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How to beat really tall tennis players!


Originally published on: 26/02/10 16:31

Youd be forgiven for thinking that modern day tennis is now dominated by players who are six-feet-plus.

Unusually tall players tennis skyscrapers we like to call them such as Ivo Karlovic, Sam Querrey and on the womens tour 6ft 3 Akgul Amanmuradova are becoming the norm.

But while the likes of Karlovic and his mighty mates on tour might disagree, its not all good news for the giants of the game.

Although theyre likely to have a bazooka of a serve, big groundies and a long reach there are ways to take them out of their comfort zones

Give them the run-around
Ok, perhaps a bit of a generalisation, but smaller players usually move very well around a tennis court and taller, bigger players tend to possess all the grace of an old carthorse. They suffer from not having a low centre of gravity so if you can keep tall opponents on the move and theres a number of ways of doing this youre on to a winner.

Wrong-foot them
Tall players can move awkwardly in all directions not just from side to side and up and down the court and that includes turning too. If you have enough control over your groundstrokes try hitting behind them when theyre on the run theyll have the devils own job changing direction quickly. This tactic also works if youre at the net volley behind them and theyll have even less time to react to your shot, change direction and get their racket on the ball.

Move them up the court
Tall tennis players tend not to move up the court (ie, towards the net to short balls) very well. Tim Henman made the art of the short-angled slice his own and used the tactic to perfection on his way to the semis of the French Open in 04. Admittedly, he wasnt playing tall guys all the time, but its an example of how this tactic can take players out of their comfort zones. One minute they can be as happy as Larry, clubbing aggressive groundstrokes form the back of the court and the next theyve been reduced to big, lumbering fools trying to retrieve your cute angles. Another obvious way of moving an opponent up the court is with a drop shot. The key to hitting effective dropshots is deciding when to play them so make sure you get that right and dont over-do the tactic. Theyre easier to hit when youre standing just inside the baseline and try to hit dropshots down the line as the ball will have less distance to travel and so will give your opponent even less time to react.

Low is the way to go
All players like to make contact in a comfortable hitting zone, somwhere between knee and shoulder height and we all struggle with balls that keep low tall players hate them even more. They have further to reach and often struggle to bend their knees quickly to get down to the ball. You can make them hit low balls by using slice on your groundstrokes or deliberately hit short angles to force them to move both up to the ball and out wide too.

Get it on their shoelaces
As weve already mentioned, big players = big serves, which means they often follow their deliveries into the net looking for an easy volley. If theyre serving and volleying off a big first delivery dont try to do too much just block the ball back and try to get it onto their toes. That will make them bend down low, which theyll find difficult, and theyll also have to volley up from below the height of the net which is never much fun. If you have time to wind up for a pass then hit with heavy topspin which will make the ball dip down and make them bend to the ball.

Serve into their body
Players with long arms and big wingspans usually hit their groundstrokes by taking great big swipes at the ball because their comfortable hitting zone is further away from their body than normal. With this in mind, if you serve into their body they wont be able to get a decent swing on the ball and their returning will suffer. If you can slice your serve into the body youll have them tied up in knots and really on the defensive during your service games.

Returning those big serves
If your opponents serve is coming down like a rocket then dont even think about having a swing at it. All you should be doing is thinking about blocking it back, getting the ball in play and trying to neutralise the point so you can start trading groundstrokes in a 50-50 situation. If your opponent is serve-volleying then dont stress too much about direction. If you can get your return short (which means low for a tall opponent) and down the middle of the court they will have no angles to work with. It also gives you a high margin for error if you catch it too early or too late your return should still find the court.

And second serves?
Often a big player will rely on the effectiveness of their first serve, which means their second is often not as intimidating simply because they havent spent enough time practising it. If this is the case, when you get a look at a second serve this is your time to strike! Take it on the rise to give the server less time to react on their second shot of the rally and, if you can, try to use quick footwork to hit your return off your favourite wing with most people that will be their forehand. And throw in the occasional chip and charge to keep the server under pressure.

Practise with the big guys!
If there are some tall players at your club or tennis centre then get to know them and hit with them regularly. Like any challenging set of circumstances you might find yourself in when playing tennis the sun, wind, a specific court surface if you dont face your fear youll never master it.


Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.