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Coaches Corner - tip of the month

MARCH 2011:


Why is it that so many players respect and admire those who have the desire and ability to successfully poach, yet are repelled by others who have the desire and ability to reverse the dynamic and take advantage of opposing net players whenever possible by going right at them?

So let me see if I’ve got this right. It’s perfectly acceptable for the net man to take advantage of the backcourt player, but not okay for the backcourt player to take advantage of a net man. What? Q. Why is that? A. I don’t have a clue.

Playing TennisLet’s review the allegedly taboo scenario. Backcourter moves into no-man’s land to jump on a short sitter and chooses to attack the player at the net, now exposed because of their partner’s weak shot, by blasting a shot right at their belt buckle. Why not? This tactic is singularly aimed at handcuffing them, taking time away from them, and also sending a message that poaching will be discouraged.I like to lightheartedly refer to this shot as the "navel destroyer."

But, there's no malice involved. It is totally legitimate. It’s simply taking advantage of an opponent’s court position just as a poacher also does. Those who are offended by it, and take it as some personal affront, need to get over it or stick to singles.

But even in singles I can recall an Ivan Lendl winning press conference back when he ruled the world for 2-3 years from the back of the court with his big, heavy, penetrating ball off either wing. A reporter informed Lendl that his opponent that day had taken offense at his habit of drilling him when he came to the net, albeit behind ineffective, light weight approach shots. The world #1’s comment, delivered in his monotone Czech inflected English, was priceless: “Then tell him not to come in.” Think about it. The guy comes in to take advantage, and instead is taken advantage of, and then whines about getting taken to the woodshed. Where was his mental toughness?

In the spirit of “if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen,” don’t play the net if you’re only okay with dishing it out (poaching), but not cool about being the dishee (being attacked).

An interesting irony is that poachers also typically jump at opportunities to “tube” the opposing net man, but when the tables are turned it’s somehow, suddenly not alright, particularly in the lower NTRP designations, and, dare I say, most often among pre-Title IX women players with little or no previous sport’s background.

Now, of course, if a net player is completely defenseless, and you’ve got the sitter of all sitters in your sights, you can still easily win the point and cut an opponent some slack at the same time. Conversely, it’s also prudent, when all is clearly lost, for the endangered net player to concede the point by turning away from the salivating opponent loading up. Holding your ground is analogous to staring down a gorilla in a small room. Not a good idea, and asking to suffer the consequences.

If you do accidentally hit someone then immediately put your hand up – the universal sign – to indicate that you’re sorry. If that’s not enough try adding a little levity to the moment by offering: “Trust me, I was trying to pass you. If I were actually aiming for you there would be nothing to worry about.” Then smile and buy them a coke after the match.

If you do find yourself teamed up with a partner who repeatedly is setting you up for the kill, follow Lendl’s advice - don’t play the net, stay back and wait for a short ball to come in.

Questions and comments are welcome at anytime for all tips present and past via email.

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