Approaching the net is surely a dying art in today's game of tennis. This skill is almost getting extinct in the pro-level tennis world, where the game focus has shifted over the years heavily towards the baseline. Baseline style of play has been dominant in WTA tennis as well as on the ATP tour. No wonder club gurus and recreational tennis players seem to be glued to the baseline and rarely choose to approach the net.
You must have heard this so many times in your local tennis club: “If only I know how to play at the net, I would have won that match.”. In a way, this could in many ways actually be a true statement, no matter if it is coming from a sore loser. If we take a look at what recreational players are so often missing in competition matches, that would surely be “net play”. They simply do not seem to be approaching the net intentionally as part of their strategy, rather they do it only when they are forced to.
If you are a tennis player that is struggling to finish off the points and lacks the “grand finale”, even though you feel to be in control and dictating the direction of the game, than you should definitely consider approaching the net. The net is scary, it surely is for most of us playing tennis out there. However, it shouldn’t be like that. Tennis net is our friend, and it can help us win more points. Having control over the net is tremendously useful and a huge asset on the court, we just need to overcome our fears and start embracing the power of it.
The major benefit of unlocking the net game is that you’ll be able to win more points. This is guaranteed, as approaching the net allows us to finish off the points in our advantage. They say in doubles that team which has a control over the net is always going to win. In singles tennis the situation is similar. As you get closer to the net, your chances of hitting a shot into the net greatly decrease. Another benefit is that you are actively taking time away from your opponents, as the shots they make will be intercepted sooner so they will have less time to recover and get to the next shot. Finally, the chances of your opponent running down the shots you make decrease significantly when you approach the net since he or she will not be able to clearly anticipate where are you going to place the shot.
Let’s check out what are the best opportunities in a match to move towards the net in order to finalize the point:
Serve is the only shot in tennis where you are in complete control of the outcome. You get to decide where you want to place the ball, which spin to use and how fast the serve will be. Serve and volley style was very popular in the past and to a certain degree is making a comeback with Federer more often utilizing it nowadays. If you are looking to approach the net, you can try serving wide or towards the middle “T”. This puts you in a great position to move in and finish the point with an easy volley. Remember to follow the ball path, so if you are serving wide, in the deuce side of the court, move a bit towards left when approaching the net. This will help you close out all the angles. Your opponent must hit a great return shot in this situation, or he’ll be in trouble.
Another great opportunity to approach the net is the situation when your opponent hits a weak return or rally shot. This ball usually lands well inside the service box, bounces a bit higher and doesn’t have much spin. When you see this ball, move in quickly. Use the momentum of your body to propel you towards the net, as soon as you hit the approach shot. The main trick is to quickly get close to the net and to move by following the ball path. You need to get in a good position where there are no angles left for your opponent to hit a winning passing shot. Finish the point with a volley aimed at the open court.
Your opponent usually expects you to crush the net following an approach shot. What he doesn’t expect is you on the net after a solid, aggressive baseline shot. Try this strategy out by hitting an aggressive baseline shot, aimed at one of the corners of the court. When you feel you’ve hit a good one, try running quickly towards the net. By doing this, not only are you catching your opponent off guard, but also if he doesn’t hit a strong return you’ll end up with an easy, put-away volley to end the point in your favor.
Dominating the net is one way of making a huge difference in your game and starting to win more matches. There are many players that have a great game altogether, but are missing that “extra shot” that ends the point, so they end up being frustrated due to losing matches that they should have won. Approaching the net is highly efficient, but if you do it at a wrong time, you will not be in a good position and are likely to lose a point. This is why the timing and “when” we approach the net is crucial. Be patient, and look for an opportunity to approach the net. Even if it feels weird at first, with a bit of practice your net game will improve and you’ll start feeling more comfortable there.