Most players would have come across that really tall opponent that feels like they take up all the court space, dominate the middle, volley everything and just take one step to reach any ball you play. This can feel one of the most frustrating opponents to play against as you feel that whatever shot you play or how much you want to get him or her moving they nullify everything. It can almost feel like you are running around like crazy, doing all the work, trying all the shots and they are just casually reaching for each ball you play treating it like a Sunday stroll.
So how to combat this opponent who has the feel of Go-Go Gadget arms and legs (80s reference there for the kids)?
Variation of pace
The first tactic to make sure you try and employ is the idea of varying your pace a lot. Tall players love the ball coming back to them time and again at a medium to high pace. They get very used to this and they find a certain rhythm to their movement as well as their anticipation. If you are able to change the pace of your shots then this gets the opponent having to think and stop and move the whole time. You will be asking more questions of them than you would be sticking to the bread and butter type pace. In this playlist, there are some great examples and great shots to use when looking to vary your pace which will ultimately get your tall opponent out of his or her comfort zone.
High-low, left-right, front-back
Linked to variations, try and employ the idea about using a combination of high to low, left to right and front to back. It can be wise to challenge yourself to play a certain pattern of high-high-low or straight-straight-cross for example. This starts to make you less predictable and when done well and accurately can put a lot of work into your opponent’s legs. It is also a nice way to stay mentally fresh and to keep your focus on a certain and relatively simple task. Sometimes it can be very easy to overthink in a match and against a tall player but using little patterns of this nature can really keep you focused as well as doing some damage to the opponent at the same time.
The 4 zones
Thinking about the front wall a little more now and in regard to length hitting. I am a big fan of players practising and employing the tactics of the 4 zones on the front wall in order to get the ball to the back of the court in many different ways. As mentioned previously tall players like the game at a certain pace and rhythm and often players fall into the trap of just hitting one part of the front wall in order to achieve their length. It is worth hitting your length in lots of different ways with different spins and trajectories and bounces. It is quite a subtle skill to be able to do this and needs time to practice to perfect but over the long term when you can start to do this well then you are able to add just another layer of awkwardness to your game to test the tall player.
Let them volley!!
This may sound like an absurd concept for a tall player to let them volley. I think you will have to accept that a tall player will be looking for the volley a lot and be playing to their strengths with this tactic. In a way, go and let them volley then but challenge yourself to make them volley when it is at full reach and just outside of their comfort zone. When you can get this right and get the ball on their full stretch it will be hard for a tall opponent to maintain this over a match and also the quality of the shot they will play will be reduced when at full stretch. There is nothing better that playing lovely delicate lob for a tall player to go and reach, they just get a racket on it and it goes into the tin. It can be very demoralizing for the opponent and give you some positives to work off. Here we have one of the best experts in the game talking about the lob and see how some of this playlist can link to ‘letting them volley’.
Get into their guts
Linked to the above tactic of ‘let them volley’, it is wise to follow this up with a low ball getting your opponent down low. This can ‘get into their guts’ meaning that you stretch them high and look to them get them in low (and ideally with an angle to twist them) on the next shot. If they get this back take them back high again so they have to stretch for the next volley. Doing this, again and again, will really get into their guts and it’s a very long way for a tall player to go in and up and down fashion. Using this tactic of up and down is more useful when playing a tall player than thinking about getting them to the front or the back. Tall players at club level tend not to have the strongest core so using this high to low tactic and make them feel weak and wear them out quickly.
Believe in the plan
So after saying all of the above it is worth emphasizing that you need to try and believe in the game plan. Mentally it can be hard to keep the variation going, letting the tall player volley, going back low when you can time and time and time again. I believe you need to be clear about your plan going into a match with a tall player and be able to be disciplined and strong mentally to be able to do this over a sustained period. Using visualizations and rehearsing the plan prior to the match is a good way to strengthen the neural pathways in your brain to prepare for employing this tactic. Here is an amazing insight into the mind of Ali Farag and his mental approach to the game which should resonate when being clear mentally what needs to be done.
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