Don’t Hit to the Open Court

Crootof Photo

It is tennis gospel: hit the ball to the open court.  But is this ALWAYS the right play?  Depending on the opponent and situation, it may not be.

Where Are They Going?

If you are a righty (playing singles) and your righty opponent hits his backhand down the line, that should set you up for a solid opportunity for a cross court forehand to the open court.

But if you are playing someone who runs very well, unless you hit an excellent shot, they will probably get there in plenty of time. And when they do, now THEY have the opportunity to hit their forehand down the line to YOUR open court.

Or if you are playing a normally slower senior with tennis smarts, they will know you are probably going to hit cross court; and before you ever strike the ball, they are chugging their way to the open court.

Hit Behind Them

So, at least some of the time, you should hit BEHIND these two types of opponents; so they don’t get into the pattern of knowing where you are going to hit the ball.  And if they are like most of us normal players, once the body weight is going in one direction, it is very difficult to stop and reverse direction.


But I think it was John McEnroe who said on TV one time, “Never hit behind a tired player… because they will still be there!”

What do YOU think?

Know someone who should read this?  Send them a link and if you are not on my “new posting alert email list” and want to be (I promise, no other uses of your email address!), just drop me a note at

My Book: if you’d like to get a copy of “Senior Tennis”, just click on the link on the upper right of this web page to go to, look at the list of places under “My Book” on the bar above, or ask me what clubs are carrying it!

7 thoughts on “Don’t Hit to the Open Court

  1. “So, at least some of the time, you should hit BEHIND these two types of opponents; so they don’t get into the pattern of knowing where you are going to hit the ball.”

    Exactly! I always try and keep my opponents guessing and not become too predictable where I go with the ball! Thanks George!

    Jim, and this holds to for serve/volley and a host of other predictive actions. And once again, you win the prize as “the first responder”! thanks, george

  2. You mean hitting behind those fiesty players like Hoffman and Bloom……………I agree….. got to keep them off guard as they get to everything………….those rascals.

    Howie, yes, we have to out=smart those fast feet! thanks, george

  3. remember that phrase “hit behind the A player”?

    Joe, like you! thanks, george

  4. I played a lot of USTA singles up until I was in my mid-50s, then just concentrated on doubles when my body succumbed to arthritis (in my wrist and knees). I would use the “go behind” tactic when I played someone who was exceedingly quick/fast. They would run hard to get to, then recover hard toward the center of the court. If, however, this rare fast player was quick, but did not anticipate well and recover too hard and fast with no split step before changing direction, that’s when I would hit behind them. I was not, however, a strong baseliner and preferred other tactics to win my points rather than exchanging groundstrokes from the baseline. Some of my more experienced opponents, however, would sometimes try to use the “go behind” tactic against me, if I did stay back, but they hardly ever won more than one point off of it.

    Lynn, good stuff! thanks, george

  5. Whether I play 4.5 USTA league tennis or tournaments, I have discovered that winning doubles teams cover the court so well, that the only “open” space they leave their opponents is the most difficult spot to hit. Such openings are illusions, in my opinion. You have to accept that your opponents are going to touch the ball–you can’t stop them.
    I believe the key is to make them hit it in such an awkward way that you’ll force them into an error. Driving a groundstroke or firm volley
    at your opponent’s (racquet side) hip or shoulder will jam him or her and produce a weak reply or error. It also sends a message that you’re here to play. Another shot is to place the ball high over your opponent’s backhand shoulder which makes it hard to track and position for. And, anytime you can put the ball at your opponent’s feet, you’ve set yourself up to win the point. Lastly, don’t forget to hit down the middle, which causes confusion and you won’t be giving your opponent’s any angles to play with.

    Glenn, great dubs advice! thanks, george

  6. All of this is kind of confusing and somewhat contradictory. I think a few easier to remember strategies might be: 1) Hit it to keep the ball in play when you have no better alternative. 2) Hit it to where your opponent just came from if they are fleet of foot or anticipate well. And 3), hit it to the open court for a winner if your opponent is out of position or just to make him move if he is distant to the ball, or tired or infirm.

    Does that about sum it up? If so, I would add a few more things that I think are missing:

    A). Don’t forget the court’s three dimensionality, so instead of alternating between open court and behind him shots only, move your opponent in with an unexpected drop shot if he likes to stay near the baseline.

    B). Also don’t forget to lob him if he does get to the dropper.

    And C), don’t forget to hit an occasional high bouncing moon ball in a rally (usually better directed to the backhand) if he is starting to figure out where you are going with your normal rally balls to the open court or behind your opponent. I particularly like the moon ball play because most opponents will not run around their backhand but will hit a weak high floater return that you can then close the net on and put away for an easy winner.

    Marty, excellent perspective. I remember watching a tournament match where one of my friends (who is a very strong player) was up against a former pro who just put the ball to the part of the court where my friend wasn’t… if he was at the net, the ball was over his head… if he was behind the baseline, the ball was short… if he was wide in the ad court, well, you get the picture. thanks, george

  7. The players who have already commented listed some times when it’s good not to hit to the open court. Here are a few more:
    1. When your opponent has a weak shot, especially one that is even weaker when replying to your strong shot, for example, a weak underspin backhand replying to your best shot, a topspin forehand. Just keep hitting forehands to her/his backhand.
    2. When a player likes your low-bouncing, medium or hard groundstrokes he/she can run to, but hates high, no-pace balls down the middle of the court that he/she must move around and supply pace.
    3. When your opponent’s court is open, but you hit a short slice right at them so they have to change direction and get to a ball whose depth is hard to judge.
    4. When you open their court by hitting a short slice crosscourt, they run it down, hit a crosscourt reply, retreat toward the hash mark, and instead of hitting deep down the line (the typical shot to the open court), you hit a short, low slice down the line (which, I admit, is technically to the open court).
    5. Your opponent hits a forehand short and crosscourt, and instead of hitting a down the line approach shot, you hit one aimed half way between the hash mark and their left sideline, so her/his backhand passing shot is in danger of drifting out, wide.

    BJ, welcome to The Community, and thanks for your good comments! george

Comments are closed.