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JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best

Shot Shaping

First there's the deep, right up the gut, penetrating low trajectory topspin forehand bomb. Possibly followed by a floaty one-handed, pace changing backhand cross court that can also serve to buy time to defend a strong parry. Mix in a sneaky topspin backhand down the line with disguise. And so it goes, on and on, all the time, shot after shot, no two shots being exactly the same. Constantly nuanced. Subtly done. Varying spins, speeds, trajectories, depth, placement.

Closed sign on the gate of a tennis court that is chained shut.That's Roger Federer's modus operandi in baseline rallies, along with all the very top players for that matter, but especially the Swiss maestro at age 38. A marvel to watch. Flying tennis ball artistry at its all-time best. Master brush strokes if you will.

Shot shaping at its best.

This tactic – if you're having difficulty visualizing it – is well represented in any Hawkeye TV replay that graphically illustrates shot shape trajectory so vividly, something not always so obvious to the club player eye watching the points go back and forth but missing the ball flight details.

What you see – in your mind's eye that is – is what you'll mostly get. You don't see anything in particular, that's what you get as well, nothing in particular. Over there somewhere hoping to not miss.

Closed sign on the gate of a tennis court that is chained shut.In reference to club play, if you're paired against players of a far lesser level, shot shaping is perhaps not of quite the same value as it would be against a peer or someone more skilled and experienced. After all, since it's a mismatch anyway, you don't have to bring your A-game.

If you are in against equals – as tour players in this era of incredible parity from the very first round on are – or you're facing those with a higher NTRP rating, you're going to need all the variety and guile you can muster. Repeatedly giving opponents the same paced ball, with the same spin or the same lack of spin, will allow them to become grooved to your ball. You'll end up driving home earlier than anticipated.

Back to Roger, and Novak, or Rafa, and the elite women such as Ash Barty, Simona Halep, and the young American Sophia Kenin too, understand that even they are not exclusively operating at their very top, going big "green light" gear shot in and shot out, just banging away ball after ball. They're playing at a level slightly below their personal red line enabling them to deliver disrupting pace, spin and trajectory changes that are not only well within themselves, but also keeping opponents off balance and uncomfortable.

Embrace creating a wide array of shot making versus thinking constantly escalating pace alone, as the point extends, as the best way to succeed.

Example, don't be afraid to do a little less than your norm in a rally ball duel from the baseline, especially in doubles where there's not much court to defend if and when, on occasion, an opponent does comes up with something special in response.

Always trying to play at the absolute very top of your game where there's little margin for error - just because you made that world class forehand pass in the third game – once again feeds a good opponent's rhythm and timing. An unwanted one dimensional approach.

Take a page from the world's best. Play within your skill level first and foremost, and utilize shot shaping at the same time. Keep in mind that some of your club player best stuff is often a spontaneous perfect storm of technique in a fleeting unconscious time frame.

Enjoy those moments, but don't buy into self-defeating, unrealistic expectations.

Copyright© 2020 by Jak Beardsworth Tennis. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

COMMENTS WELCOME: JB1tennis@comcast.net

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Past Essays

  • March 2023 - Classic finish line failure
    [read more]
  • February 2023 - Defending the lob over your net partner – The "Switch"
    [read more]
  • December 2022 - E. I. D. - Extended Impact Duration
    [read more]
  • November 2022 - Movement Enhancement to Stay Better In-Point Connected
    [read more]
  • September 2022 - Advanced Visualization 301
    [read more]
  • August 2022 - Tennis' uniqueness: warming-up the enemy
    [read more]
  • July 2022 - Extracting Double Faults Through Receiving Positions... and more
    [read more]
  • June 2022 - Consider Serve and Volley
    [read more]
  • May 2022 - How the Toss Primes the Serve Relaxation Pump
    [read more]
  • April 2022 - Ball Watching and Science
    [read more]
  • March 2022 - Caving
    [read more]
  • February 2022 - Kenny G and Emmo
    [read more]
  • January 2022 - The Knees
    [read more]

