By Vanaka Gunawardhana, former tennis professional, Ansley Golf Club
We often hear players shout “watch the ball,” while possibly losing sight of other important factors that may be affecting their shot selection. Peripheral vision helps a player take other details into consideration while watching the ball or being aware of it. Key variables that you need to be aware of while “paying attention” to the ball are your positioning as well as that of your opponent/opponents. Here are some details on why paying attention to your opponent is important and how it should affect your shot selection.
The speed and spin on the ball are a couple of variables a player can pick up on even before the opponent hits the ball. Their preparation will give a lot away. A big backswing with a closed racquet face will probably mean they are getting ready to hit an aggressive shot, and it may be a good idea to back up off the baseline and get ready to play some defense.
Also, being aware of your opponent’s positioning will help you make better choices on the court. In other words, if your opponent is getting really close to the net, a lob is probably a better choice than a passing shot. If they are drifting back toward the service line, hit your shot at their feet.
Drills ideas to practice opponent awareness
Have your hitting partner switch their positioning randomly between service line and middle of the service box. The service line is position 1 and middle of the box is position 2. When they adjust their position during the rally, call out the position they are adjusting to. You also can do this with how they prepare their racquet — call out the spin or the type of backswing they are taking. In other words, open, closed, or backspin and topspin.
Practice your awareness of opponents and see your consistency level go up as your reactions improve, your shot anticipation develops, and you begin making better choices on the court.