Every player needs a game plan once he/she steps on the court for a match. Because platform tennis requires such a tight partnership between two players, it is paramount to execute the game plan AS A TEAM – both players need to be on the same page.
Of course, there is no such thing as a universal game plan – there are too many variables through the course of a match let alone throughout an entire season in both league and tournament play: the specifics of your game, the specifics of your opponents’ game, the dynamics and flow of a given match, etc. Below you have my version of a game plan – a checklist of “dos and don’ts” before and throughout each match. It has been working for me for the most part so I encourage you to read through, it might work for you as well.
- Get In the Point – make sure you start off the point by getting through the first three shots of every point: get your serve in, make all returns, and make as many first volleys as possible. Without starting off the point, you will not be able to showcase the rest of your game. It is up to you and your partner to make the necessary adjustments that will allow you to start as many points as possible. Specifically, if you are the serving team and you have trouble getting into the point by playing the regular formation, go to the “I” formation. If that does not work either, contemplate giving up the net, either as a team or just by the server. If you are returning, look to drive most if not all your returns of serve. Keep putting pressure on the server by driving returns of serve at a pace that allows you to make at least 8 out 10 returns – keep bringing down your pace on return drives until you are able to reach that percentage.
- Positioning – if you are at the net, make sure you are aware which one of your opponents on the baseline is your counterpart. You will need to adjust your positioning based on that, as follows: your counterpart is always the opponent who is DIAGONALLY across from you on the baseline. Make sure you STRADDLE the middle line each time BEFORE your counterpart is about to hit the ball. Your partner will be right in front of your counterpart and by doing this, between the two of you, you will be covering the net properly: you are covering the down the line, the middle, and most of the crosscourt. Your opponent will be forced to beat you by hitting balls AROUND you instead of BETWEEN you. The positioning in the backcourt is not that specific because the screens/wires give you more reaction time.
- Communication – when you are at the net, make sure you call all incoming lobs (mine, yours, etc.) BEFORE the balls gets to your side of the net. When you are in the backcourt, call ALL balls that land BETWEEN the two of you BEFORE the ball bounces. Keep this rule of thumb in mind: even if you make the wrong call, go with that call UNLESS immediately overruled by your partner. In this case, go with the overrule – overrule however has to be made right away in order for this to work.
- Shot Selection – regardless of whether you are at the net or in the backcourt, your shot selection should follow this logic, in this order: look to hit balls that:
- Protect you and your partner.
- Force your opponents to press or go for a low percentage shot, either of which should lead to a mistake more often than not.Keep in mind that that about 80% of all balls hit in platform tennis are essentially neutral: they do not really bother your opponents but your opponents cannot do anything to you either. The remaining 20% of balls hit are either clearly offensive or defensive. Do not try to alter these percentages too much, it will not work.
- Drives Into the Net – once you miss the ball into the net, the point is over. If you hit your drive over the net, you never know what might happen. For all the golfers out there, my analogy is this: if you have a putt and leave it short, you never stood a chance to put the ball in the hole.
- Lobs Deep – you should aim your lobs to the opposing service line. If you miss your lobs deep, it means you missed your target by more than ten feet – that’s pretty bad control. Even if you leave a couple of lobs short, you will not be punished to the same extent as you would in tennis.Think of these two shots while you are in the backcourt.
- Volleys Wide – volleys should be aimed straight forward or towards the middle of the court with enough margin for error on either side. The angle of your paddle should mirror the angle of your upper body (chest bone) – if you miss volleys wide it means the angle of your paddle at contact was too extreme and out of sync with your upper body. Keep in mind that we are talking about backhand volleys.
- Overheads Into the Net – overheads should be hit with enough margin of error over the net. On shorter lobs you should NEVER miss the ball into the net since you have so much court and angle to work with. On deeper overheads, you have less court and angle to work with so you should adjust the angle of your overheads accordingly by hitting the ball at a less steep angle. Specifically, look to hit overheads where the path of your ball is more parallel to the ground. There are instances where you might even have to hit slightly up on the ball.
Think of these two shots while you are at the net.
By eliminating these mistakes from your game and by following a solid and consistent game plan each and every time you play a match, you should see significant improvement in your game within three months.