drop back a step and attempt a low contact inside out stroke cross-court or inside in stroke down the line return. Those returns could provide a challenging shot #3 for you, the server. Best case it’s serve, return, shoot shot #3 or serve-return-kill. Switching roles, your attempt as the receiver to swing vs flick starts with a drop step back, with the foot closer to the ball, and body spin toward the center to prep and swing. This will be an off stroke from the right side with a lefty forehand or righty backhand. Due to the speed of the ball coming at the receiver it’s tough to swing and place the ball with kill-shot accuracy. That difficulty returning this serve could result in the receiver spraying their return because of the jam serve being tough to see or time. The jam angles off the left sidewall almost appearing to come out of the shirt of the doubles player on the wall, and then the ball zips quickly into the lap of the receiver. The receiver must use a very tight body spin and quick feet for a best case QuickDraw stroke. For a QuickDraw stroke, prep compactly, decide very quickly which shot would be the best one for this ball and execute that shot into the angle deemed achievable, while usually going for a passing shot. The receiver’s return, due to the challenging nature of the jam serve, may allow the server, now cover player and about to be player hitting the ball to hit a number of strokes and a variety of shots. As an example, you may be able to run around your routine follow-through to center stroke and also hit with your off stroke that follows through out to sidewall. You may hit an inside out cross-court from either side of the court where and when the ball ends up in the more central part of the court. With that inside out stroke, you may shoot cross-court attacking the far, rear corner. When you quickly calculate that it would be difficult to find that cross-court angle with an inside out stroke or the opponent is <there>, you may switch and use your inside in stroke and shoot down along that side of the court into that side’s uncovered back corner. The server (and partner) is very well served to quickly get out of the box to cover in case the receiver’s return is left up and it’s able to be aggressively attacked. Then either that side’s or off stroke may be selected to pick from more shot options. Be hungry.
Situation: Jam fly serve to right side. If the receiver allows the bouncing jam serve to go by them and ricochet off the back wall and angle to fall close to the far sidewall. —> Response: the receiver judges they can catch up to the ball near the sidewall and shoot where they feel they can best place their shot offensively, as a DTL, cross-court, or attacking the front court with an inside out splat or tight corner pinch shot by hitting the splat or pinch into the near sidewall. Your receiver’s technique to spin with the jam fly includes keeping your eye glued on the ball the whole time you turn and move with the ball. Sometimes players stand facing that sidewall the whole time waiting for the ball to show up next to them. They’re at the mercy of the slightest wrinkle of added spin or adjusted angle by the jammer. Instead, as you spin, step off the back wall with the far foot closest to the sidewall as you pivot turning to move with the ball. Crossover with the trail foot now becoming front foot of your stance, as you move out to the sidewall with the ball to shoot your return. Practice returning jam fly serves to get down the ball read, feetwork, and take note of which shots work best for you. The jam server/now cover player should curl into the center readying to initially cover the line, secondarily the cross-court or to make a mad dash into the front court when a low contact stroke is seen and a kill-shot is read. Pay attention that splats are a solid choice to use the ball spin resulting from the jam fly action and the proximity of the ball to the sidewall. Also a splat can expose the server’s penchant to retreat into coverage by hitting virtually behind the server into the front court, which is a wrong footing maneuver.
Situation: A lesser used serve option is to stand just barely off center and go for a big drive serve or overhead serve right down the very center of the court. In many cases the receiver will be unable to return the ball crosscourt completely away from you or around you on the side where you are positioned in coverage. One requirement of the server when they serve down the center is to get out of the way and not take away the shot straight to the front wall by the receiver. You have to pick a side to defend from. Usually servers will serve from and guard their smaller contact zone, easier to jam backhand side and stroke and that’s often the default side where the receiver also directs their return, too. —> Response: if the receiver’s return ball is left near the center part of the court, this allow the server to move around the ball, face the other sidewall and hit it cross-court and establish the cross-court pattern starting with the inside out from one side of the court to the other side. The receiver often flicks the ball, while looking to pass the server when the server is not really quick enough getting out of the box and into coverage position past the short line. Often a serve right up the gut or center will bounce and kick off the back wall and the receiver will then try to run it down. If you’re the receiver, take off with a crossover first step and dash forward to hit the ball with the best prep and stroke motion you can muster while moving forward shadowing the ball, and focus on quasi stopping when making contact to make your keep away return.
