There are many players that come to mind when thinking of ‘defensive ability’ alone on a tennis court. However, this article is not about that. I wanted to discuss how we can turn defense into an attacking situation and for that there is one clear stand out player.
Roger Federer is not known for his defensive attributes on court and you could even say he’s underrated in this area. Roger is the only player I have seen that can change the point instantanely in his favour from hitting one shot. This could be a knifed backhand slice, a continental grip forehand flick deep in the court or a topspin forehand at the end of his range, to name a few. Federer’s ability to do this is vital for his game, it allows him to turn the point back in his favour so he can do what he does best, attack.
This strength of Roger’s game creates doubt for his opponents on court. Knowing that when you are up against the Swiss maestro you have to be very aware of what he is doing whilst also focusing on yourself. You hit a deep shot into his backhand, do you come to net? Do you move forward? Do you stay back? We know how good Roger is at giving you tough volleys, hitting low slices or ripping a shot deep so it can feel like nothing works. This ‘doubt’ Roger causes for his opponents is a huge strength of his. Roger can get a tactical and mental advantage over his opponents before they even step out on court, which can be crucial in determining the match. There is no coincidence you rarely see any player hit through and overpower Federer in a match.
So, how can you improve your defence to attack in a rally?
Although it may prove difficult to replicate Federer’s ability on court, there are many drills you can do with your coach to work on defending, neutralizing and attacking between points.
-If someone is approaching you at net, work on hitting ‘passing shots’ on the second shot, not the first. E.g. returning a shot to your opponent with a tough/low volley will allow you to get to that next shot and then make the pass.
-Working on getting stronger planting your foot and pushing off your outside leg from both wings. This can be done by improving your core, hips and flexibility. These areas of your body need to be strengthened so you can not only get to the ball, but also do something meaningful with it rather than just getting it back/getting attacked further.
-Further to my point above, I cannot stress how important this is. Watch some videos of Alex de Minaur playing and see how strong he is from defensive areas.
-Getting consistency and repetition of hitting cross court, high topspin and ripping outside of the ball with lots of leg drive so when you get into a match situation it will become second nature. The more 'hotshots' you try hit in practice the less effective you will be in matches, it's about repetition.
-Having rallies with your coach/hitting partners where they feed or begin rallying to anywhere in the court. This allows you the chance to start the rally in a defensive position and then you can attempt to turn the point in your favour.