I often observe at amateur level how hard hitters tend to be able to cause a lot of trouble to their opponents and get easy wins by purely overpowering and out-muscling them. In my coaching, when addressing this issue with amateurs, a few simple strategies to focus on can really help nullify these hard hitters and make them tie themselves in knots.
Hard hitters like nothing more than having no pace on the ball and having to generate all their own pace and power. This is most effective when you are able to play at a medium or slow pace and especially when your accuracy levels to the back of the court are high. I see hard hitters still stick to their tactic even when the ball is deep and fading into the corners. If you get them to keep hitting hard from these areas you should be really pleased as they have now fallen into your trap. You can look to pick them off from these good positions you have created.
Tidy the game up
It is a rarity at club level to see a hard hitter play with high consistency levels of accuracy. Because of this, the game may be slightly looser than a more traditional and measured player and this is your opportunity to now tidy the game up. Keeping the ball straighter and tighter to the side walls when you have been given some width can really nullify their hard-hitting. Getting into the right mindset to keep the game tidy will be a really useful strategy to employ. Sometimes you don’t need to do more than this to be effective against a hard hitter.
Because the ball will be moving a lot faster in the court and zipping around, try and get comfortable with shortening your backswing. This can be hard at first to get good control and consistency but it is an essential skill to learn. Shortening the backswing will allow you to not be rushed when the ball is ready to play. With a large and big backswing when the ball is low and accelerating will cause you to be late and become quite reactive to the situation. Even if you lose some power in the short term you should gain time to execute your shot with the shorten backswing.
Be alert and read the game
Linked to the above tip, due to the speed of the ball in the court your levels of alertness need to be active. Making sure you really watch your opponent well, get your body position prepared to move and have your racket in a ready position to move either side will be essential. Often I see an opponent standing back in the court, flat-footed and unprepared as their hard-hitting opponent is about to hit. This can be deadly and a big common fault at amateur level that happens way too often.
Linked to being alert, when and if you can get on the T and volley, do this! Because the pace of the ball will be higher it means it will arrive to you quicker on the volley. If it arrives to you quicker on the volley that also means your opponent is likely to be out of position when you are due to play. This is a great situation to be in and one you can capitalise on when looking for the volley.
Let them burn
It takes a lot of energy and fitness for the hard hitters to keep hitting it hard for long periods. The nature of their game means that they could hit themselves into fatigue a lot earlier on and you should look to exploit this factor. If you are able to absorb them again and again and keep the ball in play they will burn themselves out. You need to be mentally ready for this and be willing to keep the ball in play for long period but should also be motivating for you knowing that they will wear themselves out sooner or later.
Fight fire with fire
Sometimes you will find the hard hitters do not like their own tactics played back at them every so often. Definitely favour a slower-paced and calculated game overall when looking to nullify a hard hitter but also be ready to turn it back on when the opportunity arises. If you just stay to a slow-paced strategy the hard hitter can get used to this. Having the ability to change the pace and accelerate a few shots when right can take them by surprise and upset their rhythm.
In summary, try and not be too afraid of the hard hitters. It does sound and look intimidating when they are warming up and during the first few rallies but with the above strategies in play, you should be able to really start to nullify their main strength. Enjoy working on some of the above strategies and hopefully with a few of them implemented into your game you will find it really enjoyable playing against them.
Interested in learning more about playing different styles?
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