The Object of YOUR Distraction: Rules Calls
First, Skip Balls
Last, Two Bounce Gets
Starting Outside Box
Service Line Cross
Drive Serve Line Cross
Non Serving Partner leaving sidewall Too Soon
Other Fault Serves:
Bouncing Ball Outside Box
Side Out Violations:
Safety Zone Cross
Point Scoring Violation:
Receiving Line Cross
There’s the chance in racquetball that there’s gonna be a bizarre call. Almost always there’s gonna be some level of controversy in competitive play. That’s just the nature of a sport that’s being played at such a fast pace and one where you share the very field of battle with one opponent or potentially 2 doubles opponents, as well as YOUR own partner, too! On court you’re NOT separated by a net. As an example of uncertainty and potential controversy, one player or the other might not even SEE the ball hit the front wall or what the ball did on its way in before it struck the front wall. That unsighted player might be blocked out from seeing the front wall by the opposing player(s) or they might only be staring at the front wall and not see the ball being struck from behind them until they pick up the ball after it’s already coming off that must-hit target front wall that they’re so fixated upon … or one player might just blink.
The not so subtle hint there was to sneak a peak over your back shoulder at the hitting player who is behind you or beside you BEFORE they make contact. Although, for safety’s sake, do turn when they’re actually contacting the ball so you’re less prone to being beaned. By looking back, you have a much better idea both where they might hit the ball on the front wall and also you know whether you’re in the way of their straight in or cross-court must-give shot angles. When you’re in the way, you must move or you could get popped. With a ref, if you block their shot, you could and probably should get called for a penalty hinder. That would be a rally forfeiting hinder for not moving or for having moved and blocked their offensive shot. Don’t just be a front wall starer. Also, in self officiated play, call a penalty on yourself rather than replay the rally, then luck out and get a possible crack-out, which could only give your opponent just one more reason to get more pumped up to whoop you.
A Rally Call – The Skip Ball “illusion”
We’re gonna start by talking about one of the calls or non calls made or not made by you or the opponent or the ref, when a ref is assigned to officiate your match. The first topic we’re gonna talk about is a skip ball. A skip ball catches splinters after being struck by the hitter before the shot reaches the front wall. Those skips occur when the ball that was just struck makes contact with the floor anywhere between contact and when the shot must reach the front wall. A skip can happen many, many, many ways. Here’s a bunch (nine) to give you the full picture on How Skips may Occur …
(1) serve->skip->front wall — sometimes a served ball may be hit very, very low, and, when it’s too low, it may catch the floor on the way in to the front wall. Then it’s non-front wall serve, which is a “…served ball that does not strike the front wall first”. There the call is “side out” or “out serve” and that means a loss of serve;
(2) ceiling->skip —> a ceiling ball is lifted up to the ceiling and it may hit the roof anywhere from 1 foot out to even 10 feet away from the front wall, with the intent for the ceiling ball to then angle down, strike the front wall, and then rebound out, bounce and go deep in the backcourt. But sometimes the ceiling ball angles down and comes up just short of making front wall contact, as a big, “How DID I miss that?” skip ceiling ball;
(3) back wall save not quite saved->skip — a ball saved into the back wall may travel 39 feet or a little more or little less and unfortunately catch the floor on the way and skip before making front wall contact. That’s why back wall saves must be hit very hard and lifted up high (~7 feet) into the back wall so the back wall save will carry forward (over you) to strike the front wall on the fly. Ideally and tactically a back wall save will catch the ceiling on the way to the front wall. That makes the save very difficult for the opponent to intercept the back wall save ball right after the ceiling ball bounces up vs. taking the ball out of midair, so they must back up to play the ball after the bounce deeper in the court;
(4) along with skip skip sound or no skip sound->front wall — a ball hit directly to the front wall might make a funny sound when it strikes the floor right before the front wall, as a skip ball. Although some balls that hit the front wall catch the floor first before front wall contact and they do so silently making no sound, but the ball still made floor contact. In either case, the fact that it struck the floor is only fully revealed visually;
(5) floor->sidewall->front wall shot appearing good — a ball could hit the floor, then the sidewall, and then, when the ball strikes the front wall, it could rebound out looking good coming off, although the ball skipped IN to the sidewall. It should be called as a skip ball, again, when it’s seen;
(6) sidewall->floor->front wall appearing good — a sidewall shot could hit the sidewall, glance off, skip on the floor before hitting the front wall, and then it might look good caroming off the front wall. Again, it skipped and the skip must be confirmed visually;
(7) floor->front wall->pop up — a ball may hit the floor and then front wall to then obviously pop up higher than it went in to the front target wall as it’s rebounding out indicating most clearly that that the ball hit the floor first. THAT situation is often THE most obvious type of skip ball and usually the least disputed or argued;
(8) floor->rollout — a ball may hit the floor right before the front wall and then the front wall and come off the front wall looking like a rollout, but it skipped in. Again, the skip must be visually confirmed; and
(9) power skip->front wall appearing good — as an unusual kind of skip, some hitters are able to hit a “power skip”. A power skip occurs when the player’s stroke is made with such great force that, as they make mishit contact, the ball almost immediately strikes the floor right at the crusher’s feet just in front of where they made contact – and then the power skip shot goes straight in to the front wall (or into a sidewall and then front wall) where the power skip looks like a kill-shot coming out flat or extremely low off the front wall as an apparent (to most) winner. 99% of the time The Power Skipper knows THEY skipped their shot in. But do they call it on themselves? Hmmm. We’ll get to that players making calls on themselves situation in just a sec. First let’s talk about some balls called as skips that just aren’t.
They May Look Bad, But Some Called Skips Aren’t…
A ball could hit low on the front wall and rebound out with a very unusual spin, while taking a very strange angling bounce coming back, yet it didn’t skip in to the front wall at all. The ball’s spin and it’s resulting angle off the front wall or sidewall might cause a witness to think or even feel certain the ball must’ve skipped in. It’s odd bounce is often due to the ball being mishit or not cleanly struck by the hitter’s racquet, like when the hitter catches the ball with their frame instead of their strings. Some balls with funky topspin go in to the front wall with lots of overspin and similarly they come off the front wall continuing with funky Top where the ball comes off the front wall lower than may be expected. Then the topped ball bounces first closer to the front wall, and it stays low and keeps overspinning until its second bounce; just as a Topped ball is won to do. Or a side spinning ball may come out changing its spin all together, as the ball takes a very funny bounce heading off in a completely unexpected direction. As an example of how spin and an unusual resulting angle happens, a hitter faces a sidewall and they hit a ball with cut or inside-out action targeting the front wall way over close in along that faced sidewall. After the ball contacts the front wall further over along that sidewall on that side of the court, the ball then rebounds out unusually paralleling that sidewall due to the heavy cut spin action imparted on the ball by the hitter’s in to out swing motion and contacting the inside of the ball. That down the wall shot is very tough to intercept anywhere along on its way back along that wall, as it hugs the wall traveling all the way back into that back corner. That cut shot can be hit very low or much higher, too. A low cut might skip, while a higher one wasn’t necessarily carried or flung by the opponent’s racquet despite its odd angling retreat off that front wall.
“Good” Splats Make Skip-like Sound
As a non skip example, but one that often gets called as a skip, a ball could hit the sidewall further back from the front wall and then safely make it to the front wall without skipping in. Although the ball might make a very distinctive, funny splaaaaat sound, as the ball sheers off the sidewall just like how a “splat” shot is often won to do. But the splat shot didn’t skip either in to the sidewall nor before it struck the front wall. A splat’s sound is due to the shot’s angle into the target sidewall close to contact up ahead at a spot only a little lower than where you make racquet to ball contact, along with considerable imparted sidespin based on a splat shooter’s inside out swing motion with routine cut and inside of the ball contact closer to the hitter. So, due to the swing motion, inside of ball contact, and its wider splat shot wall angle the resulting heavy splat sidespin and that funky sound result. A splat can sheer off the sidewall, carom off the front wall, while spinning IN to the front wall causing the ball to hug the front wall bizarrely and traumatically for the defending opponent who might wistfully say to themselves or aloud, “Please tell me THAT was a skip?”.
Only If They’re Called On It…
Unfortunately, while some players call any kind of skip (or other infraction) on themselves when they know for sure they skipped their shot in or they erred in some other way, like when they block ANY offensive shot to the front wall. Many don’t call skips on themselves, well, ever. They wait to be called on it, even in a quote-unquote “friendly” game. THAT type of play WON’T “Save Racquetball”. Being a stand up player will.
Should You Believe Your Opponent ?
In an ideal, integrity filled game, if you didn’t see a ball hit the front wall with or without skipping in first and your opponent DID see it, and you’re playing in a game that is self officiated, normally go with the call of the player who SAW the shot as good or skip. Likewise THEY should honor YOUR call if you saw it and they were blocked out by your position between them and the front wall or between them and the sidewall when you hit a sidewall shot before it went on to fairly strike the front wall. Of course, if you find the opponent less than upfront about their calls based on your shared experience (you’ll know), you may become more skeptical, and you may only selectively accept their calls. With that type of player, expect a few superfluous replays. Also they may be unwilling to accept your calls when they don’t see the ball themselves. You may ask how do players who don’t own up and who wait to get-called-on-it get others to play them, but those gamesmanship motivated players do get asked to play practice games because the player asking them may want to get ready to play against other players who are like them in tourney ball where many, many players play THAT way or who let the ref make ALL calls and who divorce themselves from the judging process, even when “they know” they caused an infraction or even when they know your serve, shot, or get was good but called bad. It’s a black eye on the sport and sport in general, but it’s up to the integrity and karma of the player how they want to play the game and be known for how they play. Note how players in the NBA don’t point their way when there’s a turnover when they know it not to be true, but in high school and at some colleges they do. By the way, both the refs and the opponents don’t like that player trying to play them or fool them. In racquetball, when making a call swaying march to the box in unison with the true rally winner or celebrating when that player knows their shot or get or serve wasn’t good, well, that just isn’t good form.
Appealing Skip Calls
In tournament play, you may be lucky enough to have a referee. When you are certain the opponent’s shot skipped in OR when you’re sure your shot that was called as a skip was good, then you can appeal the ref’s call, if (and that’s a BIG IF) you have also previously taken the very important pre step to request and be granted 2 overruling line judges. Note that, of the 2, only one judge needs to signal thumbs down, WITH you, for you to retain that appeal (of the 3 you are allotted), even if the other line judge signals thumbs up showing they agree with the referee’s (bad) call. In that instance, that ref’s call would stand. You have unlimited appeals when you get that one (or more) thumbs down signals. You lose one of your 3 appeals when you get no thumbs down signals. Of course, overruling the call you disagree with is your immediate goal and why you make an appeal. When you appeal to the ref, you’re betting on BOTH line judges reversing the ref’s, in your estimation, “incorrect call”. That’s usually why you made the appeal, although sometimes you just need a break and an appeal gives you a breather. You hope to get 2 thumbs down signals which overturns the ref’s call. One thumbs down and one flat palm, with the palm down signaling that line judge didn’t see the play, means you get a replay of the previous rally and it starts with a first serve. More times than not the player who hit the ball has a very good idea whether their shot skipped in or not … but let’s approach it in a different way …
Call Your Own Skips, Duh
Just out of sheer fairness, when YOU are the player who skipped, simply fess up. For the opposing player or the ref judging a skip or from the viewpoint of a spectator outside the court, the key thought process SHOULD simply be … “Did <I> see the ball hit the floor before it reached the front wall?”. You can’t just depend on the sound of the ball or its funny bounce or you can’t even be completely certain when a ball rolls completely flat coming off the front wall or especially you can’t be certain just based on when the ball veers strangely off the front wall. It may have skipped in first or it might not have. Now that was just about skips. There’s many, many, many more potentially heated or unusual calls in the game of racquetball…let’s look at covering the ball after it bounces no more than once…
Two Bounce Gets
Under the “2 bounce” rule it’s stated under … “Failure to Return … a failure to make a legal return during a rally … 1. The ball bounces on the floor more than once or else “rolls” before being hit”. A ball that hits the front wall and bounces once must be returned before it can take a second bounce. Now there’s numerous scenarios for that one bounce and return or it’s a 2 bounce or more return and loss of rally. As an example, a ball that hits the front wall and then angles to and off a sidewall to then bounce once must be returned to the front wall after NO more bounces. Again, one bounce is always the maximum allowed. That goes for these scenarios where … (1) a ball hits the ceiling, front wall and then bounces … or (2) a ball hits the front wall, bounces and pops off the back wall … or (3) a ball that hits the front wall, bounces and deflects off one sidewall on the way to rebound off the back wall … or (4) a ball that hits the front wall in one corner then directly ricochets off the adjacent sidewall to carom out and carry on the fly (in the air) diagonally across the court to strike the far sidewall as a Z shot that parallels both the front and back walls and, after its first bounce, the Z shot must be returned before it can take its second bounce. One extremely unusual bounce situation occurs when a ball is struck very, very high and very hard into the front wall so the ball carries all the way back to strike very high and hard on the back wall causing the ball to rebound way out very far and then bounce. Left untouched the ball will go all the way back to make it to the front wall yet again and rebound off. It’s had just that one bounce so far … so what’s the play? You actually don’t have to beat the ball to hit it before it can make it back to the front wall again. You may return the ball after it goes back and strikes the front wall again and field the ball as it rebounds off. There you must return it as it pops off the front wall BEFORE the “b-b-back wall” shot can take its second bounce. When covering a passing shot, a direct kill-shot to the front wall or a sidewall shot in a rally, sometimes, as the defensive player is in pursuit of the ball that bounced once, the player gets over top the ball when they’re hustling hard to make a get or return and they may flick the ball to the front wall by striking it right after its SECOND bounce; yet they think or they’re just certain they got it. Usually the player knows, but sometimes they just don’t. Depending on the opponent, less frequently on an onlooker outside the court or even counting upon the perspective of the referee to make the 2 bounce (or more) call is often catch catch can. That’s especially the case from the ref’s perch behind the glass when they’re well off to one side to accommodate a microphone jack that’s located there or they’re over there so they’re not standing behind the service receiver in the center where then the ref’s vision of the the 2 bounce get is on the far side. If they took up position in the center, swing the serve may be blocked by the receiver in back. Also, in the rally, one or both players might block the ref’s line of sight to see the first or second bounce. It’s not always certain about 2 bounce get calls. Like skips, your appealing a 2 bounce get, when you’re sure you got the ball on 1 bounce or when you clearly saw the opponent did NOT make a one bounce get, is a worthwhile appeal, especially WHEN you feel it was obvious, AND you have line judges. If you either think you got it or you’re pretty darn certain the opponent didn’t make a one bounce get and you think it was plainly obvious to the eyes of the line judges who are watching, first, raise your off hand to signal when the two bounce contact happened. Now note that you may either keep playing the rally, which is the commonly accepted “racquetball way” or, when you’re pretty darn certain, you can just stop and appeal to the ref. Although, IF YOU STOP and the line judges don’t go along with your “correct call”, you will lose that rally. But let’s look at it different way. Say you play out the rally with the plan to appeal if you lose the rally, which, by playing, would let you right the wrong, WHEN you win the rally. But let’s say you lose the rally. That could be due to the rally’s length and the judges might just forget the 2 bounce situation. In that scenario, you’re doubly penalized because your energy, your sense of fairness, AND your patience are all sapped a little or a lot. Note that in tennis you must stop immediately if you want to challenge the call. In racquetball asking for the appeal is a risk worth strongly considering when you’re sure and you feel VERY confident it was obvious to the line judges that the perhaps unsighted ref just missed that one. As you turn to appeal to the ref, it’s a good move to signal while wagging your thumb from level with the court to thumbs down, like you’re a Roman Cesar. With that signal, maybe you’ll hypnotize the 2 line judges into their own thumbs down signals indicating they disagree with the ref’s incorrect call, too. Again, though, those line judges must’ve been arranged for in advance by asking the ref for them. Usually, after a missed call or 2 by the ref or based on past experience with THIS particular ref or when you have previously played against THIS opponent and you’ve suffered through controversy before or, when you’re just factoring in the sheer pace of the game or your past experiences in general in highly competitive play, you might consider requesting line judges. The hope is you’ll get experienced players to be line judges. When you’re in Semifinals and Finals rounds you should have line judges because there’s a lot on the line and the pressure is heightened on both the players competing and the ref officiating. Also among the 2 line judges you’re hoping one is NOT your opponent’s doubles partner, one is NOT their best friend, and one is not a relative of theirs, as racquetball can be quite a partisan game. Pulling for their bud or charge is routine when everything THEIR player does is good and everything the opponent does is bad ala any away game at any stadium, gym or colosseum (unfortunately) in sport. Although, no racquetball, integrity still does matter, right?
Now another area of great controversy is often the serve. When serving and returning serve, THAT is the only time the court lines matter, and, Oh Boy, do they matter! First let’s talk about where you must serve. The serving player must start their service motion inside the “box” or within the first 2 lines in the service zone which is also referred to as the the “service box” or “box”. For example, the service motion can NOT begin with the server having one foot in the safety zone behind or past the middle “short line”. Even their heel over the short line is disallowed. Also the server must not bounce the ball on the court outside the 2 lines. Now, when starting with one foot outside the box, the server could be using their initial further back position as a runway to build up a head of steam, as a head-start to boost their service motion. Kudos for tryin, but ugh-uh. They may just do it unconsciously and unknowingly out of (bad) habit. If you or an opposing server starts with one foot on the floor outside the lines of the box behind the center line, it’s a “foot fault” and second serve unless it was already the second serve; in which case, it’s a “side out” or loss of serve, WHEN there’s a ref. Now that ref reference is because, in self officiated play, it’s just a time to point it out to the server that they’re starting too deep and it’s just a replay. Note that the foot faulter may not like for it to be pointed out. So don’t be surprised if they resort to doing it again soon after out of habit or possibly just out of sheer orneriness. It’s not suggested you demand a second serve or side out were it to be the second serve unless you just LIKE confrontations.
Front Line Foot Faults
When making that big stride forward to strike their drive serve, the server isn’t permitted to completely surpass the front “service line”. Some part of both feet, like the heel of their frontmost striding foot, must still be in contact or touching the leading edge of that first line that is 15 feet back from the front wall. That on the line position must be held UNTIL the served ball crosses the second, middle, 20 foot back “short line”. If that foot goes all the way past the first line, it’s a foot fault. As a server yourself, work on your own service motion so you don’t foot fault because in competition it’s a real bummer and momentum killer to be called for foot faulting. Of course, when you’re pumped up, sometimes it just happens. Then the call is “second serve” and you just move on. So, if it’s a foot fault on the first serve, then a second serve is allowed. Have one at the ready. If it’s a foot fault on the second serve, it’s an out serve or side out, and it’s the receiver’s turn to serve. In the 4 player game in doubles when it’s the first server who foot faults on their first serve, it’s then their second serve. If they foot fault on their second serve, it’s a “hand out” and the second server on that team takes over as the server. Extending the scenario, if there’s been a “hand out” and say now it’s the second server hitting their second serve and they foot fault, even when say they’re serving up a drive Z serve, it’s a loss of serve and side out for that team, and the other doubles team gets to take over as the serving team, which is bad, and it’s unforced error playing form. When “… At the end of the service motion, the server steps with either foot on the floor beyond the service line (with no part of the foot on the line or inside the service zone) before the served ball crosses the short line” the call is (usually) made by the referee in officiated play, but it’s a much tougher call for the receiver in self officiated play. That’s because the receiver’s plate is already pretty full. The server is trying to see the served ball and watch to see if it was good (not short of the middle line) and then the server is all about returning the ball to the front wall. A “good” serve is when the ball strikes the front wall and it rebounds out and crosses the second, “short line” or was it “short” and “fault serve”. We’ll get to short serves LAST because they’re just such a tough call for all concerned.
Safety Zone Violation Side Out
When a singles server or a doubles server or the doubles server’s non serving partner beats the served ball past the “short line”, which is the 20 foot back middle line, it’s not a foot fault it’s much worse; it’s a “safety zone violation” which is an “out serve” and loss of serve. In singles, it’s a loss of serve and the receiver takes the ball. In doubles, the player serving loses their serve. For example, when the first server of the doubles pair is serving and say their doubles partner hustles back too soon and that partner both leaves the wall (which is itself a “foot fault”) AND then the partner also crosses that middle line BEFORE the ball passes that 20 foot back short line, and it’s not just a fault serve; it’s actually a loss of serve! Then it’s a hand out and the second server takes over serving. By rule, it’s a safety zone violation … “if, after the serve has been struck, the server or doubles partner step into the safety zone BEFORE the served ball passes the short line” … so beating the ball back is an immediate loss of serve for the singles server or that doubles server. So, again, if the first doubles server is serving their second OR first serve and if either the server or their back to the sidewall partner beats the ball out past the short line, it’s a safety zone violation and “hand out” where the second server of that pair takes over serving. So, when the first server of the pair or their partner steps out early on either their first or second serve, then the second server of that team gets to serve. The team does NOT forfeit their entire serving opportunity. Of course, if it’s the second server’s first serve and they or their partner crosses the short line before the ball passes it, it’s not a second serve; it’s still a team side out. Of course, if it’s their second serve, it’s also a side out. The rule for the partner’s position reads that … “the server’s partner shall stand erect with their back facing the side wall and with both feet on the floor within the service box from the moment the server begins the service motion until the served ball PASSES the short line. Any violation is called a “foot fault” UNLESS the server’s partner (ALSO) enters the safety zone BEFORE the ball passes the short line in which case the server (that server) loses service”. Calling that type of foot fault on the back to the wall doubles partner or a safety zone violation on the singles or doubles server often is the source of much consternation on the part of the called foot faulter or short line crosser. The doubles partner on the wall would rather hear “Foot fault” than for the ref to wait a beat until that partner also crosses the short line causing a safety zone violation and then hear “Hand out” or “Side out”. In that case, the server (or partner) thinks they didn’t cross, but the call is made when the ref clearly sees the infringing player beat the ball back. As a telling example, when there’s a short lob serve and BEFORE the serve is called short, both the server (and even their partner) are already both standing back there behind the short line in the safety zone it’s clearly a short lob serve. That’s pretty clear evidence that it’s a loss of serve for that server because that server or their partner or both beat the ball out. When YOU are the lob server, to avoid causing a Safety Zone Violation, it helps if you make your first move along the back of the box by moving just inside the short line toward the side where you serve your lob. THEN, AFTER the ball crosses the middle 20 foot line, back up quickly into center court. (But still make sure you give up a cross-court return to the far, rear corner). Now, before we get into calls regarding the little lines by each sidewall, the screen serve, and the whole short serve thing, first let’s talk about the 3rd line back, the dashed line, which is “receiving line” or encroachment line. That’s the line that ideally separates the server from the receiver’s swing as they return serve.
For lobs and lob Z’s, it’s commonplace to see aggressive receivers quickly slide up early, often right as the server is initially lofting their lob up onto the front wall. That way the receiver can attack the softer struck ball either right AFTER the serve’s bounce or right as the lob serve is passing the dashed “receiving line” in the air when the serve is going to take its first bounce beyond the broken line. By the by, when you lob serve, bouncing your lob ball inside the dashed line is good form. Now the main point here for the receiver is timing their cutoff which is crucial.
Receiving Line Scenario…
…the receiver moves up in a blink and hovers right behind the dashed line, looming like a vulture, ready to pounce on the high lob, half lob, or Z lob serve. Controversy begins when the server points down at the dashed receiving line BEFORE they even serve. There they’re indicating that they feel the receiver has crossed BEFORE and they might again or they might do it this time. Or, after dropping their serve, the former server points right after a rally has been played when they feel the receiver definitely crossed the broken line tooooo early. When they point before they serve, the server is sure that either the receiver passed the dashed line before in a prior rally or they want the ref to pay particular attention because they THINK the receiver may pass the line BEFORE the ball bounces. Or the server may be looking to just place extra pressure on the receiver to either NOT cross or to cause them to hesitate to cross or to think before they act, which in a racquetball is a BIG no-no. If the receiver steps into the safety zone too early (before the bounce or crossing in the air) that safety zone is the area between the short line and dashed “receiving line”, it’s a “receiving line violation” or “encroachment”. Note that the serving side NOT beating their serve past the short line and the receiver not crossing the receiving line before the serve’s bounce or before the serve completely passes the receiving line in the air establishes that 5 foot wide 20 foot long area as a safety zone for the server so they don’t get popped by ball or worse case to avoid the receiver’s swing catching them. By not crossing the line too early that way the receiver won’t be as likely to hit the server with their return. When the receiver DOES cross the line early and it’s a “receiving line violation”, it’s a BIG call. The Receiving Position rule reads … “The receiver may not break the plane of the receiving line with the racquet or body until the ball either bounces in the safety zone or else crosses the receiving line. For example, if the receiver steps on the dashed receiving line with either foot (with any part of the foot contacting the line) before either of the two preceding things happen, a point shall be called for the server”. So it’s point for the server WHEN the call is made. So THAT violation gives the server a free point without playing out the rally. When there are line judges, an appeal may be made. The rule reads “Receiving Line Violation (Encroachment). If the referee makes a call of encroachment, but the call is overturned, the serve shall be replayed unless the return was deemed irretrievable in which case a side out (or possibly a handout in doubles) should be called. When an appeal is made because the referee made no call, and the appeal is successful, the server is awarded a point”. That “irretrievable by the server” is as seen in the impartial eyes of the ref. In that case, it’s a side out. Or, when it’s the first server, it’s a hand out in doubles and the second server takes over serving. That irretrievable return or deeming it so is in the rules, but timing the call or sound matters a lot. When the ref is already making the call of “encroachment” and THEN the receiver makes an (unreturnable) return, the rally should be replayed. When the call is made AFTER the receiver’s return and the appeal was that there was no safety zone violation, when the return was ungettable for the server (or server’s team), then it’s a side out. Now, on the other side of the ball when an appeal is made (by the server) because the referee made NO receiving line violation call, and the appeal is successful, (when the line judges say there was a violation with 2 thumbs down), then the server is auto awarded a point. So crossing that dashed line one way or not crossing it is a huge call when there’s a receiving line violation (or when there’s no violation called when there actually should have been one). Note that the receiver encroaches when … (1) they slide in too early with their toes; or (2) they lean past the receiving line with their lead shoulder or even their head; or (3) they swing past the line with their racquet before the ball has bounced; or (4) they cross the line before the served ball has completely passed the dashed line in the air when it’s going to bounce beyond the line. So the receiver encroaches when the vertical plane of the receiving line from floor to ceiling is broken. Often the ref is very leery about making an encroachment call just like they hate calling penalty hinders when a defensive player completely takes away an offensive shot from the hitter. In part that hesitancy by the ref to call encroachment is probably due in part to the controversial nature of making a point deciding call, as the offending party who is being called on it is generally NOT going to be a happy camper, and they usually let their disappointment be clearly known. However, encroachment is an appealable call. Once a served ball bounces in the safety zone the receiver CAN move in past the receiving line. But do note that there’s little time to move in very far past the line, even when the ball bounces further forward in the safety zone and then it’s going to be bounding up even higher when it can be contacted. Often it’s a tough read for the ref to see or read whether the chicken or the egg came first. Did the ball bounce and THEN the receiver crossed? Or did the receiver barely pass the broken line right BEFORE the bounce occurred? Or did the receiver swing past the line or lean past the dashed line or step past right BEFORE the ball completely passed the dashed line in the air without a bounce? By pointing at the receiving line before they serve, the server is making both the ref and the receiver think. When a player thinks and they don’t react concurrently, they’re often a full beat late acting.
