You have just come off a summer of terrific tennis and now it is time to pick up your trusty platform tennis paddle and play platform tennis again. Many players don’t realize how many differences there are between these two great games. As soon as you begin to play paddle again you need to remember a few key points.
Like tennis, platform tennis is a game of patience. Unlike tennis, however, in platform tennis you can’t truly out-power your opponent. No matter how hard you can hit the ball, it can always come off the screens. Therefore, there is always the constant reminder that patience wins out on the platform tennis court. If we play on this premise we will be immediately more successful early on in the season.
In tennis your goal is to set up your point to put the ball as far away from your opponent as possible so that it will not come back. In platform tennis your goal is to set up points so that your opponents make errors.
General Platform Tennis Strategy
Platform tennis has been described as ‘like playing on a huge ping pong table’ but that is not quite accurate, as you also have the wire mesh fences which you can play the ball off, so it is more akin to playing table tennis in a squash court with platform tennis rules that closely match traditional tennis.
So with that bizarre description in mind, you are going to want to have a some decent strategies for playing effectively both in the common doubles matches and less played singles matches.
Platform Tennis Doubles Strategies
Playing platform tennis with a partner really does make this game fun, and fast! This form of play does raise the complexity of the game play and makes it imperative that you have not only a good understanding of each other, but also some good strategies to defeat your opponents.
So with these new added dimensions to the game, what strategies do you need to think about and what works best?
Years ago, the net team was the team with the clear upper hand and thought to be on “offense” and the backcourt team mostly on “defense” playing the screens. Back then, the screens were loose, the decks were wooden, the ball was like a rock and oh those paddles were like heavy boards! Today, the paddles are lighter, grittier and forgiving. The screens are tighter for more offense, the ball is bouncing higher and today’s player is in better shape. The correct paddle mind set is that the net team and backcourt team are both on offense. Each side is hitting combinations of shots trying to get the opponent to miss.
Achieving a break of serve used to be a big deal and put your team in position to win the set. Times have changed. There are more breaks of serve in today’s game. The return is a big shot these days with the returner having an edge over the server. After the return of serve, the net team does have the advantage, but varies depending on the backcourt team’s ability to play the screens.
Having the right mindset can assure your team success at the platform tennis net. Here are some mental strategies against different levels while playing the net.
Your opponent’s screenwork is:
- Isolate the weaker player. Discuss this strategy with your partner. Don’t get too excited and try to win the point quickly. Hit smart, safe overheads.
- Hit different overheads in the warm-up to see how they react. Move them out of their corner and follow up with a back/side. Hit deep at their bodies to see if they move their feet. Find out what works. Realize it will take a few more overheads before they cough up the error.
- The backcourt team is more on offense! They are the ones who are pulling the trigger. Take off your watch. Play slowly. It will take solid teamwork and good placement to win your points. If their backcourt skills are advanced, you will win points on them breaking down. Don’t try to beat them. You will tend to play too fast and take too many chances. They will take care of the losing.
One of the most Common mistakes I find at all levels of paddle is in net positioning. Many club players play the net “your half, my half”, which leaves too much room for their opponents to find holes and lob into spaces that force backhand overheads. Knowing how to correctly play the net in thirds can aid a weaker team to beating a more advanced team.
Close Range Net Positioning
Your team is at the net and you have accidentally hit a short ball to the deuce court. Your team must cover the two-thirds of the court to which the ball has been hit. Your reaction time is limited when the ball is hit to you at the net from close range. All tournament players and almost all veterans play the net as they do in tennis, in thirds. The benefits to playing the court in thirds are:
- It enables you to stay out of each other’s way.
- You will avoid making unexpected guest appearances in each other’s air space.
- It eliminates second-guessing (“Is it yours or mine?”). When you hesitate, your opponents will find holes in high percentage areas.
The Serve & Volley
Although there are ways to counter the serve and remove some of the advantage that it gives the offensive team, as we discussed earlier, having a good serve can really get the point off to a good start.
This instruction video is a fantastic guide of how to perform a flat serve, spin serve and then move in to the volley, including the best grips and tips to make sure you maximise your serve and volley.
It’s all about spin these days. Slice is an effective spin because it makes the ball stay low and will grab the screen. And if the court is wet, slice is the answer. To keep your opponents guessing, vary your spins on your overheads. The topspin overhead is an aggressive shot in today’s game. When hit properly, the ball accelerates after it bounces and can produce an error from your opponent. Here’s how:
- Semi-western grip
- Minimal chest high back swing
- Shoulders turned
- Strike the ball at 4:30 on the ball
- Roll your wrist and forearm over the ball
- Aim midway between the service line and baseline toward your opponent
- Follow through across your body
Caution – Attempt this shot when your feet are inside the service boxes. Deeper than that, you risk hitting in the net.
The Drop Shot
The Drop Shot is a fun shot to add to your repertoire of skills. Once you own it, use it to help keep your opponents off balance and guessing. The reason it is called a drop shot is because the ball should DROP off your paddle. Definitely a point winning shot if executed correctly off of the right shot.
