The Opportunity Ball

 

I ask this questions of our adult and junior players ……  “What is the shortest most attackable you consistently receive from the opponent?”

When stumped I ask, “Why do players try to keep the ball deep??”

My final cue, “If you hit a ground stroke in the service box would the coach commend or criticize you?”

The second serve is the most predictable, shortest, most attackable ball you get time and again from the opponent.

Consider the third ball attack in ping pong or in men’s tennis – in ping pong the server spins the ball to arrive very low and short to neutralize the receiver, and then the server tries to attack or even end the point with their third shot, in most cases their big forehand.

Same in tennis – when Rafa or Roger open the court with a very wide serve (generally to the backhand) in either the deuce or ad court) they will attack on the third shot of the rally, as often as not stroking a winner into the open court.

But there is another side to this – in some instances the receivers groundies are stronger and more offensive than the servers delivery – and this goes for junior tennis, club tennis, and now in many instances the women’s professional game.

Christopher Clary recently posted in the New York Times – “As the Return of Serve Gains Importance the Third Shot is the Charm“.  As the WTA Finals will probably continue to make clear this week, the return of serve is ever more a trump card in women’s tennis – a big, increasingly irresistible opportunity for the likes of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova or Petra Kvitova to crush a ball and snuff out hopes for an extended rally.

“The women have always returned well, but now they return incredibly well,” said Todd Woodbridge, the former star who once headed Tennis Australia’s player-development program.”

Third shot attack of you have a very very good serve.  Third shot defend is the receiver is very very good.

The questions for you dear reader are the following:

  • Are you comfortable taking the ball on the rise from on or inside the baseline?
  • Do you regularly pressure the server on their second serve?
  • Do you take advantage of the short balls or hammer away from behind the baseline?
  • Do opponent’s ever tell you they have “never played or served worse”?

20 Comments

  • Shmuel Goldberg

    Reply Reply November 8, 2014

    Thank you for reminding us that tennis is a competition, the target is to win, and we must learn how to do it! There is much more that hitting a ball…

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply November 8, 2014

      Yes but somehow outcome can totally overcome process – this said from an active teacher that sees the blocks to improved performance because outcome takes precedence

  • Ram

    Reply Reply November 6, 2014

    Thanks Jim for clarifying – lack of balance is probably why I have netted a few 2nd serve returns and also pushed them long …. I will work on balancing the forward launch (momentum) with body balance……appreciate all your tips!

  • George Mehnert

    Reply Reply November 6, 2014

    Excellent instruction; can use for high school-team and even for beginners which you often have on a high-school tennis team.

    Thnx

  • Jan

    Reply Reply November 6, 2014

    Hi Jim,
    So true, I too often neglect the opportunity to attack the second serve. But of course the risk to hammer the ball out in the back fence is there. So the question is: how to put speed and depth and placement when coming in and attacking.
    And shall it be down the line or crosscourt? Or may be straight at the server. The old-school advice is to go down the line but I feel it is sort of more predictable than crosscourt and unless the shot is really good the opponent seem to be able to punish me with the next shot……
    Best regards
    Jan

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply November 6, 2014

      Jan – my thoughts are down the line if you are approaching the net and cross court if you are staying back – more often than not return the first serve back to the server
      Jim

  • Dev Raj Adhirana

    Reply Reply November 5, 2014

    The idea behind the opportunity ball is a very practical one .Yes one can benefit immensely.With your guidance I M sure it will happen.

  • Venetia.

    Reply Reply November 5, 2014

    Thank you so much for this! Personally, I am very aware of the opportunities of receiving a second serve. I use it for an approach shot, a short angled crosscourt or a drop shot. However, if my opponent has a strong second serve, I may not get lucky!

  • Carlson Matt

    Reply Reply November 5, 2014

    Hi Jim,
    As always good stuff.
    Thanks for the reminder of attacking that second serve!
    Matt

  • Ram

    Reply Reply November 5, 2014

    Needless to say, you’ve transformed how I look at the 2nd serve – thanks Jim!

  • Ram

    Reply Reply November 5, 2014

    Key to crushing a ball on the rise is to launch the body towards the target, have a relaxed grip and shoulder and lean into the target (body weight forward!!!) – of course contact the ball at the top of the bounce!

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply November 5, 2014

      Ram – yes and no – aggressive but the launching must be coordinated with balance
      Jim

  • oren ellis

    Reply Reply November 5, 2014

    Dear Jim,

    I listen to many instructional tennis You Tube presentations: your delivery and clear-cut, efficient speaking (explaining) is the best of all of them. Many others repeat themselves, say ‘you know’, and ‘OK’, and other non-essential words.

    Thanks for all you present.

    Oren Ellis, MD
    age 82 and still learning the game and the strokes, after 50 years of playing and thousands of dollars of lessons (and still enjoying it all)

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply November 5, 2014

      Oren – thank you – I do work to speak plainly
      Jim

  • Tony

    Reply Reply November 5, 2014

    Jim, I think you hit it on the head, you could not have said it better. I’ve seen so many young players miss out on the opportunity to take advantage of second serve, I consider it a free point whenever I get the chance to look at a second serve.
    Keep on doing what you do best, I’ve learned so much from your instructional videos.

    Regards,
    Tony.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply November 5, 2014

      Tony – thanks for the encouragement – there is more to come from us
      Jim

  • jeff s cherry hill, nj

    Reply Reply November 5, 2014

    Hey Jim – this one made me really stop and think.

    Most players I know, including my self, think their “opportunity ball” is whatever shot they feel is their strongest. You made me realize just how wrong that is!

    My takeaway, the real “opportunity ball” is whatever your opponent is weakest at or least expecting, ie: win the point not show off your strength.

    Thanks
    Jeff S

  • Adrian G Sahlean

    Reply Reply November 5, 2014

    Jim, an excellent point, and to the point, as usual! Best, Adrian

  • JimFox

    Reply Reply November 5, 2014

    Absolutely correct. Great, great point!

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