Not Passing Receiving Line Tactics
If as receiver you are intent on making contact with a lob that will bounce past the line or you’re intent on attacking the server right after it bounces inside the line, NOT crossing the line too early is your receiver’s role first requirement. Also that should be the ref’s observation point of emphasis for the receiver to NOT pass THAT line. To cutoff a bouncing served ball, some receivers slide in and get up on their tippy toes to take a lob on the rise right after its first bounce. The receiver may similarly get up on their toes when looking to field a high ball when taking a ball right out of midair as it’s passing the receiving line before the server has had a chance to get back into good defensive position in center court. Note that, when you take the ball on the fly or out of midair, the main deal for you is to not to lean in tooooo early, as you set yourself to swing volley thru the ball by your FOCUS on starting with your lead foot BEHIND the dashed line. When planning to take the ball after it bounces in the safety zone, you must take the ball on the rise. You may either take the serve very low as either a short-hop or you may take the serve higher up
as an overhead. A short-hop is when you strike a deep safety zone bouncing ball right after its bounce as you swing thru with a low hooded, slightly pointing down to the floor racquet head swing thru contact. So the racquet face often angles with the strings partly pointed downwards at the floor, as you swing thru with a smooth, compact keeping-it-low motion. Practicing and perfecting short-hop cutoffs takes lots of reps when timing your slide up to initially set yourself BEHIND the line. There set your front foot behind the line as you also quickly get sideways. Then move in right AFTER the bounce and time the hooded swing (or short racquet face control swing) for solid contact which allows you to accurately hit your short-hop return ideally AWAY from the server, as a passing shot or even as a flick front corner pinch. As an on the rise higher take, field a lob ball as it bounces up by either using a baby overhead motion at head height or even a full overhead motion for a bigger, higher bounding ball where you reach up way overhead to swing high to low. To take a ball after the bounce as it’s bounding up high takes lots of drilling to prep and take your overhead and usually shoot a passing shot return. Usually go cross-court and less often go down the wall. Only attempt a more straight in option after having practice that skill, which usually will require changing the ball’s incoming angle. Also, for that down the wall cutoff, make sure to follow your shot forward. That way the opponent must get to the ball behind you while you slide over laterally into center court to “cover down”, which means to position well to play the server’s next ball. For a ball passing the dotted line in the air, it takes practice to slide up, be turning sideways, and then take the ball right out of midair, as a swing volley often at waist high up to chest high or even a little higher at shoulder high without prematurely passing that dashed line BEFORE the ball does, except after contact when you may pass the broken line with your follow-through. Now, as server, if you’re being hurt by the receiver’s return or uncalled encroachments, there are good Plan B’s. A serve that can’t be short hopped or taken as overhead is a nick lob. Note that off speed lobs and high lobs are generally meant to speed up the rally and encourage an overzealous returns by the anxious receiver. Are you looking to up the volume or make them loft up a defensive ceiling ball? Either lobs very tight to the sidewall or nick lobs are tougher to attack so then your chances go up to make the receiver often and ideally defend by hitting a ceiling ball, which best case, for you, is an inaccurate one.
Shrunken Safety Zone
**Note that in international play, crossing the short line before the ball crosses just became legal again for the serving side. Still the receiver must adhere to the receiving line violation rule. To be safe, the server (or their partner in doubles) had better not wander back into the swing radius of the receiver, as now the safety zone has been shrunken by new hit and drop back quick rule, which allows the server or server’s partner to get back quicker and retreat before the serve passes the short line. As the serving side, think and play safety first, last and always. Although the receiver needs to not hit a server who does wander into say their cross-court overhead passing shot angle.
Drive Serve Line
That innermost line on either side of the box has a major significance in the rules of serving. When a player is serving over just inside both of those 2 lines by the sidewall in the service box and serving up along THAT wall, the server may effectively, tactically obscure the ball from the receiver. There, as server, you may either face the lines or you may stand with your back to the lines. There the server can legally drive serve up along THAT wall, IF they (or the ball) don’t cross that second line in from the sidewall. Concerning that inner line there’s actually 2 lines. Let’s discuss those.
Doubles Service Box
First let’s point out that there’s a doubles service box, which is the first line closest to the sidewall. That’s where the partner stands with their back to the sidewall while their partner serves. Although the non serving partner doesn’t have to either touch the wall with their back nor do they have to have both feet inside that first line – feet on the line is okay – the doubles partner on the wall is not allowed to face forward. AND facing back is both not allowed and not safe because the partner would be facing the ball being returned. As the partner on the wall, you might consider using your racquet frame to cover your head when the receiving team is returning. You may even put the racquet up on the front side when say your partner has popped you before! Then you could switch the racquet after the serve clears the short line to the receiver side to cover your noggin. There in the doubles service box the partner stands with their back to the wall waiting right up until their serving partner’s serve COMPLETELY passes the short line. If the partner moves off the wall before the serve passes the short line, it’s a foot fault. If that partner moves AND beats the ball out past the short line, it’s much worse; it’s a “safety zone violation” AND side out.
2nd Line In From Wall Is Drive Serve Line
The significance of the second line in, the “drive serve line”,?which is inside of the service box and is 3 feet in from the sidewall at its inner edge, is aspect of serving right along that wall you may not cross that line. Note that there are 2 drive serve lines on each side of the court in the box. The ball and server must start inside that drive serve line WHEN the server is serving a drive serve (or any well struck ball) up along THAT sidewall into the rear corner on that side of the court. Also, at no time may the server’s serving swing cross that drive serve line. If any part of body, ball or racquet crosses the drive serve line during the serve and as the ball zips back to the rear corner on that side, it’s an “illegal drive serve” and fault serve. In addition to serving from inside that drive serve line, when the served ball either angles either outside that 3 foot line closer to the server or when the serve passes so closely by say a stationary, not dropping back away from the drive serve line drive server and it’s determined that the service receiver can’t clearly see the ball as it’s passing by that server, THAT is a “screen serve” and fault serve. If the ball ends up within 2 feet or closer to the sidewall going back toward that rear corner, it probably should not be called as a screen serve. But it’s a borderline call for receiver in self officiated play or ref in officiated play. When the ball passes closer than 2 feet to the drive serve line, it’s a marginal call and it’s left up to the ref in officiated play whether to call a screen or not. In self officiated play, it’s totally up to the receiver for them to decide whether they believe they were screen served or not. Note that we’ll go in depth into the screen serve call next. There, in unrefereed play, the server must quickly decide if they could clearly see the ball as it passed by the receiver or not, especially as the serve was passing by the server at the short line. There the receiver must quickly calculate whether they can make a move to make a good return of that drive serve on its way back to the rear corner or, when it’s higher, whether they can play it after it bounces and rebounds off the back wall. Part of that calculus is “Can I control this return?” despite perhaps seeing it late. The receiver may also be considering whether the next one may be even tougher to return, like where it may crack-out and rollout off the sidewall, as unreturnable. The receiver shouldn’t return the serve and then wait and see their return and how the server is playing their return and THEN sheepishly call “Screen”. Also, in officiated play, the receiver shouldn’t return the ball and hope that they can THEN ask the ref for a screen call; that’s too late. Getting back to the drive serve line … A ball served tighter into the rear corner that’s, again, within a couple feet or closer to the sidewall shouldn’t usually be called as a screen, by ref or player. Both where the receiver lines up and where the ref stands affects this (and all) screen serve calls. As the rules state, the receiver should start in the center in back when returning serve to get a screen call. Of course, in this specific serving and receiving example, if the receiver were to hedge over closer to THAT drive serve line where the server is serving, the receiver could both be screened when the ball passes very close by the server, and they could call it in self officiated play or ask for a screen call by the ref when it’s initially uncalled, in officiated match play. Note that when line judges have been requested and their spots filled, a screen serve appeal may be made at any time after the serve has been put in play, even at the end of a very protracted rally. When the receiver feels they were screened (or they sense any infraction was committed), they should first raise their off hand to signal WHEN the screen occurred. When the ref is positioned with mike in hand or scorecard in hand on the complete opposite side of the court behind the glass away from THE drive serve line in question, that may affect that ref’s perspective when calling screen serves way over THERE by that far drive serve line. The ref should put themselves in the shoes of the receiver (showing empathy) and see how closely the ball passed by the server AND how close the served ball is to that rear corner should it not be returned. If the ball is closer in along that sidewall, no screen may be the right call. If the ball is 2 feet out or further out from the sidewall or much closer to that 3 foot drive serve line, a screen call may be warranted. The ref may wait until the ball is at the back wall before making the screen call. But, by watching closely as the ball is passing the server, the ref should consider how close the ball passed by the server and whether the receiver may or may not have had a <clear view> of the ball at its critical juncture, as it passes the server at the short line. If the ball is close and even the ref has trouble seeing it, they ought to factor that in, as well as where the serve ends up when it’s contacted or where it bounces or where it heads in relationship to the back corner when it’s unreturned by the perhaps unsighted receiver. Again, for emphasis, a served ball close to the 3 foot line probably should be called as a screen serve when the drive serve is struck from right along the drive serve line, when contact is made just inside it. Now, extending the situation, after the ball passes the server and if the receiver is returning the serve, the server should make sure to give the receiver a cross-court angle to the front wall so the ball could strike the front wall and rebound out and angle back to the far, rear corner. If the server doesn’t move and they block that rule-required cross-court shot angle, a whole new category of calls occurs, “hinders”. In that case, the much dreaded penalty hinder (by ref and “hinder player”) could or probably should be the call. Hint: hit and move to center, when you serve (or rally return). Don’t hang on the line and risk getting popped on a straight in or on a simple V cross-court pass.
Where in Center Court
As a tactical point about center court positioning, make note that, although you must give up the V cross-court passing shot angle, you don’t have to give up a “wide angle pass” (WAP) angle. The WAP is a wider angle pass hit to the front wall farther over so the ball would rebound out and angle back to strike the sidewall in mid court. So the WAP is a bigger angle than a V pass. As defender, when you’ve placed the ball way back deep in a rear corner, get between ball and cross-front corner. There, in between, you give up the cross-court and straight in angles that you must, but not the WAP and very importantly you don’t allow a diagonal shot into the cross front corner, which, when hit low, is extremely difficult to retrieve.
As you know, when a player is standing on or swinging over a drive serve line, they may only serve a direct drive serve cross-court to the far, rear corner. They may hit a Z drive serve to the rear corner on THAT side they’re on when they’re serving from on top of that line. The advantage of hitting drive serves BETWEEN the 2 drive serve lines is due to the logic that it forces the receiver to have to cover both rear corners to guard against the placement of a possible drive serve into either back corner. The drive serve lines magnify the screen serve situation. Let’s say the server is over serving from right along one sidewall just barely inside that drive serve line where a serve between the server and the sidewall can be tough to see for the receiver the closer the ball is angled by the server as it passes by them. So, of course, it’s tougher to see the closer the server starts their motion by THAT line. That placing the ball logic when serving carries over to when the server moves over and is serving drive serves from closer in toward the center of the service box on that side of the court and box. From wherever THEY serve (or from wherever YOU serve) when nearer in to the center of the box and on over to the drive serve line on that side where the ball is being served, if the ball passes out closer to 3 feet out from the sidewall, the odds go WAY UP that THAT particular serve is a screen serve and very hard if not impossible for the receiver to clearly see right as it passes by the server. From wherever THEY serve (or from wherever YOU serve), when the ball is not clearly seen by the receiver as it passes by player serving, it’s liable to be called a screen by the receiver in self officiated play and it’s more likely it’ll be called as a screen by a ref, especially when the receiver quickly, alertly raises their off hand indicating they feel certain they were screen served. Yet some guidelines for WHEN to make the “Screen Serve” call by a ref are worth considering. When a served ball passes dangerously close by the server, but the serve is higher and it’s going to bounce and then pop kindly off the back wall as a back wall setup for the receiver, it could be allowed to pop off the back wall without a screen serve call so long as the receiver does NOT raise their off hand signaling they were screened. Then the receiver can capitalize on THAT sweet back wall setup that’s due to the server’s error only, again, WHEN the receiver’s off hand stayed down. Note that, when the server raises their off hand and they immediately get the screen call, then they can NOT ALSO return the ball and hope to win the rally with THAT return. Also a serve passing precariously close when it’s passing by the server may still angle back and get within a couple feet or even closer to the targeted rear corner. That serve may be extremely tough to see as it was passing by the server. So then the question or tough decision by receiver or ref or fan or even line judge would be, “Is THAT a screen serve?”. Server applied ball spin or a disguised service motion delivery or their serving stance can all conspire to produce just such a curving, very accurate, tough to see serve as it’s passing by the server. At one time in the rules there was an 18 inch rule for screens where when a ball was passing closer than 18 inches to the server it was supposed to be called as a screen serve. Today the screen serve is a much more subjective call that’s left up to the perspective of the ref in officiated play or it’s totally left up to the discretion of the receiver in self officiated play. In ref-free play, it’s up to the receiver. The screen serve rule’s exact wording for a screen is “A served ball that first hits the front wall and on the rebound passes so closely to the server, or server’s partner in doubles, that it prevents the receiver from having a clear view of the ball…”, then it’s a screen serve. So a serve could pass very close, especially when the server spreads themselves out with a front foot lunge out to the sidewall into a very closed stance or when they swing from a very open stance facing the front wall or when the server strikes their drive serve or even off speed serve from a more upright stance, from say a one-step service motion. Both the ref taking on the mindset that it’s them returning the server’s serve and strongly factoring in the off hand raise by the receiver when the receiver seems frozen by the ball passing so close by the server SHOULD both be folded into the screen serve call equation, as the ref decides whether a screen serve call is warranted. Having requested line judges and then appealing to the line judges is a good backup plan for you as the receiver, IF you have had the foresight to request the lines. And, with line judges, when YOU feel certain you were screened, you should appeal, while quickly raising your off hand to signal WHEN you were screened. That appeal may even be made after a rally is played out, by the receiver. Note that even the server may appeal that THEY screen serves when they drop the rally. If the serve is beyond 2 feet out from a rear corner closer in to the middle and you’re receiving by starting in the center in back, you have a good argument for a screen and winning the appeal. Then point out the placement of the “screen serve” by pointing exactly where on the back wall the serve ended up (and don’t fudge it because you want the benefit of this and future calls, not resentment or for them to question your truth telling or veracity). That pointing is a good place to start when making your point verbally to the ref and, by your demonstration of where the screen serve hit the back wall, also to the lines who are looking and listening, but not by directly addressing the line judges (because, by rule, you cannot directly talk to line judges). Of course you have those line judges to appeal to by having alertly asked for them BEFORE you were screened or make sure to ask for them BEFORE you get screen served again!
Ref-Free Screen Calling
In ref-free play (self officiated games), calling the screen is the sole prerogative of ONLY the receiver. According to the self-officiated rules … “The screen serve call is the sole responsibility of the receiver” … “The server may NOT call a screen under any circumstance and thus, must always expect to play the rally unless the receiver calls “screen serve””. *Note that many times a receiver is caught going one way, when guessing, and then, when the serve goes the other way, even when it would have been a screen serve, no screen serve call may be made. The receiver took themselves out of the play by going the wrong way and away from being able to make a screen serve call in self officiated play. (The server also would surrender the ability to make an appeal for a screen serve then to a ref either). Note that in self officiated play the server may not raise their off hand to signal THEY think they screened because first it’s not their call to make and second they can’t unfairly distract or influence the receiver with their “I think my serve was a screen” signal because that is in fact making a call, and really it’s an intentional distraction, which is a penalty hinder … I digress.
Hand Raising … Un-Distracted
Note that in refereed play, make sure to keep your focus despite the server’s hand raising signaling throughout a game in many situations. They may signal that THEY hit a screen or you made a 2 bounce get or you hit a short serve or they feel they were hindered … as they signal trying to get the ref’s attention, they may intend to distract you, too. Keep your focus on playing the ball when hitting or on defending when you’re on the other side of the ball in coverage.
Short Serve Call
Now let’s talk about what is often THE toughest call for receiver or server, the short serve call. The “Short Serve” call is ALWAYS a tough call. Short serves may be THE toughest call because they’re just so hard to see, and we don’t have a tennis challenge system yet with a matrix of cameras confirming line calls (one day though…). The short serve call is often a point of consternation and even confrontation between ref and server, between the two sides playing without a ref (and on 4-wall glass court concerning those 2 poor, well-intentioned line judges standing right on that short line but still struggling to see line-bounce or bounce-line). The ball AND line can play tricks on your eyes. A short serve call could also easily become a bone of contention or argument between 2 players who are competing without a ref in self-officiated play. When the server is facing one way and they drive serve behind themselves to the rear corner behind them, they often don’t physically have enough time to be able to turn quickly around in time to actually see whether their fast drive serve DID pass the short line or not. Yet the server may believe the serve barely passed the line. There they are doing so based on feel, not by visual confirmation. Yet, even when they face the side toward where they’re serving, the server can even then mistakenly see the ball thinking it wasn’t short when it was or thinking it was bad when their serve WAS actually good. Also, as another potentially contentious situation, when a player hits their serve very close to the crack between sidewall and floor INSIDE the short line in the box where the ball then angles back off the sidewall toward the safety zone, the ball COULD pass the short line before taking its first bounce. BUT more often than not a crack-out attempt that hits low on the sidewall INSIDE the short line is more often than not called as a short serve. There it’s anticipated that the low ball was so low it MUST HAVE caught some piece of the service box before it crossed the short line. That’s based on the serve having hit the sidewall before the short line or it can be it was visually confirmed by the receiver or ref. In part, that’s why you should only go for a crack-out serve as your first serve. That way you still have a second serve left. Also, as a wrinkle, drill and target YOUR crack-out just PAST the short line and then you may avoid the “imagined” short serve call. As a backup plan for when you go for first serve crack-outs a lot in your attack, make sure you also have a practiced-up, very nasty second serve, like a deep nick lob, a wicked drive Z or another trustworthy 2nd serve delivery chosen from your regulars. Then you can select that killer second serve from your service arsenal and confidently count on that one you choose when your 1st serve “good” crack-out was called, “Short!”. Let that “short serve” call go and forge ahead with your attacking second serve.
… the Crux of the Matter: Be undistracted by ANY Call
Don’t let calls or non calls affect your will and hustle. Don’t let replays of rallies, players demanding they’re right, that you’re wrong, and only their call must stand, or even a player who just does NOT make calls on themselves when they-know they did something like hit a skip or they made a 2 bounce get or they took away a clearly offensive shot from you … of any form of gamesmanship affect your future. It’s basically best to not let ANY bad calls or arguments become the object of YOUR distraction and affect the ensuing point or points. It’s tough to keep up with the game from outside the court and you can imagine (and you probably already know) it’s tough to keep up with everything going on inside the court, with the speed of rallies, funny bounces, close quarters when having to share court space, and when judging super low shots where both your view and the opponent’s viewpoint may be, “Was THAT good?”. Then there’s the controversial calls by the opponent or the ref, too. Outside the court there may be a player watching or even a non player spectator and you know they have never lost a rally from out there; so they’re often just certain THEY saw it best and often much better than you possibly could have. It’s far more challenging scurrying around out there after that bouncy little orb or dodging out of the way so the opponent can take a direct line run to make a get or to move out of the way to allow them to hit an offensive shot (cross-court to far, rear corner or straight in). Of course, it’s tough at times to even see skips, 2 bounce gets, screens, receiving line crossings and short serves, even when you ARE out there. It’s especially challenging to see skips and one bounce gets in the midst of the fray, when there’s 1 in singles and up to 3 other bodies to see around in doubles. And then there’s the reticence by some players to make calls on themselves, as they continue into the call making as if they’re still competing or fighting the point when they know they unintentionally or willfully erred. It lacks moral fiber. Know that the intensity of competition and shooting aggression in the game of racquetball go hand in hand. Your best mindset is to be a good sport and both make calls on yourself when you err and allow that there are going to be opponent’s replays vs. going ballistic and getting mad or ever going away psychologically by not engaging in the next rally or even series of rallies. Simply put ALWAYS FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT. As long as there are more points to be played, you have time to make your own impression on the outcome of the rallies that are yet to be played by being fully immersed in the moment, giving your full attention, and giving your best effort when meeting YOUR Performance Goals in the great diversion and tough competitive challenge that is racquetball. Note that THAT level intensity should even be present when participating in invaluable practice reps in your drilling because THAT carries over to play. So it’s a given that effort in training transfers over to success at play. When it comes to the calls, try your best to let go of a past call, no matter what. As an example or a pill that’s tough to swallow, when you are receiving in ref-free play and you call screen in the situation when you’re sure you were screened because you simply couldn’t see the ball as it was passing by the opponent in a rally or when they were serving. Then say you get the serve back and in the next rally the opponent calls an imaginary screen serve on you. What do YOU do? Talk about it. Say you’re sure your call was based on having definitely been unable to see their serve because it passed right by them. Say you think your serve passed much further away from you, as exhibited by where it bounced in the back corner. Hopefully they’ll see reason or you may have to consider the trade-off of playing them and dealing with retaliatory calls or not playing them, finding another playing partner, and having peace of mind. Making up calls is just really tough. It’s like a player who doesn’t make a move to cover a shot and they make an zip code hinder call which is basically when they’re not even in the same zip code where the ball bounced twice. Here’s what the rule says and note the bold print … “While making an attempt to return the ball, a player is entitled to a fair chance to see and return the ball. It is the responsibility of the side that has just hit the ball to move so the receiving side may go straight to the ball and have an unobstructed view of and swing at the ball. However, the receiver is responsible for making a reasonable effort to move towards the ball and must have a reasonable chance to return the ball for any type of hinder to be called.” Note that a ref infrequently if ever changes a call and buggin ’em can affect the next time you should get a call. So make your point courteously and then move on. Pointing out where you sensed there was a infraction is okay, but overplaying your hand and creating an argument can backfire on you. You may suffer more distractions due to more gamesmanship by the opponent. Or you might wake a sleeping giant and they might play better than they normally do. Some players play better when they have a surge of adrenaline. Some don’t. Do you?
Control YOUR arousal level so you both bring it and so you keep your cool so you can focus on YOUR game, its strategies and the tactics that you do well. If you sense you’re being distracted, resettle yourself and soldier on. Your composure is too significant to lose and it’s invaluable when you exhibit it. The key is not to allow anything to preoccupy your mind beyond playing your game your way, while constantly, kindly evaluating your efforts and making constructive, familiar adjustments versus making judgments on your play that may freeze you. Depend upon your experience and training-based
belief systems. Focus, but also free flow. If the antics of the opponent, ref or peanut gallery watching from outside the court preoccupy your attention, then you can’t play in the zone. You wanna tree and, when you’re not in the flow, you want to get back in the zone, soon. Bad calls, controversy, and gamesmanship by the opponent is just noise. Let the only distraction be the diversion of sport. Empower yourself to play in flow, your flow, while playing a driven, rhythmic, competent, grinding, imperturbable and self affirming game. Simply put stay with the program. You have a game plan, strategies you expect to use and tactics that implement them. Let nothing that goes on after a rally affect your efforts in the next or following rallies. Ideally no call affects your mindset going into the next phase of the game, even when you must repeat a rally you may have felt you already won once. Just do your very best in the next rally. And if need be, move on into the next game should a call come down in way you wouldn’t have preferred in the previous contest. If you get a “bad call”, right it in the next rally thru effort and skill. If it doesn’t work out, it’s okay. Soldier on…
Pattern Recognition Machine
YOU are a pattern recognition machine. Between reading the bounce of each and every ball in a rally and formulating your attack or defense, start by taking a mental Polaroid which determines how you will realtime self assess YOUR capabilities, as you select your best response to this observed pattern’s variables. You take the snapshot of both the ball’s court location, with its unique action on that ball (angle, pace, and spin) PLUS, out of the corner of your eye, include in your lens and make special note of player positions now and estimated ranges (theirs AND yours). Ideally it’s a realistic view of what you CAN do. Your very brief look before you actually play this ball to hit or as you ready to get THEIR hit finds your in full-fledged pattern recognition mode, playing each rally ball while crucially competing HARD on EITHER side of the ball, when shooting or when defending their shooting.
While actively observing, in attack mode track the ball visually AND also track it with your active feet that don’t stop until you’re set to optimally shoot, while you’re picking out possible shot targets and estimating your opponent(s) coverage range, as you quickly parse thru and narrow down your options to THE tactical best one.
Your powers of observation and identifying the routine patterns, as well as the unusual and hidden patterns, turns into acting upon them, as you manipulate each pattern to YOUR very powerful effect.
The quality of your developed physical and tactical laws triggers you to perform the right operations in the right order to either attack OR defend each encountered pattern of play.
One defensive law is off the ball movement where, after you hit each of your shots, ALWAYS move into optimal defensive coverage and definitely don’t be where ball and opponent’s racquet could be. Once you’re there in center pause (or freeze) as the opponent is addressing the ball and setting themselves to hit. That makes them pick instead of wrong footing you by hitting behind you. Critically follow thru tactically after moving into coverage by making a break on the ball. That means don’t just get to center court and grind your feet into the court hoping somehow THEY will feed the ball right thru the center to you. Don’t keep drifting as they set themselves to hit … nor be seen starting to move too early where they can clearly see you breaking early when they still have the ball on their racquet. That would mean they CAN change-up and plain play keep-away from you with their shot placement. If you guess and move too early or if you’re drifting, the hitter can simply hit it where you were just a second ago. And it’s always very tough to change direction and go back. When to turn better is as they commit to swing forward by letting their arm fly forward. Then you can take off and dash to track what YOU see or track what you read based on their stance, their shot history, or by placing yourself in their shoes and relying on your own strategy insights, i.e., as you think to yourself, “What would I do?”. Even making the move to cover and being wrong still puts the thought in their mind that you’re a moving, anticipating defender. That uncertainty by them may breed errors and ideally left up kill-shots or over-hit passes that turn into back wall setups.
As a defensive tactical example, the further forward in center court you set yourself, the more pressure you place on the opponent to make their low kill-shot, even if you’ve set them up. Also, when you start further up in center court, if they rethink the kill-shot, they have to hit their pass either thru you or they must find a way to hit it completely around you. Defensively from center court be ready to jab step ball side and crossover to the near wall to cover their shots along the sidewall when they and the ball are on that side. Or be ready to drop step backwards with your front foot and then crossover with far, deeper foot to spin and cover the far sidewall for their cross-court placements, especially because you should have in your coverage the ones to the far, rear corner which you should be able to cutoff, and you will, with trained up feetwork skills.
When you play the ball, the right operations of reading the action on the ball, tracking it down with your efficient feetwork, and approaching the ball, as you turn and face the sidewall while assuming your familiar, strong striking stance setting your back foot then front foot is also matched by timing your stroke’s repeating, bounce-matching racquet prep. That readies you to be a stroker not a poker; nor be just a premature racquet raising poser. A poser is a player who floats around the court racquet raised way, way, way, way too early and it takes away from their moves tracking, approaching and setting themselves to most effectively play each ball. Prep when you’ve picked contact spot and height. Then, when already prepped as the ball (almost) enters your contact zone, switch gears right away, without a hitch, into unleashing your arm whip vs. hammering and stopping right at contact with the ball. Your swing image is flowing your racquet face fully T-H-R-U contact gearing your fluid swing to placing your shot where they ain’t, while finishing each stroke pulling inwards and following-through around behind you. Then right away change hats and defend your placement by moving quickly into center court while watching the new hitter. Or, when you see the ball is already being placed by the opposition, take off directly pursuing the ball right after you complete your stroke. Don’t under swing or short arm your shot even if you see the opponent already breaking early. Finish, THEN D-up.
Sometimes you have to think outside even YOUR own rules or laws. Then offensively improvise and be ready with Plan B either pattern shot making or moves hustling on steroids playing defense.
Plan B’s Shots
Offensively your imaginative, wrinkle Plan B shots could include … High Z’s; Twooze shots; 3-wall boast kill-shots; wraparounds; deep target (power) ceiling balls; even touch lobs; and off speed spin placements … which are ALL outside the routinely chosen standard shots.
Standard shots include … direct to the front wall passes; even lower kill-shots that when they’re left up (should) become passes that were designed to be directed away from the opponent (as a kill-pass); wide angle passes (WAP’s) around them hitting sidewall even with them in mid court; touch ceiling balls, which risk being cutoff right after they bounce; and large variety of sidewall kill-shots, including both corner pinches and splats, when you, the splattable ball and the target up along the sidewall and slightly lower than contact plus a cut swing creates splat shot action. Note splat shots can be Plan B unexpected shots when the defender is positioned to cover the direct pass or kill-shot.
Having Plan B improv choices doesn’t lock you down to just those Standard options. Standard shots are more predictable or easier to read by the defender. Many straight shots end up angling dangerously close by you where you’d better be hitting and moving to clear out of the way. Cross-courts veer right toward them or thru them, as attackable unless they roll flat or the cover player is leaning to cover the line you’re on or your cross-court is a pinpoint, accurate, ideal WAP around ’em. Note that standard shots are often way too tough to do or control when you’re not optimally positioned in YOUR best balanced stance due to having to be on the move for this ball or when you’re confronted by an especially high ball or when you’re rushed by the speed of the ball you’re returning. So Plan B is a change-up and going with a wrinkle, creative, tactical shot placement, as you adapt to being slightly off balance, rushed or having to make high contact under timing duress or due to your court depth being right up against the back wall.
