Playing Big Men

PB 2013This week, Tom McCune and I teamed up for a Pelican Bay tennis event vs. a tough, tall team — Jack Moter (6’4”) and Mike Griner (6’3”) – with the strategy of getting those two big guys off the net and back to the baseline.

To do that, we employed the obvious tactic of lobbing over their heads, whenever the opportunity arose. Trouble was… they both played very well: smothering the net with their long reach + going back well for the lobs and mostly putting away their overheads.

We were able to take it to three sets, but they prevailed 6-2, 6-7, 6-2 in two and a half hours.

So, what could we have done differently?

P.S. This weekend is the annual Naples/Ft. Myers Tennis Challenge; and I have the challenge of playing Fred Drilling in the 65 singles (Bonita Bay Club at 2 p.m. Saturday).

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10 thoughts on “Playing Big Men

  1. Stop picking on big guys George!

    Howard – you big guys take up too much room, drink too much our beer, and make us smaller guys feel like an inferior species. George

  2. It is very simple George, You either lob higher and deeper or you hit it at their feet so that they bring the ball up to you to put away.

    Dick – yes, the King of a The Lob can say that! Thanks. George

  3. George,

    You played it completely wrong! The most effective way to play taller opponents is off-pace and at their feet, and then look to take advantage of the point when they hit up. Big guys (I’m 6′ 4″) are typically very good at hitting down (ball above the net) and not as good at hitting up (ball below the net).

    Jeff – thank you Big Guy! When are you coming back to camp, so I can try it? George

  4. Play your game. Can’t change it just ’cause they’re big. Make ’em bend over low, hit up, set up your net man. You guys are both good net players.

    Howie – I do believe that adapting to the situation you face is important, but hitting low is probably one of the answers. Thanks. George

  5. George,
    I found a solution to dealing with Jack Moter. Many times, when he lived in New England, I was on the other side of the net. Last year, here in the SW Florida January tournaments, I was on the same side. It worked.

    Tom- “you can’t beat ’em, join them!” And you did that well! See you soon? George

  6. George — A great question. First of all, to grind that out against you they must be quite good.

    My belief about players that tall is that one reason they’re not better is because they’re overheads aren’t that good. We shorter players have no choice but to build overheads if we want to get to net. Taller guys at the 4.5 level often feast off the fact that recreational players are weak and limited lobbers. So, yes, lob those tall guys repeatedly. You must. Even if they put some away, you must back them off the net or else otherwise their simple reach will make it ridiculously easy for them to volley.

    Second, everyone has sides they return better on, off various balls in all sorts of places. Tall people? Perhaps more vulnerable to body serves. Find out which is most difficult for them by experimenting with:
    – spins
    – formations
    – serving from a different part of the court

    And try this stuff constantly. There is always a way to make it hard for your opponent. You may not win, but at least make them earn it. And judging by your match, sounds like you did — at least for a while.

    Joel – yes, we were successful for one set. I guess lobbing is like Edberg rushing the net… “You may pass me some times, but I will win more than I lose.” Thanks. George

  7. Good comparison to Edberg, George. But keep in mind that at the recreational level, overheads are guilty until proven innocent. My approach to lobbing is similar to how Chicago politicians advised people to vote: early and often.

  8. As a short guy all of my life, I have developed the following strategies for playing big guys:

    1). When they are at net, hit at them, HARD. Big guys have great reach and will get balls back that would be winning passing shots against others because of their wing span. So neutralize that by hitting at them. They may still hit the volleys, but the volleys will be more reactive and not as strong or well placed. Adding the extra pace on your shots will make it that much harder for them to reflex back good volleys.

    2). If they are not right on top of the net, even if they are only a few feet back, hit short, topped shots with not much pace that dip at their feet. As others have said, big guys hit down well but typically don’t hit up nearly as well, probably because it is hard to get their big bodies down so low to the ball. When the low balls cause them to hit up, go to suggestions 1 or 3.

    3). When they are right on top of the net, as they often will be, lob. But make sure you make a special effort to elevate your follow through much more than normal in hitting the lob so you both get it high enough to go over their heads and you impart topspin on the ball to make it dip quicker and into the court when you have cleared their heads. Even still, expect that big guys will be able to hit effective overheads off of many of your lobs, especially if you don’t hit the lobs perfectly. So make it a game of percentages. Don’t stop trying the lob. But by all means, wear a cup.

    4). When they are deep, playing ground strokes, hit with slice. Avoid topspin in this situation. A topped ball just bounces right into a big guy’s strike zone, allowing him to pulverize his return. (Think Juan Martin Del Potro for a good example.). Try to avoid that by putting heavy slice on your groundies to them when they are standing back. As already noted, big guys have more trouble getting low to the ball. So hit them the slice and make them always have to bend, hit half volleys or sweep their racquets low to hit your heavy slices.

    5). Above all else. Never, never, never, never allow them to break your serve. Do everything you can to hold serve EVERY time you and your partner are serving. Dive like Boris Becker, slide like Novak Djokovich, sacrifice the rest of your body if you have to. But make it your goal – as if your life depended on it – to hold your serves. Big guys nearly always have very good serves and they are used to holding serve routinely, much more frequently than small guys. They count on winning close sets, especially tiebreakers, with their great serves. So you must not ever give them the advantage by losing your serve. Then use your steely resolve to hold as a way to psychologically break down THEIR serves in the pinch, when they MUST hold serve too.

    Marty – Great tips! tks, george

  9. All great feedback. I like the short off pace balls to their feet and body shots at all times so they cannot get extended. And above all – win the last point.

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