Winning Shots

Once you’ve learned the basics of tennis, winning becomes a matter of taking what you know and using the variables possible off of each basic. When you do that, then you have learned “the winning shots,” and instead of setting up shots as possible points, you will be stroking the ball, volleying, countering the overhead lob and “playing the angle” to win.

Dan O’ Bryant, resident professional and a teacher at T-Bar-M Racquet Club, has provided a series of tips which he feels will help the average or above average player to win more games, more consistently and with less effort. These are not the kind of shots taught to beginners, they are shots that require a certain feel for timing and a presence of mind that tells you when to use them.

One brief qualification is in order here: these shots are most effective on the laykold or hard court surfaces that are the most predominant in the Dallas area. Their effect varies with other surfaces such as clay or grass.

Beyond that, they are shots you will have to develop through prolonged practice. Once you learn them and get the feel for their use, then it’s bound to get around – “He’s devastating as a singles player, but boy do I want him as my doubles partner.”

The Serve: flat, slice and spin

The beginner usually tosses the ball behind or overhead, thus allowing no body force to enter into the serve. The average player tosses the ball above or slightly in front, but still neutralizes the body action. (Both these serves are defensive in nature.) But the advanced or aggressive player tosses the ball up in front and throws his full body weight and force into the act.



The flat serve (No. 1) is always used for firsc serve, never a second serve. In the deuce court it is used down the midlines, thus allowing only a small margin of error. In the ad court it is used wide or down the middle, utilizing the flexibility of the middle low point of the net.

The slice serve (No. 2) is used wide in the deuce court, forcing the opponent to follow the movement of the ball. In the ad court it is used directly at the opponent, cramping his movement, or down the middle making him move more and reducing his angle of return. The slice can be used as either a first or second serve.The spin serve (also No. 2) is primarily used first in doubles and second in singles. In the deuce court it is hit 100 per cent ot the time down the middle to the backhand, and spins to middle court. This gives the oppo-nent less angle to work with on his return, and gives the server more time for position-ing. In the ad court the spin is hit wide to the backhand and pulls the opponent out of court.The Volley: aggressive and drop

The aggressive or swinging volley requires the proper understanding of when to hit it and how to apply it. It can be hit off the forehand (No. 1) or the backhand (No. 2). The proper time to hit the aggressive volley is when the ball is returned to you at a height of one foot or more above the net. The shot is not a block. It requires more of a follow through or controlled swing, and it is not a set-up for a point. It’s a winning shot.

The drop volley is one of the most delicate shots in tennis. The arm and body are used as a shock absorber to take the pace off the ball rather than to apply pace. To be effective, the shot must drop into the opponent’s court within four feet of the net with a slight amount of underspin applied to ihe ball.

The Forehand: overspin and approach

The forehand overspin (Nos. 1 and 2) provides a player with the ability to hit the ball with the greatest amount of pace, but as it comes into the opponent’s court, the over-spin brings the ball down fast and into the playing surface.

The key to the forehand approach (No.3) is knowing the right time to hit it and when to come to net. It’s generally simple, when any shot is hit and the momentum of your shot or return carries you toward the net, keep coming and the approach forehand will be perfectly set up.

The Overhead: forehand and backhand

The biggest error a tennis player commits when faced with returning an overhead lob is the failure to react quickly enough to get into position. The key in this shot is to move fast when you realize your opponent has hit a lob and it’s going to come down on you like a “smart bomb.” Move back fast (No. 1) before the ball crosses the net, keeping your feet underneath you. Set yourself up to be under the ball when it reaches the apex of the lob (No. 2). Then return it crisply as it comes down from above (Nos. 3-4). The ideal place to return an overhead lob with a forehand is to hit it deep to the baseline. Then, when you’ve made your return, don’t wait for your opponent’s action. Recover fast and get back up toward the net and back into position.



The overhead backhand return is rarely taught in tennis. It is useful, however, when an aggressive lob is hit to your backhand side. You will be completely reversed from your usual playing position (No. 1), with your back to the net. The power for this return comes trom your arm. Lay the racket down and into the ball (No. 2) with a snap of the wrist.

The Backhand: underspin and over-spin

The backhand underspin (No. 1) is the most common variation of the backhand. It is used for control, consistency and placement, rather than for aggressive play. It is easier to hit (note flatness of the racket’s plane of swing) with the underspin keeping the shot trajectory low, and it is more difficult to hit back with as much authority. It is used most often when both players are in the back court because of the natural depth the shot produces.

The backhand overspin (No. 2) is a more aggressive shot and is most effective as a passing shot. It drops fast when it goes over the net. In a backhand to backhand rally overspin applied to underspin will give additional control to the underspin player. For consistency and control try to maintain the natural flow of the ball -i.e., overspin off of underspin, underspin off of overspin to keep the ball spinning in the same direction.

Playing The Angle

Playing the angle is a positioning that few average players take advantage of on the court. Next time you’re on the court, look at where your opponent’s standing to serve or return a shot. Chances he will be at one of the corners. If so, imagine a triangular pattern, outlining the extremes of his possible returns or serves. He can either hit it down the right sideline (1) or cross court to the left sideline (2). Now you have the extremities of his possible shots. Imagine another line (broken line) bisecting those angles and position yourself on the bisecting line at the back of the court. If he hits it down the sideline to your right, you can return with a forehand. If he hits to the left of you, you can reach it with a forehand. Notice that in the back court you are opposite your opponent (you are left of center and he is to his left of center). When you are at net, position yourself to the same half of the court (you are right of center and your opponent is to his left of center). Besides giving you the best position it cuts down on the amount of ground you have to cover when the stroke is hit. Southpaws simply reverse the return shots, hitting the forehand off the cross court and the backhand off the sideline.

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