5 Minutes With Nick: Short Game

Monday, March 18, 2013 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

You worked hard to get this short ball, and now it’s time to capitalize on it. But how?

Professional tennis players approach short balls with total confidence. Club players often approach them with dread, and for good reason: Hitting a short ball isn’t easy, and you’ll have a lot to think about when one arrives. It could land in many different spots on the court, bounce very high, or have a lot of spin. Where you are positioned on the court will have an impact on what you can do with this shot.

First, let’s set the facts straight about the pros: They don’t approach a shot like this and think, “I’m going to hit a winner.” That’s not the right attitude. Instead, they pick a spot, execute their shot and then move in for a winning volley, if necessary. The best players know what they will do with the ball and don’t react to their opponents’ movement. It’s better to concentrate on your shot and dictate play. Here’s how to do it:

1. Remember, you have to earn the short ball—it’s not a right. Study your opponents, learn what makes them uncomfortable and then get to work.

2. You’ll most likely have to move several steps to get to a short ball. You must have complete control over your body and have your racquet back and in position when you reach the ball. It’s OK to run quickly at first, but slow down as you approach the ball so you don’t overrun it.

3. The height of the ball and your balance will affect what you can do with the ball. But no matter what, don’t try to smash it. There’s no need to take a wild swing or throw your body at the ball. This will produce an error. All you have to do is relax, be confident and be sure to generate a little extra racquet-head speed as you make contact.

4. A question for you: “What do you plan to do with that short ball?” If your answer is, “Pound a winner,” you’re off my team. This is a two-step process. This shot should set up an easier shot. If you hit a winner, great, but that should not be the goal.

5. So where should you hit the ball? If your opponent is well behind the baseline, consider a drop shot or angle. If your opponent is close to the baseline, you can either hit the ball deep crosscourt, deep down the line or deep down the middle. Your decision depends on your strengths, your position on the court and your opponent's weaknesses. You want to hit the ball two to three feet inside the line. Again, you're not going for a winner; you’re trying to win the point. There's a big difference between the two.


Nick Bollettieri founded the IMG Tennis Academy. He has coached 10 players who have gone on to rank No. 1 in the world.

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