Paul has been playing tennis for over twenty years and is passionate about the sport. Born in the UK, he now lives in the US.
I’ve been playing tennis for over forty years. During that time, I believe that I've faced every type of opponent possible on the singles courts. This article gives my thoughts and experiences when it come to strategies for beating a hard hitter.
By hard hitter, I'm referring to an aggressive baseline player. These players will tend to stay back and attempt to blast you off the court with their powerful groundstrokes.
The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to match their power and aggression in order to beat them. Instead, there are a number of tactics and strategies that you can employ that will potentially give you the upper hand.
The essence of tennis singles is to nullify your opponent's most effective weapons, enabling you to take the initiative and set the dynamics of play according to your own strengths.
How Aggressive Baseline Players Operate
In order to undermine a big hitter, we need to look at what they like to receive and how they go about their game. Once we understand that, then we can then go about looking at how to frustrate them and cause problems.
In essence, a big hitter plays their game by spending time to set up for each stroke and then taking long, fast, and deep shots. Then will play a mixture of powerful crosscourt and down the line shots, often targeting their opponent's backhand.
Aggressive baseline players generally like:
- Balls coming at them at speed, making it easy for them to generate pace.
- Shots that have either no spin, or just a moderate amount of topspin.
- Balls that are arriving at a comfortable height, which are easier to take a big swing at.
- A reasonable amount of time to set themselves up for shots.
- Shots that land just beyond the service line, which are easy for them to attack.
- Balls that give them good angles to play crosscourt and down the line shots.
Below are some countermeasures that can be employed.
10 Ways to Beat a Big Hitter
Below are ten ideas that you can try against a big hitter. While every strategy is not going to work in every situation, each method does have the potential to work and is worth trying, in my experience, especially if you are losing a match and looking around for ideas.
1. Keep the ball out of their "wheelhouse"
You need to avoid the big hitter's power zone, the height range that they are most comfortable playing within. If the ball bounces too low or too high, it can cause them difficulties, or force them play a different shot to the one that they'd prefer.
2. Use slice
Slice can serve a number of different purposes:
- It can be used to keep the ball bouncing low, which keeps it out of the bit hitter's wheelhouse (see #1)
- It can give the opponent less time to get to the ball and set up their shot.
- An unpredictable bounce will make it harder for your opponent to set up for their shot.
- It can be used to take pace off the ball, forcing the hard hitter to generate their own power.
3. Use huge topspin
A moderate amount of topspin won't usually put off aggressive baseline players, but a huge amount can make things awkward for them. In order to hit a high-bouncing ball within their wheelhouse, they are forced to hit the ball on the rise, which demands more exact timing and is therefore more likely to create errors.
4. Keep your shots deep
Don't give your hard hitting opponent an easy opportunity to hurt you by feeding them balls that land just beyond the service line.
5. Take pace off the ball
As aggressive hitters generally like to feed off the pace you give them, one response is to give them very little tempo to play with. They’re then forced to generate their own power.
6. Use drop shots
This is a great way to pull your opponent off the baseline and into the net, forcing them to play volleys rather than groundstrokes. You are basically pulling them out of their comfort zone. The drop shot has to be well executed, though, as they will punish a weak shot.
7. Don't let them settle into a rhythm
Hard hitters love to get a rhythm going and usually rely upon it. Mixing things up can make it difficult for them to settle. Strategies to try include:
- Mix up your serve, varying the pace, spin, and positioning will make it difficult for them to know what to expect.
- Vary your types and levels of spin and use flat shots, too.
- Pull them into the net and lob them.
8. Take the net
Aggressive baseline players generally prefer it when you stay back. By rushing the net you can sometimes:
- Unsettle them, because it suddenly alters the dynamic of the play.
- Take time away from them and give them less time to set up for their shots.
Choose carefully when you come into the net, though, and only do it when you think that they're on the defensive, otherwise you risk them beating you with a passing shot.
9. Don't give them any angles to use
Playing the ball to the back corners of the court can be an effective tactic under normal circumstances. However, against big hitters, it can give them opportunities to put you in trouble. They're favorite shots are often corner to corner, or down the line.
They can put you under a lot of pressure this way. However, if you keep the ball traveling down a central channel and keep your shots deep, you won't supply them with any angles to use.
10. Play to the backhand
Most aggressive baseline players have strong forehands, but their backhand is weaker. You should therefore try to keep your shots going to their weaker side, whenever possible.
© 2022 Paul Goodman