The Grinding Mentality - How to Play It and Against It
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The Grinding Mentality – How to Play It and Against It

The Grinding Mentality – How to Play It and Against It
(By Larry Hodges)

The Grinder is a style of play, or really a mentality, where your single-minded focus is on not making any mistakes, and not giving the opponent any easy shots. This often means trying to stretch out rallies as long as possible, since the Grinder isn’t making many mistakes or giving the opponent many chances to end the point. It’s a defense-oriented way of playing, usually by choppers and blockers, the latter sometimes blocking with long pips on one side. It basically means you grind out each point. It doesn’t mean the Grinder doesn’t attack, but when he does, it’s usually either to throw off the opponent’s timing or to end the point off a weak ball.
Mentally, the goal here is to “break” the opponent, who becomes so impatient at finding a good shot to end the point that he starts trying low-percentage shots, and so makes mistakes and loses. Often he falls into the trap of thinking, “Jeez, he won’t miss, so I better attack harder to force him to miss.” This rarely works.
If you play a defensive style, you should develop the grinder mentality, where you simply refuse to miss or give the opponent anything easy to attack. If the rallies go long, you are happy, as you know the pressure is on the opponent to find a way out of these long rallies, and if he can’t, you win.
But how does one play the Grinder? It’s all about finding the right mixture of patience and decisiveness. First, find the weakest part of the Grinder’s defense. Find out what serves, receives, and rallying shots give the Grinder the most trouble. Since they are focused on keeping the ball in play, they often are passive against deep serves, so perhaps serve long, spinny serves that give you lots of time to follow up. For receive, mostly play safe as there’s no point in making an error attacking a serve when you can just push it back and look for an easier attack.
In rallies, usually the weakest spot for the Grinder is the middle, roughly the playing elbow, midway between forehand and backhand, though for many Grinders, the middle is slightly to the forehand side. By attacking the middle, you often force a weaker, erratic return as the Grinder has to decide whether to use forehand or backhand, you take away the extreme angles, and you force the Grinder out of position, often opening up a corner to attack.
But the single most important thing about playing the Grinder is being both patient and decisive. Keep picking away at him with serves and rally shots, looking for balls you can easily attack. Don’t force it; if the shot’s not there, don’t take it. This doesn’t mean you don’t attack unless you get an easy ball, but that you should only attack consistently until you get the right one to end the point. Instead of trying to loop hard against the Grinder’s often very good push, slow loop it, and look to see if you can end the point on the next shot. If you can’t, continue playing consistent until you do get the right shot.
 While you probably don’t want to try beating the Grinder in a pure consistency battle – that’s his strength – you also don’t want to feel like you have to go for low percentage attacks. Take your time, play the percentage shots as you pick away at the Grinder’s defense, and then – when you get the shot you’ve been working for – WHAM!!! End the point.  

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