Essay Archives

Click a year to view more essays


  • December 2021 - The Match is with You
    [read more]
  • November 2021 - The Backup Racket in Your Bag
    [read more]
  • October 2021 - Every Tennis Player Can and Should Have a Weapon
    [read more]
  • September 2021 - LEARNING NEW SKILLS: First the Process, Then the Results
    [read more]
  • August 2021 - The Challenge of Visualizing… For Some
    [read more]
  • July 2021 - Playing with both your feet and your hands
    [read more]
  • June 2021 - Finding the Range
    [read more]
  • May 2021 - The Focus
    [read more]
  • April 2021 - About Your Butt Cap
    [read more]
  • March 2021 - The Essential Forehand and Backhand
    [read more]
  • February 2021 - On Being a Doubles All-Courter
    [read more]
  • January 2021 - Same Grip Volleying Myths
    [read more]


  • December 2020 - On mechanics and style
    [read more]
  • November 2020 - THE BIG 3: The Glue That Keeps Your Best Game Together
    [read more]
  • September 2020 - Protocol and Game Tradition Revisited
    [read more]
  • August 2020 - As Good as Your 2nd Serve
    [read more]
  • July 2020 - Shot Shaping
    [read more]
  • June 2020 - Getting a Point in Jeopardy Back to Neutral
    [read more]
  • May 2020 - A Positive Mind-Set: On and Off the Court in Today's C-19 Reality
    [read more]
  • April 2020 - The Zombie Tennis Creed – Top Ten
    [read more]
  • March 2020 - A Roadmap Into "The Zone"
    [read more]
  • February 2020 - The service toss: myths and realities
    [read more]
  • January 2020 - Shot Gazing
    [read more]


  • December 2019 - The Dreaded High Bouncing Moonball Dilemma
    [read more]
  • November 2019 - Chalk Flew: Troublesome Line Calling without Hawkeye in Clubland [read more]
  • October 2019 - In the Spirit of Don't Drink and Drive… Don't Think and Hit [read more]
  • September 2019 - Old School vs New School [read more]
  • August 2019 - Getting the Ball Where You Want It [read more]
  • July 2019 - Taking Points Off…What? [read more]
  • June 2019 - Confidence Is Confidence: Take It Wherever You Can Get It [read more]
  • May 2019 - TENNIS INNOVATION IMPLODES [read more]
  • April 2019 - Defending the Court with Older Bones: A Club Player's Guide to Saying "Nice Shot" Less [read more]
  • March 2019 - Do You Have Doubles Rally Tolerance? [read more]
  • February 2019 - I Knew Jimy Van Alen: A Historical Look Back [read more]
  • January 2019 - The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Mental Toughness Skills [read more]


  • December 2018 - Less Bling is the Thing [read more]
  • November 2018 - Anatomy of a Doubles Serve Return…from the Inside Out [read more]
  • October 2018 - Older Dogs and New Tricks: Still Improving at Any Age [read more]
  • September 2018 - The All-Important Dynamic of Gripping [read more]
  • August 2018 - The Cinemascope Syndrome: Undermining Your Ball Watching [read more]
  • June 2018 - Serving and Returning Better with a Quiet Eye [read more]
  • May 2018 - The Man Who Breathed for Two [read more]
  • January 2018 - Rituals Anyone? [read more]


  • December 2017 - Why Serving is so Difficult in Clubland [read more]
  • October 2017 - Managing your body and mind in tennis space [read more]
  • August 2017 - Why Bother Breathing to Improve Your Game [read more]
  • May 2017 - The "Maintaining" One's Game as One Ages Fallacy [read more]
  • February 2017 - Punta Gorda Tennis Clubs: Setting the Bar [read more]
  • January 2017 - State of the Club Game: The Growing Death of Sportsmanship [read more]

Check back often for more essays.