Types of Opponents Part 1: The Human Backboard

The human backboard also known as the pusher and dinker, in my opinion, is one of the worst opponents to play. So what is a human backboard? He or she is the type of player that returns literally everything.

This type of player almost never hits hard, but gets everything back. Human backboards drive a lot of opponents crazy, because they win by getting you to make all of the mistakes.

Points against these types of players last forever, and the match can last for hours.

One of the worst parts about tennis is knowing you lost a point not because your opponent hit an amazing shot that you just couldn’t get back, but because you made a mistake on a crap shot and ended the point.

So how do you beat this type of player?

  1. Attack at the net. By coming to the net you are able to cut down the time your opponent has between hit the ball and reacting to your shot making it more difficult for them to get every shot back.
  2. Make him or her hit a short ball. By hitting lofty balls that will bounce high you will makes it difficult for your opponent to hit a deep shot.
  3. Be patient.. Wait for the right ball before going for a winner or attempting an approach shot.
  4. Pull your opponent into the net with a drop shot or good, low short ball.

Playing human backboards can be so frustrating. I know I have lost to one to many of them so don’t be like me! Learn how to conquer the backboard!


Fancy Feet

It is incredible to watch as players run down balls that seem impossible to get to. It’s not just speed that gets them to the ball, but having good footwork can make all the difference.

The better your footwork the better tennis player you can be. With good footwork, you have the ability to cover a lot more of the court without being extremely fast, recover quicker after shots and help you prepare for the next shot.

Have you ever noticed that tennis players bounce on their toes before a point starts? That is where good footwear begins. If you start a point flat footed, you are already set to be a step behind. Being on your toes prepares you to move.

Two crucial steps a player needs to be able to do to have good footwork are the split step and the side shuffle step.

The split step is the first reaction to every shot. Players split step by jumping up in the air about inch or two by pressing your toes towards as they see their opponent is about to hit a shot. The split step in usually used you are returning serves, ground strokes, and approaching the net to play a volley.

The side shuffle step is used to move around the court. Between every shot players typically move back to the middle of the court. Rather than turn around and run back, they side shuffle. This allows players to be focused on their opponent while he or she hits the shot back to their side. The side shuffle also allows a player to move in any direction to play the next shot.

So if you are looking to take your game to the next level, be ready to work on some fancy footwork!





Buggy Whip, Mis-hit, Shank

You just received a shot that is in the perfect position to be put away. So what do you do? You wind up and are ready to kill it, but instead of taking advantage of the easy shot, you hit it wide or into the net. Sound familiar?

I have done it more times than I can count, and I am sure that if you have ever played tennis so have you. While they may not do it often, the pros also hit the ball badly from time to time.

So what do you call a ball that you meant to hit in but went three courts down instead? Here are a few terms used for balls that are hit badly:

  • Buggy whip – a forehand hit with a follow-through that does not go across the body and finish on the opposite side, but rather goes from low to high and finishes on the same side (similar to the driver of a horse drawn carriage whipping a horse).
  • Mis-hit – a stroke in which the racket fails to make contact with the ball in the “sweetspot” area of the strings.
  • Shank – a significantly misdirected shot, the result of hitting the ball in an unintentional manner, typically with the frame of the racket. Such shots typically go very high in the air, go into the stands or an adjacent court, and/or land far outside the lines. However, it is possible to hit a shank that lands validly in the court.

Like I said, the pros do it too so take a look at this video and you will feel much better about any buggy whip, mis-hit or shank you have ever hit.

60% Mental, 40% Ability

Like many other sports, tennis is greatly affected by one’s mental game, and it has been a part of the game since the very beginning.

For some, the mental game is the hardest opponent to defeat. I know that I have walked off the court time and time again frustrated that I lost because I could not overcome what was going on in my mind.

