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Player to Player: Overheads

Real Tennis Players - Like You! - Asking For, and Offering, Advice on the Sport They Love

Player to Player is USTA.com’s regular feature in which everyday tennis players are given a forum to ask advice on the sport they love – and their fellow players will dish out advice. We’ll post a number of the best responses we receive to our question of the week.


Player to Player:

This week's question from Saad:

My daughter is 11 years old. She has good tennis skills that show in her private lessons, but when she plays matches, she is a totally different person. What do you think I should do -- more matches or more lessons?

Please share your thoughts by e-mailing
Player@USTA.com and include your name and hometown.

Got a question of your own? Send that along, too!


Last week's question from Roxolana:
(Please note: There's no need to send additional responses to this question)

Is smashing to the opponent net player considered to be rude in social ladies doubles?

During social ladies doubles at my club, I understood from my partners that they found my smashing to the opponent net player rather rude. I've got a quiet, competitive attitude, I think, especially in comparison with my current partners, and try to hit hard and finish the point if an opportunity occurs. In doubles, I've learned one of the effective tactics is to hit to the opponent net player because she (he) has not much time to react. When I smash to the net player on the other side of the net, occasionally, it can hit that player or it simply scares her. She is not trying to move back and cover herself.

I try to respect tennis etiquette, but I can't find in internet sources any information related to my question. Please help me to understand where lays the line between playing aggressively to win and being polite in ladies doubles.

Player Responses:

From Eric, Santa Rosa, Calif:

I like your attacking, aggressive attitude in playing the net in doubles. Too many club players put each other to sleep by rallying back and forth with lobs and long, slow rallies in doubles without ever poaching. No guts, means no glory. There is a difference, however, in hitting aggressively vs. being a "head hunter."

In league and serious tournament higher levels, yes, go ahead -- hit to the body and the feet. In lower-level "social" ladies doubles, it is a different kettle of fish. You may just ruffle their feathers and get their hackles up... if you want to improve play with the best players who understand that aggression is a good thing in doubles.

If you watch the top players, they don’t mind a give-and-take of body shots. Many will draw the line and get angry, however, if they think you are "head hunting" and trying to intentionally hurt the other. There are common sense limits to aggression. If you want a more tame but social "hit-and-giggle" style of doubles, then just hit to the feet only or to the open kill zones.

Different strokes for different folks is the bottom line.

From Barb, Bella Vista:

I don't think it is rude. I feel it is just part of the game if you are playing an opponent that is equal level to your play. If they don't want to be smashed and can't handle your balls at the net, then they can back off the net. I hate being lobbed, but that doesn't stop women with less power from using it effectively as a weapon. In fact, if they are smart players, they use it to take away your power at the net.

Just remember that what comes around goes around, so you can't be upset when you get smashed. I've played with guys too much to worry about getting smashed. It's just part of the game. If power players can't smash, then weaker players shouldn't be able to lob. Now what fun would that be? It's all about using your strengths and exposing your opponent’s weaknesses. I love tennis because it is such a mind game, as well as physical.

By the way, you probably guessed I am a smasher, but I am trying to learn to lob effectively, also! To all the people I've ever loved (I mean smashed) before, don't take it personally because it isn't meant to be. It is just a style of play that comes out when I am playing aggressively.

From Lisa, Diablo, Calif:

I have played against opponents who have purposely targeted the net player, and it can be an effective tactic. If your aim is good, the best place to 'smash' the ball is at your opponent's feet. But I have played in a few matches where the opponent is less than accurate, and whether on purpose or otherwise, they go for the face or upper body. With little or no time to react, it can be painful and frustrating to play against that type of player.

In social matches especially, if I miss the feet and hit my opponent higher than the knees, I will apologize for my less-thanprecise aim! But as always, in tennis, I can't make my opponent play "nice." I can only make myself accountable!

From Lee, Sacramento, Calif:

It is rude for the opponent net player to NOT turn her back or step aside to concede the point while you set up for your smash, unless she is confident she can protect herself while attempting to return your shot.

You are playing tennis, not tiddlywinks! Smash away whenever you can.

From Don:

If my partner hits a sitter and I eat the ball, the only person I have to say anything to is my partner! Period. I'm on the court, and I'd do the same to my opponent (and still share a beer with them after the match)! GO FOR IT ! ! You're playing tennis and regardless of the level of play (3.0 or 4.5 or whatever), that's your best shot -- go for it. Only exception is if before you make a play on the ball your opponent loudly forfeits the point!

From Blandford:

I have found that most people find this practice rude, but I do like to have it done to me, as I feel I am there to rip the ball back in a position to my advantage. In mixed doubles, I do restrain myself from doing this to my female opponent because of the stigma attached to doing it.

From Irene, Falls Church, Va.:

Yes, if you are hitting an overhead from close at the net at the net player it is very rude. You should be able to put the ball away with an angle. It is OK, however, to drill the ball at the net player from waistline to shoulder shots.

From Phil, Spartanburg:

I don't see anything wrong with going at the player's feet. If you happen to drill your opponent, a sincere apology would be appropriate. Just don't go at them high.

