When you see a short ball in singles, coaches teach us to attack.
However, most coaches don’t tell us how to attack.
Below, we’re going to cover what you should know about approach shots in singles so you can come to the net with confidence.
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.
Both matches are lefty vs righty matchups. Shapo & Pegula lost the matches because they didn’t follow a basic rule.
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!
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…
Otherwise, approach to the backhand with depth. Follow this simple rule and you’ll find yourself winning more points from the net.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Get A Free Net-Play Doubles Guide on How to Play with More Confidence at the Net! Join league and tournament doubles players from all over the world and improve your game with a new doubles lesson each week.
Will Boucek is the Founder & CEO of The Tennis Tribe. He has played tennis for over two decades, including in college. Will has worked with ATP & WTA tour players and coaches. He currently lives in Austin TX where he plays USTA leagues & tournaments, writes about tennis, and teaches doubles workshops.