As you defend the pattern, sometimes you must improvise defensively. For instance, one move is step in front of the opponent and time your jump where they shoot under you from their contact when they and the ball are (only) in the middle in back. As you land, you cover what you see. That moving in and jumping is for when you leave your shot back there by the central door. There you didn’t leave yourself in the most optimal position. There you’re either in midair or you’ve had to move off to one side, while not jumping, and there they are in the middle in back choosing where to run you next. Note that you should NOT jump and you do NOT have to when they’re in a back corner and you’re in the middle, UNLESS you got there AFTER them, as they spun in a rear corner; which, being second, should be a very abnormal. Defense should ALWAYS get there first covering before the hitter sets their feet to hit. Other times, as they face the sidewall and you’re about to D-up, while you’re hidden in their blindspot behind them, you ought to look to take off a heartbeat early. Right BEFORE their arm flies forward, as they begin to swing forward, from springy legs take off and run down what you read as their low shot or move to fill and cutoff their passing shot angle that you’ve read so you know where to move. Watch their feet point and contact point because those both reveal you gobs of Intel about their shot angle.
Even during today’s games you can learn a lot by seeing and taking in the patterns and noting what’s working, what’s untried and what’s drawing board material to be added to your next practice session, but perhaps best tabled for today. Then tabling that shot or tactic is best unless you have a quick fix or curve or recognizable time when to make it work now.
By being aware of your surroundings and aware of your mind and how patterns are playing out in your mind, it allows you to play with consciousness, resolve and game discipline, while picking and making cagey shot placements and making time saving court moves.
As you play, you even do some things subconsciously. Although ideally the things you do are only to the good and not ever self sabotaging your own efforts. An example of bad would be like deliberately under prepping for a shot to place the ball safely into a wide open court.
Subconsciously good learned instincts and moves become second nature actions thru reps and realized successes. For example, second nature court moves include … (1) a drop step (with deepest foot in the court) to back away quickest from any ball angling at you off a sidewall or out of a rear corner; (2) a crossover step to slide sideways with bigger moves than just heel clicking, shorter sidesteps that only work for easy, very close balls, which are infrequent in real rallies for tougher to cover balls; (3) a pivoting turn and go move, with a full crossover, as you turn your chest to face the new direction you’re sprinting toward to cover the most court fastest where you’ve sensed you need to bolt; (4) a pop of your toes to the side where you see the ball is going right before you body pivot to crossover step with your trail foot, like when you take your 2-step receiving serve move into a back corner under attack or as a quick way to cutoff a ball flying by you from center court; (5) a split step as you step up (forward), leap up low off that stepping foot, and land on spread feet and springy legs before you right away bolt to where you see the ball is heading; or (6) a slide sideways with sidesteps to then quickly put on the brakes by bending first the furthest outside knee and then bend the trail knee to brake quickly to play the ball you’re seeking from an on balance, attacking stance.
Staying involved mentally and aroused emotionally in rally patterns is a mind control skill you must groom, maintain, and then have at your beck and call, not THEIRS (your opponent’s). Review each just past rally mentally and then quickly reorient yourself for a fresh start before you take on each and every new rally.
Everybody has their own purr level where they flow best. Let that be within your pattern recognition machine where you’re aware how you play the right way and perform the right operations as YOU routinely perform well. Do things familiarly, comfortably and reliably in-the-zone which is there in YOUR own comfort zone where you sense YOU consistently play your very best. That zone is more often than not found thru patterned drills on the practice court and by playing at YOUR own pace in match play, reasonably relaxed as you confront and deal with recognized patterns. If you find yourself playing one off racquetball, being electric at times while inventing lots of shots on the fly, make sure instead to take advantage of YOUR mental learning machine so you allow your creativity and human intellect to stay in-the-moment, while you look constantly for familiar patterns and capitalize on the opportunity reliably depending more on YOUR own shots you select from YOUR repertoire AND by counting on YOUR feetwork moves that set you faster to make full, effective swings, and that allow you to move more efficiently to tactically cover more court, better.
Play deeply involved, relentless and unstoppable. What turns on the light in there (I’m pointing at your head)? Whatever spurs YOU on to do your best within your own calm, relaxed state and performing with deep resolution constantly needs to be patterned and re-patterned, as you compete and reason tactically, while YOU purr…
Constantly look for a solo isolated sequence or even several sequences within a pattern and have a personal set of instructions which answers each noted sequence. That’s what match play experience and situational practice drilling do together as they combine to arm you with more instruction sets for the operations that drive your stroking forms and court moves combating more encountered sequences. That developing and having MORE skills gives you far more pattern response options and fewer times when you just have to wing it. The more gym rat you are, the more you escalate your level of play with owned shot options and feetwork moves galore so you can be naturally adaptive instead of captive to tough, challenging patterns. Be that pattern recognition machine and pattern response savant. Demonstrate court savvy and constantly physically, mentally AND observantly be a HUSTLER.
When you do that hustling, for now, no robot will beat ya. And, although one day there may be artificial intelligence robotic players, now depend on YOUR own extraordinary innate AND learned intellect and depend less so on just gut feel.
One thing to avoid is being cute or trying to outwit yourself or an opponent. Do the simple shot when done with full form to make the easy winning placement. For example, don’t force a 3-wall boast shot when a deep target ceiling ball or touch passing shot would be better, surer, catch the opponent out, of position.
As you recognize a pattern, note that it’s not a bunch of fuzzy calculations all going on at once in the background. It’s what YOU clearly identify from what you observe that you crunch as you problem solve. Then it’s YOUR solutions that coalesce into the answer you seek for THIS pattern, for this ball strike, or for this calculated move you make from coverage or when you select and execute this insightful serve. Thru competitive and training reps, your quick analysis tackles problems new players couldn’t even attempt to fathom let alone touch. With your quick selection of stroke, side of court and how low can you go, play out each rally ball as you execute your rally pattern response system (RPRS) that you groove, improve, keep fresh and constantly evaluate to maintain strokes and moves that power your game’s tactics, which bring YOUR strategies to life. Defend with your own trained up defensive moves to attack the opponent’s placements, pressure their shooting with your positioning and then strain THEIR coverage positioning and their moves to track down your own dastardly placements.
Be a learning pattern player. As you play, look at the large sets of patterns you face and learn from each and every one of them. Look at patterns as chances you look forward to deal with as you see them when employing your inspired best observing and playing processes that are self mending or self correcting, as you minimize your errors, especially by modifying your techniques to match each exact situation (or to do better the next time in another pattern very similar to this one). By being a pattern recognition machine, you self magnify your skill set. Make YOUR own skill set an ever evolving, innovating, well-drilled, well-sharpened, mentally boosted one where your desire is to inner fist pump each clinical technical execution. Be powered in patterns you play by YOUR skill set, as you confidently shoot AND then scoot (or serve and D-up).
Check out my latest contribution to Racquetball Techniques in the form of a complete racquetball encyclopedia.
I tried to keep it perfectly alphabetical, which was not always easy.
The Mental Game of Racquetball
Every Shot Angle Starts Mentally
—> In your mind’s eye (or on the screen in your mind), see yourself controlling the starting line of each shot (and each serve). There you’re controlling the ball’s trajectory as it takes off toward your initial wall target. Do that through visualizing the SHAPE of each shot. Use your mentally internalized vision as you set your feet, prep your stroke, and flow into your swing. Approach, pick and prepare, while seeing yourself achieving your shot’s take off angle toward its wall target and on to the shot’s ultimate placement in the court quadrant you choose.
Pick Go-To Shot Matching Time
—> Have a go-to shot for each shooting situation you face. Quickly settle on your go-to shot. And, in bang-bang plays, often whatever shot chooses you. Then make THAT your go-to shot!
Develop Your Routines
—> Create and get into your routine or ritual before you serve. Also get into your routine before you return serve. ALSO, have a routine approach you make on every drivable ball. On a drivable you can hit a pass or kill-shot. Have your own mind and body routine as you approach each attackable ball that you play in a rally. Depend on those routines for comfort and familiarity. Use your routine as your vehicle to eliminate or handle the key shotmaking factors:
(a) action on the ball;
(b) your court location;
(c) challenger’s location;
(d) score; and
(e) game situation, including intangibles like crowd, court conditions, and fatigue.
—> Also use your ritual to eliminate any self-imposed, semi-imagined pressures or demons.
—> Use your routines to promote physical responses from within your owned skill set that match the pattern of play you’re in. Use your routines to calm yourself, play with great spirit, and fully focus on your shot or serve’s purpose and how you’ll do it. Then, as you prep and as contact point nears, transition into go mode as you flow into your tailored swing matching and actively shaping your target’s intentions for trajectory, pace, spin and your magical feel for placing the ball.
How to Play Holistically
1- Embrace the pressure
2- Accept where you are be it good or bad as manageable and winnable
3- Commit to what you want to achieve in the intent of your shot with your court movement and your known form how to perform it
4- Have a clearly understood strategy with this tactic to move and shoot to achieve it as keep-away or put-away
5- Trust your swing
6- Be all-go, with no hesitancy or indecision
7- Trust your playing skills and always be about building more and better skills
8- Play with short term memory loss to immediately let go of any bad ones or even brilliant ones
9- Wear blinders or block out disruptive thoughts or sights or even side comments while you’re hitting
10- Play with flow, in your own well trodden flow state producing YOUR superior performance.
Be one of the C-L-O-S-E-R-S…
C-omfortable in chaos
L-eaning on your known strengths
O-ne purpose, o-ne goal, o-ne mind, o-ne thought at a time for shot or to D-up
S-low down thinking, as you s-low down between each rally and also for each rally setup
E-xecute without fear
R-espect the challenges you place upon yourself and respect the fun you have by playing RELENTLESSLY, with great enthusiasm and self belief
S-tay the course and battle hard, and, if your mind wanders or whenever your effort may wane, renew your belief and level of effort for next rally by being mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong, as a resilient hustler hungry to get to the ball to make the tough get or striving to lay the wood to ball you can crush or deftly place when it’s highly attackable with your finesse, as you play enervated, motivated, mobile, agile, and just the right amount hostile.
—> Get on court solo or better yet drill with a hitting partner and practice all of the situations or “patterns of play” you can design where you read and react to the bounce of the ball. Work on your ball read as you track down the ball with both your court movement and your eyes. Pay very close attention to your feetwork as you approach each ball to set your stance and work your legs to produce your stroke. Spend time developing shotmaking versatility to beat a wide variety of ball bouncing patterns based on how the ball reacts and how to best react to the bounce to capitalize on each pattern. That versatility also develops complementary shots so you disguise you shot intent and you’re less predictable.
Steps to Reading, Approaching and Ripping
—> Here are steps to learn how to read the bounce of the ball, as you move to attack the ball…
Steps to Learn the Bounce:
(1) focus on your ball read by moving and initially just flicking the ball with your racquet strings. Were it to be by moving and just catching the ball that it’d be a real challenge to both read the bounce of the ball and catch it, too. Instead learn as if you’re catching the ball on your strings. Contact or shot results aren’t your objectives quite yet;
(2) As your second step, make sure you turn and face the sidewall as you arrive where you’ll play the ball;
(3) Next read and describe the action you read on the incoming ball, including angle, pace and spin;
(4) As step 4, work, as you turn and face, on setting your feet initially behind and beside the ball, as you get ready to hit the ball that-away forward toward the front wall;
(5) Finally call your shot or define your “corner pocket”. Call whether you’re placing the ball in one of the 2 front corners or in one of the 2 back corners; and
(6) Develop your own set of shots for all of the match play ball bounces, as you drill. Your goal is to have many, many viable, well-practiced, doable shot options to choose from to respond to the many, many patterns you regularly see in match play when you look to place the ball in one of the 4 corners of the court.
Bounce Helps Define Shot
—> Based on the bounce of the ball your objective is to know which shot to use when. After having practiced exactly how the ball bounces, with your different practiced responses, then you build a successful history you may call upon.
You Don’t Need to Stick to Bad Choice
—> Pick your shot, but still check it twice. What that means is, as you’re making your final approach on the ball and you have already selected an initial shot choice on the move, know you still have ONE more chance to adjust and pick another shot. On your final approach to the ball, it’s your prerogative, as a malleable shooter, to change your mind. There you’re re-reading or making your final read on the ball and situation, as you see if that is THE shot. Or should you change up and pick this other shot that better reacts to the ball’s incoming bounce or its angle, pace or spin. Or should you decide select a placement that controls the challenger’s ability to cover your final selection. That’s because where you are going to place the ball and how you are going to strike it with angle, pace and spin and particularly height is best adjusted to your goal of playing keep-away from your not necessarily stationary challenger.
Drill at All of Your 9 Spots
—> In solo drilling from all over the court, drop and hit and toss the ball in the air and strike it. Also, feed the ball to yourself at the spots for all of the shot situations you can design in those spots. This pattern (and spot) specific training gives you an appreciation for all the shot angles how you can be best positioned as the ball comes at you. Also it prepares you for the varied stroking forms you’ll need to have to produce your different responding shots. Pick 3 spots along each sidewall and down through the middle. Then, with each specific final contact phase of your stroke as you swing forward before, on thru, and flowing on with flare after contact into your follow-through, the meat of your stroke which is right at contact is improvised or settled upon realtime to find the shot angle you read will accomplish your chosen shot that you’ll shape and you imagine working for this spot, this ball and this situation. Those 3 spots are…(1) just in front of the dashed line; (2) about 5 feet behind that broken line; and (3) just short of the back wall.
Develop “Your” Form in Moves, Strokes and Shotmaking
—> Let me give you the basics. Make note that to be adaptive your mental game manual should read much like stereo instructions. Define your own parameters…first, focus on what YOU can exploit in this pattern of play? What shot option do you pick and how do you shape that shot option with your picked stroke? Quickly answer…where do you shoot when? Then, after swinging, how do you move into coverage? Then, as you anticipate their shot or see their shot, how do you move out of your coverage to hit the next ball on balance and with apropos force. Then how do you recover as a tactician once again into coverage? Basically hit and move to hit again.
Train Your Contact
—> From rally to rally things happen very, very fast. To shoot, it all comes down to mastering the key part of your forward swing that is at its crux or center. There swinging thru contact you turn your racquet head side to side, from pointing back, at throw motion cast back, to pointing forward in the blink of an eye. Also you’re turning your racquet head over or spiral it thru contact. So your goal is to train turning the racquet head over and side to side thru every contact. How the racquet head angles slightly down, directly forward (or infrequently up) on the front wall is dependent on how low you shoot with both your racquet flow before and thru contact and how much you close, as you swing thru the ball at contact. Closed means slightly facing downward at contact. By practicing, with lots of repetitions and experimentation plus adjusting to perfecting, you learn how you make small corrections. You develop control or mastery over your racquet face at the crux of the matter, ball impact.
Contact Defines Angle
—> How you set the racquet face as you make contact with the ball defines your shot’s direction up and down on your target wall. Also whether it points straight ahead or out or in defines your shot’s sideways angle. To angle your shots, the racquet head may optionally point out to the sidewall sending the ball outwards, in toward you sending the ball across your body or straight ahead for at a direct angle that also would usually require you hit and move or be in the way. The racquet head may also may point slightly downwards at contact when shooting the ball lower than contact on your target wall. The higher you make contact, the lower the racquet face point. Infrequently the racquet strings face upwards thru contact. That would occur when you slice under the ball to lift it say a slice ceiling ball or a slice junk lob. In addition, your racquet arc or flow thru contact is an additional factor in your shot angle and defining what kind of ball spin you add. For example, flowing your racquet head in to out, adds to inside out spin causing the ball to spin in toward the sidewall you face. Spin contributes to your shot angle and the action you place on the ball.
Forearm Plus Wrist Roll
Primarily the racquet head turn happens as you overlap your rolling wrist as you turn your palm over, too. That forearm turning over begins before contact in the back to front and arcing contact zone. Along with your forearm and palm turnover, the racquet head mimics and turns over, too, as you spiral or corkscrew your strings thru when contacting the ball.
Racquet Head Point
—> The racquet head dangles down, points straight out or points slightly up at contact. So the tip of the racquet may point down slightly or straight out at the sidewall or up slightly when you make contact. It depends on where you make contact in relation to your wrist. For contact above your wrist, the racquet head points slightly up. For contact below your wrist the racquet head points slightly down. You may also think of it in relationship to your waist. For instance, the racquet tip points straight out at the sidewall when you make contact right at waist height. Below waist height, when you bend your knees, your racquet head may tip down slightly. When you’re making higher, usually more challenging contact your racquet head tips up requiring an over the top swing motion.
Collect Shots That Work for YOU
—> Optimally, systematically develop your own set of shots and the stroking form for the most shotmaking situations you can define. That training and your player knowledge with what you train up literally loads you for bear to shoot from anywhere in the court to place the ball virtually anywhere in the court. For instance, from all over the court develop a high Z shot that parallels the back wall. Also design a 3-wall kill-shot that bounces twice way up catty-cornered into the cross front corner when making contact along the far sidewall when facing the sidewall or even when facing the other sidewall. From positions along the sidewall, learn to shape numerous splat shot shot angles picking out close, medium and far target spots at different heights (IAW contact height and sidewall distance).
Develop Shotmaking Versatility
—> Include shotmaking for patterns like these…
(a) an attackable ball where you step up and either just to your right or left where you can literally lay the wood to the ball by shooting extremely aggressively;
(b) a ball veering cross-court where you can step over to cutoff the V angle by moving diagonally forward and sometimes less favorably by moving directly sideways when rushed;
(c) a ball down the wall where you can step out while ideally moving diagonally forward to offensively play the ball and sometimes by moving directly sideways when time is very short;
(d) a gettable ball going by you either DTL or cross-court where you can (and do) drop diagonally back to better time and adjust to the ball as it’s going backwards when capitalizing on your diagonal drop to better see the ball, better prepare your backswing, get a better view of what’s going on in front of you (and around you) and select and shoot more aggressively and tactically when playing the ball;
(e) when covering a ball that was shot into the far sidewall, as a pinch or splat by the challenger that you move to catch up to before the ball bounces twice and before both of you reach the near sidewall;
(f) covering their sidewall ball after it bounces and pops off the second, near sidewall, as you ideally back up away from the sidewall to aggressively and adaptively play the ball;
(g) a ball directly up through the center at you where you can step back with your back foot to clear out of the way to hit the ball ideally where the challenger will be most strained in their coverage often to the other side from where they made contact;
(h) a ball where you move with it as it bounces into a back corner and…
(1) play it as it pops off the sidewall and then back wall; or
(2) moving with the ball as it pops off the back wall and then sidewall to ideally play it as a setup;
(i) a direct ball that bounces and rebounds off the back wall as back wall setup when the ball is either going…
(1) straight in to the back wall; or
(2) the ball is going in to the back wall from a cross-court angle, and, as the ball caroms out, it comes up short of contacting the far sidewall. Also take note that these back wall setups can be as a result of a passing shot, a ceiling ball, a drive serve or a lob serve;
(j) a ceiling ball (or lob serve) that you track down in deep court as it’s falling just short of the back wall;
(k) a High Z ball you track down that goes back to take a tough bounce deep in the back court sometimes paralleling the back wall just short of the back wall requiring a back wall save;
(l) a High Z ball that comes out off the second sidewall as an attackable ball very deep in the backcourt, as the Z ball caroms off the 2nd sidewall at an angle toward the back wall where it then pops off as setup or as a ball testing your placement of a deep pass or other improvised return;
(m) a ball that’s a wraparound shot or wraparound serve (or overhit WAP) that hits the front wall, one sidewall, bounces, strikes the middle of the back wall and caroms out toward the far sidewall where it may turn out to be a setup or an on the move return; and
(n) a rocket right at you where you fend off the ball with a body shield, racquet in front, backhand grip flick or super QuickDraw stroke when you can’t even turn and face due to the incoming ball speed either up close or even when returning a jam serve.
Practicing with Ball Feeds
—> Along with feeding yourself balls, add a partner feeding you practice balls or a ball machine set to repetitively feed one certain shot or serve or work with an instructor who feeds you multiple sample repeating or slightly varying serves or shot patterns. Any of those give you more angle practice than you can do by yourself. Also, as you play points in pickup games, challenge court games, or arranged practice matches, pay particularly close attention to all of the basic patterns of play you encounter. There note and learn your solutions how you move, set your striking stance for the pattern, and execute your stroking form to adjust to this specific situation. This also reveals what shots are most effective when both for you and against them. Your objective is to develop great versatility so that you have shot options that work, as well as multiple shots complementing each other. For example, in one case you look like you’re going down the line. From that same spot, alternatively you could go cross-court from your same ball approach, striking stance and swing form. Or optionally you look like you’re shooting straight in, but instead you shoot the ball into the sidewall as a splat shot. With more options, you own disguise and the ability to change when, for instance, the challenger moves too early. You also have more of a comfort zone when selecting your best pattern response in the now to react to the this specific ball’s bounce, the challenger’s potential movement from where they start in coverage, and adjusting to how you react and move as you prep and attack this ball. Ultimately you select and shape the best shot angle and action on the ball you can manage.
React or Impose?
THE main philosophical question, as you react to each and every ball, is…do you hit it where it wants to go or do you select and impose upon the ball your best keep-away angle and ultimate placement in the court when looking to catch the challenger out of position? Sometimes the ball may be angling right into a front corner. Sometimes the ball you’re tracking may be already veering cross-court. Sometimes the ball is flowing out along a sidewall from off the back wall. Then the natural shot is into those angles, like a ball flowing out along a sidewall you turn into a sidewall trickle splat. But know that your challenger may read your angle and camp on it. Then you must choose whether to go for it or go with backup plan B. You could hit a complementary shot that looks just like the sidewall shot, but instead you hit a DTL angle. The trick is drilling and match practice play teaches you what and where you can place the ball when it’s coming to you from many, many different angles, with varying pace and spin. There your training allows you to develop how to adjust and place this ball from also your different, versatile stances you use, with different sized time-based strokes. Games teach you where you have to place the ball in relationship to the challenger’s position in coverage AND factoring in where the challenger could potentially move. Sometimes you just have to go for it and execute your shot. Work on and own a wide range of rally ending shots including…a low, direct kill-shot; a super low, tight pinch; a wicked splat, with angle control and touch; a front wall first targeted pinch; a 3-wall kill-shot; or even a front wall target spot that angles the ball out a few feet into your felt sidewall crack-out target, too!
Play Like You’re Watching Yourself Playing From Up Above the Court
—> Play from a bird’s eye view of where you are (and where they are, too). Plus depend on your relational recall of well-trained, familiar patterns just like this one, as you see the pattern develop. Then you will feel the shot and stroke to perform as you execute your feetwork and track down, approach, and address each ball. There deal with setting your most productive striking stance. Wind into your stroke’s tailored, time-based backswing. Then right away flow into your fluid downswing. Take and make what you feel. Drilling chisels great ones, like great moves on and off the ball. Drilling instills indelible, good muscle memories of your most brilliant stroking form that you chisel and refine into honing and making optimal shots. Then you choose, in the moment, to match the moment, what you’ll perform according to your performance goals and belief system. Without that drilling you’re always improvising and reacting at the very last second. Then you’d play more rushed, less sure and dependent on too much whim and luck.
Have Performance Goals
Performance goals include:
(a) your ball read determines where the ball is going and where best to intercept it, while you prioritize and often looking to make an unhindered straight line run to play each ball where you sense it’s the best intercept point;
(b) approaching the ball on balance and optimally spacing yourself to aggressively play the ball starting always from behind it;
(c) for balls going into the back corners, you move backwards into the corner with highly active feet, as you adjust to the bounce to optimally play the ball offensively;
(d) allowing the ball to drop or play it at its ideal height for each situation, with very low contact often your goal, while sometimes (infrequently) higher contact may expose the challenger’s positioning frailty;
(e) setting an optimized stance for the stroke selected and in concert with the position and shot selected you see yourself taking and making (imagined success);
(f) prepping your racquet and eye to ball brings together your form to address this ball with apropos racquet face control thru contact;
(g) fluid forward swinging creating appropriate angle, force and spin to find your target;
(h) recovery to not hinder and move to get ready for the very next ball when there is one, while always taking a snapshot of that prior shooting situation to make sure you make any next shot like this one or even better.
The Deep Target Ceiling Ball
A shot perhaps practiced less than any other in racquetball is hitting a ball to the ceiling when on the run or on the move. There, in that semi-desperate or somewhat urgent situation, it’s best to try to hit your ceiling to a new target, which is a deeper target on the ceiling. That deeper target is further back from the front wall on the ceiling behind the first row of lights in a target area from 10 to 18 feet back from the front wall depending on where you lift your ceiling from in the back third of the court and how hard you swing up to your ceiling target.
The geometry of this ceiling is the ball hits further out on the ceiling than usual touch ceiling balls and then the ball angles down lower on the front wall to then bounce further out from the front wall to then rise up quickly and travel back much faster into the backcourt than a conventional ceiling ball. The deep target ceiling is often hit when you’re on the run, but it’s also a good plan B to pull the challenger back deep in the backcourt when lower target shot options, including passes and kill-shots, seem too challenging to effectively place in their respective court depths deep or short.
—> So “When?”, is the first question to ask yourself to determine the right time when you should lift your deep target ceiling ball. When you’re moving or not on balance or you’re rushed and you quickly judge a passing shot will not be easy to keep down, meaning it’ll be prone to attack in the middle of the court…or when you read it’ll be difficult to avoid leaving your passing shot off the back wall…or when you sense you can’t play keep-away from the challenger with your passing shot where you sense you may (have to) hit through them…those are good times to strongly lift your deep target ceiling ball.
—> Also, when you find yourself getting desperate and you’re even tending toward going bottom board and you know that would be massive stretch to make that kill-shot at that time because…
(a) you’re hitting off your back foot or when leaning back;
(b) you’re running hard and your time is cut short to prep and swing high to low or running and hitting low to low; or
(c) you’re sorta panicking and trying to end the rally with an overly ambitious, speculative, impatient kill-shot;
(d) you’re returning a tough serve and a kill-shot (and even a passing shot) seem uncontrollable as you near the ball and it’s return time…THOSE are all good times to lift yo to a deep target on the ceiling.
Lift Return to Ceiling
—> Oftentimes coach-speak to their player, who is struggling returning a certain tough serve is, “Hit a ceiling ball”. Lifting to the ceiling is both right and it can also, in part, be wrong. First, we’re not talking about attempting a touch ceiling like you’d use to return a lob serve or one when time is no issue. Now there’s just not enough time nor do you have enough angle control when cutting off either a tough drive serve that’s darting low into a rear corner or when you step up and intercept a Z drive serve before can get to the sidewall. There’s not enough time and it would be way too tough to lift the ball softly to its normal tight to the front wall target for a conventional ceiling. Yes, it is right to then go to the ceiling, but it’s not wise to go for that tight to the front wall ceiling target. It’d be too difficult to find that close to the front wall ceiling target spot and keep that on the move touch ceiling from, in turn, popping off the back wall as a big time setup for the server. Instead, when returning direct drives or Z drives and you read hitting a quality pass or a kill-shot isn’t doable, lift to your deeper target on the ceiling back closer toward you. Go for your spot well behind the first row of lights. Those lights extend back about 6 feet out from the front wall on most indoor court ceilings.
—> Where on the court in rallies do you attempt deep target ceiling balls? When you’re in the back 15 feet of the court from on the dashed line all the way back to the back wall, go for your deep target to lift your rally shot ceiling ball. From there you can find your ceiling target spot 12-18 feet out from the front wall. Targeting there, the deep target ceiling ball will angle down low on the front wall and bounce far out from the front wall where the ball will then jump up high and zip back deep into the backcourt generating a very tough ball for your challenger to have to play, as they’re pulled back quickly and usually on the move as they play your tough ceiling ball.
—> Let’s discuss the method to hit the…
(b) on the move;
(c) last second chosen; or
(d) shot option picking out a deep target on the ceiling when looking to capitalize on this shot’s extra pace and placement depth in the backcourt.
—> Let’s be complete and realistic. First, this isn’t a time to wallpaper the sidewall with your ceiling ball where you mean for your deep target ceiling to hug tight up against the sidewall on the ball’s way back into the back corner. In fact it’s not the time to go for a ceiling ball aimed to go right into the back corner at all.
When hitting on the move or basically when hitting the ball hard to your deeper ceiling target, your lateral control over your shot’s side to side direction or placement usually is less expansive and not nearly as sure as when you loft a touch ceiling ball, with its further forward targeting on the ceiling and its finesse stroke. So go for a bigger back left or back right quadrant target for your deep target ceiling.
