Chapter 11: The Rally Game

Now that you can serve and have good control of your forehand and backhand strokes, you are ready for a game from the backcourt.

To improve your skills and enjoy yourself, play a “Rally Game”. The object is to hit as many balls as possible over the net and into the court, without trying to finish the point. Just return the ball to your opponent so he or she can return it to you.

This game is played from the backcourt, with each player letting the ball bounce before hitting it. It will teach you to keep the ball in play until you can hit back and forth at a medium pace. The other player should do the same, striving for control, getting as many balls as possible back to you.

It is not unusual at this stage to see thirty or forty consecutive balls going back and forth in each rally.

Start with an easy serve, then keep the ball in play, always returning it close to your friend’s reach.

The player missing a shot or hitting beyond their opponent’s reach counts it as losing the point. The same applies for hard or forceful shots. The emphasis is on keeping the ball in play where the opponent can get to it comfortably.

Even professionals hit like that in many practice sessions, or when they warm up prior to the start of a match.

Keeping Score

One player serves until one of the players gets to ten points. Count that as one game. Then the other player serves to ten points, and so on.

This training will help you become consistent, which is the basis of any match play.

The Ideal Partner

In choosing the partner you hit with, get someone who wants to commit to playing safely.

If either you or your friend think that playing tennis is hitting all winners, change your mind for this Rally Game. Take it as playing the piano, not banging it, or like dancing without stepping on your partner’s feet. Neither of you wants to embarrass yourself or each other, so enjoy playing back and forth with control.

Your body may need to build up to match your skills. Practicing as shown, with long ball exchanges, will build up your strength, your resistance, and your patience.

Be efficient. Don’t exert too much effort and try to kill the ball. Efficiency is the ratio of effort to the result you get. The less effort overall and the smoother the swing, the better off you’ll be when learning to play. You’ll end up feeling the ball much better and having plenty of control over your shots.

As you progress, you can speed up your shots gradually. You’ll play more topspin, stronger games, stronger opponents. You have all the data now for the backcourt game and you need only to practice to improve your game.

At this stage I usually send people to play, without any theory lessons of any kind, for several months. If they want to play with me, I usually string a rope across the net, about three feet above it, and we hit back and forth, or do special drills. (See Chapter 16 on “Drills for Development.”)

I recommend that you become a proficient backcourt player before you learn to play the net game. Being close to the net gives the player a totally different view of the opponent’s court, as shown in the following pictures, both taken at eye level.

From the baseline, you see the other court through the net (unless you are more than six feet tall).

Near the net, you see the other court from above the net. This latter view will give you the impression that you need to hit down to get the ball in the court, which is true for the volleys and smash.

But it is very important to get used to hitting up on the groundstrokes first and controlling the height of your shot with your racquet angle, not by hitting down.

This is why small children usually learn their groundstrokes so easily and so well. They see the net as a high obstacle and they hit up. Later on, as they grow up and gain power, they keep the same stroke pattern and start closing the racquet face to keep the ball in the court, rather than hitting down on the ball.

You can do the same by staying in the backcourt and using topspin until you get very proficient in the Rally Game.

After that read Chapter 14 “The Volley and Smash.”