It is fundamental to understand the coming ball’s characteristics right when it leaves your opponent’s racquet. Less expert players often get these characteristics only when the ball has already passed the net and bounced.
At that moment it will be too late and technical and tactic decisions will be affected by the little time available to get ready for the ball’s execution (stiffness, loss of balance and of the ball…). Remember that when you play from the baseline there are two ball’s movements: one goes from your opponent’s racquet to the bounce and another one that goes from the bounce to your racquet.
Both offer you some crucial clues on how to prepare for the next shot. In order to better understand the ball, consider its five characteristics that can give you an immediate help. HEIGHT
This is one of the first ball’s aspects you should perceive as soon as it gets hit by your opponent.
Use the net as a benchmark in order to measure the ball’s height. DIRECTION
The ball’s direction indicates if you have to get ready for a forehand or a backhand, (after the bounce or a volley, depending on your position on the court).
By getting the ball’s direction as soon as possible you can prepare in a more efficient way. DEPTH
It is very hard to precisely determine where the ball will end and this is often the characteristic that gets understood at the last moment.
The ability to move backwards (in case the ball is deep) or forwards (in case it is short) is important and can become a key element in the preparation of the following shot. SPEED
The ball’s speed determines the time available to get ready and hit.
It is fundamental that your preparation reflects the ball’s speed. For example, hit with a quick and simple backswing after a fast first serve (or other fast shots) and with a longer and sharper one after an opponent’s shot that is slower and bounces higher.
More expert players hit with different rotations (especially after a bounce and when serving), giving the ball a movement that is difficult to understand (see Nadal). A ball hit with topspin will go higher than a regular bounce, while a backspin will stay lower and will tend to run away after the bounce.
You can anticipate the ball’s type of rotation based on the technique used by the opponent in order to hit it. Francesco Tripodi
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