As you approach a candidate ball, imagine hitting your deep target ceiling to the side of the court you read you can place the ball best. Look to leave your deep target ceiling ball off the sidewall a ways to avoid having the ball contact that sidewall and pop out. One option is to pick the side where you calculate you can get your deep target ceiling ball deepest. Or, when you have dual options to hit into either rear corner, go for the rear corner where you sense the challenger is less proficient fielding high balls. That’s usually high to their backhand side because backhand overhead skills usually aren’t as solid as a player’s forehand overhead and, as a general rule, a backhand overhead shot isn’t nearly as pacy as a forehand overhead.
Prep to rip as you move to play the ball you’re going to lift. For low contact strokes and its low up to chest high contact zone, draw your racquet back lower emphasizing pulling it back instead of lifting it way up high, as you do for routine low contact strokes. That’s because it’s a swooping upwards and forward motion that powers lifting a deep target ceiling ball vs. a down and arcing out low contact, low wall target stroke. Also note that instead of striking an overhead the deep target ceiling can be your plan A when returning a high ball while you’re running or moving fast as you make contact or you’re less well balanced than you’d prefer where a soft ceiling or an aggressive, though control-required overhead wouldn’t be your wise plan A. Tactically stroke a deep target ceiling when you read your touch ceiling would be too tough to target closer to the front wall.
When you read it’ll be easier to find the deep target on the ceiling that’s further back from the front wall, when making either low or high contact, assertively lift up to your felt deeper target on the ceiling. Also, as a change up shot option, go for the deep target ceiling when you note the poacher challenger lurking and looking like they might sneak up and attack your touch ceiling ball on the rise right after its bounce. Their intent may be to take the soft ceiling as it softly bounces up after dropping off the front wall. As a soft ceiling ball rises up, poachers poke away ceiling shots with their pokey overheads. The deep target ceiling eliminates that surprise poaching move. The deep target ceiling bounces much harder and further out, as it’s going back too fast to take it on the rise. When making low contact, the decidedly upwards stroking flow for the deep target ceiling is as close to a sky high tennis lob as you’ll see in racquetball. Practice projecting your deep target ceiling up into orbit. That’ll place the onus on the challenger’s movement and defensive skills.
The Swing Motion and Spin
—> The motion is all about finding your deeper ceiling spot AND applying force to your upward swing motion to lift the ball up with a little extra oomph than you’d use for a touch ceiling ball. The deep target ceiling isn’t a touch shot as much as it’s a light torch shot. Spin isn’t a big factor, although a deep target ceiling can work with different spins, too. Any kind of spin or none at all may be used when lifting a deep target ceiling ball. When hitting a flat, spin-free ball that can work, but it’s a major key NOT to hit the spin-less deep target ceiling ball too close to the front wall for this harder hit ceiling ball. That too close to the front wall targeting matters because a back wall setup would most likely result, when factoring in the greater stroking force and the tighter angle into the front wall. That would cause the ball to bounce higher and go back deeper in the backcourt, often dangerously close to the back wall. Optionally a slightly off target deep target ceiling striking closer to the front wall that’s hit with slice or under spin, with the ceiling’s added pace, still can drop and bounce while avoiding popping much distance off the back wall. That’s because how the deep target ceiling drops off the back wall is very unusual…it has a sheer drop off…
Deep Target Ceilings Drop Sharply Off Back Wall
—> The very good news is that even when your deep target ceiling hits too far forward on the ceiling or when you overhit it (as you strike it just too hard) the ceiling pops off the back wall at a much more acute or sharper downwards angle than an overhit touch ceiling ball. That drop off is much more directly down than an overhit touch ceiling ball that bounces and carries to pop off the back wall at such a friendly, parabolic arc, often as a big time setup for the challenger.
More Spin on Deep Target Ceiling Balls
—> Experiment with imparting spin to your deep target ceiling balls. Although adding spin is not as important as is targeting your spot deeper on the ceiling extra spin can work at times for you, too. First, work on developing your spot on the ceiling different from the one you use for routine touch ceiling balls. Note that a Topspin deep target ceiling ball does makes the ball bounce more challengingly for your challenger. Due to its spin, the Topspin deep target ceiling initially bounces further up in the front court. Then the topped ceiling ball bounds higher and retreats even faster than other deep target ceilings pulling the challenger way back and way faster than a softer hit ceiling. That Topspin type of deep target ceiling ideally places the challenger in a very defensive mode. A deep target ceiling ball struck with Topspin, when making contact with the back wall, drops off the back wall much more sharply making it less vulnerable to back wall shooting by the challenger. A slice or under spin deep target ceiling adds a spin wrinkle of its own. The under spin reverses itself as the ceiling ball drops off the ceiling and deflects off the front wall where the under spin actually switches into Topspin. Then, as the ball drops off the front wall and bounces, it spins with light Topspin turning over as the ball arcs toward the backcourt. Although that Topspin is not as hot or spinning quite as heavily as a deep target ceiling that’s initially struck with Topspin or overspin a slice ceiling is yet another variable for the challenger to have to contend with defensively.
Benefits of Deep Target Ceiling Balls
—> First, THEY have to run. The challenger is pulled back deep to run extra hard often having to hit on-the-run when fielding your tactical deep target ceiling ball. An ability to bail to the ceiling with this shot gives you great flexibility, even in the toughest of rallies or when you’re returning even the most demanding of drive serves or lob serves. A deep target ceiling is like a back wall save in that it consistently keeps you in the point and competing. Beneficially, as the ball rebounds off the front wall, a deep target ceiling moves back much faster and bounces much higher than does a back wall save after the save makes it back to the front wall. Here, with the deep target ceiling, you aren’t drawing the challenger back with your whack attack into the back wall as a back wall save, which usually produces a soft ball dropping off the front wall that bounces and then can be allowed to drop extra low where it’s then very vulnerable to attack by a patient challenger. And you won’t have worry that your back wall save might carom off the front wall to bounce and carry to pop off as an extremely attackable back wall setup. When you lift a harder struck deep target ceiling to run the challenger back it’s often faster than the challenger is prepared to retreat. In that way a deep target ceiling is much like a high Z rally shot that makes the challenger have to run back very rapidly deep into the backcourt, while you get to D-up by moving to occupy good center court positioning. So, after striking your deep target ceiling, make sure you take that opportunity to center up. As the challenger hustles back, use your own best feetwork to move quickly into center court. That seals the deal because, from center, you can cover both what they might return tactically well and you also get to attack what they might gift you should they leave up a return of your ceiling that you can move to and aggressively shoot, as a passing shot or even as a kill-shot winner.
Drilling Deep Target Ceiling Balls
—> Get on the court and move and hit deep target ceilings from all over the court in as many game-like situations as you can replicate. First drop
-n-hit and work up to feeding yourself low balls all over the court that you can lift up. Even better, take turns feeding balls to each other with your hitting partner so both of you get lots of reps lifting deep target ceiling balls from different spots in the court with the ball coming at the lifter from many different angles. That’s invaluable training because it’d be hard or impossible to reproduce all of those angles in solo drilling. Partner drilling puts you in most any pattern of play that you regularly see in competition. With your hitting partner, practice returning different serves with deep target ceiling ball returns of serve. In a rally-like practice drill, stand side by side (a little ways apart) as both of you toe the dashed line. There howitzer (or place) cross-court balls at each other. Every few balls, instead of going with another V cross-court pass, lift a cross-court deep target ceiling ball. Notice how tough it is for your hitting partner to retreat and return your deep target ceiling ball as a cross-court shot (or to return it anywhere). As a solo drill, from 3/4’s court, drive balls right back at yourself. Also, strike the ball so it’s placed a jab step and a long stride away from you so you have to lunge and lift to your deep target ceiling ball. As you adjust and step to cover the ball coming back toward you, prep with a deep, low backswing. Then lift the ball up strongly to your behind the lights ceiling target spot. Work on your targeting and adding spin to augment your ceiling shot. In another rally-like solo drill, stand deep in the court on one side and loft yourself a cross-court slice ceiling ball. Then cross step with your far foot (in front or in back of your near foot) to most quickly slide over and camp under the slower moving slice ceiling ball. As you approach the ceiling ball, be turning to face the far sidewall. Prep by pulling your racquet up and back. Respond when hitting on the run or from your quickly set ceiling ball striking stance by lifting up to your deep target ceiling spot with your high contact form making contact above shoulder level. For most of these drills, try to leave most of your deep target ceiling balls short of the back wall or so they hit very low on the back wall. For some ceilings, intentionally overhit the deep target ceiling ball by hitting the ceiling either a little too close to the front wall or by just overcooking them by adding just a little bit too much pace. In either case, the ball will pop off the back wall a little higher than the set of little vertical lines at the bottom of many glass back walls or above about 3 feet high. Going back to partner drilling, note how your training partner tries to play the “setup” ball as it drops downward off the back wall at its sharply declining angle. Now it’s your turn. Field the quasi-back wall setups. All of this training is set to give you an impression of…
(a) what it takes to run down these fast moving deep target ceiling balls;
(b) how varied the technique is according to contact height, your court position and your spin control;
(c) just how hot the deep target ceiling ball pops off the back wall; and
(d) this gives you an appreciation of how abruptly the ball drops off the back wall, as compared to how a regular slice, touch ceiling arcs out further forward when it pops off the back wall, as a much easier, though still challenging setup.
—> Note in rally play an overhit deep target ceiling is still a marginal back wall ball setup, when you get on your horse early and get back a little more quickly behind expected contact so you can then move out with the ball, as you read and react to its sharper drop off the back wall. Then, as the ball passes your hitting shoulder, sweep your racquet through the ball at your selected contact point.
—> For one more solo drill, hit straight in deep target ceilings and field them yourself. Return them to the ceiling as another deep target ceiling or as a touch ceiling with its closer to the front wall target on the ceiling and its slice, touch swing motion. For the ones you overhit, move and try to shoot the ball as it drops off the back wall as a setup when it’s attackable. For the deep target ceiling balls that come up short of the back wall, move up quickly, as they’re going to drop faster than a touch ceiling. All of this training prepares you in every way for what you will face in competitions dealing with deep target ceilings. It will indicate to you how to react to them. Part of the lesson for you from drilling is the difficulty covering them both defensively and even offensively. And this training builds your appreciation for folding deep target ceiling ball shooting into your shot options so you can impose them upon your challenger when you determine you can’t play keep-away: (a) with your passing game; (b) you see you’re having a tough time hitting a touch ceiling ball; or (c) drive serves are tough to return. Also look to lift a deep target ceiling when you quickly realize your kill-shot attempt would be foolhardy, your pass would be wishful, or you just recognize a well-targeted ceiling ball would relocate the pressure and place it right back on them.
Tactically Run, Hit Deep Target Ceiling, Then Center Up AND Also *Move* from There
—> After you crank your running (or stationary) deep target ceiling ball, keep playing hard. Don’t just watch your challenger struggle, although admittedly that’s part of the fun, too. Tactically move to get between the ball in deep court and the opposite front corner. That move is because that angle is THE most dangerous shot angle to give up. The angle from the ball cater-corner diagonally to the cross front corner is dangerous to give up because shots like reverse pinches or long near corner pinches into that far corner are so hard to cover when you leave them open to be hit. Block that angle with your coverage positioning, which is perfectly legal. Between ball and corner still allows the required straight in and V cross court angles for the challenger. If that diagonal angle were to be available, the challenger can hit a shot into that cross front corner, even when it’s by accident, as either…
(a) a reverse pinch that the challenger strikes with the other side’s stroke across the court into the opposite front corner, like when shooting with their backhand from their rear backhand corner and pinpointing their forehand cross front corner going sidewall first or front wall first, or…
(b) as the challenger strikes a long near corner pinch, like when hitting with their forehand from their backhand back quadrant diagonally into their forehand cross front corner while usually striking the sidewall first.
—> You can’t easily cover those diagonal shots, if you can at all, when you start either deeper in the court than center court or when you’re positioned too far off to the far side of the court. From where you should be in the center, between ball and opposite front corner, first, be ready to blanket the line to cover their straight in shot. That’s because that straight in shot is so direct and tough to cover especially after it gets by you. Although even a down the wall shot that’s getting by you can be covered with trained, adaptive feetwork movement, when you start in center court and you’re ready to angle your run backward to catch up to the ball deeper in the court. The message here is, “Don’t be passed”. First, hedge over to cover the line. There be ready with your choreographed cutoff feetwork. When you read you can intercept the ball in the middle of the court from 15-30 feet back, first, jab step out with your back foot toward the sidewall you partially face. Second, crossover with your front foot to cover the line. Optimally cross step move diagonally forward and make contact with the ball out in front of your body. As a backup plan, you may cover the ball going behind you when you see it’s moving too fast to cutoff in front or when it’s level with you. Right away diagonally drop back by starting with a crossover step with your lead foot or the one closest to the front wall when striding past your back foot. That gets you started dashing back at a diagonal angle into the backcourt right as you read the ball is going to getting by you. That move gets you back where you get to play the ball when…
(a) the ball is going slower;
(b) the ball is further back;
(c) you have had an opportunity to see much more of the whole pattern of play (including the challenger’s moves); and
(d) you are able to prep more and pick your best return playing keep-away, including optionally striking a deep target ceiling ball to place heavy pressure on the challenger to defend its difficult pace and ultimate placement in one or the other back quadrant, even when you’re returning a very tough ball. You may hit your deep target ceiling right down the middle of the court, like how super high lobs in tennis are lifted deep middle because that’s THE biggest target for the lobbing player, as it places the ball in from the sidelines on either side…tactics, tactics, tactics…always play tactically and deep target ceilings are highly tactical shot options.
Racquetball Shot Selection
The Nuts and Bolts of Shot Selection
In racquetball, you gotta know your limitations. So, as a player, you need to broaden your limitations. For a racquetball shooter, it’s invaluable to own a great hitting range as a shooter by expanding these related skills…(1) lots of shot options; (2) a wide contact zone height-wise; (3) several effective, situational contact stances; (4) an ability to change your swing size; (5) finesse and power; (6) spin control; (7) fast Quick Draw and longish setup strokes; and (8) broad ball reading skills to take advantage when advantage can be taken by moving in concert with the ball.
Shotmaking Skills Include…
(1) Offensive shots…own a wide array of shots from all over the court that include…
(a) straight in kill-pass;
(b) cross-court kill-pass;
(c) near corner pinch;
(d) reverse pinch into cross front corner;
(e) splat with deep, slightly lower than contact sidewall target;
(f) 3-wall shot hit into sidewall you face when targeting cross front corner;
(g) twooze shot when facing far side and hitting with other side’s stroke into sidewall beside you targeting cross front corner;
(h) front wall first pinch;
(i) wrap around shot that hits one sidewall, bounces, and caroms off the back wall toward far sidewall;
(j) high Z shot hit high into front corner, front wall first looking to parallel back wall;
(k) wide angle pass striking sidewall next to challenger to go on and bounce twice in deep court;
(l) baby overhead cross-court; or
(m) overhead DTL;
(2) Big contact zone…when looking to find a low wall target, you want to have a broad range of contact heights from ankle bone low to shoulder high, which allows you to go for the bottom board or to go for slightly higher passing shot target spots on the front wall;
(3) Many stances…to be versatile, so you have a massive ability to shoot from multiple stances because the speed of the game requires it, while consistently looking to find your own straight in striking stance that hides your angle choice when it’s other than a DTL–>additionally the ability to hit from an open stance inside to out away from you and straight in is irreplaceable, although outside in for a cross-court angle from an open stance is that open stance’s meat and potatoes shot angle or the easiest way to turn on the ball;
(4) Flex swing size…it’s adaptive to have different sized racquet backswings that accommodate the time you make with your efficient movement to (and with) the ball so you may call upon the stroke version that fits the time you make;
(5) Pace control…to adjust to the situation, it’s useful to have touch and torch swing tempos, with enough oomph to make the finesse soft shot get there to your target spot or a hard shot pacy enough to shock um with your ball speed usually as a pass;
(6) Spin control…it’s important to adapt to incoming ball spin and to impart your own ball spin on demand to turn the ball spinning three basic ways, along with combo spin, too…
1) flow your swing in to out or for an inside out shot angling out away from you, like for sidewall shots;
2) flow out to in or outside in for cross-court shot angling;
3) swing over the top or Topspin so the ball tumbles over as it flows forward and it retains that overspin post contact with your wall target spot, adding an extra challenge for the cover player; and
4) plus have the ability to do a combo sideways and Topspin to corkscrew the ball into your sidewall target—>as that combo spin spirals the ball creating a funny bounce for the challenger to have to react to, as well as a very low rebound bounce coming out of the pinch corner or after splatting off the sidewall into the front wall and then veering off at a more parallel angle;
(7) Different swing speeds…it’s key to have the ability to prep with a racquet arm elbow thrust back for your forehand or a fist punch back for your backhand for your fastest, compact stroke preps or your QuickDraw strokes, as that shorter version for fast paced play compliments your routine full, looping windup when time is a luxury when you have a setup;
(8) Ball read skills…it’s invaluable to be able to read the ball’s bounce, as that reading is key to timing your swing. Until you read the bounce of the ball and you critically know (on which side of your body) and where your contact point will be, only then, right as you’re first setting your back foot, should you start your tempo-based backswing. Earlier prep than that and you are unable to produce your swing tempo to smoothly take your backswing and then smoothly flow, without delay, into your rhythmic, flowing downswing. Herky jerky pokey strokes produce erratic shot results.
Shooting Swing Timing
Time your prep so it’s not too early where you’re movement is impeded nor too late where you swing in emergency mode, like you’re trying to beat an imaginary shot clock. When you’ve read ball bounce and your contact point and you can just about reach out and pluck the ball out of midair, just as you’re setting your back foot, begin to wind back. Actually don’t wrap up your prep until you’re setting your front foot and connecting both legs. Then push off and swing forward to shoot. Another liability of getting ready too early is it’s hard to move or make final key positional adjustments when the racquet is the lifted up. Also, too early prep can lock you into one stroke when in reality the other stroke may be needed for a shot when you need to spin with the ball or when you must make a back wall save and you need to use the other side’s stroke.
Self Taught or Influenced by Others or Both?
—> Building all of those stroke and shotmaking factors into your wheelhouse, which is based often initially on emulating others, starts your own unique learning curve (or skill improvement curve) that should include…
(1) practice, via drop and hit which expands to feeding yourself balls;
(3) self assessment;
(4) feetwork and stroke grooving;
(6) testing best of 5 or, for example, or up to 10 in a row before you practice a new skill;
(7) many game-like pattern repetition drills; and then
(8) competition christen or rollout of your new skill, which includes new strokes and shots they power.
—> Then post play reassess how well you did. When needed, get back on the practice court and make tiny corrections to sharpen plus fine tune your form for your different stances. That includes your prep timing or time you buy with your accurate ball reading, flexible ball tracking and efficiency actions ball approach, as well as setting your best case striking stance to shoot the ball, while timing your prep AFTER you have a definite shot plan and you visualize burying the kill-shot or placing the pass by them. Practice is when you develop strokes and it’s when you learn how to make sideways and vertical shot angles work consistently in response to bounce of the ball, the positions you take and those o the imaginary challenger or what is the “pattern of play”.
Shoot for Open Court or Best Kill-Shot
It’s been mentioned various and sundry ways and times in other Lessons and Techniques topics how playing keep away with your shots to tactically keep the ball away from the challenger is a great place to start with your attack plan both as you preplan your shotmaking planning before this match and then realtime in rallies when you make your shot choices. Then it’s key to see your shot as you’re setting up for it. Then let your drilled stroke execute that vision. Passes have a great power over controlling your challenger’s court positioning. Well hit deep passes push the challenger back so they have to hit the ball from deep in the backcourt or in the back 10′.
For all shots, both pace and angle control is big. That’s because avoiding hitting the passing shot (or kill-shot) either too close to challenger, up through the middle, or a pass off angle and overcooked so the ball comes off the back wall (or a low sidewall shot off the other sidewall) are totally unwanted results. So side to side and height control are both major and they should factor heavily in your mental shot imaging AND then your rally-time shooting, as you flow and angle your racquet thru face thru and select the part of the ball to strike at contact to shape every shot. That shot shaping is part muscle memory, part flexible feet and body movement and a big part artful ball control that depends heavily on your learned racquet skills that are found when drilling and even rewound when warming up.
Even as you close in on the ball to shoot your initially preselected shot, have your peripheral side view mirrors and mind alive so you can change up at the last second to find that perfect shot which will capitalize on the challenger’s movement and positioning. The basic thing is the snapshot you took could change because of player movement or an unusual ball bounce. As a pattern example, you’re closing in on a ball off to one side in center court, when initially let’s say the right corner may be your target. If you see one opposing doubles partner off to the left sidewall, but in your rear view mirror you don’t see the right side player flowing in with you. Instead of your righty backhand reverse pinch into the cross front right corner, change up.
Angle your racquet face and flick an inside out pinch into the left front corner by how you control your racquet face and open it up to face the left wall, as you swing in to out, while contacting the inside of the ball or the part closest to you. That’s one example of improv shooting. Another is going for a bigger angle completely around the challenger instead of a V pass right through them. The main point is to be ready to change based on the pattern and what
you see as you make your final approach on the ball and as you’re adjusting with your stance and racquet prep. When you can change, it makes you very hard to read and difficult to defend your shooting flexibility.
Help Ball Along on its Way
For example, when the ball is flowing toward a certain front corner, a pinch angle is an intuitive decision that becomes an easy and natural shot choice. Also, a ball flowing off the back wall out along one sidewall opens up multiple splat shot angles. There your inside out swing toward your selected spot up ahead of you on the sidewall depends on the height of your ball contact and the ball’s distance from the sidewall, as your sidewall target is measured by how your inside out swing is meant to glance the ball off the sidewall a little lower than where you make contact to cause your ball carry and find your imaged very low front wall target spot, with its particularly knarley, unpredictable rebound bounce. A splat carom angle off the front wall is characterized by an across the front court trajectory, making it tougher for the challenger to get um, while pinches angle out more toward the center of the court, when they’re left up just a little. Hence, with very low contact and a spiraling swing and corkscrewing ball spin result, good ball striking and targeting keeps both the pinch and splat down.
Factor in Where You Make Contact
There’s a big schism between cross-court placements when you shoot from deep court or when you’re shooting from off to one side in the middle of the court. As you’re selecting your side to side shot angle from deep court and you note the opponent is hedging over to the far side of center court, reconsider a down the wall placement option. Then hit the inside of the ball with a little inside out “cut” to angle the ball into the near, rear corner. Optionally, as you’re making contact further up in the court, the wider angle around the middle of the court to the far sidewall should be considered when looking to place your cross-court pass. That’s a wide angle pass around the challenger. Now that’s for a ball that wants to want to go cross-court or you want it go with your strong across your body swing motion. As a ball is veering cross-court or as a ball closing in on the near sidewall where you run it down, the across you swing is easiest. When you’re up along sidewall, a down the wall kill-pass is always a viable option. Although plan to hit and move to avoid being in the way of a left up down the wall ball. The key is to pull the in on your strings to control the ball and place it on the front wall closer to you than halfway to the sidewall while finishing with an accentuated in to out swing.
Have Short Term Memory Loss
Now you know you’re gonna make mistakes. Even world class players miss. The thing is to not let a miss define you. First, don’t repeat the error. Don’t force a shot or don’t pick a shot you don’t own. Also mechanically correct errors. For example, if your feet were glued to the court so you didn’t set your topnotch stance for the situation, fix that. If your prep, was too tucked up or drawn in, wind back fuller and better by using your time well to prep as fully, as you can. If you took your eye off the ball at contact or you looked at your wall target before you made contact, stop that. Moving your feet is a great place to start. By moving them efficiently and softly as you make your final approach on the ball, you get to finish this stance to balance and power your best stroke for this one situation. For instance, even when time is less and an open stance would be best, commit to it. Step back or load back onto your back foot to wind back. Then make it a smooth, balanced turn on to your front leg and foot which trails the back foot away from the sidewall.
Note that your upper body can and should face the sidewall in your prep phase, even in an open stance. So, with that as an example if you under prepped or you didn’t work your legs, correct your form. The objective is to consistently find your rhythm with your feet. It’s step back, as you post on your front foot that you drag along. That posting includes the step up when you take a key, little step in place on the back foot that charges up your feet to set a live front foot to accept powerful back to front push that adds to the looping arm swing. That’s as opposed to form done with unoptimized mechanics for the specific situation which puts you at a disadvantage. Use technique you actually own and comfortably use with regularity for patterns just like this one and your shooting and making odds go way up. When the ball wants to go there, add to its natural momentum. When you need to change the angle the ball is heading, exaggerate the angle of your racquet flow and pull the ball in on your strings.
Move Your Feet as You Prep
Like you wind your racquet back, wind up and spring load your legs as you prep, too. A very common circumstance repeats itself numerous times in match play. The ball is hit by your challenger back into a back corner and, as you close in on the corner quickly, you may loop your racquet back automatically, but are you really ready to hit the ball or are you just in auto-prep? The ball is generally going to bounce one of two ways…(a) the ball will bounce, catch the sidewall and then deflect off the back wall into you; or (b) the ball will bounce, catch the corner and shoot out along the sidewall. You’re really not sure which one and doing the auto-prep restricts your ability to adjust. When you’re uncertain, first, always take a short jab step to the corner with your back foot. Hold back with your crossover step and don’t just automatically turn and face the sidewall too early with both feet or you can’t back off a ball jamming you off the sidewall or you won’t be able to scoot out along the sidewall for a ball that catches the corner and zips out right along the wall. Look at this corner situation as an opportunity. You want to shoot the ball. It’s literally a back wall setup.
Getting to the corner with feet ready to move and knees bent ensures you can adjust to the ball so you can go on the offensive. Both freezing your feet and straightening your legs early eliminates your ability to adjust. Go in with light feet and very alert ball read and your chances go way up to reach your goal of offensively shooting the ball. For a ball deflecting off the sidewall and then jamming you off the back wall, shift your balance onto your trail, non-jabbing foot and drop back with what is the back foot of your final striking stance. That move buys you space to shoot. As the ball drops, set the front foot, shift back and work your feet in your stance. For a ball catching the corner crack, after the jab step, crossover quickly with the trail foot and be prepared to even take a second or third step starting with a cross step into a short sprint with the jab foot to scoot out along the sidewall for a big flyer off the back wall. For either the jammer or the flyer, when you move with the ball and read where you’ll best make contact, right then prep to shoot the ball into your best shot choice to ideally capitalize on this back wall ball shooting pattern. Commit to your low sidewall or front wall target. Practicing this situation makes it timed on auto-drive in match play.
Pick Shots You Can Make
Now here’s a concept that may perhaps appear to be theoretical, but its actually empirically evident “it” happens in match play with all the skips and back wall setups players hit on neutral or un-pressured patterns or those patterns when they could hit and make their shot even when they’re on-the-move. When time is theirs to shoot, with solid feetwork and apropos striking form, the object is to hit winners or error forcing shots by the challenger. There are many times when what it looks like is simply a choice wasn’t made. What I mean by that is make sure you pick a shot you can make. Pick something out of your bag of tricks, your toolbox, your repertoire, your shtick from your owned, routine dance steps, as you select THIS shot which ideally should be your most familiar one for NOW! If you find yourself leaning back going for kill-shots, relax and instead hit the best pass you can. Hence the more experience you have in this and any pattern of play in competition and in simulations in practice where you remodel this situation when you’re molding your form to make it malleable, repeatable and easy, then the more often you’ll pick your right shot and you’ll tend to do it right, too.
So if you make a mistake on a shot as you play or drill, quickly assess, “Was that shot mine?”. First, decide if the ball was in your wheelhouse contact height-wise. And did you reproduce your best form in the time you were given or more accurately in the time you made with your efficient moves when setting and then putting your body into it. That means did you move with and to the ball efficiently and did you commit to your swing and use a full body swing. Also tactically was it a shot that takes advantage of your challenger’s positioning vs. stubbornly choosing a shot you’d have to rollout when another shot could strand the over-committed challenger with any easier to find angle for you?
Develop Shots from Spots
From 3 key spots up and down along each sidewall and also at say 3 spots down through the middle (where players actually drill less) get on court and receive the ball in multiple, realistic ways as it’s coming to you from out of all 4 corners of the court to one of your 9 spots. There find your form for shots when directing the ball from there to place the ball in all 4 corners of the court. Of course, make sure that you can direct this ball into that target spot you choose. As mentioned many times, it’s intelligent to hit the ball where it wants to go. And it’s invaluable practice time spent placing the ball anywhere in the court from one of those 9 spots to have the versatility to place the ball away from the competition and importantly where you and the ball can work together as the ball comes to you from different corners. As you practice, pay particular attention to both moving with the ball so you flow forward and look to set your difficult to read, attacking stance to disguise your shot and still make your shot easy to make after you’ve worked on your ball read, ball approach, flowing striking stance setting and executing shot shaping that you know works for this pattern you’ve trained.
