While your ability to hit effective forehands and backhands is important, one of the most underrated skills on the tennis court is anticipation. Without this ability, you may not get to the ball in time to execute aggressive groundstrokes, the key to a winning game.
To improve your anticipation you must have an understanding of the geometry of the court and ask yourself, “where is my opponent most likely to hit this ball?” The best answer is to consider where YOU would most likely hit the ball from that position. Then as your shot is crossing the net, start moving towards that anticipated spot. Often, cross- court is the answer if the ball is part of a neutral rally. Now stay on your toes and be ready to move elsewhere if the ball doesn’t go where you expect it to. At least you’re starting from a high percentage location. And remember, the middle of the court is not always the middle of your opponent’s potential shots.
If you hit a more offensive shot and see your opponent on the run struggling to get to it, expect a weak return and move in to capitalize while he/she is still out of position. Don’t hesitate to watch your opponent return the ball then let it bounce on your side giving him/her time to get back in position on the court. Instead, be proactive, hitting a volley or a strong groundstroke.
Let’s look at the opposite situation: You hit a weak, short ball that your opponent reacts aggressively toward. You won’t have enough time to respond offensively once the ball is struck. However, if you guess randomly, you may guess wrong. This is the time to look at how your opponent sets up for the shot and make an educated guess as to where you think he/she plans to hit the ball. If the shoulder is turned, the odds are the shot will go down the line. If the stance is more open, the shot is probably going to be cross court. If you lose this point it is not because you did not cover the correct side of the court, it is due to giving your opponent a short ball.
Take these tips on the court with you next time you play and be sure you’re more proactive…not reactive!!!