The Height Advantage

How much of a difference does it make playing a taller player? And what strategies should you use playing against them?

A World of Giants

The later matches at Wimbledon highlighted the “growth” in tennis … specifically, the height of players like Isner, Anderson, Raonic, etc.  But how about when YOU face a taller player or doubles team… what should you do differently, if anything?

I remember one of the TV tennis analysts pointing out that John Isner strikes his serve when it is 13.5 feet off the ground!  That creates an incredibly severe angle for his 135 mile an hour serve.

High or Low?

After losing a tournament doubles match to a very tall doubles team, who we tried to get off the net by lobbing over their heads … they confided in us that they “love the high ball,” but have trouble with the low balls.  So if you can, the idea would be to keep the ball down at their feet.

And if they are hitting “booming” senior serves (all things are relative), I try to stand back to give myself more time to return the ball.  And, encourage my doubles partner to start back until we can get into the point.

How about you … what do you do?

Hip Update: I am playing doubles and hitting regularly with Bob Wilkie… and am at about 75% of “normal.”  We even played some singles points; and i actually “ran” for the ball (didn’t get there).

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5 thoughts on “The Height Advantage

  1. I’m ‘only’ 6’3″ tall George which is nothing nowadays ! Dudi Sela is ‘only’ 5’8″ & he doesn’t have any big shots but he beat Isner at Wimbledon in 2017 & he beat Karlovic at Newport this week ! Go figure I suppose.
    Best, Howard

    Howard, David Ferrer is another example of a “winning small guy,” but they are the exception to the rule. thanks, george

  2. The primary difference in how I play a taller player versus a shorter player is placement of serves, approach shots, and forcing deep grounds strokes. The taller player will get many more straight at him as usually more difficult to get around and hit a full form shot.
    Of course, individual athleticism can vary. Another variable is how deep he is lined up – body serves to someone standing a yard behind the baseline not as effective.
    Keeping the ball low is another factor but all the better taller players have adjusted to hitting low balls well.

    Winder, you are right … the tall guys (if somewhat mobile) can get the wide serve, but have trouble with the body serve. thanks, george

  3. Always good to read what is going on in the match, i.e. low or high balls. But I’ve found if you play your game, your regular shots could still be good enough to win……………..if you hit them where you want.

    Howie, you are in the group of players who believe in “playing your game” and not being concerned about your opponent’s strengths/weaknesses. i like as much info as possible and try to use it! thanks, george

  4. I’m unhappy that you’re encouraging people to share their strategy for beating tall players.

    Jack, and it was you and Mike Griner who were the “tall team” that liked our high balls!! george

  5. I sometimes play with a friend who is the same age as me and who is about 6’5″ or so. At one time, back when we were playing the 35s, he was ranked #1 in Middle States in his age group. He was also the tennis coach for a college outside of Philadelphia. A quality player and a very nice guy. He used to regularly clobber me back in the 35s. Now, we are actually pretty even. The last time we played singles, he beat me in 3 close sets, with the third set going to a tiebreaker. The time before that, I beat him.

    To be sure, we have both slowed down a bit since then but my friend has fared a bit worse because he has gimpy knees and I do not. Still, his great reach and height mean that his serves are always coming in at me from a higher trajectory than anyone else and that means that even his hard and flat serves bounce higher into the air than other people’s serves do. It is kind of like adding the same height after the bounce of a kicker second serve to a hard, fast and flat first serve. While I have tried standing farther back to return his boomer, that creates a secondary problem for me in that it opens up more angles, both to my forehand and my backhand, for him to hit into. As I have slowed down over the years, it is just harder to react and reach balls that are hit at greater angles away from my body.

    So, I actually will act counter intuitively and move forward a step when returning my friend’s serve. The goal is to try to attack the ball and take his serve on the rise like Agassi used to do, instead more defensively moving backward. Of course, I need to be able to react a millisecond quicker whenever I do this than would be the case by moving farther back but, surprisingly, I usually have good success with this tactic against my friend’s serve. That may also be attributable to the fact that, even though he still serves much harder and faster than I do, his serve has slowed down quite a bit over the years. If he could serve now with the same pace that he used to have in the 35s, it would not matter where I stood; he would be putting in service winners and aces everywhere.

    Another tactic that I have learned to use with my friend is, on groundstrokes where he stays back, to try to hit deep slices off of both forehand and backhand, but when he comes to the net to try to hit shorter topspin shots instead. The idea is to keep the ball low so he has to stretch and hit up when he is at the baseline, and to make the ball drop quickly at his feet when he gets closer to the net — in both cases to keep the ball out of his comfort zone. Sometimes this works better than others with him

    Also, my friend has incredible reach on his volleys when he gets to the net. He also has a terrific overhead. In his prime, he was almost impossible to pass from any position on the court; if he got to the net, you were toast. He still has great reach but he is a bit more prone to getting beaten by a passing shot now because his reaction time is slower. A long reach is only useful if you can react fast enough to get to the ball to employ it. Still, he has great volleys. He has very long arms that can reach a lot of balls. So one tactic that I have come to learn with players like him who volley well and have great reach is that they sometimes do have trouble with balls hit right at them at the net. It is as if they are so tall and gangly that they just don’t react as well when they have to move their racquet inward toward their body instead of reaching outward to cover a passing shot.

    Again, this does not always work with my friend, but I have noticed that if I do this to him enough, he sometimes tries cheating to one side or another when he is at the net, apparently to try to avoid having me hit the ball right at him. Of course, when he does this, it also sometimes opens up some angles where I am able to get the ball past him at the net, if he cheats a little too far to his right or left.

    Overall, it is hard being short and playing against tall players. They have natural advantages that short players do not have . So you need to use your brain to play them and try different things.

    Marty, yes, hitting the “passing shot” as a tall guy is like a body serve: outside their comfort zone. thanks, george

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