Ball Control in Cross-Court Pattern
Here’s a working example of a pattern of play and your three, basic pattern responses to cross-court balls. If you’re hitting the ball that’s coming to you as a cross-court pass or likewise when you’re fielding a sidewall shot that hit the far sidewall and you’re catching up to the ball as you’re closing in on the near sidewall, the main point is you must control both the incoming ball’s angle AND its ball spin, as well. There you must make sure to alter the angle and either kill and remove the spin or use that incoming spin to make your shot. Here are three possible options and how:
(1) Hit the outside of the angling ball or the part of the ball furthest from you with the center of your sweet spot and swing across your body sending the ball strongly cross-court, as that’s often the easiest reply angle to find responding to the crossing ball angle, even when going for a very low kill-pass target; or…
(2) Contact the ball just a little under halfway away from you on the back of the ball with your racquet’s center and flow your racquet toward your straight in target spot that’s under halfway between where you contact the ball and the sidewall and you create an angle change to strike the ball down along the near wall veering it as it comes off the front wall directly toward the rear corner. To hit cross-court you may consider it as drawing the ball in on your strings vs. striking the ball on the outside or the part furthest from you, as you must control and change the incoming ball angle to go cross-court or you’ll miss your angle just like pushing the ball away from you on the strings and hitting straight in cross to direct angle change; and
(3) To accomplish perhaps the most natural angle to produce when covering a cross-court angle, perform an inside out swing and contact the part of the ball closest to you to veer the ball out into the sidewall up ahead of you with the sidewall target spot nearer to you, as a mid court splat shot. Granted going right for the corner as a tight pinch would be a tough angle to produce, but completely discouraging sidewall shooting (as in don’t re-pinch a pinch) leads you away from this very makable sidewall target out ahead of you just a little lower than the ball contact. This “trickle splat” angle capitalizes on the ball’s incoming spin by just countering it and deflecting the ball off into the sidewall near you with an embellished in to out swing toward your sidewall target.
—> Those are examples of how to handle that very familiar situation when fielding a ball angling across the court and how developing your form to produce those angle changes, with racquet head control, spin management and your shot shaping racquet flow, turns into shotmaking that you’ll be very familiar with when making the shot based on your valuable experience you have both in practice and in lots of rally play. Now don’t stop there. With lots of practice open up your shot range to consider, for instance, a reverse pinch into the cross front corner to place the ball primarily into a sidewall target first. The reverse has lots of cross-court angle so lots of outside in spin when contacting the outside of the ball or the part farthest from you. Get on the practice court and find that angle. It’s a killer angle.
Eventually and ideally it becomes second nature to pick the right shot, which is your best shot available (BSA) for the pattern at play. In actuality you need to hit a shot you feel highly confident is a shot you can make that best capitalizes on the ball’s bounce, your reactive play on the ball, the challenger’s coverage zone, and even the score or scoring situation in a match. For example, take a few more chances when you serve or you have a big lead. And you may shrink your shot options, like NBA coaches shrink or shorten their bench for the playoffs, when you return serve and as you go to shot options or skills that brung ya. Of course, here we go again back to reps.
The more drilling and playing and success you have playing, and the better you think on the move, the more chances you can take and the more effective options you have at your disposal. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy of increasing your trusted set of shots you can count upon, and then, like voodoo, you just know what trick to do or what play to run or what move to make that’ll a direct impression on the point. Then you prep to craft and flow into your striking stance to shoot, with balance and easy form, with both precision and trust in equal aplomb, which makes your attacking game something your challenger must avoid and something to behold.
Train every pattern you can develop that simulates what you observe and experience in match play, theirs and yours. Also watching top flight racquetball increases your practice areas. Of course playing challenging competition reveals situations worth drilling. Here are a bunch of situations. Owning them will help you have more shots you can reach for in competition. In shooting patterns you must respond to…
(a) an attackable ball where you step up (forward in the court) to your right or left, from your spot in center court, to simply lay the wood to the ball. There, although it’s an easy shot, be complete, focussed and smooth vs. complacent and underwhelmed;
(b) a ball veering cross-court where you can step over to cutoff the V angle by moving diagonally forward or sometimes, though less often, by moving directly sideways toward the sidewall where perception of the ball, the onrushing wall and an over closed or wide open stance makes it much tougher or challenging–>Note that when facing the opposite front corner and tending toward covering the line back behind you where the challenger and the ball are in that back corner, a frontmost foot drop step behind you and then crossover step with your trail foot gets you there set to cut off even sharply struck cross-court passing shots;
(c) a ball down the wall where you can step out and ideally move diagonally forward when you offensively play the ball, by taking the ball out front with a back foot jab step out to the sidewall and then a crossover front foot step up as your prep, gears you to attack the ball out in front of your body;
(d) a gettable ball going by you DTL or cross-court where you can and do drop diagonally back to better time and adjust to the ball’s pace, allows to better play the ball. When the ball and you are going backwards, your angle drop allows you to much better see the ball, prepare better with the more time you have for your backswing, and have a far better view of what’s going on in front of you to more aggressively, tactically, and intelligently play the down the wall ball, even though you’re on the run;
(e) a ball shot into the far sidewall, as a pinch or splat, you can catch up to after the ball bounces once and before you and the ball reach the near sidewall;
(f) after a far sidewall ball bounces and carries to pop off that other, near sidewall, back off the ball to give yourself space and time to tactically shoot, while you pick the best shot you read you can make;
(g) a ball directly up through the center of the court at you where you can get yourself out of the way with a step back with your rear foot with your selected stance to hit the ball ideally where the challenger will be most strained in their coverage, and for a ball at you, it’s always a solid tactic, as you are there in coverage, think to yourself, “What will I do if the ball comes right at me?”;
(h) fielding a ball where you move with the ball as it bounces into a back corner to…
(1) deflect off the sidewall and then carom off the back wall; or
(2) the ball pops off the back wall and then angles to deflect off the sidewall to…in either case, drop as a setup when you move and play the ball effectively and aggressively;
(i) a ball that bounces and rebounds off the back wall as a setup when the ball is either going…
(1) straight in to the back wall; or
(2) the ball is going into the back wall angling cross-court, but, as the ball caroms out it angles off, but comes up just short of contacting the far sidewall making these balls very attackable in a pattern that brings in sidewall splat targets as a doable option, along with down the wall shots–>note that these back wall setups can be as a result of an overhit one of these…a passing shot; ceiling ball; drive serve; lob serve; or off speed lob serve;
(j) a ceiling ball (or lob serve) that you drop back quickly and track the ball down in deep court where it falls short of the back wall when you retreat quickly and patiently allow the ball to drop down low, giving you multiple shooting options;
(k) a high Z ball you track down that goes back taking a tough bounce deep in the back court sometimes paralleling the back wall just short of the back wall where you respond often with a flick, though explosive back wall save. Other times the high Z may either come out not as deep off the last sidewall or the ball may bounce and pop off the back wall as an attackable ball deep in the backcourt, when you’ve moved back quickly, while moving with the ball, then look to be very aggressive; and
(l) a ball that’s a wrap around shot or serve that hits the front wall, angles on the fly to strike one sidewall, pop off, bounce, strike the middle of the back wall and then caroms out toward the other sidewall turning into a setup or at least an attackable ball, when you move in circular pattern with the ball to intercept it as it angles out toward the second sidewall. You can drill this wrap around shot by yourself. Hit from deep in your mid court on one side looking to hit the ball with your off stroke so it angles off the front wall to catch the far sidewall high enough so the ball will carom off the back wall, as you drop back and to turn the ball and take it aggressively as it pops off the back wall, which is always a tendency you want to have to be THE shooter with practiced options you own and you use imagery for a shot you see happening successfully and then you shape it confidently.
Pressures for Treasures
When You Shoot Familiar Shots for Recognized Patterns with Your Well Known Form, Both Moving and Swinging…
You need stress tolerance where you’re always willing to fight the good fight. Like Billie Jean King says, play with concept in mind that “Pressure is a privilege”. Relish in it.
You need shot tolerance in rallies to be patient enough to run down more balls and wait your turn for your shot. Those shots are your high % play. Make your challenger have to move and hit more balls when you can’t hit a put-away shot. To move the challenger tactically, go for:
(a) pacey shots deep to the back corners;
(b) no pace carved ceilings that pin them deep against the back wall;
(c) deep target ceilings (at spots behind the row of lights) that pull them back faster than they may be prepared to retreat;
(d) high Z’s, from mid and front court, pulling them back in a panic mode;
(e) touch shots with slice (much like off-speed lob serves) angled along the sidewalls towards the back corners; and
(f) sidewall shots that “pinch them out of the play”, when they get themselves stuck up against a sidewall.
Play in Attack Mode
Play with serious thought, patience and in an alert, assertive, attack mode. When you recognize a familiar attacking pattern of play, capitalize, as the serve-return situation quickly transforms into rally play. Don’t try to hit yourself out of trouble by just bludgeoning the ball. Placement rules. Power is a double edged sword. Hit hard when:
(a) you’ve pushed the challenger up;
(b) you’re serving to pressure them, with plan in mind to attack their weak return; or
(c) you get on top of their serve with your placement rules return when looking to pass them by with sheer force of shot.
—> Return serve playing high level keep away. For that tactical, early serve return, that’s often the moment to take the ball down the wall from deep court.
—> In rally play, shoot down the wall very selectively. The only other time to clearly go down the wall is when you’re up in the middle of the court along a sidewall, in the catbirds seat, and you’ve got the challenger pinned behind you on the far sidewall. Even then, hit a cursive “i” DTL pass that ideally angles to and wallpapers the sidewall on its way back to the near, rear corner. Even then, hit and move to not be in front of their running return try. In other situations in rallies, you risk having a shot from deep court along a sidewall cutoff by the challenger, as they cut in front of you. Then you may be boxed out, as they scoot in to shoot from in front of you, never to budge again.
Pick Shots Situationally
Be a selective shot picker. You don’t have to pull the trigger from everywhere in the court. It’s a matter of “when” to shoot vs. “how” because, when you see it’s the right time, then you’ll know how because it’ll be obvious what angle is open, what corner of the court is best put under your attack and what action your stroke must produce. Of course “why” is because winners attack and wishful shooters battle in a continuous catch-up mode. Do attack judiciously when the moment is right, like when it’s time to go for a shot like a cross-court pass, as the challenger blankets your DTL. And include in that when to wrap your WAP (wide angle pass) around um at those times when the challenger is more centrally located and you’re up closer to the middle of the court.
Patience Pays Off
Avoid going for broke too early. However, be assertive. You can’t impose your game upon the challenger by not pressuring them at all. You must apply pressure to keep the challenger moving side to side and back and sometimes up. Pull them back when they’re up. When you read you can, shoot low because you see they’re starting very deep or you’ve got a situation that you feel confident in shooting low because you recognize its similarities to past patterns. Then push them forward, while being intent on not giving them a re-kill situation. One facet of low targeting is apropos force. You don’t have to blast a pinch or howitzer a splat. The harder you hit your intended sidewall kill-shot, the further back you could send the ball into the center when it comes off the front wall. Use sidespin out into the sidewall and Topspin and smooth, fluid, complete stroking form. You don’t need to hit the ball like you’re cranking your top-speed drive serve. Play with power with a purpose.
Play from a Bird’s-Eye View
Pretend like you’re hovering up above the court watching yourself play. Like a video game, pick your shot placements that are both doable and take advantage of yours and your challenger’s both current and potential positioning after they could relocate or scoot as you shoot. Also, on the other side of the ball, make sure you “scoot as they shoot!”. By moving to the open court and also by hiding in their blindspot you’re making them have to guess where you’ll be next.
Stroke with Your Swing Tempo
Use both touch and torch swing tempos or speed changes. Have an internal time clock where you get ready right on time to match either tempo, including compact mechanics when needed. Too early prep and you lose your swing tempo. Without tempo you swing less effectively, and you place the ball less precisely. Time your strokes so, as the ball is arriving, you’ve fluidly looped into your backswing. Then right as the ball is entering your contact zone transition without a hitch or delay into your down then arcing out downswing that flows like melted butter through contact when collaborating all of your instinctive…
(a) muscle memories;
(b) eye-hand coordination; and
(c) movement and body position magic of your racquet face by using your skills of proprioception, like how a cat could jump off a bureau and land on its paws in completely dark room.
Through training and study, empower yourself to power the ball. You needn’t come out of your shoes or leave the ground or swing your front leg out around in front of you as you swing. Ideally turn and face into each striking stance. Even if you can’t full on face the sidewall, turn your shoulders to face the sidewall. Optimally assume either a partially closed, half a front tennis shoe out closer to the sidewall striking stance or a partially open, half a shoe trailing the back foot stance. From those partial, staggered stances, the object is to drive forward into your bending front knee and glued down anchor front foot. Practice hitting from your closed stance. Also emphasize taking lots of swinging reps from a more open striking stance where both feet point slightly forward because that more front wall facing position is such a common situation you find yourself in when in the midst of fast-paced rally play. Open stance stroking is practiced so little and it’s usually performed with mediocre form. For an open stance, without practice, it’s very difficult to place the ball on the racquet side of the court because an open stance promotes cross-court angles from across your body swinging. From the foot further from the sidewall push to the other closer foot. Then rotate out off that weighted back foot.
Shots from Spots, with Shot Selection –>
Rely on yourself and where you are in the court positionally. Rely on selections from your known range of what shot to shoot based on deciphering this pattern that you quickly observe, as you read the bounce of the ball, while factoring in action, like spin on the ball, and its angling around the walls and where you’re at. Have “shots for spots” throughout the court from along both sidewalls at 3 spots and up through the middle at different court depths into shot angles based on…–> varied contact heights –> challenger’s anticipated court location while factoring in their potential movement –> and your responding to the ball’s incoming angle and action = your pattern experience which gives you depressurizing flexibility to make quicker, surer shotmaking decisions, with far fewer unproductive shot choices or shot shaping misplacements, i.e., you don’t miss good picks and you don’t force shots you can’t make.
Example of Moving Stroking Form —>
In training and then practice games and ultimately in the competitions, groom, groove and own an attack mode forward move when going forward and to your right or left. Take a transfer step up by taking a little approach step to get behind and beside each ball you’re playing and attacking. Step up first on your back foot for that stroke, as you say to yourself, “Backhand” or “Forehand”. Pull along and post on front foot, as you turn partly sideways into your “semi open stance”. Load up on your back foot with your prep going on above it, as you begin your compact looping backswing…then…choose staying open or closing your striking stance…step up or touch down on your front foot and then rock right back and complete your racquet lift. Coil up your legs, torso, and shoulders with that little final move from front to back foot. As the ball is about to reach your movement-keyed contact point just up ahead of you, un-spring your legs and then uncork core. Use that body spring to catapult your shoulders and begin to unbend your spiraling arm as you flow thru your swooping, arcing down and out arm, wrist and racquet into their whip-cracking endings. To ensure body pivot, keep turning your body outwardly and climax covering the ball with your racquet face (as it comes up almost even with your shoulder) powered by the motion of your forearm and overlapping wrist. SNAPPOW! Continuously flow your racquet thru while moving up thru the ball. Keep turning your arm, hand and racquet face over thru and on after contact as you brush over the ball. Finish strings down pointing to the court. Follow-through low first toward your wall target. Then swing on around you until your shoulder joint stretches. Always finish landing on your front foot. If momentum carries you sideways, allow the back foot to swing out to the sidewall. That’s okay. Directly after contact and follow-through push from front to back foot, as you quickly determine your best escape route maneuver (with cross step with far foot your fastest way especially to move a longer distance). Get into your best case coverage based on your shot placement, while you remain in attack mode. And…when there is one, find a way to move and attack that very next ball, too. Key on playing aggressively, even with your defensive or keep-away shot placements. Dictate play and play within your high tolerance levels for fast paced stress and shot control of balls anywhere in the court.
Racquetball is A Topspin Game
In a perfect world, every rally ball would be ankle bone low for you to sweep your racquet head smoothly through at the bottom of a shallow contact arc. Like you may have heard it described, an ideal swing image is seeing yourself swinging your racquet head across the top of table thru the ball in an exaggerated, long, low swing arc.
There the idea is you sweep the racquet head back to front, and, as you are making contact with the ball conventional wisdom has it that the racquet face is set perfectly flat or flush pointing at your target wall. Now wouldn’t that be nice? That’s a great image if perhaps…(a) you have a very easy setup off the back wall; or (b) you play a soft lob you can patiently, deliberately let drop extremely low; or (c) you hustle and track down a left up sidewall shot struck by your challenger that you catch up to right as the ball is almost at floor level. But that’s not going to be your racquetball reality all of the time. The game of racquetball is much, much faster than that and you can’t always let the ball drop super low to contact the ball.
Most of the time you’re going to confront a ball that is above ankle height, in fact often much, much higher than even shin high. Still, from a higher contact height, similarly you often want to hit the ball much lower than where you make contact. How do you do that with a flat racquet face?
Versatile High to Low Shooting
Sometimes you want to hit a kill-shot the challenger just can’t scrape back. Other times you want to crank a passing shot that passes them by when placing the ball on the other side of the court from you (and them) deep in the backcourt. Note that a kill-shot is simply a front wall bottom board shot. With your kill-shot, there may be times when you even seek a flat rollout which is a ball simultaneously hitting front wall and floor, as the ball hits the super low and rolls back out. Now wouldn’t that be nice? First, how do you contact a ball that’s up “here” and shoot it so it goes down “there”? One clue is it’s not with an always flat racquet face thru contact.
Good Player Tendency: Be a Shooter
The tendency for you to shoot high to low is a solid one and an attack mode mentality promoted by our highly aggressive, killer instinct sport where we play like the question is being asked of us, “How low can you go?”. (Attack mode play is A-okay as long as you direct your aggression toward the ball and not aim it at your challenger…). A practiced player’s shooting contact range should extend from ankle bone low up to chest high and even as high as eye high when shooting down to as low as bottom-board low on the front wall.
How Do “You” See Yourself Going Bottom-Board?
Now, to shoot from high to low (even when say shooting from knee high down to an even lower spot on the front wall), there are several perspectives on how you may control your racquet face when using your swing mechanics which cause the ball go downwards toward your lower wall target. Here are 3 perspectives…(1) one perspective is you bevel or angle or incline or tilt your racquet forward from back to front so the racquet face points lower on the front wall right as you’re swinging thru the ball; or (2) another point of view is you drop the ball ever so slightly on your racquet face’s *sweet spot as you swing thru, while picturing your racquet face as flat or parallel to your target wall, as you swing thru at contact – although do note that there at contact, on its own, your racquet face may tweak or adjust to angle down slightly due to the ball hitting lower than the center of that sweet spot on your strings; or (c) yet another perspective is that as you swing thru making contact with your judged center of your racquet face intentionally contacting the ball slightly above an imaginary “equator” that splits the ball in half (with that equator parallel to the court). That last perspective causes you to shoot slightly downwards when making contact on the upper half of the ball. The higher you make contact above ankle bone level, theoretically the higher up on the ball you choose to place the center of your sweet spot of the racquet strings, as you’re making contact, to shape your shot to produce a low front wall target.
Is it a Combination of Contacting the Upper Half of the Ball “AND” Closing Your Racquet Face…
Note that both contacting the ball just slightly above the equator and approaching the ball with your racquet head tilting down as you are making contact could be just the dual secret to shooting from chest high to low, medium waist high to low and knee high on down to bottom board low. Ultimately it’s your shooter-controlled manipulation of your racquet head and where you choose to place the strings upside the ball that defines your shot’s initial and paramount flight path and accompanying ball spin.
What is “Your” Sweet Spot on “Your” Racquet Face
Note that the *sweet spot on the racquet face is where you make your most effective contact with the ball to most accurately hit your shots. By using your racquet face control-based swing you make sure you use “your” sweet spot most effectively. The sweet spot is the springiest and truest responding part of your strings. To find “your” sweet spot, along with hitting practice shots and assessing your targeting results, bounce a ball on your strings while searching for its bounciest part. Simply the sweet spot is your power spot on your string bed. If you’re ever test driving a new stick, find its sweet spot and see if you like it and how you swing thru while closing the racquet face and finding targets lower than contact.
Is Racquetball Topspin like Tennis Topspin?
In racquetball there isn’t a 4th perspective where you would contact the ball well “below” the “equator” and brush up and over top the ball from below the middle of the ball in a parabolic, curving swing path to, in turn, produce a parabolic ball trajectory as is seen in a routine tennis “Topspin” swing arc and shot curve. In racquetball, we have neither peach fuzz on a racquetball ball to help us achieve that brushing from below up and over top the ball action nor do we routinely want a decidedly curving ball trajectory for our racquetball shots. Very luckily we don’t have a net impediment or an obstacle that we must clear by hitting over it save perhaps the floor that’s between the ball we’re playing and our wall target, to avoid skips. However, we do want the ball to hit low enough so it definitely bounces twice before the back wall. Topspin helps make that happen.
Downwards Trajectory and Topspin
A racquetball shot that’s struck with pick um…(a) a beveled angled down racquet face; or (b) when contacting the ball with the lower half of your string bed’s sweet spot; or (c) when placing the strategic part of your strings on the upper half of the ball…are all concepts and methods that can potentially create a favored downwards shot trajectory. AND they also have the capacity to impart beneficial overspin or a fast forward spinning over-the-top motion that imparts “Topspin” onto your ball. That good Topspin or “top” causes the ball to turn over or tumble on its way into your wall target. Then, as that Top spinning ball rebounds out off the wall, the top continues as it’s coming off the wall which also causes the ball to rebound off that target wall lower and bounce earlier or closer than a ball hit without spin or a ball hit with under-spin or slice. That top or overspin is retained to, in turn, cause the ball to take its second bounce much sooner and closer to the target wall than a flat ball struck without spin or a ball with under-spin where it bounces further from the target wall, as the sliced ball flutters, tantalizingly further out from the front wall.
Do We Want Either Spin-free or Under-spin?
Almost every ball has some form of spin on it. A ball that will “float” or one that’s hit spin-less is really a myth or a true anomaly if it happens at all. Every swing, even one not intent on imparting spin, adds some minimal forward ball rotation and often another spin that’s a subject for another day, “sidespin”. Worse case under-spin is caused when angling the racquet face backwards or tilting the racquet head back while swinging thru contact. Balls with under-spin react by popping out at the angle they go in and they pop out further and then they bounce and hover; which is a big no-no for rally shots. Under-spin usually indicates you’ve been caught switching grips or perhaps you’re hitting your backhand with a forehand grip. Although do note that “slice” can be a tricky spin for receivers of off speed lobs, and a slicing action can be a very good thing for a carved upwards touch ceiling ball. Although do note that a deeper target ceiling, which rebounds back faster doesn’t use slice and instead is struck with a flatter, spin-free swing.
At times you may want your low ball into the front wall to bounce even earlier right after front wall contact when you want your shot to be irretrievably out of reach of your challenger. That ball they can’t reach that you’re going for is called a “kill-shot”. A kill-shot ideally bounces twice before the first line on the court, which is the service line. At low knee high contact, a straight in Topspin shot that hits the front wall under 6 inches high on the front wall to ideally takes its second bounce before that service line which is 15 feet back from the front wall is a “real” kill-shot. If the ball were to bounce say twice before the short line, that’d be just a left up, retrievable kill-shot.
Passing Shot Definition
A hard-hit Topspin “passing shot” is a ball taken at say waist high and it may contact the front wall as low as 6 inches high up to as high as 3.5 feet high. A passing shot with top takes its first bounce in the middle of the court, and, when struck with overspin, the ball tumbles over, as it’s going backwards in the court to stay down and ideally take its second bounce within the last few feet of the backcourt before it could reach and pop off the back wall.
Why Adding Spin Avoids “Dangerous” Back Wall Setups
A Topspin passing shot bounce is different than how a ball without spin or a ball with under-spin may bounce and carry all the way to the back wall to spring way off as a back wall setup for the too lucky challenger. Note that back wall setups may be THE biggest setup in racquetball because…
(1) with patience, you can let back wall setup drop extra low;
(2) you have more time to play a ball caroming off the back wall; and
(3) a ball projecting off the back wall is already heading in the right direction toward the front wall and –> all you have to do is help the back wall ball along on its way vs. how you must 180 other rally balls or serves that come at you from off the front wall where then the object is to redirect the ball back in the direction from which it came. To redirect a ball in a rally or as a return of serve is like a baseball hitter standing at home plate and hitting a pitch that must go back out in the complete opposite direction from where the pitch is coming to home plate. AND the baseball hitter must keep the baseball between the lines. At least, in racquetball, we have 3-wall shots and splats. Where when a batter hits safely they must keep the baseball inside those foul lines that’s equivalent to restricting the angle to a wider angled near corner pinch.
Drill to Learn to Topspin Your Kill-shots
To drill and impart Topspin, first drop and hit by starting from a spot just behind the short line that’s 20 feet back from the front wall. There bounce the ball so it rises up to about waist high. At first let the ball drop slightly to make contact with the ball at about upper thigh high. From there, experiment going bottom-board as you (pick from your preferred method to swing as you…)…
(a) angle your racquet face pointing it slightly downward while swinging thru the ball…or
(b) swing thru placing the ball lower on your strings than your center sweet spot…or
(c) as you sweep your racquet head straight thru the ball and swing on toward your low wall target, make contact with the upper half of the ball on the center cut of your racquet face’s sweet spot. In any case, the object is to create a self-controlled downwards angled trajectory toward your very low kill-shot target on the front wall. First, start with straight in kill-shots. After you learn how to control your low shot height and this straight in angle, then work on angling kill-shots both cross-court to the far, rear corner and angling the ball back toward the nearest rear corner. Note that to hit that near, rear corner, as a “cursive “i” shot”, shoot for a target on the front wall just under halfway between where you make ball contact and the near sidewall to place the ball deep in the corner on your side. As you become adept at shooting from this thigh level to those 3 angles, shoot by letting the ball drop even lower to knee high and lower. Note that lower contact requires you “step up” into a lower, wider, optimally staggered, ideally slightly closed or optionally partially open ball striking stance. There your low contact swing is powered by bending, turning leg drive and hip up through core and upper torso body spin that finishes with your most pronounced sweeping, wide forward swing. As low to low shooting becomes easier, also bounce the ball a little bit higher to shoot from waist high down. There you must swing much more over top the ball from a strong and now more narrow and turnable striking stance. As waist high contact gets easier, also bounce the ball a little harder and higher and swing over and thru the ball at your belly button on up to chest high. Once mid level contact is doable, even swing up to eye high down to your very low kill-shot front wall target. For those very high contact heights, at chest high or higher, you’ll swing up and over top the ball by using an even more exaggerated bell shaped swing arc. There flow the racquet head from below chest high up, over, and thru the ball, as you close your racquet face thru contact. Post contact flow will then be down slightly and across in front of your body to find your much lower than contact wall target, with top.
Drill by Hitting Sideways
A drilling trick to speed up your progress and chase the ball much less as you work on producing top at multiple contact heights (and shooting to different angles) is to turn and hit balls into the sidewall when standing on one end of the court. Work on your low kill-shot shotmaking when taking the ball at your developing full range of contact heights from even eye high on down to ankle bone low, while imparting Topspin, which coincidentally produces extra ball speed, too. Also, to perfect your side to side angling for kill-shot shooting, have extra balls in your pockets, especially when you’re shooting from away the closest corner. With the sideways drill you learn the value of developing and owning your racquet arm swing arc and gluing your eyes on the ball swinging thru the ball.
Practice Topspin Passing Shots, too
Once you’ve increased your contact range so it spans from ankle bone low up to chest high and even up to eye high for your kill-shot shooting then back up a little deeper in the court. You can practice your kill-shots there, but initially drop and shoot passes from there at the dashed line which is 25 feet back from the front wall. As you learn to make your straight and then angled passes that bounce twice before the back wall, back up to a deeper spot at say 30 feet. Keep backing up to different spots and practicing your Topspin passing shots. Ultimately back up until you’re all that way back at 38 feet which is just in front of the back wall. Work on higher front wall passing shot targeting from spots as low as 6 inches high, with searing swing pace and all the way up to over 3 feet high for more finesse or touch passing shots, while swinging over top of the ball to produce the Topspin that makes ALL of your passes bounce in mid court and then take their second and final bounce very close to the back wall. The main objective for your initial shot angle for your Topspin passing shots is keeping the ball low on your target wall so the ball bounces first in the mid court and retains that “top” on the ball so it ensures the ball takes its second bounce before it can make contact with the back wall. From those different spots, after getting down the straight in passes, also work on your cross-courts to your far, rear corner and your DTL’s, as near, rear passing shot angles.
