Delayed Approach: A Strategy for All Levels
Dave Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
John McEnroe used a strategy some people called a “Delayed Approach” or “Delayed Entry.” It was a strategy that many players, from the low-intermediate to the pros can use to effectively close out points earlier in a rally. Too often I see players of different abilities hit great crosscourt groundstrokes or deep, penetrating down the line shots from behind the baseline, only to watch opponents run down the shots, weakly loft a returns back and get themselves back into the point. Why? Because they failed to take advantage of the offensive shot and stayed back allowing the weak shot to bounce. This allows the opponent to get back on equal footing even though a moment ago they were nearly out of the point.
The Delayed Approach strategy is where a player recognizes an opponent is in trouble, pauses for a moment before moving into no-man’s land, then bursts toward the floating shot the opponent was forced to hit. This idea is based on several elements that make it work:
- Because opponents don't recognize your shot is being played as a conventional approach shot they are likely to float the ball back thinking you are not coming in to intercept it.
- Instead of staying back and letting your opponent loft this weak shot back into the court and essentially restart the point, by coming in late and taking the ball out of the air, you take time away from your opponent he or she needs to recover, let alone run down the ball.
- Taking this ball in the air, you are creating an approach shot—or approach volley—when your opponent is already in trouble. This allows you to be several steps closer to the net than if you let the ball bounce and hit a conventional approach shot. In many cases, this "approach volley" can be hit as an easy winner depending on how far the opponent is off court.
- Taking this ball early will likely give you much more open court to because your opponent is still off court from your forcing groundstroke.
You can hit this deep volley as an open-court put-away, or hit behind your opponent since he or she will most likely be running hard to recover once they see you have moved in to intercept the weak return.
Obviously, there are some skills involved, as with any strategy. Being able to volley a ball from a deeper part of your own court can be difficult for many players. However, if you apply my favorite volley phrase: “Set and Hold,” then move to the ball with balance and control, your body weight and slight volley stroke will provide more than enough pace to hit this volley well and with effect.
The problem for many players is, because they are making a volley deeper in their court than typical volleys they are used to up closer to the net, there is a tendency to want to swing or hit the ball harder.
I actually call this a “Hard—Easy” shot. That is, it is sometimes a bit challenging to wait to come into the court and then move hard to get to some of these balls. But, because you have your opponent so far off the court, it is an “easy” shot in terms of open court to hit to.
If you work to move with your feet instead of reaching with your hands, you can move to most balls and intercept such shots with the necessary balance to hit the volleys clean and with accuracy. Most players tend to reach for the ball when they have a distance to move to get to a volley. This makes them hit off balance and often does not allow for clean shots. McEnroe would move almost in an upright stance, seldom reaching beyond his center of gravity which made his volleys seem effortless.
Recognizing the Opportunity
Click photo: John McEnroe was the master at recognizing and executing the delayed approach.
Another challenging aspect of this strategy is learning to recognize the opportunity for a delayed approach to the net. Many players will come in too soon, tipping off their opponents who then will consciously hit a lower or harder shot because they know you are coming in. While this is sometimes a good thing, (to make opponents hit a lower percentage shot), depending on the quality of opponent, you may end up getting passed. Learn to recognize when your opponent is stretched out or hitting a slice to salvage a rally because in those situations, opponents seldom can hit an offensive shot of any kind.
Also, look for weaknesses in your opponent’s game to create this situation. For example, if your opponent has a weak backhand to begin with, you can anticipate the opportunity more often than if your opponent has shown the ability to hit a backhand with pace and control. Any time you see a player slice a shot from out wide or back deep behind the baseline, these are shots that become sitting ducks for this strategy.
Arsenal of Strategies
Remember to diversify your portfolio of strategies. There are many cases to use conventional approach shots on short balls, just as there are times to use drop shots, lobs, and inside-out and inside-in baseline shots for winners. Study the game—and practice the game—so you can explore many shots and strategies that might work for your style and personality. Having only one strategy may work against some players, although fail against others.
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