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Coaching tip of the week: Rope-a-Dope Defense

(By Larry Hodges)

Suppose you are playing a relentless counter-hitter, who plays every really bang-bang, and you are struggling to stay in these rallies. Point after point ends with either you missing or making a weak return the opponent smashes. How do you get out of this?

There are three main ways. First, attack first and try to end the point before you get into these bang-bang rallies. Second, force the opponent to open weakly by giving them low, heavy, deep pushes, or deep serves that they have trouble attacking, and counter-attacking off their openings, with placement key (to wide angles or to opponent’s mid-point between forehand and backhand, usually the elbow).

But once you are in these rallies, what should you do? Rather than mindlessly rally and hope your opponent makes a mistake, focus on three things that will turn hopeless play into rope-a-dope defense:

·         Get every ball back. This may sound basic, but if you make that your focus, you might surprise yourself with how many shots you get back. After a shot or two into such rallies you might have to take a half step back to give yourself enough time to react to shots, but don’t back up too much or you give the opponent wider angles and more time to attack your shots. Most likely cover most middle shots with your backhand. A key thing here is confidence – if you truly believe you can rally with the opponent, then you may surprise yourself at how well you do so. A lack of confidence leads to tentativeness, which leads to both weak shots and misses. With that confidence, you might even find yourself hitting in winners when you get the right shot!

·         Keep it deep. As long as your shots are deep, the opponent can’t rush or angle you too much. It’s those returns that go short that’ll get you into trouble. If your shots are going short, hit your shots just a little more aggressively to get them deeper. Find the balance between consistency and aggressiveness, but keep the ball deep!

·         Move the ball around. Don’t make things easy for the opponent. Ideally, keep every ball not just deep, but to wide angles, or when you see a chance, an aggressive counter-shot at the elbow, which not only gives the opponent trouble, but also pulls him out of position and opens up one of the corners. An aggressive counter-shot to the forehand often takes an opponent out of position as well, opening up either the wide backhand, or often the wide forehand again as players often over-recover after the first one to the forehand. Beware – if you hit a wide-angled shot, it gives the opponent the chance to angle back, and so you have to recover into a ready position to cover that angle!

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