Why Topspin Passes vs. No Spin Passes
Consider that when hitting a heavy, flat, spin-free ball where you swing through the ball to make contact on the ball at very much center mass or the very middle of the back of the ball you produce an unspinning, flat ball that will bounce and carry farther to very possibly careen off the back wall as a hot setup for your grateful challenger. That flat ball is not ideal nor recommended for your racquetball passing shots (or kill-shots, serves or sidewall shots). Even a minimal amount of top causes the ball to stay lower as it’s comes off the front wall to take its first bounce sooner or closer to the front wall. And then the spin causes the ball to also takes its second bounce sooner within a few feet of the back wall. Also, as another benefit of Topspin, a topped ball carries to your front wall target better due to the spin adding extra pace to your pass due to less air resistance. Therefore, considering the controlled bounces and faster spin, it’s optimal to develop strokes that add lots of overspin to all of your passing shots and serves, too…
Topspin Your Rear Corner Bound Drive Serves, too
Along with your passing shots and kill-shots, practice adding Topspin to your drive serves, too. Factor in that an optimum drive serve barely crawls past the short line, as it’s dipping and optimally bouncing just past 20 feet or a little bit deeper than that, when it’s an especially well struck, low drive serve. Note that a drive serve is actually powered at contact by an initial inclining ball trajectory, as the ball angles slightly upward into its front wall target (that’s an unseen, though felt target by you as the server; although do not even look before you serve because, if you do, you’re helping tell your receiver, “There’s my target!”). Continuing now…there on the front wall your drive serve hits its slightly higher than ball contact spot…then, as the Topspin drive serve rebounds back out, it reverses its angle, by now assuming a downwards trajectory toward the serve’s first bounce beyond the short line, while continuing to angle on toward your server chosen rear corner. Carrying with it invaluable overspin, a Topspin drive serve is more likely to take its first bounce further forward and then follow up by bouncing for a second time before the back wall than a serve hit with zero spin as a result of its flat contact from a strictly side to side swing motion. Even if a drive serve with top were to bounce and hit the back wall, the overspin would continue and serve to keep the ball lower as it caroms off the back wall. Compare that to how a spin-free drive serve will bounce and carry to fly well off the back wall much further and higher than even an overhit Topspin ball.
Stroking Form to Produce Top
Forearm and wrist dual action produces Topspin. That action is prompted by the very key pre-contact portion of your forward swing, as the racquet head flows thru the ball and on to your wall target. The pre-contact phase starts right where you begin to arc the racquet arm out while extending your bent arm to achieve reaching contact. This key phase occurs as the racquet swings from the racquet head pointing back, with the racquet butt cap pointing at the target wall, to swing thru making ball contact, as the racquet head passes thru both pointing at the sidewall and the butt cap pointing at the sidewall behind you. Then continue the swing arc well after contact until the racquet head points toward your wall target and the racquet butt cap points behind you at the back wall. For a really big, huge, full racquet swing, the racquet even points at the back wall and the butt cap toward the front court.
Full Range of Motion for Top
The back to front motion of the racquet head or the full range of motion swing is also characterized by turning over or spiraling your forearm, as the arm extends by spinning at the elbow. Right before contact, the last, most integral part, the rolling wrist overlaps with the turning over forearm to spiral together, along with spiraling the racquet head, as the racquet face closes or turns over thru contact, too. You time that racquet head spiral by how you unfurl your swing. You do that as you flow your racquet head thru the ball (and on beyond contact). Your swing-controlled racquet flow to your selected ball contact, again, is based on one or more of…
(a) how you bevel or angle or close your racquet face while you’re swinging thru the ball; or
(b) how you drop the ball slightly on your string bed from its center; or
(c) how you place the part of the racquet head you feeling on the upper half of the ball right as you swinging thru the ball. As a result of how your racquet head spins or spirals thru the ball, the swing motion defines the most critical initial line your shot takes as the ball leaves your strings to angle towards your wall target. Your player-controlled racquet head swing motion and how you make ball contact also has the potential to create key action or English or spin to be imparted on the ball in the form of Topspin (and vertical angle control). The more top, the more downwards trajectory on the ball, the more shot pace and the more overspin that is retained after target wall contact which keeps the ball lower as it’s coming off that wall. Also that top is translated into an earlier, closer first bounce on the court and a sooner second bounce, too. Those Topspin bounces are closer than a ball struck without spin produced by a flat stroke. When you become adept at timing the turning over of your racquet face for both your forehand and backhand strokes, both spin control and height control is yours which allows you to select your shot’s court depth as either a pass or as a very low kill-shot winner.
Biomechanics of the Final Contact Phase
A low front wall target and Topspin swing mechanics to hit that spot optimally cause your kill-shot ball to bounce twice before the service line. A Slightly higher front wall target and adding Topspin produces a pass that bounces twice right before the back wall. What are those top swing mechanics? For the forehand, the final contact phase of the swing flows from forearm and hand being palm up and elbow flexed (in the racquet butt cap to target interim phase) to swing thru and turn the forearm and hand over to palm down as you’ve swung fully thru contact. For the backhand, swing from palm down and racquet butt cap to target to palm out to the sidewall and even all the way to palm up for your most exaggerated high to low Topspin, backhand stroking.
Drill Topspin Serves for Trophies
In addition to practicing your Topspin kill-shots and passing shots, drill your Topspin serves with both your forehand AND backhand strokes. Note that a drive serve is very much like a drop and hit (or a toss and hit) drill in the service box. Drilling serving is invaluable practice time spent working on your strokes, too. And drilling your serves increases your serving accuracy and it builds trust in your deep corner serve placements that you can then count upon at crunch-time in a match.
Roll Wrist into Snap vs. Side to Side Wrist Pop
Note that turning over the forearm and wrist is a free-flowing motion. It’s NOT only a side to side unnatural, braking wrist pop motion which, when done only sideways, could shock your elbow and wrist, with its jarring, attendant recoil action which sends vibrations traveling up your arm. Instead learn to flow and spin your elbow (where the elbow points forward before contact and it points backwards after contact) as you extend your arm, while turning your forearm over so the arm straightens right before contact when you interweave with your wrist to both snap and roll over and thru the ball producing Topspin and precise downwards shot angling. After contact, continue to swing on unfettered, with your full, flowing, follow-through until your racquet head points at the sidewall behind you or even until the racquet head points at the back wall behind you for your biggest, flourishing, flowing swings.
Developing Topspin; Why and How to Impart Topspin
Effects of Racquet Size Changes
The amount of Topspin that you can impart on the ball depends on several factors. One big factor is the change from the original shorter racquets and their small racquet heads to first the medium sized racquets of the 1990’s and their slightly larger heads to now both those earlier head sizes being dwarfed dramatically by today’s 22″ long racquet frames with their massive racquet heads and much longer frames. A major factor is the larger racquet face allows you to hit with more topspin for one reason because you are less likely to clip your frame should you miss your key strings’ spot when making Topspin contact.
Larger Frame = Bigger Stick…or Club
Second, the bigger racquet head also allows you to simply hit the ball harder. As a result of hitting the ball harder, the game today is played at a much faster pace than in the small and medium sized racquet eras. That’s not because today’s players are much more powerful or even that the racquet making materials have changed or drastically improved. It’s due to the racquet heads now being about two inches longer and wider, which allows players to potentially hit the ball with much more swing pace AND Topspin.
Sweet Spot Further Out = Longer Swing Lever
That swing pace is due in part to the racquet head designs of today’s longer frames, as both the quadriform and teardrop racquet heads set the sweet spot now much further out on the string bed than on the small and medium sized frames where the routine sweet spot was in center of the string bed or racquet face. For Quads, the sweet spot is well up above the old center sweet spot, as it’s set set about halfway between the center and the top of the frame. For Teardrop frames, the sweet spot is even further out closer to the top of the frame (and flirting with the ball contacting the frame). With the sweet spots being further out, it naturally creates more leverage or reach, as you swing. That extra reach allows for potentially more swinging power because you have a longer lever or longer swing radius. It’s like your arm grew a few inches! And further out = faster potential racquet head speed.
Optimally…Full Body Turn to Swing Thru and Close Racquet Face Thru Contact for Topspin
Third, to extract as much topspin as humanly possible from a stroke, players have learned…pivot body via leg drive –> hip flip –> core crunch –> shoulder/chest spin –> when combining with leverage or reach –> optimizes arm and wrist whip climax –> when snapping both forearm AND wrist –> explosively, spiraling and closing racquet face brushing strings up over ball by…
How to Impart Topspin
To hit with Topspin, brush the racquet strings upwards against the back of the ball and swing over top the ball with your racquet face.
Spin in to Front Wall = Spin Out + Lower Rebound
Note that a Topspin ball going into and caroming off the front wall retains that Topspin as it rebounds back out. That Topspin ball dives down more sharply onto the court after making contact with the front wall than a ball struck without Topspin. Also a topped ball take its first bounce earlier and closer up in the court. The Topspin ball also optimally takes its second bounce earlier and before the ball reaches the back wall. That earlier first bounce closer to the front wall is a major objective of Topspin stroking. A Topspin ball’s early bounce is much closer than a ball hit with zero spin. And it’s definitely much earlier than a ball struck with slice or under-spin. A sliced ball reacts by bouncing first deeper in the court. There a sliced ball bounds up higher to float and carry very vulnerably deeper into the court. Note that less effective racquet handle grips often are the culprit for slicing the ball.
Optimize Topspin by Swinging Up and Over Ball
To extract as much topspin as possible from your stroke, it’s useful to learn to swing up slightly at the ball, while tilting the racquet head forward when swinging thru and making contact with the ball. To accomplish that up and over the ball motion, at the bottom of your down arc (in your downswing that starts from your lifted loop backswing), start your contact phase with your racquet arm elbow arcing in just trailing your shoulder the racquet head now slightly below and behind the ball in the key racquet butt to target interim swing phase. That is right before your racquet head is about to enter the impact zone and –> THWACK! complete its final back to front arm and wrist rolling action. There you extend your arm via forearm turnover and overlapping wrist roll, as your snap reaches its crescendo when turning and setting your racquet face optimally slightly closing. There, as you’re swinging thru the ball, ideally brush over top the ball imparting Topspin. Due to both that spin and swing snap this flowing stroke significantly increases ball speed throughout your shot’s ball flight.
A Topspin Ball Has Less Drag
Four, a Topspin ball cuts thru the air much better due to its overspin creating airfoil, as air under it creates less drag or air resistance which causes a topped ball to fly thru the air much faster than a flat spin-less or sliced under-spin ball. That speed holds for both your Topspin ball’s inward flight to the front wall, as well as its return trip when rebounding back off the front wall. And that goes for Topspin kill-shots, passes, serves and even back wall saves struck with top.
Key Factors to Add Topspin
Note that the total amount of spin you place on a ball depends on a whole bunch of factors; they include:
(a) the incoming ball’s speed, spin, and angle;
(b) your racquet head’s speed, approach swing angle in to contact, and tilting of your racquet head as you swing thru the ball.
String Tension Quandary
The type of string you use factors in to how you apply Topspin plus how tightly your racquet is strung. Note that a looser string job creates more of a trampoline effect for longer ball to string contact which can produce more ball pace, but that’s at the risk of less control. A tighter string pattern keeps the ball in contact for less time on the harder string surface allowing for more pinpoint shot placement. So there you have a tradeoff, pace for placement. Since our topic here is Topspin and how it helps you control the ball better while providing ball speed, use string that you test out and see will work to contribute to your shotmaking accuracy. Generally closer to your manufacturer’s top end string tension is best.
Topping a Dropping Ball is Easier Than Topping a Ball On-the-Rise
Note that more topspin will be generated when you strike the ball while the ball is falling or dropping after the peak of its bounce, rather than when trying to impart Topspin on an incoming ball which is rising or on the rise. However, even when contacting a rising ball, it is doable to add Topspin to your shot. It’s a matter of controlling the ball’s angle. To add top to a rising ball, time your racquet face closing as you brush quickly over top of the ball, but add margin. What that means is there, at contact, consciously control your racquet swing path to control your shot angle so your shot does NOT dip too much, too fast which could end up in your skipping your high to too low shot. Here don’t go too low. Let the Topspin keep the rising ball down, not your overcompensating, overzealous low targeting.
Answer Low Top with Top of Your Own
Note that a low ball that bounces off the court coming toward you carrying with it topspin can be likewise returned with topspin. Although, to do that, the spin direction of the ball coming back toward you from off the front wall (or sidewall) that is turning over toward you must be reversed or redirected, again, by decidedly brushing up on the back of the ball when swinging very solidly thru contact to impart Topspin which counters (or removes and replaces) that incoming Topspin with Topspin of your own. Do that by slightly drawing the incoming ball in on your strings and turn over and spin the ball back toward your visualized front wall target. The final closing or shutting of the racquet face achieves that counter-spin. To dampen that incoming spin, draw the ball a little in on your strings while you still brush up and over top the ball. The objective is develop Topspin of your own; because, recall, racquetball is, at its very best, a “Topspin game”!!!!
How and why recognizing repeating patterns can elevate your strategic game
Identifying this pattern is THE foundation for in-the-now selecting of your owned racquetball tactic, which allows you to bring to bear your well-prepped, efficiency actions when playing each and every rally strategically.
Tactics = Skills; Strategy = Game Aim
Your racquetball strategies and your tactics that support them involve all of the ways you own that are in your game style, skill-set, game plan development and execution, and mental acumen at reading the game as you take quick mental snapshots and then call upon your perceptions and abilities to outplay your competitor based on what you know and perform best.
Strategies include ways to play tactically either offensively, when you play in attack mode as server or aggressor receiver, or they’re the ways you play defensively, when taking familiar efficiency actions to neutralize the competitor’s offensive tactics with your own countering defensive or keep away tactics. An example of an offensive shot tactic is to take a setup off the back wall and shoot your well-practiced long near corner pinch into the corner up along that sidewall. A defensive shot tactic would be to pursue a ball up in the court that’s moving away from you toward a sidewall, and you field it by taking a running swing to lift the ball up into the opposite front corner as a high Z shot intending to pull the opponent way back deep in the backcourt to reverse the situation, as you get to move into center court to go in attack mode.
Practicing Patterns of Play
Often players practice their shots (or at least their straight in kill-shots…). Sometimes they practice a series of shots or movements designed where they position themselves to cover the court and play an imaginary opponent’s shots. Sometimes to practice situational shots they feed themselves a ball and then they track it down, approach it, set their stance and prep to play the ball and shoot a shot that’s within their shot arsenal based on their drilling and similar ball feed situations, as well as match play game patterns like this one.
They don’t, in an organized way, often practice pattern of play recognition or practice their tactics while designing them to respond to patterns they see in routine play by conscientiously looking to recognize and act upon the patterns in match play, with their tactical response actions. When players do practice patterns, due to that specificity training, they learn to make good judgments and quick decisions in response to identified patterns, as they select from among a wide range of trained responses.
Also ideally they add in post play and after practice reps review (including video analysis for both) which helps determine their best owned or trained responses they feel confident they can trust and call upon in play, as well as areas for improvement they can address in future practices.
Practice Makes Perfect
By reviewing your play on video, with your coach or by soon after taking notes of your own, you see what works best. Reviewing it soon makes a very strong self impression. Then you drill them and own them to them have tactics at the ready to move and make shots that work offensively or that can turn the tide on your opponent’s attacking racquetball patterns by making the opponent have to D-up or take big chances shooting tough shots you want them to take from high contact or on the run and when going for wishful targets to end the rally in desperation. The training ground is where you develop more responses to those patterns to have more and better options for match play at every level of play up to world class level competition.
What is pattern of play recognition?
Pattern of Play (POP) Recognition
Recognizing a pattern is the ability to see order in what may at first appear to be sheer and total chaos. Play may often appear to be totally random. Really it turns out to be many, many repeated activities and situations. That is namely the game of racquetball: repetition. It’s the repeating of many identifiable, attack-able and defend-able situations that can be accommodated with your tactical efficiency actions that may turn the pattern wholly or in part in your favor and ideally redirect the pressure right back upon your opponent. POP’s are situations that routinely repeat themselves in games with a particular opponent. Or patterns may repeat themselves when competing with many players or most of the players you face in match play. When a new, unrecognizable pattern emerges, take a mental picture of it in your mind and make a mental note to spend time simulating or reproducing the new pattern. Practice it in your training, as well as look at variations on the pattern that you see put into effect in live play by others or in videos you analyze, while looking to develop responses that you judge will turn the pattern decidedly your way.
Read the Exchanges
While shot exchanges between 2 players (or in doubles 4 players) may seem random, a detailed look reveals that patterns keep repeating themselves over and over in every match. Look for the repeating patterns because they reveal strategic aims and tactics intended to attain those aims.
Here are a couple examples of patterns of play:
1. Where to direct 2nd serves…tactically, consistently servers attack their receiver’s backhand with their second serve;
2. With what stroke do you hit um high to low?…Players characteristically play controlled passes and ceilings with their backhand stroke while they use their forehand as a constant power stroke, overhead attacking tool and as a discernible, imposing shotmaking weapon;
3. Don’t preload your return–>Despite players nearly always trying to shoot down the line returns of serve as their Plan A, it’s important to reserve that return decision until you actually see the ball first. Use the DTL when you can execute your return before the serve reaches the rear corner by cutting it off with aggressive feetwork and out front ball contact. Although reconsider the DTL plan when the served ball has already popped off the back wall. Make note that often the opponent’s post serve move is to reposition themselves to guard the line.
POP Tactical Prep
Often a real problem for players is that they know what tactic to use against certain plays by the competitor, but they fail to recognize ALL of the many patterns being played on them or how to orchestrate or turn the pattern into one of their familiar, successful ones with their tactical choices. So they don’t have a full set of tactical responses to a wide range of POP’s that actually come at them in a game or match. They may not be looking to play out a rally they get in charge of starting with their serve, return of serve or momentum changing rally shot by playing the point into their game style with their learned movements, shotmaking skills and off the ball movements vs. those of their opponent’s. The object is first to see the POP. For instance, see where the ball is headed, where the opponent will be after they’ve played the ball, while factoring in the opponent’s potential further movements, and quickly determine whether you have offensive options or you need to be defensive and pick a response option to redirect the stress back upon the opponent by…
(1) pulling them deep;
(2) making them hit on the run; or
(3) less often test their quick reactions by hitting a scorching ball right at them.
—> Second, solve the pattern by going through your owned tactics and quickly to determine your best response in the moment. As you execute your tactics, also take note of that response and how it panned out as the pattern played out. In the course of play, when you see a response wasn’t effective, go to your Plan B response to the next pattern that’s similar. Or go further on down your depth chart of tactics, while continuing to evaluate the situation to see if there’s a better option or just a slight wrinkle in your moving or shooting. A minor change in shooting could include making a minor change in shot angle, spin, ball speed or a combination of two or more of those. ALWAYS explore ways to move better into coverage in or around center court. Also find ways how to move from that coverage to hustle down and most efficiently and effectively, play the ball, while ideally playing aggressively, even with your defensive shots. For instance, look to primarily pinpoint deeper targeted ceiling balls to pull the opponent back more quickly and disallow their being able to step up and short-hop a softer hit sliced ceilings right after that touch ceiling ball drops off the ceiling and bounces up.
Constantly Observe and Analytically Look at POP’s (with your racquetball logic and reason)
Like Tennis Coach and ex-player Brad Gilbert said in his book Winning Ugly, “You have to figure out who is doing what to whom”. That is integral to pattern of play recognition. Constantly observe what pattern your opponent is using against you. Then you will anticipate your best response sooner and you’ll quickly pick out your correct countering tactical answer from among responses you own at both a faster decision rate and with better implementation success. Should your Plan A be foiled ideally have an adaptive Plan B tactic in your hip pocket, or a Plan C, and so on. Of course, impose your patterns upon the opponent starting with your serve choices and your follow on movements into coverage. Then from your spot in coverage, be ready and champing at the bit to move to track down the ball the opponent hits and take routine shots you take and regularly make. Likewise pick your returns of serve matched to their serves AFTER YOU SEE their serve vs. dictating a specific return ahead of time. Include and mentally picture post contact movement after every serve, like the habit to turn ball side and look back over your shoulder to study the receiver’s ball approach, stance setting and stroke mechanics. Also subconsciously factor in moving post rally ball striking and make that part of your practice drilling so you train yourself to hit and move. Make it a priority to move into coverage, while including moving around the opponent when required. For example, in tight conditions look to dash along the side where they’re swinging through and making contact and follow their racquet head on forward vs. running around on the other side into the teeth of their follow-through. Key on apropos spotting up in coverage, as the opponent moves and plays your shot, you spot up to D-up and get ready to track down the next ball to shoot.
Factor in the spirit of this USRA rule into your tactics, movement and patterned play…
“(c) Responsibility. While making an attempt to return the ball, a player is entitled to a fair chance to see and return the ball. It is the responsibility of the side that has just hit the ball to move so the receiving side may go straight to the ball and have an unobstructed view of and swing at the ball. However, the receiver is responsible for making a reasonable effort to move towards the ball and must have a reasonable chance to return the ball for any type of hinder to be called. (That’s the last paragraph under Replay Hinders before the section on Penalty Hinder rules that covers, among others, the must allow shot angles straight in and cross-court to the far, rear corner).
A Tactical Example…the one-armed bandit
Imagine a player looking to dominate the rallies with their big forehand–>as they begin a pattern by shooting a shot at their competitor’s backhand. When their competitor’s return is attackable, they attack again with their forehand (while even running around their backhand to hit their favored forehand, even though they may glue themselves right up against their backhand sidewall). After moving their opponent to their backhand side, the forehand-only player looks to shoot the ball into the expected open court on their competitor’s forehand side either with a pass or by shooting a sidewall shot into their opponent’s backhand sidewall as a reverse pinch. So, after moving the opponent over to protect their backhand side, the objective is to then either place the ball across the court deep in the backcourt or short in the front court on the opposite side from their backhand, while using their forehand to dictate play. How do you respond to this one-armed bandit? First, if you’re covering the ball and your best response is a backhand, move quickly to hit the best backhand you can. Look to neutralize their forehand-only shot placement. After hitting quickly move into center court to negate their run you or trap you plans. If you can do it with your shot placement, look to make the one-armed bandit have to hit a running backhand. Allow them to position themselves up against their backhand sidewall while they hit a more difficult forehand and you’re in position to cover primarily a shot down along that wall. When you cover their shot and hit a good forcing shot, you put them out of position with lots more court to cover, as you cover say their shot to your forehand. Then start to run them!When you take away their ability to dictate the rally with their forehand, even their forehand technique may break down and their tactics will also break down. Then you can dictate play and move them until you get a chance to end the rally with a kill-shot or by placing an unretrievable pass out of their reach, while having your fallback plan to pound on their backhand or lift a lob or ceiling high and deep and tight into their backhand corner.
Reason Through Each Pattern at Play
At times it is very difficult to spot a pattern because players may use many, many patterns. For example, using your play as an example many times you pretty much must play the ball cross-court. The reason you must go with a cross-court may be because…
(1) Centering up–>Hitting cross-court buys you extra time it clears space for you into recover center court, while you run them over->there…;
(2) DTL’s blanketed–>The covering player may be crowding your down the line (DTL) shot option; so shooting cross-court to the less covered side is Plan A; or
(3) Ball out front–>Due to your positioning or the angle the ball is taking, your ball contact may have to be out in front of your body or, on the fly, perhaps your feet are pointing cross-court. Those situations lead you in to hit the ball where it wants to go, this time cross-court.
<—Go cross-court with impunity–>Those times the cross-court becomes your default, smart shot. Yet, even then, look to go with a wide angle pass (WAP). A WAP is intended to go all the way around the opponent and contact the far sidewall next to them in the air, while ideally making the ball bounce twice before the back wall. You may even go with a ceiling when you sense a WAP isn’t possible or when you read a 45 degree “V” angle shot will go right through their position. If those situations, the WAP, ceiling and V don’t appear to be there for you, another option is to go right at your opponent with a power shot directly at them from off the front wall. That is better than a soft, straight in feathered, push shot from your position when that shot is going to be left out to dry and open to being smoked by the opponent. A ball at them also beats hitting a V pass that feeds their turn and face the sidewall stroking strength. Also, another option or Plan E is to hit a ball that you angle off the far sidewall just up in front of the opponent causing the ball to deflect off and fly into their body looking to jam up their swing.
Constantly Look for a Wrinkle
Look for the slightly unusual and also very common shots that your competitor consistently plays. When they’re successful with one of those shots, first, try to not put them there in that position again. As an example, if they like to shoot long diagonal pinches from deep in both rear corners, first hustle to be in center court before the opponent can set their feet to shoot. Then you will NOT have to give up that angle. If your shot places them in their spot and you can’t get there in time to block the diagonal, camp on their pet shot and try to pressure their shot by both positioning closer up to the front wall and also pressure them with your effort to move up as they commit to swing forward to cover their cross front corner low shot. As a result of your coverage positioning or initiative to track down their shot attempt, maybe next time they’ll think twice and miss or leave up their shot. Or maybe they’ll choose another, weaker shot option you can more easily cover. An example would be leaving a ball off the back wall that angles out along a sidewall when your opponent consistently moves with that ball along the sidewall to shoot their splat into that wall in response. One time, as they turn their focus on the ball and they’re in the midst of taking their pet shot just as you catch a glimpse of their racquet butt cap pointing forward (=commitment to forward swing) dash forward with impunity and cover the splat from way up in the front court. If you get to the ball, that’s bad news for them and doubly good news for you. First, you may win the battle with your rekill and two, you win even when you almost get to their shot. You are taking the steps to win the war because they may rethink hitting the splat next time factoring in your tendency to make assertive movements. Next time maybe either they’ll force a down the line or a cross-court shot that pops off the back wall. Then you can HIT YOUR OWN SPLAT WINNER!
Hit to Their Backhand Until…
It’s tactically sound shooting to keep pounding on an opponent’s backhand, when…maintain that assault or focused attack on that backhand wing until their backhand proves less vulnerable. Note that a shot or serve that produces a ball jamming ANY opponent’s backhand, as the ball angles toward them off their backhand sidewall, is always a good tactic as a serve or as a wide angle or even “near angle pass” (NAP) shot option. Note that a “NAP” is a pass hit from along a sidewall intending to catch the sidewall deep in back court either on the fly or after the ball takes its 1st bounce to deflect off the sidewall on its way to its 2nd bounce, by design, before the back wall. That assault on their frisbee throwing wing is not only because backhands are generally weaker due to reasons among…
(a) poor backhand grips;
(b) poor stroke mechanics;
(c) poor belief systems in their backhand swing; or
(d) many players are overly dependent on their forehand which causes them to hedge over to more cover their backhand line.
–> Small backhand contact zone–>Even for very effective backhands or any backhand, due to the way we’re built the backhand stroke has a much, much smaller contact zone than the massive contact zone from back to front of the forehand stroke. Therefore a backhand is very jammable. Controlling the return when jammed is very tough. Sometimes it’s not even possible to defensively return the ball with a shot that will turn the tables to pressure the opponent defensively. As an example, that’s why in doubles, when serving, the opposite side partner sometimes serves going for the crack behind their own partner to jam up the receiver on that side when the ball will ricochet off that sidewall into that receiver’s backhand side hip.