Hitting a cut serve along the forehand wall (or backhand wall)
Situation: standing inside 3′ line hitting inside out serves along that wall. With inside out cut, hit the serve with touch and spin going either for a glancing blow off the sidewall just past the short line when looking to produce a crack out … or hit the cut serve to scoot the serve straight back along the sidewall. Due to the inside out spin, the ball hits the front wall and rebounds out to ideally wallpaper the sidewall on the way to its second bounce deep
in the backcourt. —> Response: the receiver is at the mercy of the accuracy of the server. If the crack out is close enough to the short line, the receiver is snookered and they usually can’t move up quickly enough to keep the ball in play. If the DTL serve wallpapers, the receiver has to get behind the ball and try to scrape the ball off when the ball glues itself to the wall. Of course, if the crack out stays up or the DTL serve pops out off the sidewall before the ball gets to the back corner, the receiver should be very aggressive with their return. After serving, as server you should look to cover the DTL and the receiver must then choose between a covered DTL and an apparently more open cross-court, whichever one is their best improvised option. The liability of serving a left up crack out or off angle DTL is you must back up to allow the cross-court along with the DTL return. Preventing the cross-court is a penalty hinder.
• Short Angle Jam
– As another option, hit a short angle jam serve. Serve from one side and catch the sidewall on that same side further back than a wider angled jam fly serve. Contact the sidewall in the service box or just beyond it looking to pop the ball off and angle it to the server’s feet.
Situation: When serving from the center or a step over to the sidewall or a step the other way away from center, a jam serve off the sidewall at 23′ to 27′ back will make the ball veer across into the receiver’s body. —> Response: a jam off the sidewall can produce a weak return by the receiver leaving the ball up in the center for you as the server to Wang Chung on with your forehand or backhand into the best back corner angle your shot pick, prep and stroke can create. Care must be taken to allow a cross-court pass or it’s a penalty hinder because, as the server, you’re not moving to allow the required straight and cross-court returns. If your competitor is jammed, they may not be able to hit the ball sharply cross-court or beat you DTL either. Jams are the great neutralizer because they rob time from the receiver and they also require often returning from an off angle stance, a more compact arm motion and short reaction time to make the shot pick, prep and forward swing all needing to be done in the blink of an eye or little time. Sometimes the receiver is handcuffed and the oddly angled jam serve makes it uncertain where their return will be sprayed. It’s best to serve off the sidewall into the receiver’s backhand to attack that stroke’s much smaller contact zone. Also, it’s wise to not be in front of the receiver when they are making ball contact because they’re just trying to hit the ball and you might become part of their quick reaction return equation. The shot straight in and cross-court to far, back corner must not be prevented by your coverage position. Again, due to the possible odd bounces from the short angle jam, the receiver could scatter their return anywhere. Lift your racquet covering your head, move to the center quickly and get ready to attack when you get a chance to shoot their return.
Situation: Jam serve plan B is to serve from the center or just off to one side away from the target sidewall and hit the jam low at a shorter angle so the ball caroms off the sidewall very close to the short line to angle into the court area ideally out of reach of the receiver. This is an especially effective angle in doubles or against a singles receiver who stands too deep acting as a virtual door guard planted right up against the back wall. —> Response: for the server, it’s just a matter of being clear of the receiver’s reaction flick return, especially the shot straight in to the front wall where you can’t fairly be. When the short angle jam is attackable, the receiver would want to sport a quick-reaction compact stroke to shape a shot either into a cross-court or straight angle. The server would have to clear to allow both the straight and the cross-court. Server plays off left up shots by jammed receiver.