So how do players deal with it? Countless books have been written, but here are a few basic tips players receive to help them be mentally ready for a match:

  • Rely on the rituals you develop in practice. For example, take a deep breath, bounce the ball twice, and then cock your racquet before serving. Do it every time that you serve. Be sure to slow down when you are feeling anxious. Most players tend to rush when they are nervous, so do the opposite.
  • Try to breath out when you hit the ball. This exhale will relax your muscles. Players often hold their breath under pressure and this will prevent that from occurring.
  • Rely on positive self-talk. Stay focused on the present-tense, with little concern over what has happened or what will happen. Instead, concentrate on what you need to do to win the very next point.
  • Avoid the tendency to focus on results, and instead concentrate on the process. Try to win the very next point. After that is done, win or lose, focus on how to win the very next point.

Do you think these techniques work to help players get over their mental road blocks?

Serve It Up

Serving is the most critical part of the match. If you are having an off day and can’t get a serve in, you are pretty well screwed because without it, you can’t start a point to win it.

If you have ever played tennis on a regular basis, you know how awful it is when your serving is off. Your entire game goes out the window.

But if your serve is on, it can bump up your game to the next level.

Here are some notable servers over the years:

Pancho Gonzalez – hit serves at speeds of 140mph in the 1960s

Colin Dibley – previously held the record for fastest serve in the 1970s at 148mph

Roscoe Tanner – held the record for fastest serve at 153mph from 1978-2004

Goran Ivanisevic – holds the record for most aces in a season with 1,477 aces in 1996

Greg Rusedski – fastest serve was clocked at 149mph in 1998

John Isner – hit 85 aces in a single set and in 2010 he hit 113 aces in a match

Andy Roddick – the held the record for fastest serve at 155mph from 2004 – 2011 and hits his serve with spin near 2500rpm

Ivo Karlovic – holds the record for fastest serve at 156mph. He also set  the record in 2007 for fastest 2nd serve (this serve is supposed to be not as hard as the 1st so that there is a greater chance it will go in) at 144mph.

Serving has been getting faster and faster over the past 50 years. At what point will it not be humanly possible to hit the ball harder? 160mph? 170mph? I guess we will have to wait and see for the next record to be broken

The Tweener Shot

One shot that never ceases to amaze me is the between the legs shot aka “the tweener.” I have tried the shot before and failed miserably. To pull it off successfully takes some skill.

Here are some crucial steps in successfully completing the shot (sadly I do not know these from experience:

  • First you must run down a ball that has sailed over your head
  • Then you must catch at the right height before it has either bounced to high or dropped too low
  • Next you must get your feet wide enough apart to be able to hit the ball without hitting your legs while successfully sending it between them
  • And finally, you must do this all while looking cool

Easy enough right? Of course the pros make it look easy, but as for the average player like myself, an attempt at this shot would most likely lead to the ball flying nowhere in the court or entirely missing the ball.

Watch as the pros show how it is done.

The Grip

I am guessing some of you have never even noticed the way a player holds a racket. You probably thought it was all the same…well in case you were wondering, it is not.

The basic grips used are  the continental, semi-western, and eastern.




The continental grip was developed in Europe and is considered to be a versatile grip for all shots. At one time it was the dominant grip, but as topspin became more popular, players have moved away from using it for groundstrokes. The continental grip produces a flat shot. While it is considered more of an “old school” shot now, it is still generally used for serving and taking volleys.





The eastern grip was developed in the Eastern United States and is said to be the easiest grip to learn. It is popular with beginners and is known as the handshake grip. This is grip allows the racket to contact the ball at waist height. The eastern grip is used to help flatten out a shot, but it does not produce as much topspin as the western grip.







The western grip originated from California and is the popular grip with players who are looking to generate large amounts of topspin and power. To a beginner, this grip feels extremely awkward. With this grip, players hit the ball starting below their hip and finishing above their shoulder. This helps in giving the ball its topspin and also gives it height to clear the net.




Next time you watch the pros check to see what grip they are using!