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Play like Sara Errani


Originally published on: 15/05/13 00:00

What is a defensive baseliner? They come in different forms but defensive baseliners share similar characteristics. They are usually extremely consistent and play high-percentage tennis, hitting high over the net while giving themselves big targets to hit, and they tend to be agile, fast and possess excellent endurance. They often play far behind the baseline but, as Errani points out, it's important not to be pushed too far back because this gives the opponent an advantage in the battle for court positioning. Although much of their time is spent chasing balls down from side-to-side, a good defensive baseliner will look to seize their chance when they do get the opportunity to step inside the court. 

David Ferrer and Sara Errani are the two top ten players who champion this game style and here the latter offers her five tips to being a successful defensive baseliner. 

1. Keep your opponent guessing with variety

“I try to change up the game. I try to move my opponent by hitting high balls, fast balls, slices. I don’t just play my game, I look very much at the other player. What is her weakness? What [part of the court] is the worst place for her to hit the ball? Should I hit drop shots, move her back, or mix it up? Being versatile is very important.”

2. Prepare for battle – Get fit 
“I think playing other sports when I was younger helped me develop physically. I played football and basketball and I also tried swimming. I’ve tried many things and I think that helps because it gives you more coordination and you pick up things quicker. [To be a defensive baseliner] it’s very important to be fast because some of the players are very big and powerful. It’s also important to have good lung capacity for long matches. The further I am from a tournament starting the longer distances I run but when the competition is near I do more speed work.”

3. Make friends with the net
“Sometimes it is difficult for me to get to the net because I like to stay on the baseline but, of course, I have to do it. I have to continue to work on [my volleys]. I play a lot of doubles, which helps me. Sometimes it is tough physically to play [both doubles and singles] but I have great fun. It’s also great for my game, especially the return, the serve and the volley.”

4. Avoid being dominated
“I never want to miss a ball so I try to work, to push, but to also hit strong because you can’t sit back waiting for the other person to do something. It’s very important to stay near to the baseline and not be pushed [back] but it’s also very difficult because the ball comes very fast and I have a big swing. This is what I find most difficult because I like to stay back more and play consistently. Many of the players today are very big and tall and they can cover the court very well.”

5. Every ball, every point
“You have to learn to have a good capacity for suffering. When you are being pushed down you have to be strong, be determined and keep getting back up. Also, never give up if you are losing. Stay in there and keep working.”

This article appeared in full in the June 2013 issue of tennishead. To read the interview in full, get your hands on Volume 4 Issue 2, available in print or digital.


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.