From Marty, Prescott, Ariz:

Just because you are playing socially doesn't give your opponents the right to play poorly. If a lob goes up, the opponent at the net has two choices (especially if it is a poor lob!) -- move back or be ready to have the ball hit at them. If you hit the smash at the player who decided to remain at the net, then just consider it a free lesson to the poorer player.

From Chris, Hudson, Ohio:

My wife has played USTA as well as social doubles for years. She is an aggressive player who was taught to hit at the feet of the net player, including overheads. She uses this tactic effectively in USTA, even when the opponent complains because it is not social doubles. When playing socially, she has to be aware of the players that she is playing against. There are some that get quite angry if they are hit or there is a near miss. Although she does not like it, she will adjust and do her best to hit winners in other ways. This can be a challenge that could help improve your shot making. And, friendships are not wounded.

My wife (I share this opinion) believes that an overhead is typically the result of a poor shot by the opponent (either opponent) and if it results in an overhead, unless extremely routine, the "loser" of the point should only be mad at themselves. After all, unless you are a strong player -- say 4.5 or higher -- complete control of your overhead direction, distance, etc., is not assured.

Another opinion my wife and I share is that when a lob is thrown up that will result in an overhead, the net player should be retreating to play defense. In other words, if the net player continues to stand at the net, they are out of position and only have themselves to blame for being in the way of an overhead.

In summary, in a social context, simply be aware of whom your playing with and, if their friendship is important, play to maintain that friendship. In a competitive context, smash away!

From Peg, Jacksonville Beach, Fla.:

I have lived and played tennis all over the country, coast to coast, from the 3.5 to 4.0 level. I have found at the 3.5 level that players generally are not consistent enough, or in control enough, to hit an overhead at the opposing net player's feet (where your smash should be aimed, not at their head or mid-section). Also at the 3.5 level, players generally are not consistent enough to always hit a deep lob to prevent the overhead smash at their partner at the net.

Still, it is very difficult to change your tactics when playing in competition and when playing socially. The correct play, when presented with a short lob, is to hit the overhead smash at the net player's feet (actually, at their heels if you're that good). You should always practice how you want to play in competition. The opposing net player should be forewarned by her partner that she hit the short lob (player should announce "SHORT" to warn her partner), and the net player should take clues from you that you are raising your racket to hit an overhead. If the net player feels vulnerable, then she can turn her back so as not to be hit. Or, the net player can take it as a learning experience and learn how to react correctly to the situation. It is not up to you to change your tactics and what you have learned -- social situation or otherwise.

Now, you can ALWAYS apologize for hitting at the net person. That is socially acceptable any time.

From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, Fla.:

There is "hitting at" and there is "HITTING AT" the net person. Obviously, one is hitting to force your opponent to error, while the other is to cause harm to the opponent. If you’re keeping score, then it is tennis. Call it what you may. But remember, is that kind of play beneficial to your game and the social environment in which you play? Now some folks think anything hit hard in their direction is foul play -- in which case, find others to play. Remember the words "you reap was you sew" and, of course, the golden rule. Tennis is supposed to be fun, and catching an opponent napping at the net is FUN. Turning a tennis ball into a Naval Destroyer is something else.

In closing, the line is clear who are you playing with and what is acceptable within that group. The seniors I play with dish it out the same way as they take it. One guy cries when you knock one down their shoelaces, while the next is ready for paybacks. These are the guys in my circle, so be it.

From Tony, Haddonfield, NJ:

There's no source for the answer to your question except common sense. It's not rude, but in recreational tennis, what's the point? You should use that opportunity to develop an overhead strategy that wins the point without nailing the net person.

To a weaker player, I certainly wouldn't hit at her. You could end playing Australian Doubles.

To a decent player, it's not a good idea to hit at the net person, simply because that gives her a chance to get the racquet on the ball. A good net player will back up when she sees an overhead coming and stand ready. I've seen it happen often enough that the defensive shot goes for a winner. Why give her that opportunity? Hit to the open court and go for the point. Develop your game.

As for sportsmanship, any tennis player knows the risk of being at the net in that situation. Anyone brave enough to stay there really has no complaint, but that would probably be a weaker player.

From Coach Kenny, Highland Park, Ill.:

You want to play aggressive, but you also want to play fair. If you have a sitter overhead not right at the person, just put it away. In doubles and singles, going at a person’s body is a very hard shot to return at the net and in the backcourt. A very good approach shot sometimes is down the middle. Also a very good serve is at the body. You really don't want to swing at volleys, anyway. You probably want to get better, so play tough but know when to hold back. Hitting a person hard is easy to determine intent, and you shouldn’t do it. Other than that, go for it. It’s always better to hit a ball out than in the net. Happy 2010.

From Linn, West Linn, Ore.:

Yes, I, too, have had this problem. When watching the William sisters, I see them hitting overheads to the net player. BUT when I have done this in social tennis, I was told I was getting a "reputation." So I learned to try and go out a little wider (to the side of the net player.) Some of these shots have gone an inch or two OUT, so now I have programmed my overheads to go down the middle and have more friends and more wins!! I say “it’s just tennis." I would rather have more friends off the court and a better reputation on the court.

From Melanie:

I was once told that if you did not want to get hit by a tennis ball, you should take up golf. However, if it was a social, friendly game of tennis, then you should only hit your opponent below the knees.

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