by Will Boucek

August 27, 2021   

When you see a short ball in singles, coaches teach us to attack.

However, most coaches don’t tell us how to attack.

  • Where is the best place to hit our approach shot?
  • Should I hit a forehand or a backhand?
  • What if the opponent is left-handed?

Below, we’re going to cover what you should know about approach shots in singles so you can come to the net with confidence.

Approach Shots from the Pros

I went to the Australian Open in 2020 and there were a few matches I watch where I wanted to run onto the court and yell at the player.

Fans always think they “know” where a player, coach, or team went wrong. You’ve experienced this if you’ve ever been to a football or basketball game.

I watched 2 singles matches in particular that I really felt the losing player would have won if they had simply approached the net the right way.

  • Shapovolov vs Fucsovics
  • Jessica Pegula vs Taylor Townsend.

Both matches are lefty vs righty matchups. Shapo & Pegula lost the matches because they didn’t follow a basic rule.

Australian Open 2020-Shapovolov vs Fucsovics
Shapovolov (on the far side) vs Fucsovics (returning) at the Australian Open 2020 inside Margaret Court.

Pro Case Studies: Why We Should Approach the Backhand

Shapovolov kept hitting inside-out forehand approach shots. This is usually a good idea, but he’s left-handed. So this shot is going to the other Fucsovics forehand. In this case, Fucsovics easily hit passing shots with his forehand throughout the match.

In the 2nd match, Jessica Pegula was the right-handed player. She made the same mistake! I was watching Townsend hit one passing shot after another from her forehand side. And when it wasn’t a passing shot, she made Jessica hit a tough, dipping backhand volley.

I thought I must be missing something. This is the highest level of tennis in the world! Surely they know what they’re doing.

After the match, I ran down Jessica’s coach and asked.

Me: “Am I missing something? Or would Jessica have won that match if she had started approaching to Taylor’s backhand?”

Coach: “Yes. We were yelling that the whole time. She kept hitting her forehand approach down the line and getting passed.”

Even the pros often do this stuff wrong!

How to Approach the Net the RIGHT Way

In general, it’s best to approach to the backhand. The story above inspired my new, simple rule for coming to the net in singles.

Singles Rule: on short balls hit to the forehand only if…

  1. You have a forehand AND
  2. The ball won’t come back.

Otherwise, approach to the backhand with depth. Follow this simple rule and you’ll find yourself winning more points from the net.

Forehand Approach Shots are Better than Backhand

Even Novak Djokovic runs around his backhand to hit approach shots. You should too.

Your forehand allows you to quickly change direction and keeps the opponent guessing which way you’re going to hit the ball.

You can hit an inside-out forehand with depth, usually to the opponents backhand, to force an error or get an easy volley. You can also hit an inside-in forehand which is the most common way to hit a winner.

Hit Your Approach Shot to the Backhand, Usually

Most of the time, it’s better to hit your approach to the backhand. This forces the opponent to hit a passing shot with their backhand which is almost certainly the weaker of their two groundstrokes.

You have less reach on your backhand, and it’s generally a more uncomfortable shot to pass with.

Cover the Crosscourt Passing Shot

After your approach shot, a lot of coaches will tell you to follow the shot. This would result in your covering the down-the-line backhand.

If someone at my level can consistently pass me with a down-the-line backhand after I hit an inside-out forehand approach shot, I’m probably not playing someone at my level…

The crosscourt passing shot is much easier, so hedge that way slightly.

If Your Approach Shots Aren’t Working, Use Variety

I mentioned above to focus on depth, but if you’re still getting passed, try using more variety. Here are a few things you can adjust.

  • Spin: Try heavy topspin & slice. Notice which the opponent struggles with more. Most recreational players struggle with low slices to the backhand. You can also try a drop shot.
  • Direction: If you’re hitting to the corner and getting passed, try playing the ball more towards the middle (still with depth). This takes away the opponent’s angle on the passing shot.
  • Pace: A lot of players (like me) actually prefer pace when hitting a backhand. If you hit me a slow slice to my backhand and approach the net, I will melt.

Will Boucek

About the author

Will Boucek is the Founder & CEO of The Tennis Tribe. He has played and coached tennis for over two decades. Will is a strategy analyst for ATP & WTA tour players and coaches. He also tests the latest tennis racquets, shoes, & other gear from Wilson, Babolat, Head, Prince, and other tennis brands. He currently lives in Fort Worth, Texas where he plays USTA leagues & tournaments.

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