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Saturday, February 24, 2018

You're Winning but Haven't Won

Good shots come to those who wait...

This blog has covered the issues of patience and attackable balls many times. However, it continues to amaze me how many players - even at 4.0+ - continue to make poor decisions on marginal balls. If a ball is within 6 inches of the top of the net and near or behind the NVZ line, they often choose to drive the ball. It does work occasionally but many times the ball is driven into the net.

I probably would not write about this topic again if only others were culprits. But I fall into the trap set by others in these games. So I am writing this to remind myself about the right approach. If it helps others, that's a great side effect.

The essence of the decision is that a high ball can be driven downward and a low ball must be hit upward. A high ball is attackable and a low ball is unattackable. Some balls are high (or low) enough to make the decision easy. The difficult decision is the just over the net as designated by the hatched area in the above photo.

Many players consider that ball attackable. After all, it is above the bet, right? But driving a ball in that area is often hit into the net or hit out of bounds. Players instinctively know the ball is over the net and try to hit it downward. But there simply is not enough room to regularly succeed. The ball hits the net as a result. The drive alternative is to hit it flat or even slightly upward. But a drive at 3'-4' high must be hit hard to get past the opponents. This shot typically goes out of bounds. One tactic that has evolved is "tagging" an opponent, i.e. driving the ball right at an opponent's body. This can be successful if the player is not quick enough to avoid it.

By far the smarter strategy is to return a marginal ball with an unattackable shot. That does not mean a simple dink right back at the opponent, though. A marginal ball is high enough to create an opportunity to continue constructing the point by moving the opponent to his weak area. Hit it to a spot behind his backhand foot with just a little more pace than a soft dink, for example.

The title of the post tells the whole story for me. As your opponent hits his ball higher, you are winning the point. But until you get that ball that allows you 80% certainty that you can put it away, you still have not won the point.

The title phrase came from an Aspen Kern post about which I wrote in Aspen's Advice - Patience. I also wrote more on the topic in Attackable.

One other quick note on this. I suspect that a lot of the marginal balls are created with the high bounce of Onix Pure and Jugs balls. As these get replaced with lower bouncing balls, players who currently make the wrong decision will find their game will have to change. At least, that's my hope. So I might as well get it right now.

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