The most basic tactic in tennis is to get the ball over the net and in the court 1 more time than your opponent every point. By definition you will win every point you can execute this tactic properly. The highest percentage groundstroke in tennis is cross court and for good reason; the net is 6 inches lower, the court is more than 5 feet longer, and the flight path of the ball is traveling away from your opponent.
The second most basic tactic in tennis is to hit the ball where your opponent is not at. That said, knowing when to hit down the line and hitting with purpose is important. There are 4 reasons to hit down the line, in this article we will go over why and how to hit down the line.
Reason #1 to hit down the line is for an approach shot (in singles). By definition an approach shot is an attacking shot that you are intending to move in behind. Typically you are inside the baseline when hitting this shot. Attacking your opponent from inside the baseline it is typical that your opponent will have a late contact point hitting down the line. If you are approaching down the line your opponent’s late contact will direct the ball where you are positioned at the net. The approach shot should be a driven shot either with topspin or underspin crossing 18 inches or less above the net. Ideally you will be standing inside the baseline and inside the singles sideline when executing this shot.
Reason #2 to hit down the line is to change the direction of the rally. If you are in a cross court backhand rally and would prefer to be in a cross court forehand rally, hitting down the line can create the rally pattern you are interested in. The most advantageous way to use this tactic is during a forehand rally, hitting your forehand down the line to recover 4-5 feet left of the hash mark (for right handed players, the opposite for left handed players) to look for inside out forehands. This is especially effective when playing someone that has the same hand dominance as you have, that way it is your inside out forehand to their backhand. In changing direction in this way it is important to hit the ball 15 – 18 feet over the net with topspin, this limits the risk of the shot and creates enough time to recover in a position to hit inside out forehands. Ideally you will be standing behind the baseline and inside the doubles sideline when executing this shot.
Reason #3 to hit down the line is to hit a winner. If your opponent is pulled off the court or they are not recovering back effectively, hitting down the line can be a wise decision. In changing direction this way it is best to drive the ball 2 feet about the net with topspin targeting deep in the court or with underspin targeting the service line. Ideally you are positioned within 2 feet of the baseline and inside the singles sideline when executing this shot. For more advanced players watch your opponents balance and speed chasing down your shot. If they look unbalanced or like they will struggle keeping the ball in play it is best to follow your shot in. This isn’t an approach shot as much as it is a situational approach.
Reason #4 to hit down the line is to hit a passing shot. When your opponent is attacking you it is likely your contact point will be late, embracing that will help you strike a cleaner shot on target. Hitting down the line in these situations creates more possibilities for success; hitting down the line ensures the ball does not cross in front of your opponent. Dipping your shot forces your opponent to move forward and to the sideline, if they volley down the line deep the topspin lob cross court is a great finishing shot. If your opponent volley’s down the line short and high, moving forward it’s easy to pick down the line or cross court aggressively. If your opponent volley’s down the line short and low (the proper volley selection) a slice is necessary to stay in the point. If your opponent volley’s cross court deep or short, a running down the line ground stroke is a high percentage winner. When executing this shot it is best for the top of the arch to be about 6 feet in height and for that to be around your service line to ensure the ball is dropping when it crosses the net forcing your opponent to volley up.
In knowing the 4 reasons to choose to hit down the line it’s possible to hit with purpose and create the ideal response.