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Playing Against Net Rushers

Q. “I’m a 3.5-4.0 player and I play in many USTA tournaments both singles and doubles. I usually do pretty well in singles but I always seem to have trouble against players who go to the net on every point. Without ripping a lucky passing shot, what is the best way to combat players like this?”

From Laurel S., Hawaii

Go to the net, Charlie. Go to the net! It’ll help your singles game, too.

From Karen, Mill Creek, WA

Lob, lob, lob! Then if they take a step or two back hit a low shot that will force them to hit up. They will usually hit it in the net or give you a floater that you can put away.

From John T., San Bernardino, CA

Your opponents are going for short points and possibly trying to intimidate you. Be cool, wait, find the ball, move then hit it past them. If it’s off the service return use a deep top-spin return to keep your opponent back and complicate their volley or approach shot. If you have entered into a rally and the opponent is an inexperienced 3.5 player keep the ball low and slow with some angle occasionally, and use a lob if you don’t have the passing shot or TS lob. Basically aim for their lower body or feet with a slow dropping ball so they have to wait or do some athletic/reactive shot and hit up to you. Use a dink or sliced under spin-type shot and remember to carry the ball over the net with the racquet making last contact with the ball above the net. Control the center of the court so the opponent’s pop ups (unless you detect a weak side or body shot then exploit it) will tend to be directed away from you and towards the sidelines and corners (so have happy feet). You may want to improve your overhead with this approach. If the opponent is a developing 4.0 player use Modern Tennis Techniques (Oscars Wegner tennisteacher.com) and develop topspin drives, passing shots and lobs off the same stroke pattern and the frequency of coming to the net will subside significantly unless they are 5.0 players where you will have to take the net and/or use more angle on your returns.

From Al V., Pinehurst, NC

You really have two choices when your opponent comes to the net. First and foremost, you want to get the ball down low, anywhere and low, to make them volley up. If you cannot get the ball down low, then put it up in the air.

There’s a lot more space to work with when you go to the lob.

When we attempt a “passing shot” we are basically trying to hit a winner, a ball that your opponent cannot touch. As a result, we often hit too hard, too high, and wind up either missing or giving them an easy ball to volley away.

When you go down low, you may still end up passing them, but you will generally make a better swing and be able to stay in the point longer.

From Roxanne S., Monticello, AR

I used to have this same problem. I dreaded playing net rushers. As a matter of fact, last night, I played my 19-year-old son (I’m 38). He swears he can beat me in singles and he’s a very good singles player who can get to most any shot. He would rush the net on many of my shots since I would hit short into the middle of the court forcing him to come to net. I’m lucky enough to have a fairly decent volley game. I had much success with a backhand crosscourt passing shot hit very close to the singles line. I think you also have to have the ability to lob from both forehand and backhand. And a good drop shot is key. Keep changing it up with lobs, passing shots and sometimes directly back to the net rusher. They will be caught off guard, if they don’t know which shot you will go for. In doubles, lobs and shots hit right up the middle seem to work best as partners will be confused about who’s ball it is. And an effective alley shot is an envied weapon.

From Cain M., Alabaster, AL

High percentage of first serves – this will keep them from taking advantage of second serves.

In singles, keep the ball deep (over service line) during a rally.

If your opponent comes to the net, use dipping shots (topspin or slice) to make your opponent volley defensively up, thereby setting yourself for an easier passing shot. Vary the dipping shots with occasional lobs that go deep over the service line.

Beat them at their game. Rush the net before they do! Make them to come up with something else other than volleys to beat you.

From Teck Leong Lim, Hong Kong

I know exactly what you mean, as I have encountered such opponents several times in the past. The main thing here is to get as many balls back to your opponent. Since you are at the 3.5-4.0 level, there won’t be many opponents who will be able to do crazy things at the net. Just hit your regular stroke at the opponent, or to one of the sides. You don’t have to go for a huge winner right off the bat. Just keep hitting like how you would hit when you’re at the baseline, and this should keep your opponent under pressure. After a while of this consistency, your opponent will eventually lose confidence and maybe even stop going up to the net.

From Debbie L, Dallas, TX

If they are that patterned, lob them deep to their backhand side. A sure winner.

From Cedric S., Odessa, TX

You mentioned that you play doubles, so transfer some of the doubles play into your singles match. Hit some top-spin lobs and low slices at your opponent’s feet, and then, when you feel you can hit, you can go for those down-the-line and cross-court winners. And also try hitting more top-spin on your groundstrokes and keeping the ball deep and keep your opponent off of the net, and mix it up and get up there yourself and see how your opponent can handle that.

From Phil, Biarcliff Manor, NY

I am in the same NTRP category. You don’t have to pass the net rusher on the first attempt. The first pass attempt is only to make the opponent hit a tough volley so that you can then beat him with a pass or lob on the second or subsequent shot. None of the passing shots need to be ripped either, but placed precisely.

Practice hitting a soft heavily top spun shot to force the volleyer to hit up and stretch. The second shot should go in the opposite direction.

From Don D., Clovis, CA

There are two ways to beat the net-charging player other than the passing shot.

1.) A hard shot with heavy top spin aimed right at the approaching player’s feet or mid-section will usually get you a high defensive return that you can smash past the approaching player.

2) A top spin lob hit deep to the baseline and just over the reach of the approaching player is very effective and will make them think twice about approaching again. Don’t laugh at the lob as a weapon – Federer has one of the best in the game and uses it at will.

From Victor T., Hong Kong

The added pressure to execute your shot when the opponent rushes the net can be lessened when you are mentally prepared with a game plan. Besides hitting passing shots on either flank, try an offensive lob to keep the opponent guessing how far to move into the court. Once you have established using the lob, your opponent is less likely to be too aggressive at every opportunity. On passing shots, execute properly by staying low, keeping your eyes on the ball and finishing the stroke in front of you. A dipping shot to force your opponent to hit a below-the-net volley could result in a pop-up for your easy put-away too.

From Jim V.

I guess I have a similar problem. I’m probably in similar rating. But when I was playing singles tournaments because I am only 5-foot-7 I had trouble with tall guys who rushed the net. I ended up doing two things: If they weren’t that fast I’d really mix up my serves. I’d hit a hard one so they would play back then I’d dink a first serve over the net – so I hardly ever lost serve.

The second thing I did was become a very good lobber. People that rush the net hate playing against me. I simply won’t play their game. I’ve turned my lob into an offensive weapon.

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