One of the most dreaded of places on the tennis court is the area about 3 feet inside the base line through just at, or slightly inside, the service line. It’s aptly named “no man’s land,” and here’s a great definition for this term: “an area of uncertainty or ambiguity.”
I think “uncertainty” is accurate regarding tennis play because most players get caught there either after serving or returning serve. Instead of viewing this area as a brief transition point on the way to the net, it becomes a parking lot of flat feet.
Before you know it, the ball comes back to you and you’re uncertain whether to let it bounce, or take it out of the air. By the time you decide, it’s usually too late, resulting in a bad shot and lost point.
So, how do you fix this?
First, decide that anytime you’re moving into this area, you’ll hit the ball while it’s in the air. In order to do this effectively, you need to be in balance by doing a split step, or ready position (see my previous article), just as your opponent is about to contact the ball.
Next, get your racquet back as soon as the ball leaves your opponent’s racquet in order to be ready for a forehand or backhand volley.
After making your shot, don’t park there! Move forward and get ready to split step and gather your balance as soon as the opponent is about to strike the ball. Then, racquet back just as before, and you are ready to hit the volley.
Here’s a great way to build the confidence to make these transitioning shots and be in balance:
With a practice partner, stand about 3 feet behind the service line and practice rallying balls out of the air, taking half-volleys only when necessary. Make sure to incorporate the split step, ready position, racquet back in the correct timing sequence to make it as automatic a process as possible.
You’ll soon see how good timing and balance can help you move through the uncertainty of “no man’s land” to a more confident tennis game.
Lou Marino is a USPTA Cardio and youth tennis coach who lives, teaches and provides custom-hybrid racquet service in the Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area. firstname.lastname@example.org