By Ken Woodfin

Tough Deep Target Ceiling Balls

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.

When

—> 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

—> 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.

How

—> Let’s discuss the method to hit the…

(a) running;

(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.