Situation: When the server strikes the ball from close along one sidewall and the ball does crack-out, it’s as an ace and no harm, no foul. When a slightly higher served ball defects off the sidewall and veers into the center in the middle of the court behind the server, who is positioned close to the sidewall, ideally the server would move closer toward the sidewall the ball hit, and then there would be no hinder call. When a ball cracks out and it stays up or when it’s slightly higher and it turns into a jam type serve that pops off the sidewall into the center, even though the server may try in vain to clear, when they can’t or they don’t clear, it’s a classic case of preventing the receiver’s straight in or cross-court shot angles. —> Response: If you serve going for the crack out or the short jam and you get hit or the receiver holds up when they’re shooting either a straight in or V cross-court return, you are creating a hinder of the penalty hinder kind. Hand the ball to the opponent to serve. Other options include: some players try to time their jump to lift up over the ball when it’s being struck by the player behind them so the ball may pass underneath them on its way to the front wall. Then they drop down right in place after the ball passes below to defend. This would be one of those times. Backing out very quickly toward the far sidewall might allow you to clear. However, moving way over toward the far side of the court is not a natural retreating move after serving. Moving into center court is the ingrained move after serving. Granted hustling to the sidewall on the other side and giving up the majority of the court is going to give the receiver both of those must give shots, but that’s a long run. Optionally reversing your field or moving to the sidewall that you’ve angled your serve into is possible when the ball pops out more into the center and you see that and move quickly to that wall. Know though that initially moving away from the sidewall is the routine movement into coverage to react to the expected crack out right past the short line to give the receiver a return shot straight to the front wall angle. Here’s the bottom line. Practice your crack out serves. Also, if a short angle jam is the plan, dive to the jammed wall to allow the served ball that’s crossing the court away from that sidewall to be returned without your being being part of the return and avoid being struck while in the way. Then attack weak return.
Situation: Jam to body turns into a jam fly or coined “wrap around” serve. When your singles game jam turns into a jam fly, it will pull your competitor very wide and running into the under attack rear corner. Due to the action on the jam fly serve, the receiver may be unable to create an accurate cross-court angle or shot straight with their return. —> Response: that’s the idea: rush the receiver so much so that they will be unable to create an V cross-court or straight angle with their return. Do be well prepared to initially cover the straight on the side where the jam flies off the back wall toward that sidewall. The idea is to test the receiver’s moving, shot picking decision making and skill hitting their return on the run. Often players end up hitting a return that angles into the center of the court when they return a challenging jam serve or crack out off the sidewall just past the short line or deeper.
<The effect of a jam serve can be enhanced by standing wider while serving directly up the middle or deep off the far sidewall into receiver. The defender receiver must also guard at least the far back corner and they must be concerned about the drive Z to the rear corner behind them, too.>
Situation: When serving from the left and jamming off the right wall to angle the ball into the receiver’s right hip, the receiver often leaves their return more center and left. —> Response: a jam off the sidewall into the body of receiver can set up the server for a shot #3 inside in down the wall behind them or an inside out shot to the far, right back corner when the server sees a wide open gap to the right, with the receiver moving (or staying close) to center after returning.
Situation: Wide angle deep jam serve to the right. Worse case the jam veers off the sidewall at 25′ to as much as much as 30′ back and the receiver allows ball to cross in front of them so that their return is attempted on the other side of the court that is your, the server’s side of the court. What do you do then, as server? —> Response: you could jump over the ball timing it just right so the receiver shoots the ball right under you while you draw your knees up to your chest. Or you could lift the closest leg. In reality, this situation is not on page one of your server’s coverage manual. In fact it’s not expected that the receiver will take the swing from the left side of the court when they’re jammed on a low serve coming to them from the right. If the return is about to be made on your side, you could bail to the sidewall behind you. When you see them turning and shooting, definitely give up the straight in return. If you’re ready to move to take away the diagonal angle into the corner over your left shoulder, “…you’re a better man than I Gunga Din”. If that is your mettle, get in between ball and in this case the near front corner and “Sound collision!”, or brace for collision, as their return ball and your leg may be on a collision course.
If you aren’t able to create it with your serve, you can still switch a rally to, for example, get the side to side righty forehand to righty backhand pattern that you prefer (or righty forehand to say less well covered lefty forehand).
To achieve a pattern change, follow these shot patterns and tend toward D’ing-up in your movement to the inside out shooter position from the center by spinning and facing the player hitting the ball, as they are setting up to hit the ball from either rear corner …
Situation: Rally player hits their righty forehand or lefty backhand deep down the line along the right wall and then they move to the center to get in position for the next ball. Their objective is run around their stroke, like to run around their backhand on their backhand side or forehand on their forehand side to hit with their off stroke again. When the competitor’s next ball goes deep across the court to your righty backhand (or lefty forehand) … —> Response: run around and hit hard and deep inside in down the line with your righty forehand (or lefty backhand) toward the left rear corner. Then slide inside to your right to control the center and get ready to do it again on whichever side the opponent places their rally return shot. Inside in stroking adds a lot of power and action on the ball for your shot. Practice it and use it tactically to place pressure on your opponent. Optionally, when the ball doesn’t present itself as an inside in stroking situation, either an inside out cross-court shot or using that side’s dominant stroke for several passing angles are always your backup plans. First choice: where, meaning where can you best place your shot? Second choice: how or what stroking form is best for you?
