Ask Nick: Midcourt Balls; Dealing With Injury; Being Aggressive from the Baseline

Monday, October 14, 2013 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

Dear Nick, I’m a decent player with a decent serve and decent strokes from the backcourt, but I have trouble with midcourt sitters that should be “easy” putaways. I hit them either into the top of the net or I loop them beyond the baseline. Any tips would be appreciated.—Saleh M.K. Saleh, Woking, Surrey, U.K.

I’m positive my tips will solve your problem. We must first erase in your mind that you have trouble with midcourt sitters. You must say, “I worked so hard to get the defensive sitter. I know my shot will be totally offensive and win the point with a forced error or a follow-up volley.”

1. Don’t anticipate or look at what your opponent is doing. You play the ball only.
2. Start preparing as you start moving to the sitter.
3. Have your arm and racquet away from your body when you start the forward part of your swing.
4. Do not throw your body at the ball, but keep your shoulder level and apply racquet-head speed when making contact with the ball. Hit through the ball to the target area.
5. Remember to point your non-hitting hand at the ball and catch the racquet at the end of the swing. Don’t go for a winner but a well-placed shot.

Hi Nick, I’m a right-handed 4.0-4.5 player and my left leg is paralyzed below the knee due to a surgical error during a back operation. I used to play at a higher level (5.0-5.5) and my serve was arguably my best stroke. But since the injury I can no longer balance on or push off of my front foot, and my serve has never been the same. I wear a special brace that keeps my ankle from turning and I’ve been able to adjust the other parts of my game, but the serve remains a huge problem. Can I adjust to work around this deficit?—Max Callahan, Philadelphia, PA

Your question is interesting to me, especially when you are so determined to keep playing even though you have a physical problem. You have accepted the cards you were dealt and together we will make a winning hand. My former student Tommy Haas said he would come back after three shoulder operations and he did, ending 2012 ranked No. 21 in the world. You can come back too. Here are my tips: 

Your front foot cannot give you lift or power, and for the most part is obsolete. To offset this, your toss must be only slightly in front of you, a little to the right, and lower. Put your feet very close together, since you cannot move either foot during your motion. This will force you to put your toss in the right place. You must hit up on the ball.

Dear Nick, I consider myself an aggressive baseliner who hits quite flat most of the time with an Eastern forehand grip and an Eastern backhand grip (one-handed backhand). I’m an intermediate player on my high school team. In matches during baseline rallies, occasionally my shots end up going out even though the strokes feel good to me. Is this mostly due to timing issues, contact point or footwork/placement?—Jimmy Johnson, Sarasota, FL

Let’s put the factors on the table. You have a problem with the two Eastern grips, which for the most part results in you hitting your shots out. Now, 99 percent of the time I do not recommend grip changes. But in this case, I’d say go to a qualified coach and have him adjust your grips to semi-Western on both sides. If you’re not comfortable with that, do the following:

1. Move back and make contact with the ball between your waist and shoulder.
2. Hit low-to-high and overexaggerate your follow-through.


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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