How to Defend with Your Backhand Shield
For you best racquet positioning in center court or when returning serve, shield your body with your body. You can reflex back many body jammers in center court or when returning serve when you shield your body. To shield hold your racquet a little above waist level in your backhand grip with the strings facing forward with the racquet head your shield. You can still thrust your elbow back ultra fast from there for a forehand. Or, for a bigger backhand, throw your racquet handle holding fist quickly back…
Mix It Up, But Then Cover Up
Play to say a righty forehand when they leave that side of the court wide open. However, also follow up by following the ball over so you cover their forehand line just in case they move over, cover your shot and go with a running DTL answering shot. Your cover move is because the opponent may cover their open side with their movement. Then they may counter by keeping the ball on that side when thinking either you won’t follow them over or one of their tendencies may be to primarily hit DTL’s from along the sidewalls or, in this case, they may hit DTL’s specifically along their forehand sidewall. As another pattern, they may return your cross-court shots with their own cross-courts. So then you must recognize and be ready to cover those V angled shots. But, as a result of your good, legal positioning, don’t give up wide angle passes (WAPs) when they’re being hit from deep in the rear corners. You restrict their options to the USRA rules required DTL and V cross-court by assuming the diagonal. That means locate on the diagonal, as you position yourself between ball in deep court and opposite front corner. There you give up the V cross-court to the far, rear corner and the straight in shot DTL from where they contact the ball. If you’re too far over on the far side of the court, you give up the WAP angle that you don’t have to allow. Again, as an example, pattern reading-wise take note to see if the opponent primarily uses down the wall or straight in shots all of the time, as they reply to your DTL’s with their own DTL’s and they counter your V’s still with DTL’s. Also throughout a game watch each time and keep a running track and design your responses after you strike the ball to move into your coverage spots, along with moving from there with your ball tracking feetwork and shot options intent on countering the opponent’s common shot patterns and their positions. If they, for instance, return your cross-courts with their cross-courts, move to intercept their cross-court. To do that, drop step with your frontmost foot and then crossover with was the trailing foot, but will now be the front of your striking stance. One optional response is to attempt to go DTL. When successful with your change of direction shot, you cross them up AND their cross-court exchange tactic.
Even Sporadically Used POP’s Reoccur
It’s much easier to recognize a pattern of play when it happens over and over in a match. However, when a pattern doesn’t happen as often, that pattern may be much more difficult for you to spot. For example, look for where the competitor likes to serve in certain key game situations. Players very often serve down the backhand side of the receiver with their drive serve, drive Z serve, or a nick lob when they look to close out a game when serving at game point or even the lead up points when looking to run out a game. You know that so you can be pretty sure your competitor is also aware of that routine serving pattern, too. As a countering tactic, should you get a chance to serve out a game yourself, consider a plan of attack on the receiver’s forehand with your disguised, very well-practiced (so it’s effective) serve which directly attacks their forehand. That tactic could pay big dividends because of the element of surprise. By optionally going with that unexpected pattern…
(a) the receiver may go the wrong way and then they may be either unable to recover in time to return your serve to their forehand;
(b) the receiver may recover poorly and hit a weak return you can immediately attack;
(c) when the receiver does catch up to the ball on the run, they may overcompensate and overhit their forehand donating you a setup;
(d) the receiver may be caught in a backhand grip and that may cause them to mishit their forehand return; or
(e) the receiver may lift to the ceiling giving you a chance to boss the rally by going for an aggressive shot, like an overhead passing attack on their just vacated backhand side.
POP’s Define Cover Positioning
Shots which signal a player’s pattern of play are like noting every shot of theirs goes down the line (DTL). So then your counter tactic is to hedge over and blanket the line with your positioning, while still giving up the required V cross-court pass to the far, rear corner. As another option, instead of DTL most of their shots may be directed into the near sidewall as pinches and splats. Then your coverage would be to start in center court close to the dashed line and be ready to crossover with the trail, deeper foot and take off to sprint forward into the front court when you read a sidewall shot. Take off right as the opponent commits with their racquet arm driving forward. Those patterns also define your court depth decisions in your coverage positioning. For passers, hang back behind the dashed line and also be ready to take 2 steps out to intercept their DTL along the sidewall; with rear foot jab step out and then front foot crossover forward. For pinchers and splatters, straddle the dashed line and be ready to dash forward into the front court to cover the ball after its first bounce before it reaches the 2nd sidewall. Or, when their sidewall shot is overhit and higher, after it bounces and stays up to catch the 3rd wall, be ready to step back with your rear foot and then move back in with your front foot in to shoot the left up sidewall pinch or splat with your best response shot, while factoring in ball angle and spin.
How can you improve your pattern of play recognition?
Be Live Play and Video POP Analyst
First, watch in person live racquetball matches or watch live events on the internet. Also watch archived matches on YouTube or other racquetball websites. Try to figure out what it is that each player is trying to accomplish by playing certain shots or certain series of shots and why they move as they do and position as the opponent moves and takes their cuts. Watch their serve and return of serve and their follow on movements and their next shot and so on. At first you may only see shots and moves and you may not see the connection between the two. For example, you may see a ball hit to the left and then their next shot is to the right of the court, as the shooter centers up each time. Then then they hit a pinch shot followed up by a passing shot to a back corner. Is there a pattern there? It may seem random, but it’s definitely possible that there is a pattern. The pattern may well be to keep their opponent running as much as possible, while giving them a nice tour of the court. First they move their opponent side to side. Then, when they can they hit a low shot, that pushes the getter forward. And then, with next shot being a pass, they pull them way back into the backcourt, while the tour guide moves up to shoot any possible left up return…and then they serve and do it all over again, with slight variations.
What Are Your Patterns?
The evolution of your game is the development of your own winning patterns, as well as your other patterns that neutralize the best of patterns of the opponent. For example, do you ever play wrong footing shots where you hit behind the opponent as they hit from one side and as they’re recovering back to the middle? If the opponent shoots from well off to one side and they clearly hustle to the center after contact, as they leave open the place where they just shot the ball, as you track down their shot watch them, too, and, if you can, play their ball assertively and look to hit shots behind them catching them basically going the wrong way and on the wrong foot. Also, are your shots always playing the ball into a clearly open court when a player is well off to one side? Do your neutral shots attack your opponent’s backhand? Do you shoot angled shots off the sidewall into the opponent? Do you shoot your shot into the sidewall as a pinch or splat when you have the opponent trapped up against that very same sidewall in a position behind you? Do you take calculated risks to move and take a chance returning serves when the server you face is Robin Hooding either back corner where, if you wait until you see the angle, you may just manage fledgling, stabbing get. Then it’s okay to guess and pick a side sometimes. It’s a 50/50 chance you may be right. Better yet study their form and look for tells that will reveal their serve angle or patterns where they serve a certain location after a long rally or to close out a game.
Read POP’s Being Played on YOU!
Constantly look for the patterns and tactics being played on you.
Play as a Constant, Rapt POP Observer
Take your pattern recognition onto the court in match play and observe the patterns your competitor is playing on you. Your competitor may play some patterns consciously, while others they may play subconsciously. For example, due to their low contact only backhand grip, all balls above waist level they may routinely lift up to the ceiling. One pattern counter play by you is to serve your off speed lob and deliver it at chest high down to as low as waist high intentionally tempting the opponent to hit high to low with their return when using that weaker grip, while you position yourself to cover their hopefully weak reply. Of course, avoid overhitting your off speed lob serve so that your serve might pop off the back wall where the receiver can use that low contact grip to swing at a setup which would turn the tables and give them a jolt of confidence. A backup plan to serve a “Jason Mannino lob” is your off speed Z serve that you can pretty easily ensure it won’t bounce and carry to pop the back wall, as it angles into its designated corner to involve the sidewall deep in the corner.
Play POP Aware
When you become really good at noticing “who is doing what to whom”, then you know very quickly what counter-pattern or contra-tactic or counter-tactic or whatever you want to call what you use in response. Realize you do a lot of stuff to your competitor. They may have no idea that you’re playing a smart tactical game instead of just randomly hitting balls all over the court or where you just feel like hitting it. Make sure you are recognizing patterns and then responding with your best tactical options that are the ones with which you’re both most familiar and those that have proven to be most reliable in similar patterns in this and past matches which you can look back upon for insights and confidence. When you make those tactical decisions, your odds of success will skyrocket. On the hand, when you wing it, you leave yourself open to counter-tactics by the opponent. Then you may be unable to recognize an unexpected pattern or you may be unable to respond quickly and effectively enough. Then you’re not figuring what’s being done to you because you’re not doing something to them that you have agency over, understanding of and control over because you’re not playing when consciously using YOUR tactics.
A POP Example Contra-Tactic
Here’s an example of a pattern of play and a contra tactical response that diverts the pressure from you back onto your competitor. When you serve a drive Z and you see it’s not a great one, you don’t have to just suck it up and watch them smoke the setup. You see your Z is going to bounce, strike the far sidewall, and you further recognize that, due to being overhit, your Z serve is going to carom off the sidewall to carry and pop off the back wall for your receiver to shoot a setup. Here’s what you do: first, quickly read that it’s a non-ideal pattern. Very often their Plan A return will be a near corner pinch into the front corner on that same side of the court where you’ve hit your Z because the ball spin sets up so nicely for that low, long near corner pinch. As you see and know your serve is popping off and you see the receiver is setting up to shoot, get ready. Right as they commit with their racquet flying forward (when you can see the butt cap of their racquet pointing at you), take off and dash forward into the front court to cover that pinch. Know that forward movement tactic can work for you in a few ways. If you get to the ball, that’s great; rekill their kill-shot. However, even if you don’t cover the pinch that time, part 2 of your tactical effort is you make a strong impression upon the opponent’s future shot options and psyche. First, you let the opponent know that you take chances in coverage by moving from center court to cover shots you anticipate (or see) are coming. You firmly plant that thought in their head for the next time they think about going for a near corner pinch (or another shot in a completely different pattern where you just look ready to bolt). Next time they might press and miss. Or they might try another shot that, for them (and you), is far less effective. That same tactic might go on to affect many other shots they take when they may be thinking about you instead of their own patterns, moves, stroking form and the ball. They may even take their eye off the ball and mishit their shot because they’re too busy looking around for you! Then you’ve got um.
Systematically dissect your competitor’s game…
Strategizing is your overall planning and developing of a tailored game plan for this opponent and for your capabilities contra-them. Strategizing is developing your tactical actions how you are going to play this particular match. It’s what you decide to do going in or what you design strategically and tactically in advance of play. That preplanning is not exactly what you’ll do realtime. Then you’ll play with the mindset going in to adapt with your strategy in this game or series of games. In the moment in match play is when you take tactical, efficiency actions in support of your established strategic aims that are in your pre-play game plan. An example would be how you play against your opponent’s lob serve game. At first you may choose to stay back and lift good ceiling ball returns intent on pulling the server back so you can reverse your positions where you get to move up into center court, as they field your ceiling way deep in the backcourt. Say though that when waiting deep and trying to lift the ceilings, it’s less successful than you would like because their lob is so high and tough to lift and get to go back deep in the backcourt or you can’t respond with a good and non attackable ceiling ball. Optionally, just when the opponent already commits to their lofted lob service motion, quickly step up to just behind the dashed line; not too close now, as even a half step behind the broken line is initially good. From there one option is to take the ball on the rise right after it bounces and lift it earlier from there up to ceiling. Or, from there, another option is to go for a high Z shot high into the cross front corner to run the server back, while you adhere to your strategy of pulling the server back while you’re moving up and occupying valuable center court position where you look to attack and keep your opponent steadily on the run. Of course, an even more aggressive option is to short hop the lob, when you can. Then either look to hit a pass by them DTL or cross-court away from them. If doable, you could shoot a low kill-shot, like a pinch shot, to push them forward ideally after they’ve begun to retreat to cover your initially established ceiling return or your expected passing shot as the server sees you short hopping the ball.
3 Main Strategies
Basically there are 3 main rally strategies of play you could choose from. They include…
1. OVERPOWER –
One strategy is to play to overpower the competitor. Here you attack from the backcourt with powerful passing shots and overheads, while you also follow up by moving into center court to pressure the opponent’s next possible shot, as they ideally field the ball from behind you while they’re on the dead run.
2. OUTLAST –
Another strategy is to outlast the competitor. Here you out-rally them by being more consistent with your responses to their shots, with deep passes, ceiling balls that fall just short of the back wall or ceilings that make contact very low on the back wall, along with selective low shots when you catch the opponent hanging too deep. You try to sap their energy with your efforts to win by attrition or by wearing them to a frazzle, with lots of running to cover your well-placed passes, ceilings, high Z’s and even your back wall saves. For an example of when to use back wall saves as a weapon, watch any archived match in which Paola Longoria plays. She uses them when a ball gets by her or when she senses a less than penetrating or less than perfect low passing shot or risky kill-shot would potentially feed her opponent an easy shot. Honestly players hate to move. Fielding back wall saves require feetwork and stroking technique when they have to move and play the ball aggressively on the move at first and setting their feet so it doesn’t reveal their choice. Also note that although your running them with well placed shots it doesn’t mean you’re sapping your own energy. You hit and move to cover what you expect they’ll do in response, while keeping them moving from corner to corner running down your keep away placements while you’re diligently centering up so you move from that best position to play the next ball while you’re playing keep away from them.
3. OUTTHINK –
Another strategy is to outthink the competitor. Here you vary your game and produce versatile shot selections and coverage moves, while you constantly change your sideways shot angles and placement depth in the court by exercising height control when targeting the front wall or sidewall. For example, intentionally look to catch the sidewall with your deep court passes by bouncing the ball just a little wider so the ball bounces and deflects off the sidewall within just a few feet of the back wall or so the ball goes wide enough to be a WAP angling all the way around them. Those slightly wider angles get the ball just out of reach of even the most in pursuit, hard working opponent. Also go for low sidewall pinches or splats as kill-shots when you see the opponent is too deep in coverage or they’ve set you up and the sidewall shot you’re using is one of your well-drilled, reliably effective favorites. Sometimes go for vanilla straight in or cross-court kill-shots, when the opponent is out of position to cover that particular chosen angle. Basically avoid shooting the ball right to them unless you predict, for them, a very disappointing rollout.
4. MIX IT UP –
Us a variety of power to overpower, placements that run or move the opponent with smart, aware shot choices and court movements to out play the opponent by using tactics borrowed from all of the basic strategies and tactics you see and assimilate so you make them your very own.
Strategy is based on the following factors:
a) Game Style –
Strategy is based on your own personal game style. Also your strategy is often affected by how you respond to your competitor’s game style, as well. It’s all about the match up between you and your opponent. Your primary challenge is to find ways to impose your own style of play upon the opponent’s, as well as having tactics that support your style to respond to their serves, returns of serve, rally shooting tendencies, court positioning and movements. If you’re a drive server and passing shot specialist, you look to shoot serves and passes going for placements in either rear corner. And, as well as moving the opponent with your rear corner attack, you use your coverage movements to position yourself well in center court, while using your feetwork skills first to get into center court, as well as to move from there to cover their shots and shoot your shots. The opponent then must be concerned with your movement you effectuate as you track down and play the ball. They must factor in your movement into their own shot placement and court movement. If you’re a lobber, you’re a rallyer who wants to start and boss a rally where ceilings, overheads and forays into the front court are commonplace to adjust to the shot selections of the opponent that either mirror your own or they may be an overhead and passing shot cranker who wants to make your ceilings less accurate and your game style not quite so effective by making you stretch. Ideally you morph yourself into a combo player who has the best qualities of several styles, and, as such, you can deal with whatever you face and skew the rallies your way or play to your court strengths while the opponent must keep up with your versatile, unpredictable, chameleon-like, hybrid game that has the best of all worlds in its serving, returning, covering and a vast array of shots so that you’re a feared “shotmaker” and tough server.
b) The Kind of Opponent –
Adjust your strategy to the perceived (or apparent) level of your competitor that day. That includes their shotmaking versatility, court coverage and serve+return skill-set. For example, if you see them as a great shooter, look to move them so they must hit on the run. If they appear to be great on the run, perhaps make them more of a stationary shooter fielding balls from way back deep in the backcourt. Back there make them return nick lobs, deep ceilings and WAP’s designed to leave the ball deep in the backcourt.
c) Who are you TODAY? –
Match your strategy to your personality AND your mindset that very day. Some days you may feel particularly aggressive. Then you’re a killer, a died in the wool killer kill-shot shooter and cutoff specialist. Other days your mindset may be to rally and look to run um till they drop, while you capitalize on their overzealous shooting. Another facet to consider is getting yourself up for the event; and know that every day IS an event. You want to play at your optimum level. It’s important you find the mindset that works best for you and that you attain that just right arousal level. That can mean being calm and collected and a smooth swinger. Or you may need to get really charged up to play highly aggressive ball. Find out how you play at your very best and how to reach your peak level with mental and emotional stimuli, self talk, warm up methods, as well as by using your developed relaxation responses from your on-court routines between rallies (and even as you make your final approach on the ball to shoot) to calm yourself and play collected and composed, even when you’re playing balls to the wall!!!! which means HARD!
d) IAW COMPETITOR –
Set your strategy in accordance with (IAW)……”Who is today’s competitor?” Go through a personal questionnaire…Have you played this player before? Is this the very first time? Did you get a chance to scout this opponent prior to playing them? Even when you’ve played this player before, it’s good to revisit their stroke timing, serve arsenal, movement tendencies, and shot choices. Also, against this foe you’ve faced before, what were their serves and returns, as well as what were your prior serves, returns, rally shots, positioning, post returning and serving moves and then moves in and out of coverage to get-that-ball? Be aware players change and evolve AND so do you! …In case scouting wasn’t possible, use the pregame warmup period to watch the challenger’s timing, stance angles, shot pace and drilled shot selections. That last grouping of shots drilled often defines they’re favorite shot placements. Although few do take time in the warmup to: (a) hit a few serves; or feed themselves a ball; or run and hit; or hit even one overhead –> although you know they should because as soon as the first ball is dropped you know your intent is to make them have to do one or even all of those things, under competitive duress…I digress. Also start the match as an extension of your scouting time of the player you’ve played before or the new player you’re taking on for the very first time. Feel them out as you trade punches, er, shots, like a boxer starts out round 1 exchanging punches. Find where this opponent is strong, where they’re weak or unsure, and where you sense you can be most effective with your serve and shot placements, as well as pay particular attention where they reposition themselves after serving or shooting especially when making contact from deep court. Also, find where you’re less effective against this particular opponent. Then, in the now, mask those weak areas or find either a Plan B option or rediscover your own technical superiority, with better movement, more accurate serves, smarter, sharper returns of serve, while enhancing your stroking form when using your tempo, as opposed to theirs. Routinely adjust within your own strategy when you see openings and also to keep being deceptive or hard to read. Do what you do well without forcing or overthinking it. Use variations in angle, pace, spin and even modify where in the court you look to shoot. For example, oftentimes wait for ankle bone low contact, which often means drop back to allow the ball to drop very low and then sweep through with your low ball forward swing. Other times, for instance, in a high paced rally when you’re in mid court, be more assertive and move up to go for short-hops, swing volleys when making midair contact, and baby overheads (with head high and slightly lower than head-high contact, as placement rules, even for overheads). Also, optionally go with rally-aggression-shooting. Mindset: you can’t be passed…go for 3-wall shots when you make passing shot cutoffs. When you’re forced to move and hit on the move in the front court or in between the lines, fold in your on-the-run high Z’s when you sense that’s THE play to pull the opponent way deep while you get to move into center court to watch them struggle and see if you get to shoot from center orvmove out of center and shoot a winner!!!
Play to Your Strengths, vs. the Opponent’s
Set your strategy to accommodate your shooting, serving, returning, moving into center court, positioning, moving to track down the ball, approaching the ball, and perform ALL those skills in accord with your playing and stroking cadence, tempo and rhythms. There’s 2 things your opponents cannot control. One, you control mind or what you’re thinking and, two, your spirit or the heart you play with and depend on to play with passion and belief that is all your own. Some may influence your thinking and your spirit, but you have the final say on what you dwell on and your emotions and character.
Your strategy or overall aims are set according to your level of confidence each and every day. Feed that self confidence by tapping into your mental strength. Repeat centering pre-point routines when you serve and before return their serve. Also have a routine approach as you play every single ball when time is your ally in a rally to go for aggressive passes or they’re not gonna touch this kill-shots. Depend upon knowledge you know you gain as you train. Review and rely on your past playing experiences and even how you’re playing that very day. Keep up your belief in your game plan while you compete as a thinking player who plays with singled minded purpose, while keeping to your plan. Know that your past efforts in training and playing gives you powerful reference points into how you play at your level best in key patterns. Look to raise your level of play as each game and match progresses by studying the opponent’s patterns in the now. With that insight, conjure up your best responses that you know work, as well as impose your own patterns upon the opponent’s game that you have confidence in and sense will give them fits, while you keep track of their success, as you maintain a readiness to adjust when needed with tactical movements, stroke control, versatile serves and shots and the ability to produce variations in angle, pace, spin and moves that significantly change the momentum or timing of a match.
Have a Code You Play By or Your Own Court Rules
Play hard and smart and use the time between points or the time you make as you set up to shoot to make good, routinely used, effective shot selections and produce repeatable trustworthy form. Own rules that define your level of play, like…
(a) “I let the ball drop low to shoot my lowest”;
(b) “I move off the ball when the opponent is moving to shoot and as they approach the ball my movement up until right before they swing pressures their shot planning”;
(c) “I freeze as the opponent is just about to make contact so that as I “land” after taking a little jump or after a split step or after I get up
on my “toes” I move to cover the shot I read vs. staying glued in center court playing wishful spectator”;
(d) “I move my eyes to my contact point early after reading the incoming ball as it’s coming from a distance, while depending on my early pickup of the ball’s closing angle and calling upon my muscle memories to increase my racquet face control efficacy”;
(e) “I play at my own stroke and game tempo vs. theirs”; and
(f) “I s–l–o–o–o–w–it–way–down between rallies when I figure out what’s going on and how to exploit the patterns being played to turn them into mine by relying on an array of options I own to respond”. Mentality: “I never lose…I just run out of rallies to play”…bottom line: I say to myself, “Figure it out!”
STRATEGIZE ON THE FLY –
Strategy success is how well prepared you are for this particular match. If you are well prepared, stick to script. If you aren’t as well prepared as hoped for this competitor, go with your routine best. Again, like a boxer, feel them out in the first few rallies. Then settle on the tactics for the strategy you’ve selected that you see being spot on for this competitor which you feel strongly are the best options you sense will work best. However be ready to be flexible and then adjust as play unfolds. It’s key to not be stubborn nor non adaptive. Be alert and comprehend the patterns and then quickly problem solve. Constantly search for winning options as you explore pattern solutions. If one serve is eating your lunch, serve it the opponent and see what they do, in the classic monkey see, monkey do ideally you’ll fall into success. Also, search through your memory banks for your known winning patterns you sense could produce winners this time against this particular opponent. If you run into something completely new, pick a counter move you sense will work, but don’t go for too much by trying to win the point too early or by playing with desperation. Although do play with a sense of urgency, while making calculated choices. If it’s a shot with angle or spin that’s giving you fits, look to pass or lift to the ceiling or stroke a high Z to neutralize that tough challenging shot vs. panicking and going for broke with a shot from an off balance stance (or when leaping up off the ground at contact). That’s like when using an oversized prep that’s inappropriate for the time you’ve made tracking down and approaching the ball. When it gets tough, make it look simple. When it’s easy, instead of making it look like a walking the park, be clinical, complete, fluid, and rhythmic, while leaving nothing out. Make it look hard demonstrating all the care you take to move to perfectly confront this ball with a matching careful stance, a full backswing, a flowing, hiccup free downswing and shot shaping of the best form you can muster. An example of a choice that demonstrates your variation or improv skills is spinning and hitting an in to in pass back along the wall you set your back to with your forehand, along, for example, your backhand wall. Or mirror image with an in to in backhand going for your rear forehand corner when turning quickly and hitting that off stroke from along your forehand wall intending to place the ball so it hugs that sidewall.
WHAT ARE TACTICS? –
Tactics are the efficiency actions you take and their success is measured by how well they implement your strategy. Tactical efficiency actions are based on the following factors…
a) KNOW THYSELF –
You be must constantly aware of your capabilities and liabilities or your strong and weak moves when positioning yourself in coverage and when moving from center court to track down and approach this ball to shoot. After shooting, it’s important how you rebalance and recover to move into center court again. Likewise monitor your shot picking, shot visualizing, shot shaping, and maintain consciousness of your shot versatility or array of options. All those relate directly to the the moment at hand you have to play this specific ball. Additionally track your service arsenal of both first and second serves. Pay attention to post serve, to after returning and to post rally shot recovery moves into defensive coverage tailoring them toward your trained reading of the opponent’s shooting and your assertive, committed ball tracking when moving out of center court. Emphasize your movement from out of your serve location. With the mindset to follow your shot in, do your routine moves from where you return to flow into coverage, as part of your return actions. Pay particular attention to your approaching moves to address each and every ball to shoot with high aggression and play effective keep away with your shot placements, including, for example, those pinches that are there for the taking but require key grip changes, angling off to the target, feel for your sidewall target spotting, and fluid, smooth, repeatable stroking technique form. As examples of tactical shooting, go with…(a) deeper target ceiling ball; (b) more direct high Z; or, (c) go for broke with a crack out on the sidewall on your serve or with your passing shot, including shooting passes when aiming for the back corners. The cracks are there for a purpose. Use them!
b) KNOW YOUR PREFERENCES –
Know your preferences or when to execute certain positional or ball tracking moves and certain shots when responding to a recognized pattern of play that you see and solve on the fly. That’s invaluable self knowledge. Practice develops that knowledge, as does the mindset in your practice games, in your patterned drills, in your studious watching film of your own games (or drilling) or others’ competitive games, as you watch to assess and learn and say to yourself, for instance, “I would’ve done X”. Spend time game planning and determining your weaknesses or areas for improvement where you see practicing certain facets of your game can fill those gaps with improving skills. Always constantly evolve your skills for movement, court positioning, ball tracking, ball approaching, swing tempo maintenance for your back and then down, out and thru swings to control your ball striking, with racquet face aiming (or angling) and swing trajectory or racquet flow path “art”, which racquet path and swing path combining to define effective shot shaping and shot placement.
c) YOUR IMPROV SKILLS –
Know your ability to create shots through improvisation. However that doesn’t meant invent new shots on the fly. Everything you do is renditions of your best or a version of your ultimate stroking technique. And that means often slightly smaller or compact versions of your full, French Open flowing stroking form you’d use for that beach ball sized setup off the back wall when the ball is flowing into a front corner corner for the shot-that-comes-with-its-own-set-of-directions corner sidewall shot. Do what you do well with on the fly adjustments and changes in shot placements based on making minor stroking changes to produce variations in ball spin, pace and by how you control your racquet face angle at contact and your swing path thru the back of the ball and on to target to shape your shot angle and define the action and even swerve you place on a ball.
d) YOUR STRATEGY’s TACTICS –
Know that all previous preparation of tactics you’ve done for this specific strategy has built both well-seated confidence and autopilot execution, as well as self belief that your tactics are effective, adaptable and very versatile. Yet you’ve many backup tactics and even a Plan B (or more) strategy in case you run into something (or someone) you didn’t anticipate.
PATTERNS OF PLAY TACTICS
Your responses to a pattern include the specific combination of actions you take to move to D-up and then move from there to assertively play the ball. They’re the court position you take up to serve, return and D-up from central spots in the middle of the court. That
also goes for where you pick your rally contact positions based on your defensive coverage, your committing to go, as you transition to ball tracking, your ball approaching, your setting your striking stance from a wide variety of stances, and your using measured prep, swing tempo (both backswing and downswing), and post stroke (or serve) recovery moves that foster consistent, MASSIVELY important off-the-ball movement. All together those comprise the tactics that are meant to achieve your game strategy. Also, tactics are a specific response to a given shot (or serve or movement) by the opponent. But even that single response is not done in a bubble. After following through when completing your stroke, flow with your feetwork to clear (but not too far away) to where you spot up in coverage according to your shot placement. Players often either clear too far from being able to cover a DTL or they don’t clear far enough away from blocking the straight in angle, and, even more often, they occlude the V cross-court angled shot. Also play while keying on your tendency to move from your cover spot to track down and crank on the ball. Part of that tactic that is characteristic with all of your tactics: follow up and repair activity. You miss a shot or drop a rally, you let it go, but you fix what happened. You have short term memory loss. You miss one shot or lose a point due to an opponent’s phenomenal shot, you let that go and you reload for the very next rally. You still make sure to repair grievous errors in shot selections, like eliminating high to low wish and a prayer on the run shots from way deep in the backcourt. You correct stroking form technique poor endings, like looping the racquet in an upwards motion at the end of your swing which encourages a lifted shot trajectory. You know a back to front low racquet flow path produces a low shot path for passing shots. Or a slightly angled down path produces a kill-shot angle straight in or into the sidewall for a tight target for a near corner pinch or a sidewall target chosen in relationship to the ball’s distance from the sidewall and the height of your contact for a splat. For sidewall shooting, you’re conscious of producing inside out shots into the right hand wall with right turn ball spin or into the left wall with left turn spin.
