The 'killer' shots in tennis
Tennis is not just about fitness. There is also something called finesse that is crucial to the sport. And then, there’s that ability to recognize when to pounce on one’s prey; knowing when to unleash the ‘killer’ shot.
Tennis is an attractive sport to watch because of the many options available for players to win points and the geometries involved in shot-making. Decisions are made in a split-second. There is not much difference in the talent possessed by the top 20-30 players. When it comes to separating the top 3-4 from the rest, it boils down to the percentage of times the correct shot-making decisions are made. So it would be unsurprising to find that the players who own the most consistently eye-catching shorts make up the big names in the game.
This piece focuses on some of the scintillating shots that have ‘winner’ written all over them, and the players who play those shots best.
This is the bread and butter shot if a player needs to suddenly confuse the opponent in a rally which thus far had been going well for both the players. It is a high risk shot but the dividends are too attractive to not try it. The man who plays this shot with the most precision is the world number 2 Rafael Nadal. He keeps churning out mid-court forehands shot after shot and suddenly comes out with this winner, which is followed by his trademark fist pump. The powerful Swede Robin Soderling also plays this shot well but is sometimes erratic with it, playing it long a little more frequently than desired.
2. Inside out forehand
This is a deft ploy in which setting up play is a prerequisite. One has to be in control of the point before playing this shot. The opponent needs to be made to hit the ball to one end and in doing so must be positioned at the same end. That would give the necessary room to play this shot, which would turn it into a spontaneous winner. When the ball is short and when the opponent is camped in the deuce corner, many (almost all top players) players play this shot well, but the one who plays it with sublime touch and unerring consistency from behind the baseline and gets incredible winners out of it is the man with the most Grand Slam titles in the history of the men’s game – Roger Federer. The angles he uses to play this shot when he is on top form are inhuman, out of the world! Andy Roddick is another player who plays this shot wonderfully, and then there is also Juan Martin Del Potro. For Del Potro to become the legend he is expected to become, he will have to use this particular shot a lot in the future.
3. Down the line backhand
This is one of those shots that separate the very best from the rest; it adds an extra dimension to the dynamic of a rally. For example, this is one shot that separates a Jo Wilfried Tsonga from a Novak Djokovic. While Tsonga doesn’t play it confidently, Djokovic rips this shot at ease and earns plenty of free points off it. Like the inside-out forehand, this shot must also be used as a surprise tactic after setting up the point by playing a few cross court backhands – it’s the most devastating defence to offence shot! Players who play well off both wings play this shot well – Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Soderling and Stanislas Wawrinka, in that order.
4. Forehand approach to the net
This is a high-risk attacking option that can be used when a player is not in full control of a rally. It is the easiest of ways to score a point when one’s opponent is slightly on the defensive in a rally. One needs impeccable footwork to play this shot as it may not necessarily end up as a winner. Instead, it sets up the point for a winner off the next shot. Roger Federer’s beautiful approaches on the lawns of Wimbledon are a treat to watch.
5. Crosscourt backhand
This is the shot that gives considerable advantage to a player with a double-handed backhand playing against a player who employs a single-hander. This one is all about using the angles to the fullest. Rafael Nadal torments his opponents with his powerful crosscourt backhands that are virtually unreachable. Roger Federer and the inconsistent Russian Nikolay Davydenko are quite effective with this shot too. But last season, Rafa was given a taste of his own medicine by Novak Djokovic, who combines terrific angles and power in this shot to ensure that the running machine Nadal doesn’t reach the ball. At this point, Nole plays this shot the best.
6. Forehand pass
When the opponent is at the net, there is no better way to break his confidence than by sending a blitzkrieg of a pass that he has no chance of returning. Pete Sampras’s running crosscourt passing shots were legendary, but in the current era Rafael Nadal plays this shot very well, breaking the confidence of his opponent with the shot and following it up with his trademark fist-pump and a fuming look at the pitiful man on the other side of the net. But, to me, the best forehand pass in today’s game is owned by Scot Andy Murray, who plays this shot with remarkable success at several crucial moments.
7. Backhand pass
It is quite difficult to play the backhand pass for a double hander because of the lack of adequate reach. Having said that, Nadal plays this shot with a phenomenal success rate. But the players whose backhand passes give the most pleasure to a tennis fan are those who have single-handed backhands – specially Federer and Richard Gasquet. Sheer class !
8. Backhand Slice
This is the signature shot of RogerFederer. He employs it to destabilise his opponent during the course of a rally. It can even be compared to the famous Undertaker move of choking an opponent’s throat before slamming him down. The change in pace facilitated by a slice followed by a free-flowing shot or vice-versa is enough to confuse and get the opponent off balance during a rally. Federer uses this shot to move from defence to offence at the most unpredictable of times during the course of a rally.
Thanks to the baseline counter-punching started by Lleyton Hewitt and then made extremely popular by Rafa, the volley is almost as extinct as the Siberian Tiger. Wimbledon used to boast of short rallies and sweet vollies but those days are long gone. However, this shot is still being widely spoken of, more so since Federer, on the advice of coach Paul Annacone, started using it far more frequently from the middle of 2010 onwards. Two players on the circuit who still patronize the volley game are Czech Radek Stepanek and the Frenchman Michael Llodra. When it comes to the drop volley, one of the sexiest shots in the sport, Federer and Tsonga are the supreme frontrunners.
The between-the-legs shot, more popularly dubbed the ‘tweener’ is the ‘YOUTUBE’ shot of tennis. Discovered in the 80′s by Yannick Noah, the eccentric Frenchman, it has been used time and again by players when in despair, when they have no options left. More often than not, it ends in failure to salvage the point. This is a shot for special occasions, and no one seems to play it better than the man who rises to the occasion so often – The Mighty Fed. The tweener that Roger Federer hit to reach match point during his semifinal against Nole at US Open 2009 is one of the most famous shots in tennis history. He virtually owns this shot; when Rafa played an incredible tweener last year at Madrid, Roger followed that up with an even better one just a week after that in Rome against Gasquet as if to say, ‘please stay away; this is my territory’.