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Points of contact and strike zones

This is an excerpt from Tennis Skills & Drills by Joey Rive & Scott C. Williams.

Points of Contact and Strike Zones

Players should know the correct contact point and strike zone for the shots they want to execute. Their court position, movement, and racket preparation should match that contact point. Three points of contact are possible: attack, rally, and defensive. They fall in a horizontal plane (see figure 1.13). Although players must address each individual ball in a groundstroke, the style of play sets the tone for the types of shots they want to execute.

For example, aggressive baseline players predominantly want their contact points in front to maintain the attacking style of play. The strength of the opponent's shot also dictates a player's contact points. A player needs to use shot selection and contact points together to keep a rally going and to help establish control of a point.

The attack point of contact is in front of the body or in front of the front foot. The attack point of contact is usually a crosscourt shot or any shot that is played from a position of strength in the court. This position is usually inside the baseline. For example, a down-the-line forehand may be contacted a little late, but it is attacking if the court position is inside the baseline. However, a player can possess a weapon that is hit with an early contact point but from deeper in the court; as long as the success rate stays high, it is attacking.

The rally point of contact is between the hips and is offensive if a player hits with heavy topspin. The later contact point allows for maximum load to be drawn from the legs in the execution of the shot. A rally point of contact is used to neutralize a player and increase the chance to get a better opportunity later in the rally. Rally shots are usually played crosscourt or as a high, heavy down-the-line shot, and they are usually executed from the baseline or just behind it.

The defensive point of contact is in line with or behind the back hip and is usually played as a high, heavy shot to get back into the point or a ball hit with a higher trajectory. This contact point suggests a good shot from an opponent or possibly poor movement to a shot. Players usually use a defensive contact point when they are behind the baseline and playing defensively.

The three strike zones—lower-level, midlevel, and upper-level—fall in a vertical plane (see figure 1.14). Great players can hit winners from all three strike zones. The mid- and lower-level strike zones are especially preferred for hitting topspin. Most players should attempt to meet the ball in the ideal, midlevel strike zone.

The upper-level strike zone is at shoulder level or higher. Usually a ball hit from this strike zone is hit with heavy topspin or a higher trajectory. In today's game, a common offensive strategy is to step back from a high-bouncing shot to let it come down farther into the preferred strike zone so the player can answer with an effective shot. Players from earlier generations may have scoffed at this idea; they would have taken this ball earlier to prevent giving up court position. Ultimately, though, a player's goal when hitting in the upper-level strike zone is to execute a quality shot that gives a better opportunity on the next shot.

The mid-level strike zone is between the shoulder and the knee (as is the strike zone in baseball), and it is used for shots with a rallying type trajectory that gives the player depth on the shot. Because most shots can be executed well in this strike zone, players need to be able to move and play in a court position that allows them to hit as many shots as possible in it. An aggressive player who moves well can do this. An opponent who hits high-bouncing and penetrating shots to a player near the baseline can make hitting balls in the midlevel strike zone difficult because they can force a player backward in the court.

The lower-level strike zone is below the knee and down to the ground. This strike zone is usually used for a low ball from the opponent or a ball that a player is late getting in position for. It can still be aggressive if the player attacks the ball with power from the legs and takes it early. A player who perpetually hits balls in this zone is usually relegated to playing defensively. A player who tries to be aggressive from a defensive position is playing low-percentage tennis.

The strike zone depends on where a player feels most comfortable executing a shot, the depth of an opponent's shot, and the potential bounce of an opponent's shot. Players who do not like to hit high-level shots around shoulder level must learn to take the ball earlier in their preferred strike zone. The styles of play also influence strike zones. Players using aggressive baseline and all-court styles need to be able to attack from all three strike zones. Because of the nature of the transitioning style, players using the serve-and-volley style must be able to aggressively hit balls low in the strike zone because many of their shots are taken on the rise. Rallying baseline players are more comfortable hitting balls in a midlevel strike zone, and defensive players hit shots from a mid- to lower-level strike zone because of their defensive nature or poor movement to the ball.

Read more from Tennis Skills & Drills by Joey Rive, Scott Williams.