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Some players view the approach shot as a mid-court putaway in disguise. Rather than move through the shot to gain position, they gather themselves and take a big swipe at the ball, looking for an outright winner or a meager reply that leads to a sitter volley.

Others opt for more abbreviated technique, keeping their momentum moving through contact and treating the approach like a well-timed pass in basketball—the assist that sets up a winning shot. To do that, you need command over the direction, spin and placement of the shot.

Due North

Once you’ve identified the opportunity ball, the next step is deciding where to hit it. The general rule of thumb is to keep the ball in front of you. For example, if you’re contacting the ball in the deuce half of the court, you hit the shot down the line to your opponent’s ad side. Ideally, this would be to the weaker wing.

Hitting the approach crosscourt is advisable when you’re in the middle of the court, or if the previous shot has pulled the opponent as far wide as the doubles alley. Otherwise, you’ll leave too much court exposed for the ensuing passing shot (more on that in Part 3)

When in doubt, approaching up the middle is a smart positional play. This forces the opponent to create all the angle on the pass, which can lead to an error.


Surface Matters

If the purpose of the approach shot is to set up the volley, then the type of shot you hit can have a big impact. A slice—especially on the backhand—has always been a staple as it skids low, and forces the opponent to hit up on their passing shot attempt. It also tends to be a slower shot, giving an approacher more time to crowd the net.

However, while effective on a faster surface, a slice may have a tendency to sit up when the court is grittier and slow—such as on clay. In these instances, a flatter approach shot will pay bigger dividends. Heavy topspin shots can also take advantage of a court’s elevated bounce; high approaches that get above an opponent’s backhand can be a handful to return under pressure.

Go Long

In terms of distance on the approach shot, favor depth. Again, it affords more time to get into good volleying position, as well as more opportunity to intercept a passing shot struck from behind the baseline. But keep in mind that not all opponents abide by the same rules. Some players are quite skilled at moving side-to-side and defending their baselines. Yet, dragging them inside the court where they’re not as comfortable—while also combatting a net rusher—presents double trouble.

Following a short angle or drop shot to net is a shrewd maneuver against such players. And it’s especially impactful when it forces a player with a two-handed backhand to take one hand off the racquet to reach for the ball, and still come up with a quality shot.