Situation: The competitor’s next ball goes deep to left to your righty backhand side or lefty forehand corner and you have just a little extra time to turn to face toward the center while running around that side’s stroke so you’re ready to hit with your off stroke and you notice your opponent‘s is moving to cover your inside in shot toward the left, rear corner … —> Response: you may spin and hit a right handed (RH) forehand or left handed (LH) backhand inside out looping the shot hard and deep cross-court to the right, rear corner. Or, to take up more space with your follow-through and hit even harder than an inside out motion, spin and hit that side’s dominant outside in power stroke. To hit your cross-court, pick out a front wall target spot a little under halfway between ball contact and the far, right wall. Swing toward your front wall target, exaggerating your follow-through. Then move inside toward the center, ready to cover the possible return DTL by the on the run cover player.
Situation: If the competitor’s ball goes deep and very wide to your righty forehand (or lefty backhand) … —> Response: play a cross-court angle looking to hit deep to the righty backhand or lefty forehand, with either
a cross-court pass or ceiling ball, factoring in missing the left sidewall and not leaving the shot off the back wall. Or you may hit a low, up ahead of you near sidewall targeted around the wall ball (ATWB). Or, if time is your ally, spin on the ball you diagonally chase down and go DTL when the straight shot is controllable as either a looping high pass or very hard, low drive when going for length. For the loop or drive you’re shaping a 2 bounce pass. Then, after hitting your shot, clear out of the way and prepare to play off the possible get and left up ball by your competitor. The choice between cross-court and DTL should be in part factoring in the opposing player’s positioning and a larger part judged capability to produce one angle over the other or what is the best shot for now? Understand that sometimes you must hit the ball at the opponent. That’s especially the case when it’d be forcing your shot were you to hit the ball away from the opponent. Go for your shot, hit it accurately and solidly and move into center court in case they reflex the ball back.
Situation: If the competitor’s shot goes deep to the left side to your backhand (or it goes deep to the right side to your lefty backhand) —> Response: when the decision is made early, move early diagonally to add punch to your stroke and loop a heavy pass with over spin cross-court. Then move quickly to position yourself to hit an inside out forehand by facing toward the opponent as they set up to return your pass. The reason for going with hitting a cross-court shot is because a moving shot on the backhand side is less doable because of your smaller contact zone and the racquet, at best, is drawn back to your off shoulder. That prep is as opposed to the forehand where the racquet is pulled way back behind your body and the contact zone is huge and more able to control a switch from a cross-court to a DTL than the hastily arranged inside out backhand stroke mechanics.
Situation: If the competitor’s shot goes deep and also very wide to right to your righty backhand (or lefty forehand) … —> Response: as an offensive-defensive shot, one option is to hit a medium speed around the wall ball (ATWB) by contacting the left sidewall just out ahead you at about 8′ high to then angle the ball into the opposite front corner front wall first, then sidewall, then back across the court and bouncing on its way to about the same spot where the ATWB was contacted. After hitting, move quickly into center court to face toward the ball to set yourself up in case you get to hit an inside-out stroke. Avoid being in the way of the ATWB feeding right back to where you made contact. Do expect the opponent might attempt to cut off the low ATWB and then they won’t have to retreat back into the corner to take your ATWB deep along the sidewall in more of a defensive position. As opposed to the high, opposite sidewall targeted ATWB, cutting off the lower, faster moving low ATWB is an adventure. Let um try.
