Poor shot selection is a very common problem among tennis players and in particular youth players. One of the major pitfalls in my own game through the years was my poor shot selection. If you find that you make plenty of unforced errors in your matches, then you may be making poor shot choices. In this blog we will discuss the 'defence', 'neutralize', and 'attack' (DNA) method and the importance of clear thinking on the tennis court in an attempt to provide you with the foundation you need to go and improve your game. Good shot selection is often the deciding factor in a match which enables us to gain the upper hand over our opponents, so it is vital that we work on our decision-making skills and quick thinking on the tennis court.
Identify the Shot Type
Before we can even think about applying the DNA method, we must first develop the skills to identify the type of ball that we are receiving. One simple, but effective trick to help identify the type of shot you are hitting, is the 'Bounce Hit' focus method (see blog post 'A Strong Mentality'). The image below shows the five different shot zones on a tennis court which can be simplified to three with zone one and two becoming 'attack', three and four becoming 'neutral', and finally zone five which is already labelled as 'defence'. In other words the green, yellow and red zones. Depending on where we are on the court, we must respond with various different shots.
When we are hitting a shot in the red zone, we are under pressure and in a defensive state. Our primary focus is to get the ball back in the court preferably deep and central with a lot of height to give us time to recover. An example of poor shot selection in this scenario would be going for the lines with a powerful winner. Yes, it looks amazing if it works, but nine out of ten times you will make an unforced error. An example of good shot selection here would be a deep slice that skids through the court which gives you the time you need to recover back to a more neutral position on the court or a heavy topspin ball with lots of height and depth.
The yellow zone on a tennis court refers to space just behind the baseline to around three-quarter court. If you are receiving the ball in this zone you should try to neutralize the ball and get on top of the point by moving your opponent around with control and consistency. If you have managed to identify your opponent's weakness, then you should target this. Playing neutral, consistent and controlled tennis will eventually lead to your opponent dropping the ball short into the green zone. It also plays on the mind of your opponent as they start to question whether you are ever going to miss.
When the ball eventually drops short into the green zone, it is crucial that you punish your opponent. This gives you a mental advantage over your opponent along with a nice big confidence boost for yourself. When you play a shot in this zone, you should be aggressive and put your opponent under pressure. You don't have to hit an out and out winner until you know for sure that you will hit a winner. Don't go outside your power range and also give yourself a decent margin for error i.e. don't go for the lines.
There are many great drills that you can do in order to develop quick thinking on the tennis court. We will demonstrate these drills in future videos on the RCTA Online YouTube channel. But why is clear thinking so important? Well I ask you, do you ever find yourself with too much time on the ball and as a direct result you are flooded with choices and end up missing because you are between two minds? Well, the answer was most likely yes because this happens to almost everyone who plays tennis. Therefore, clear thinking and decisive decision making is an essential element of your game. When you spot a short ball or indeed are receiving any type of shot. Make your decision early, keep your eye on the ball, and don't change your mind. This will improve your consistency and ultimately, will win you matches.
Next time you are on the tennis court, think about the different zones on the court and try to apply the DNA method to your game. I can assure you that this will improve your game in the long run. Remember that good shot selection will give you the upper hand over your opponents and will boost your confidence greatly.