Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Amateurs Give Crosscourts A Bad Rap

Today I'm going to discuss crosscourt drives. When I watch most amateur players I see a lot of crosscourt drives and a lot of poor ones at that. Are you hitting too many crosscourts or are you just hitting them aimlessly? A good crosscourt is a great shot at any level. While a poor crosscourt rarely works out. Although I should note that hitting the ball right down the middle is a shot that can be very effective if done sparingly. But I digress at that's not the topic of today's post.

So why do most people crosscourt so much? I believe that some of the reasons include being too close to the ball, it's easier to clear straight back to the T afterwards, their body is open to the front wall making it more difficult to hit straight, they are late to the ball (at the front anyways), they don't trust their ability to hit it straight and tight plus they want to hit it to their opponents backhand. A high level player will see these shots coming and pick them off and make you pay. Maybe at a lower level you get away with hitting everything crosscourt, but that won't cut it as you move up the club ladder.

The danger with a crosscourt is that it can open up the court for your opponent. This means if your opponent hits the ball before you get to the T they will have space to attack straight. The qualities of an effective crosscourt depends on the court position of you and your opponent. It also varies on what type of crosscourt you are trying to hit, a lob, a drive,or a hard low kill all have different targets. Let's take a look and see what your targets should be for each of these shots.

I always have people asking me what makes a crosscourt length effective. This isn't as simple as for straight drives. We all know that a straight drive that is tight, deep and hit with pace is very effective. So what about a crosscourt drive? Hopefully I can clarify the qualities of a good crosscourt drive.

To start with the main objective is to get the ball by your opponent. The angle then depends on where you receive the ball. Let's say you are in the front right corner and your opponent is in a neutral T position. If your opponent is one that looks for the volley you want to hit the side wall outside of his reach. If your opponent doesn't volley you will get away with slightly less width. The reach and anticipation of your opponent also plays a major factor here. This is why the top pros hit the ball down the middle.

Let's continue with this shot setup. You're in the front right and your opponent is on the T. How deep do you want the ball landing and how hard do you want to hit it? This depends on how balanced you are at the front. If you are late to the ball you'll want to lift it to give you time to get back to the T. If you have time and you're balanced you can be more aggressive and hit it lower and harder. Most people hit this shot landing before the short line and if you do this it better be a winner, otherwise your opponent will be hitting the ball before you have time to get back to the T. If this happens to you try and hit the ball a little higher still with pace, but getting it to bounce for the 2nd time near the back corner. This will give you a bit of extra time to get back to the T and your opponent will still be under pressure if you hit the correct width.

If you are mid-court and your opponent is stuck behind you, a good crosscourt to play would be the hard low kill. You don't need to worry about time to get back to the T because you're only a step away. For this shot you don't want to hit as wide as the side wall will slow the ball down and give your opponent more time to retrieve your shot. This is a very effective shot, the problem is that people try and hit this when they are further away from the middle of the court which exposes their positioning.

Lets talk about crosscourts from the back corners. This is where a lot of players get in trouble, not just amateurs. I have a rule for hitting a good crosscourt here, your opponent should not be able to hit a crosscourt by you off of your crosscourt. An effective crosscourt should limit your opponents options. If you hit your target they should have to boast and if you just miss your target they will be able to dig the ball out straight down the wall. So you can see how a crosscourt can be a great shot. It limits what your opponent can do and most top players look to follow up a good width with an attacking shot. It's important to remember that a good crosscourt needs to get to the back corner. The width you hit should be around the back of the service box, which is likely across from your opponent. The softer you hit it the higher up on the side wall it needs to hit to get to the back of the court. If you hit the ball too wide it comes back towards the middle of the court and is almost as poor as just hitting it right to your opponent.

When I play against most amateurs they normally get into patterns. They want to crosscourt from the forehand and play straight on the backhand. This is why it is so easy to volley against them. It is also much more difficult to hit a good width on the backhand side. And if you are unable to hit a good width from the backhand side your opponent can cheat and pick off your straight drives. So this is a very important shot to learn and it can be very effective. If the ball is too tight or it gets slightly behind you on the backhand it is extremely difficult to hit crosscourt. Don't try and force it crosscourt. Just hit it tight and a bit higher. So if your  opponent is waiting to cut it off it's a bit higher in the air and you have a fraction of a second longer to move up and get ready to retrieve if your shot isn't running parallel to the sidewall and they decide to attack.

An effective width is a subtle thing that I feel is unappreciated at a high level. As a coach we always tell people to hit it straight and I feel a lot of that is because people don't know what their target is on a crosscourt. It's also because we practice hitting straight drives more than crosscourt drives. If you're solo hitting or doing boast drive or if you're doing a lesson, you hit many more straight shots than crosscourt ones. No wonder most people don't know how to hit a good width.

2 Person Drills To Practice Your Crosscourt Drives
1. Boast, crosscourt drive
2. Boast, crosscourt drive, straight drive
3. Boast, crosscourt drive, straight drive, straight drive
4. Straight drive, straight drive, crosscourt drive
5. Straight drive, straight drive, boast or crosscourt drive
6. A boasts, B can hit straight drop or crosscourt drive, A tries and volley drives the crosscourt to switch or they can counter drop of crosscourt drive off the drop.
7. Short vs. deep
8. Short vs. deep but they switch front and back whenever the person in the back can volley drive the front players shot
9. Boast, straight or crosscourt drive, straight drive
10. Boast, straight or crosscourt drive, straight or crosscourt drive (if you can volley this shot you can drop instead of boasting)

Condition Games To Practice Your Crosscourt Drives
1. Length game
2. Rotating drives, if you hit a crosscourt drive and it gets by your opponent you win the rally, if they cut if off and are able to hit a straight volley drive they win the point
3. Length game, if you volley off the crosscourt you can do anything
4. Every shot goes crosscourt (short or deep). For different levels of players you can let them set themselves up before hitting crosscourt.
5. opposite 2 corner court (e.g., front left and back right corner)
6. 3 corner court. practice crosscourts
7. Everything has to be straight (short or deep)  + you get 1 crosscourt each per rally
8. 1 player can hit anything, the other has to hit everything to one side of the court (short or deep)

That's it for today. Remember that you need to know your target and that they change depending on the court position of you and your opponent. Are you hitting to many crosscourts or are they just not hit accurately? An effective crosscourt drive limits what your opponent can hit. For an advanced player they need to not only hit their target on their crosscourt drives, but they must disguise them to be effective, especially when their opponent is on the T.

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