Each tactic has its twin or backup plan tactic or a set of optional tactics that make this Plan A strategy adaptive and unpredictable. There’s lots of sub-tactics that make up your efficiency actions which cause your game to be unreadable or unpredictable and a highly adaptive and effective one. One example of a technique tactic is the tendency to consistently look to close your stance as you approach each and every ball. But you don’t over close your stance by overstepping to the sidewall with your front foot. From a partial closed stance with half of the front foot beyond the back foot out to the sidewall (or even a partially open stance with front foot half a foot behind back foot) your striking stances are optimal. From there, you shoot with optimum balance, while producing great potential force, and the ability to execute shot versatility, which contributes to being a deceptive and hard to read attacking player. You own the ability to hit and move (another boxer technique). Recover after hitting each time to both get out of the way and to move into your best coverage position. Then, from there in coverage, you are ready to move best to track down and attack the ball to stroke with your form this very next ball to take advantage of the very next shooting opportunity.
BE TACTICALLY ADAPTIVE – Here Are Sample Tactics and Action Solutions…
Should All Serve Returns Go DTL?
It’s overly simplistic to mandate that all of your returns of serve should go DTL for all returns all the time. You must be ready to adapt for each and every serve you field, while also factoring into the return equation the opponent’s position, as well as your own, and the ball’s location vs. pigeonholing yourself into going for only the one return. For example, DTL would maybe be way too tough when you get jammed by a serve ricocheting at you off one sidewall. Or a DTL may be too tough to control when you’re running down a wrap around (or jam fly serve or shot). A jam fly is a cross-court ball that angles over, contacts one side wall, bounces, and caroms off the back wall. Then, while on the run, you track down the ball as it’s popping off the back wall and veering and spinning hard toward the opposite sidewall. Note that heavy generated spin may be hard to remove to shoot an effective straight in return. Covering any ball angling off the back wall and flying out along a sidewall a splat may be your good response. As another example, in the case when a ball is already moving away from you and heading cross-court it’s natural to look to hit the ball where it wants to go vs. trying to force the ball where you can’t control its angle which might cause you to skip or push your shot instead of making solid ball contact. Although that doesn’t mean just go for a V pass. That 45 degree angle pass may just feed the expectant, well positioned opponent (as they see your out front contact–just as you would if you were in coverage). Instead consider a bigger angle to produce a wide angle pass (WAP). Curl the ball all the way around the opponent by looking to contact the front wall a little over halfway between ball contact and the far sidewall, while feeling for contact on the far sidewall right next to the opponent, with the intent to pass them by or pull them way deep in the backcourt having to deal with a ball popping off the sidewall and zipping back to bounce twice before the back wall. Or, when the WAP shot is hit low enough, it may crack out low on that far sidewall making them have to deal with that crack bounce.
From Deep Court, with the Opponent in the Front Court or Further Up in Center Court, Do You Only Go for a Pass or a Ceiling?
It’s shortsighted to dictate all returns from deep court must be hit as passes or as ceilings. When you get a back wall setup in deep court, a near corner pinch or shot direct to the front wall as a DTL or cross-court kill-shot may be in your shotmaking wheelhouse or drilled skill-set. Those back wall setups are prime opportunities to go for a winner to capture the rally outright vs. hoping or waiting until you have that perfect setup from close up in the court. Now, when your opponent is basket hanging or camped out way, way up in the front court, it’s worth noting that then, if you go for a kill-shot, only a rollout will work. Then, for your first choice, reconsider low board shooting and play keep away with a passing shot. Also, with your passing shot angle, look to avoid the opponent all together. Don’t even give them a whiff at making a stabbing get by reaching our for your pass as it passes by them worse case just a little too close for comfort; nor blast a pass directly at them unless you can’t avoid them based on the angle or spin action on the ball you’re playing. If a pass is hard to control, consider hitting a ceiling ball. Although note that even a softly hit ceiling could be taken on the rise by an opponent locates far up in the court by playing the ball as it drops off the front wall and bounces up vulnerably. So go for a deeper target ceiling to make the ball drop faster and bounce up much, much quicker. Even then look to angle that (or any) ceiling ball away from your front court (and say on the line) hanging opponent. In that example, hit a cross-court ceiling when the opponent is positioned closer to your down the line ceiling ball angle. They’re probably going to be expecting a straight ceiling; get them used to disappointment by having to deal with your cross-court angles ceiling.
When is Shooting DTL Tactically at Risk?
A misunderstood use of tactics is the penchant to hit a DTL when making contact from very deep in the backcourt in the midst of an extended rally. That’s especially the case when the opponent is already camped out on the line expecting exactly that very shot (AND the ball you’re playing isn’t a super low contact setup). Unless your passing shot ball perfectly wallpapers the sidewall your DTL will be very vulnerable and prone to being cutoff by a well positioned opponent who is ready to step out into your passing lane. Then doom-may-loom. First, when the opponent can move over and cut off your down the wall shot, they will be making contact from in front of you. At that point you’re either pinned behind them in deep court or you’ve moved you’re behind them in the middle of the court. You’re there at their back honestly hoping they’ll leave up the ball. Where their next shot will be placed could be totally obscured from you by how they position themselves as they make contact. Also they might, and they often they do, hit the ball right back at themselves. Then the tendency is to NOT clear and hustle out of your way (voluntarily). Therefore, when you read you’re about to place a softly struck or weakly hit DTL that isn’t going to be glued to the sidewall on its way back or you sense you can’t rocket the DTL ball by them or when you judge it isn’t a ball you can control and keep right along that sidewall, reconsider the DTL. Consider a cross-court pass, a near sidewall shot, or a deep corner ceiling struck into either corner. As one backup plan, you may choose a tactical rally shot, like a hard struck low around the wall ball (ATWB). For the low ATWB your sidewall target is just up ahead of you when lifting the ball up at a slight angle a little higher than contact with a forwards and upwards trajectory for a low shot that catches that sidewall, the front wall, the far sidewall and it circles right back around to where you were. Also tactically know that even going once for a cross-court pass could make your next DTL more successful, as well as throughout the balance of the match in situations like this one. The opponent’s coverage may be altered to play you more straight up where they may attempt to cover both the down the line and cross-court angles simultaneously from their neutral spot in center court, which will then reopen your DTL angle for you to exploit.
Should You Repinch a Pinch?
A misunderstood tactical shot selection concept is the belief that you shouldn’t or can’t repinch a pinch. And there the idea is, “sidewall bad!”. In reality often the very shot to shape is a deeper sidewall targeted shot when making sidewall contact closer to where you catch up to their left up far sidewall shot when looking to shoot now into the other sidewall which you now face. From there in the front court or middle court that’s a splat shot, as you’re responding to the opponent’s left up sidewall pinch or splat shot that was hit into the far sidewall. The splat can be a very solid tactical response shot. A splat takes advantage of the heavy incoming sidespin and shot angle, as their shot is breaking away from you toward the sidewall you’re closing in on, as you track down the ball and prepare to swing. To respond with a splat, one way is to catch up to that far sidewall shot after the ball has struck that sidewall, angled to the front wall and then caromed out to bounce for YOU track it down and contact it before it reaches the 2nd sidewall. Right there is ideal spot to close in on the left up ball as it almost reaches that 2nd sidewall that you’re nearing and facing. Also, a different pattern and sidewall ball is one that is overhit and is usually higher which you cover after it hits the far sidewall, the front wall, and then bounces to carry on the fly to contact that 2nd sidewall you face. There the ball pops off more our into the middle of the court toward you. There feetwork-wise back off the left up ball by stepping back with your rear foot first as you quickly get ready to shoot. Pick your best shot from there in your final approach, stance setting and stroke prepping. In both of those situations (a) right after the bounce; or (b) after bouncing and popping off the 2nd sidewall –> that splat option can be a very solid choice which takes advantage of the opponent’s left up sidewall pinch or left up splat. Both a pinch and splat produce heavy sidespin. Instead of a splat when going for a running DTL it would require removing a massive amount of spin, while hitting on the move or not exactly when you’re stationary or when given a plumb setup. And, in the bounce and catch up to hit case, with the shot angle, the ball is moving continuously away from you, as you and the ball close in on that sidewall you’re nearing and facing. Then helping the ball along into the sidewall makes a lot of sense. There the splat response works to counter both the angle of the ball tending out toward the sidewall and the spin retained on the ball. A ball coming off what is the 3rd wall that first hits the far sidewall, the front wall, and then bounces to carry and pop off that 2nd sidewall to come back out at you requires that you back up off the ball and reload while reading the bounce and parsing through your choices to pick your best response shot. Step back with your rear foot and be ready to quickly step right back in with your front foot to set and shoot. Pick your very best shot. A splat may be the right one. A cross-court pass often is easiest to control; but out of the corner of your eye check and…”Did that pesky sidewall shooter move?”, as sometimes they remain glued watching you. Then a WAP crosses up a closing in, moving to center opponent or even one who just stands there spectating. A reverse pinch into the cross front corner might be better on some of those 3rd wall balls that pop off and jam you up where you can turn and aim into the cross front corner sidewall first, with the ball angle and spin working in your favor. Granted going for a tight near corner pinch (instead of a splat) off either cover move (after the bounce or after the ball pops off the 2nd sidewall) would be a more difficult angle to feel and make. Also even a barely left up repinch could be covered by a hustling forward opposing sidewall shooter because a pinch comes back more into the center of the court, which does further the don’t repinch a pinch mandate. Note that splats stay up further in the court due to the action they pick up from the deeper sidewall contact and spin from the splat shot swing. Sometimes though the pinch is THE shot. For a pinch, do go tight and smoke it. Drill and consider a splat off their left up sidewall shot or pick another shot based on your read of the action on the ball. Again, consider from among…
(a) go for a cross-court shot that wrong foots the opponent when you sense them closing in on the center behind you, including a wide angle pass that hits the sidewall about at the dashed line next to them;
(b) for a ball coming more into your body, turn and angle off your feet to point and shoot a reverse pinch in to the cross front corner, sidewall first; or
(c) remove the heavy spin on the ball by drawing the ball in on your strings and hit DTL to keep the ball on the side where you make contact. For the DTL, focus on solid stroke mechanics. Look to avoid either contacting the sidewall on your DTL shot’s way in to the front wall or on its way coming back out off the front wall or you could be in the way. Then you’d have to move to take yourself out of position or you could be creating a penalty hinder situation should you just freeze in place. Play fair. Call penalty hinders (or avoidables) on yourself. Next time hit a better DTL or, instead, go for the splat!
Should All Ceilings Be Aimed Deep to Place The Ball Tight in the Back Corners?
With the sidewall creating such an impediment where…(1) when you catch that sidewall early after the ceiling bounces, it generates a big setup for the opponent and bad or very challenging initial coverage positioning for you…or, when you leave the ceiling ball too close to the sidewall AND…(2) the ceiling either falls far short of the back wall or (3) the ceiling pops off the back wall…consider that in all 3 of those situations it opens up an opportunity for the opponent to go for a deep sidewall target to shoot a splat in response to that very routine attacking pattern often seen in ceiling ball exchanges. Instead or in response, look to leave your ceiling ball slightly off the sidewall about 7-8′ from the back corner. First that takes away the chance of your ceiling ball grazing the sidewall should your ceiling be hit slightly off angle. Also it avoids your leaving the ball not quite deep enough and close to the sidewall for a splat shot opening for the opponent. Of course, it also moves the ball off the sidewall when your ceiling is unfortunately overhit and it pops off the back wall as perhaps THE most vulnerable setup, a back wall setup. However, when the ball is far enough off the sidewall and the ceiling either is long and it pops off the back wall or if it drops short, a splat shot answer is taken completely out of the opponent’s shooting equation. From off the sidewall, any sidewall shot attempt by the opponent will be a “near corner pinch”. And any even slightly left up pinch feeds right back into center court toward you. That is toward you in what is a very offensive pattern, with lots of winning options to pick from based on the action on the ball, your moves, and the opponent’s follow on positioning. As always, when covering a left up pinch look to shoot the best shot available, which includes; a cross-court pass; a DTL cursive “i” angled ball hitting the front wall and going right along that near sidewall; a smoothly hit near corner pinch; a reverse pinch into the cross front corner; a 3-wall shot into the cross front corner; or splat if the ball makes it almost to the other sidewall. Finally, leave your ceilings a little off the sidewall and you make the job tougher for the opponent and control your depth by using good touch.
What If Your Off Sidewall Ceiling Turns Into Their DTL Passing Shot OPP?
Now, when you leave the ceiling ball off the back wall as a setup or when it is well short of the back wall, as the opponent is making contact 7-8′ from the sidewall, you’re leaving yourself wide open to being passed along a passing lane that’s about as wide as a Cadillac sedan. Of course Plan A is hit consistently deep, but not too deep ceiling balls. Plan B is you’ve trained the moves and you’re ready to cover the line and take away their passing shot. Here’s how to cover the down the wall pass. For a pass getting by you…from center court when covering a pass that’s getting by you…first take a crossover step with the foot closest to the front wall to diagonally drop back, as you hustle back your quickest, which allows you to…
(a) have more time to see the ball and pattern;
(b) prep for your on-the-move, makeshift stroke; and
(c) be back deeper where you hopefully will be playing a slower moving pass.
—>There your best defensive options include:
(1) a reverse-your-fortune 3-wall, cross front corner kill-shot by hitting into the sidewall just slightly up ahead of where you make contact with the ball;
(2) a lifted, deeper targeted ceiling ball;
(3) a hard hit, low around the wall ball targeting the sidewall up ahead ahead of you by about a yard and a little above head level; or
(4) even a hard hit back wall save to buy you time to, again, get back into good coverage position in center court.
—> Left up down the wall–>When the down the wall pass you’re covering is easier to play due to the pass having caught the sidewall on the way back off the front wall or if it’s under hit which means it’s more softly hit, your aggressive options include…
(a) if it pops out further, go for a near corner pinch looking to end the rally;
(b) if it stays along the sidewall, hit a deep (near contact) sidewall targeted splat;
(3) go for a down the line kill-shot focusing on missing the sidewall yourself; or
(4) hit a low, 3-wall intended for it to be rollout kill-shot to end the rally spectacularly.
—> A feetwork option to move directly out to the sidewall is a very low percentage movement option. If you must step right out to the sidewall, then a 3-wall shot or flick, lifted lob are your best bets, but they’re not even easy to practice. When you move straight out, your right on the wall quickly and your perception of the ball is skewed by picking it up as you’re moving sideways; tough row to how.
—> Being ready to step out to the sidewall is part 1 of your pattern response tactical movements to cover down the wall passes when moving to the wall from more than a couple feet off the sidewall. The tactical thinking is D-up with a buck up mindset that you’re gonna keep the ball in play, no matter what. Practice covering passes hit down the wall from your spot in center court initially blocking the reverse pinch. It’s a tough cover, but a doable and a very necessary defensive movement skill.
—> You can move diagonally forward for a ball you sense you can attack or you can drop back diagonally for a tougher cover and still extend the rally or redirect the pressure back on the opponent’s positioning.
—> To move diagonally forward to attack a lower ball, take jab step slightly forward with your rear front and then crossover with what is the front foot of your hastily set passing shot cutoff stance, while you prep to rip.
Is Center Court Positioning ONLY a Full Step Behind the Dashed Line?
Dictating in singles that you must ALWAYS D-up a full step or 1 yard behind the dashed line is not taking into account very key positioning factors: (a) player; (b) position; and (c) time. Those are the factors you should always consider whenever positioning yourself in coverage in your “floating zone” center court. For example, when your opponent is a power player who, even when they miss a kill-shot the ball still feeds way back deep into center court or even into the middle of the court, then that deeper spot in coverage makes sense. Against a touch player who feathers their low pinches and kill-shots playing so deep leaves too much room to make up. That’s even the case when trying to make a 2 bounce get near the short line which would be very a long 8′ or what’s more than a long lunge and stretch away from that deeper court coverage positioning, again, especially when it’s apparent the touch player is shooting a corner pinch or direct, low kill-shot away from your position. Instead, when the low touch shooter appears to be going low board, straddle the broken line to be more adaptive in where you spot up in tactical coverage. Also, when you see that the opponent has a set up in the backcourt, by taking up a position closer to the front wall it actually places extra shot accuracy pressure on the opponent’s shotmaking. And it allows you to have a shorter tracking run into even the “real” kill-shot depth. A kill-shot should bounce twice in front of the first line and not just beyond the service line which is 15′ back from the front wall. (The subliminal message here is look to make your kill-shots bounce twice before the first line in the court). What helps keep kill-shots down low…letting the ball drop low and using a smooth, flowing, long, sweeping stroke emphasizing topspin for straight in and cross-court kill-shots and additionally imparting sidespin for sidewall shots which helps keeps those low shots down better and helps ensure the ball will bounce twice before the service line.
POP Tactical Positioning
Another facet of court positioning is where you are in relationship to where the opponent is positioned when they shoot or serve. When the opponent is closer up in the court along a sidewall setting themselves to hit the ball, look to get in their blindspot behind them where they can’t see you behind them. Neither be too far forward nor far enough back in the court where they could pick you up in their rear view mirror. That makes them have to guess, “Where are they?”. And, even more importantly, they must guess where could you be after you move from in their blindspot to cover whatever shot you read they appear to be choosing. Include in that anticipation move your own, “What what would I do?” thinking. By being unseen and ready to move it makes it tougher for them to pick their shot and shoot their set up. On the other hand, when the opponent is back further in the backcourt, by moving up to where you are intentionally seen by them, as they clearly see you closer up to the front court, you place extra pressure on the opponent even when they have a clear setup to shoot. Then, instead of going for a kill-shot, perhaps they’ll choose Plan B and go for a passing shot that you can cover from what, for them, is clearly a kill-shot shooting opportunity. Just due to your looming coverage a little closer to the front wall than you’re being (“safe” for them) a step behind the dashed line you make them blink. For passes, take your chances covering them. You can get to most of them that are hit from the back about 8′ of the backcourt, even when they’re hit by a gorilla. Also, time of shot in the pattern bears on your decision making in your coverage positioning. If the opponent is the server in this pattern, their high to low shooting, including more sidewall targeting should be anticipated so more forward positioning by you and a tendency to be ready to move forward into the front court should be factored into your covering tactics and readiness to exhibit your practiced forward movement skills. Finally it’s just not physically possible to retreat all the way back beyond the broken line after you serve your very hardest drive serves before the receiver will be able to contact your hard serve when making their return. There’s just not enough time before the opponent can play their return off your drive serve before you can retreat completely past the encroachment line, if that were to be your lofty going in goal. However, both getting out of the box and tending toward the side where you serve the ball should be your 2 primary tactical movement goals when you looking to move and control the receiver’s return. For example, move to the side where you serve and blanket that line when you read theirs is going to be a DTL return. A dual step, back foot then front foot crossover out to the sidewall works when you take off and move when the butt of their racquet is first driving forward. You can get to and intercept their DTL and respond by shooting low yourself, when doable, or pass when it’s not. Likewise a drop step with the frontmost foot toward the far side followed up by a crossover step with the trail foot allows you to gobble up angles all that way out to V cross-court passes, when you move as you read the angle by seeing out front contact, feet pointing cross-court or the racquet head flying in that direction. The drop and cross and get ready to reflex the ball ideally DTL.
Return Serve Like You’re a World-Class Soccer (futbol) Goalie
When they serve, you want your positioning to return the serve to be very versatile so you are able to cover a wide array of their serves, like…
(a) be able to cover the deep corners to ideally intercept drive serves before the ball can reach its intended back corner target;
(b) be able to step and lunge forward to cover a sidewall crack out that hits just past the short line;
(c) be able to step up moving diagonally to cutoff a drive Z serve after it bounces and before it can reach the sidewall; or
(d) be able to use your best feetwork to spin with a wrap around serve and move out to the sidewall to take the ball as it angles out off the back wall and veers out along the 2nd sidewall where you may shoot a splat or other shot you choose is apropos to accommodate the bounce of the ball and the heavy action on it, including significant spin.
—> Standing too far from the back wall as you return you literally get passed by well-placed direct serves to the back corners. Too close to the back wall and a crack out even well past the short line in the middle of the court just is still out of range of your movement.
—> Standing too close to the back wall and a serve often wins the race to the back corner. Then, due to your positioning, there’s no ability to drop back just a little further when needed.
—> Also, when returning from very deep, it’s tougher to cover balls that bounce, contact the sidewall and then angle toward the back wall where you need to have the space to get behind the ball to shoot. Or, if necessary, at times you need space to save the ball into the back wall when the ball gets behind you to just save the ball back to the front wall.
—> And, when you’re too deep, an overhead or higher contact drive serve that bounces very close to the back wall in a corner can catch that corner and then spring out way along the sidewall where it’d be out of range of your move with the ball, hustling return of that back wall “flyer”.
—> The just right spot to return serve is when you stand with your feet pointing at the front wall and when you reach back you almost can touch the back wall, but you’re still about a racquet head away. From there you can get to crackout just past the line, step up and intercept drive Z, and you can jab and cross (step) to get to the drive serves before they Robin Hood the back corners WHEN you either get your eyes low enough to see the serve hitting the front wall or you pick up a tell like a revealing toss or you catch a glimpse of the ball as it’s coming back from the front wall just before it passes the receiver. It’s really a prevarication to say you can see a hard drive serve pass by a receiver and have a chance to step out to either sidewall and effectively return that drive so you turn the tables on the server; there’s just not enough time to see the ball and even one step crossover out to cutoff the serve. That’s why you get low, with a straight back, why you watch the server like a hawk looking for a revealing direction clue and why sometimes you guess and when your guess right you get in their head, while even if you guess wrong they’ve got to wonder what way you’re gonna go next.
What’s THE Fastest Tactical 1st Step You Can Take?…also, what are other tactical movement bests?
Obviously facing the direction you want to head and going straight ahead you’re able to take off when starting by stepping off with either foot first. However, you may be surprised to hear that you are either right footed or left footed just like you’re right handed or left handed, and actually you’re either right eyed or left eyed, too. For that latter example first, one eye is your dominant eye. That dominant eye is your visual triangle starter. What that means is you move your dominant eye and it starts out by picking out a point in the distance, like when you pick out the ball as it’s coming back toward you from off the front wall. Then your other eye just completes the visual triangle of ball and both eyes. Take that dominant eye off the ball and you miss the ball by, well, about a ball. To test for your dominant eye, face front and look up at the left front upper corner. Point with one index finger up at that top left corner while you look out over the finger with both eyes trained on the corner at the very same time. Then take turns closing or covering each eye. You will see that when you have your dominant eye open you see corner and finger together. However your finger appears to magically move (or in game situations) you are off by a couple fingers or about the size of a ball when your dominant eye is not on the corner and you’re looking with just your non dominant eye. Note that you pick up the ball at a distance and your body moves based on that ball acquisition. Then ideally you move your eyes to contact. If you’re off at distance your muscle memory stroke will be off, too, by about a ball. And you’ll miss putting the part of the sweet spot of the racquet head on the ball that you want to make the shot you visualize…now back to moving your feet…when running straight ahead, one of your feet may want to take off first. In response, it’s valuable to train yourself to move by starting off by stepping off with either foot first so that you may move off equally well with either for those times when one or the other foot would be best one to start off with first. To train and learn how to be ambi-footress, place both heels up against the back wall. From there alternate stepping off with either foot. Teach yourself to take off equally well while starting out by taking off with either foot. Note that, if I’d left you start from off the back wall, you might take a step back with one foot and then step forward with the foot you were supposed to move off with first. That backwards step is a dead step or negative step and it sloooows you way down…going on, that either foot first includes the situation when stepping to the side when going either to your right or to your left. Now that going to either side is because you know you won’t always be able to take off from full on facing the direction in which you need to head. You’ll need to run or move to the side instead when…
(a) starting out from center court;
(b) running out of the service box;
(c) after returning the serve and moving from where you return to get into coverage in center court.
—> In fact you probably won’t have many straight ahead sprints in your court coverage at all. More often than not you’ll take off by going to the side or by moving diagonally at first. There’s a fast way and there’s a slow way to move to the side. First, for when you have just a very, very short distance to cover, like at most a couple yards and you have a little time to do it, your goal is to cover that controlled distance on balance and under control. To do that less pressured movement, take a sidestep or shuffle step sideways. To shuffle, first take a sideways step with the lead foot that’s closest to the direction in which you’re headed. Then, as that foot is just about to land, draw along and land the trailing foot close to the just landed lead foot. That’s 1 shuffle step or sidestep. However, if you have very little time and you’re in a hurry or you must travel in excess of 6′ or MORE, the best way is to turn-and-run. Although it turns out taking off with the lead or the near foot or closest foot to where you’re headed is the V-e-e-e-e-r-y S-l-o-o-o-o-w way. That’d be a slow lunging start. And it would spread you way out. Instead you want to coil up and spring into a very short sprint to cover that distance so you move quickly to set up to aggressively shoot or to get to the ball that’s a little farther away than a long lunge or even a crouch and springing dive along the floorboards. To start and move quickest, first, pivot both feet or turn on your toes in the direction that you’re heading. Then take off first with the TRAIL foot or foot furthest from the direction that you’re headed. Do that by taking a crossover step over just past the lead foot. That is THE most efficient way to start and gobble up court THE fastest way possible. As you crossover, pivot your body and stay very low. Follow up the crossover step by driving off the court with the now trail leg that was initially the lead leg. Additionally, as you’re taking off, use your arms, including your racquet wielding hand and arm, to pump the arms like a sprinter and you go even faster and you’re much better balanced. Situationally use the crossover step to…
(a) get out of the service box after serving by crossing over with the front foot as your first step toward the back of the box to move quickly back into coverage in center court…
(b) return serve by moving into a rear corner with a very short jab step with the near or lead foot out at a slight diagonal and then take a big crossover diagonal step with the trail foot passing the lead foot to close your stance and intercept the corner bound serve after the foot lands. You may even make contact as you’re still in midair with that crossing over trail foot because…but trust and know you land)…
(c) after you have centered up in coverage, from center court crossover as your first step to track down the ball by either running forward into the front court to cover a low shot by the opponent, or crossover to retreat into the backcourt to cover, as speed required examples, a low contact stroke deep passing shot, an overhead pass or a high Z shot.
—> In rally play, train yourself to crossover by starting with the foot furthest from the direction you intend to head.
—> Once you get to where you need to be to get ready to strike the ball power down or slow down by putting on the “brakes”. By brakes I mean bend your knees that help you brake.
—> When you shuffle sideways, to slow down smoothly, first flex the lead leg and then bend the trail leg to brake and adjust your feet to hit. Or you may brake and then change direction to bolt off in the complete other direction by starting off with a crossover step off that lead leg.
—> To make a longer run up court or toward the backcourt, crossover first and stay low as you drive your legs and arms to run to track down and play the ball, as you read the bounce of the ball. As you close in on a ball that you read you can time to shoot, first bend both of your knees to slow yourself down. Then take the invaluable little adjustment steps to set your optimum striking stance a little behind the ball to hit at your best, especially when time is on your side to set the back of your stance behind and a reach away from the ball. Then step forward with your front foot, as you complete your prep, and then crank your shot. Do that landing a little behind the ball
—> Initially set yourself about a 1/2 step behind the ball vs. hopping and stopping directly in front of the ball hoping against hope you’ll be on balance and able to use your legs, hips and core to stroke. Doing a jump stop directly in front of the ball doesn’t encourage winding back to load your hips nor does it support a deep, high racquet lift. It does promote an arm only muscling of your shot.
—> All those are examples of tactical movements that enhance your court coverage, your ball getting, your stroking technique, and your moving both of your eyes together to better see the ball and the pattern of play, with your visual triangle. These moves buy you time to cover shots and position yourself quickly and optimally to accurately shoot the ball. These efficiency movement actions allow you to significantly raise your level of play because moving at your best on court makes you able to have more shot options, swing on better balance from more routine striking stances, with better prep, while employing repeatable, unrushed, productive swings, as well as using enhanced movement into coverage. From coverage ideally in center court, mastery over these moves provide efficient, familiar movements for you to track down and approach the ball to prep and shoot at your best. The post contact movement is big because you own the ability to effectively recover after a stroking a rally ball, a serve (or after a lunging, reaching, and flicking, in an effort described by the opponent as, “Good get!”, even if they only say that inwardly to themselves!). When you recover well, you cover their next shot better. When you cover better, you get to shoot with more time to set your feet, prep, and logically pick and then make better forcing and put away shots vs. shots where you’re just barely able to keep the ball in play. Instead, when you can move with fluidity and play tactical keep away, you’re often gifted a juicy setup you can put away strategically.