Taking the Ball Early: The “Go To” Mindset
Taking the ball on the rise in tennis is a mindset that takes focus and determination. Moving to the ball is demanding on the body and takes much more effort than waiting for the ball. That is why so many recreational players tend to wait for the ball, because it is easier on the body and naturally we do what feels best. However, if more players were aware of the benefits of moving to the ball and how the benefits apply to multiple sports, I am sure people would buy in.
Think of some of the great athletes and ask yourself if they go to the ball or wait for the ball to come to them. Dennis Rodman went up aggressively to get rebounds as they bounced off the rim. He didn’t wait for the ball to come to him. Wes Welker moves toward the ball when catching the football on a crossing route in coverage. Andre Agassi and Roger Federer move into the court and attack the ball on the rise. When Roger gets a floater he takes the ball out of the air as a swinging volley rather than waiting for the ball to bounce. I think you get the point. All of the athletes mentioned above have the “go to” mindset. Therefore, they are more aggressive and more likely to dictate play. Not convinced? Let’s talk benefits.
Taking the Ball Early: Benefits
- Opponent has less time to react and set up for the incoming ball.
- Make the opponent pay for hitting short balls and balls that float through the air.
- Being closer to the net you can produce sharper angles that cause your opponent to cover more court.
Positioning and Set Up
- By taking the ball early you cut off your opponent’s angles and don’t need to cover as much court.
- By being further in the court it puts you in a better position to be offensive and attack the net.
- By going to the ball you have greater control over the height and the contact point at which you stroke the ball.
- Due to taking the ball on the rise you can minimize the impact of spin.
- A prime example of this would be taking a kick serve or slice serve early so that the ball doesn’t have the opportunity to move outside of your comfort or strike zone.
- It is favorable to simplify the backswing of the stroke to handle and redirect hard hit balls, which can help lessen unforced errors.
Taking the Ball on the Rise: Best Practices
- When playing try to stand close to the baseline and move forward to dictate play. If your opponent hits the ball with good depth, adjust accordingly.
- Simplify your backswing so that it goes back far enough to establish a strong load but no further. A shorter backswing will help with your timing and comfort when taking the ball early.
- When the ball is low work on establishing a neutral or square stance and bending your knees so that your center of gravity is low. This will help maintain good posture and balance as you set up below the ball.
- Focus on your opponent’s body language and strings prior to hitting the ball. By doing so you may get some cues and clues to the quality and direction of ball your opponent is likely to hit.
- For example, you may hit a deep ball to your opponent’s backhand and notice that he will be reaching to hit a slice that is likely to float through the air. This may cue you to move in quickly and hit a swinging volley, if that happens to be your style.
Taking the Ball Early: General Footwork and Set up Tips
Taking the ball early requires the same great footwork you would use on all your strokes and more. These general footwork concepts are going to seem obvious if you have been around the game for some time, however a refresher never hurts.
- Always initiate the split step prior to your opponent making contact with the ball so that you can react explosively to the ball.
- Utilize your adjustment steps, small calculated steps, as you approach the ball and assess the optimal setup point.
- Work hard to move your feet out behind the ball so that your last step to the ball is forward into the court rather than horizontal toward the sideline.
- By doing so you allow your hips to unload into the ball, where as if the last step is to the side the hips have a difficult time rotating through.
- Focus on keeping your head still through contact. This will help with your point of contact and timing.
- If your head were to change elevations or move horizontally at contact, more than likely your racquet head will follow which commonly results in miss hits.
The Drill for Taking the Ball Early or on the Rise in Tennis
Taking the ball on the rise can be taught and implemented through training. Working on taking the ball early can be physically exhausting and mentally draining. As you practice remember to enjoy the process of what you are doing and as long as it is effective, the results will come.
The drill that I have found effective for improving my ability to take the ball on the rise is where my partner and I stand inside the baseline and exchange ground strokes. First, position yourself two feet inside the baseline. Second, begin to rally with your partner. Third, move in on each short ball ensuring to take the ball on the rise. Lastly, lets cover what to do on balls that most people find challenging during this drill.
Low Balls: Lower down with your legs on balls that are hit low around your feet and hit your ground strokes. If you have to take adjustment steps back to allow for the ball to rise up to your preferred contact point do so, however only when necessary.
Balls that Sail Long: If the ball is headed long go ahead and practice your swinging volley. This will help you attack balls that float through the air and improve your hand eye coordination.
Taking the Ball Early: What You Need to Implement
Taking the ball early in tennis isn’t all sunshine and rainbows; it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Through practice and doing the best practices and the drill mentioned previously you should be able to improve these key skills for taking the ball on the rise:
- Read the ball sooner
- Set up for the stroke earlier
- Improve your timing and hand eye coordination
- Improve your footwork and move quickly to the ball
- Begin to hit with more topspin, court distance is shorter, need more spin to keep the ball in.
I hope you found the article helpful and please share your thoughts below by commenting and subscribe. See you on the court!