Situation: If the competitor’s shot comes short to your backhand side … —> Response: close in quickly, with quick little steps and, prep pulling the racquet across your chest. As you make your final approach, pick and choose. Pick your shot and choose what stroke to do it. See your shot with option 1 driving the ball down the wall along your backhand wall when the ball is attackable and you judge the straight angle is controllable, while being able to avoid sidewall contact on the way in or the way out. When keeping the ball low and from bouncing and popping off the back wall is judged to be a tough ask, roll a WAP cross-court around the bound to be closing in to center opponent. After hitting the WAP, move to center to look to hit an inside out righty forehand or lefty backhand. Plan C from middle left is a sidewall shot, like a splat or 3-wall shot depending on having ample time to be offensive and select a lower sidewall target out ahead of you (splat) or having less time so you have to cut off the ball and hit your shot into the sidewall just out ahead of you and place the ball in the opposite front corner leaving the ball short in the front court (3-wall).
Situation: If the competitor’s shot comes short to your forehand … —> Response: as you track down the ball in the middle of the court on your righty forehand side or lefty backhand side, close in rapidly and attack with a down the wall when that angle is quickly judged to be makable. Or, for a setup ball, look to hit an inside-out sidewall splat with sidewall contact near you and a little lower than ball contact. Or, if you can handle the angle, hit a near corner tight pinch into the closer front corner when you sense the pinch will be low enough to only contact 2 walls. Or, if it’s a tougher on the run shot, go for a 3-wall shot striking the sidewall deeper and just out in front of where you make ball contact. Be aggressive. This is ideally an offensive situation. Take advantage, but be sure it’s a ball that’s playable for you to stroke and produce the shot your decision making system picks. See the shot in your mind and then shape it with your visualizing and mind-guided, muscle memorized choice of stroke.
How to break the return pattern by employing your inside out and inside in backhand return …
Breaking the Regular Mold
The astute player will recognize some opposing players use patterns that break the mold of the expected rally. You can keep to convention yourself by hitting most of your returns of serve down the line and try to go DTL every rally chance you get, as well. As a righty, you can do this with your backhand inside out stroke from the left side of the court. And you can hit your inside in backhand off stroke when you decide to use your backhand when you’re on the side where you would normally hit your forehand. The same situation goes for the lefty backhand on the right with an inside out cut stroke action cross-court. Or on the left side you can hit a DTL with an inside in left handed backhand. As an example, using your righty forehand on the left side with an inside in swing motion allows you to mash the ball behind you into the left, rear corner for a strong tactical attack. As an adaptive player, you should know the basic patterns and build a game revolving around those RETURN patterns (serve or rally) when similar situations pop up for you to shoot aggressively and adjust your shot choices to the situation at hand. If you can make DTL and angle is open, go for it. If tough to control DTL or covered by close cover player, go cross-court.
After you have down the routine patterns, thereafter you can work on exceptions to the patterns. In routine or random shooting cases, make sure to turn and study the serve receiver or rally player to pick up their shot placement earlier. First, you must time your sliding in to coverage move into center court. Then, when you see or *feel* where to go, make your tracking move often to cover the most frequent first choice, DTL or whatever your opponent points out with their feet, contact point, backswing size, body lean and intensity in their eyes. Being adaptive in coverage means you read and predict. Sometimes you might just have to guess. Always take the balancing hop in place to get your body spring loaded to move to go after even their broken mold shot and gobble it up with your adaptive response shot.
While it can be frustrating when a player returning server (or rally player) breaks the expected pattern consistently, it may only mean this opponent has created a new pattern for you as the server (or rally cover player) to pick up on and exploit with your adjustments to negate their wrinkle by finding shot angles they’ve left wide open.
Once, as the server, you understand the receiver’s return and rally tendencies, adapt and exercise a modified, new game plan to attack with your serve, with adjustments in angle, pace, and spin, and by covering the newly recognized pattern of shots by the opponent and then attack it back with shot picks and appropriate stroke choices. Concatenating the rallies is your goal with smart shot placements and disguised strokes.
At the highest level of play, players read patterns and therefore they see that creativity must be injected into their game to respond and keep the competitor guessing, unable to cover everything, and causing the opponent to leave their patterns and leave open court areas that may be exploitively attacked.
When you master the shots recommended here, in response to the situations outlined, your in practice strokes will prove more than useful in getting you started in using your serve, return of serve and rally shotmaking as the foundation of your tactical offensive game, while you look to hit shots you like tactically and that are pressuring or influential on your opponent’s shot choices. Your goal is to dictate play and lead the rallies. Set the rally breadth or width the way you want to play. Primarily attack the back corners until you can make your assault on the front corners, the subject of our next lesson, the low front court attack or The Short Game.