From the ready position, you are looking for your opponent to drive from behind the baseline without a lot of speed. A good time to try this shot is if your opponent is attempting to drive off of a side back screen from deep in the court.
You should be using a continental grip. Soft hands light grip, especially in warmer weather because a firmer grip will make the ball travel more forward which would give your opponents a deeper ball which is easier for them to get to.
The contact must be made above the level of the net so the ball can hit your paddle and DROP.
Once you have anticipated hitting this shot, you need to move close to the net with your paddle face higher than your hand and above the net. Your movement to the net must be completed before you strike the ball, otherwise you risk the momentum of your step adding speed to the ball at contact and making it land further into the court. By being right on the net you can remain perfectly still and allow the ball to hit your paddle and DROP.
It’s not necessary to try to angle this shot off the court. A complete DROP off your paddle will either be a winning shot or cause your opponents to really scramble from deep in the court to get to a low short ball. As soon as you hit this shot get back to the ready position incase your opponent does manage to flick it up, you want be ready to volley it right back behind them. And so the chase continues.
Do not attempt this shot from below the level of the net. Trying to hit this ball UP over the net not only telegraphs it to your opponents, but the ball will bounce up higher and deeper in the service box for your opponents to run down and attack.
Remembering why it is called a DROP shot will help you execute this shot better.
Identify Opponent’s Weaknesses and Exploit Them
If you can identify your opponents weaknesses, you can exploit them to win some easy points. As the match progresses, your opponents are likely to see what you are doing and adapt. So knowing what to look for to quickly understand ALL of your opponents weaknesses, will help you to target their other weaknesses and keep on winning points and games.
How to Pick On the Deuce Court Player
If you are in a match and the ad court player is the stronger of the two partners, or the sun is blinding coming out of the ad court side, you need to be able to play the deuce court player without giving that player a chance to attack. Here’s a series of shots that will accomplish this goal.
- The first shot should be hit deep down the middle so the deuce court player has to move back and out towards the middle of the court, keeping them behind the baseline.
- The second shot is then hit by aiming deep in the court along the singles line two feet from the baseline. This shot is forcing the deuce court player to chase down a back side screen. The overhead should be hit hard enough to make the screen, but not so hard as to create an opportunity for the backcourt player to attack.
- The third shot is hit straight and deep in line with the second post.
You now have your opponents chasing your shots and opening up opportunities for you to win the point.
- If the ad court player comes over to take the shot, they will be pulled out of position and the net team will have an opportunity to hit behind them.
The net team has now hit a combination of shots that has the deuce court player on the ropes. Now you can look to close the net and hit a drop shot !!
What is important here is that all these shots have been hit to the deuce court player with out giving them a chance to attack a short ball.
Speed and Timing
In every day life we all get so caught up with time management. Some of us do it well and some of us need work in the area. Using time management, or referred to as Speed of Play , on the platform tennis court will improve your shot selection and help you and your partner co-exist on such a small court. The definition of Speed of Play is managing the amount of time between your team’s paddle striking the ball and your opponents’ paddle striking the ball.
As a team, to effectively control the speed of play your team must “Stay on the clock”.
What this means is, if your opponents are about to Hit , your team must be ready to React to your opponent’s shot . As your opponents are recovering your team is preparing to hit, and so forth and so on.
Your team’s shot selection and execution of the chosen shots will ultimately control the speed of play. It is important to set the speed of play as a team. Different players are capable of playing at different speeds; however, your team must play at a speed that is comfortable for you as well as your partner.
Various shots that could be used by your team to speed up play are: a drive, a low lob, a short volley, a hard hit volley, a short serve, and a hard hit overhead. Various shots that could be used by your team to slow down play are: a high lob, a deep volley, the use of the screens, serving to your opponent’s weaker side, and a soft hit overhead.
Reminding yourself to “stay on the clock” will ultimately help in making correct shot selections for your team.
Keep the Game Going
After the serve and return have been played, it is all about keeping the game going. Platform tennis points can be upwards of 200 shots, as you are able to keep the game going by playing off the screens. Most points are not won, but lost, as players make a mistake and hit the ball over the screens or in to the net.
Playing in the Elements
Sure it’s a lot more fun to play on a beautiful day, but if you only play when the weather is beautiful you may miss half the season!
Part of playing in difficult conditions is being prepared. We’ve made a list of what should be in your paddle bag, so you don’t loose a match because you forgot your…….
- Visor or hat
- Change of clothes
- Energy Bar
Toughest part of playing in the rain is the grip gets slippery (especially if you haven’t changed it this season) we always put on a new grip before every tournament.
Who said, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing”. They are absolutely correct. (But that’s a whole different article on dressing for paddle!!)
But definitely a change of clothes should be in that bag including extra socks! Even if it’s only to go home in. Part of paddle is the socializing after the game, you want to sit around for a while and chat about all the shots that you got (especially if you won) And being damp and freezing doesn’t lend it to chatting. You also want to keep your muscles warm so you don’t tighten up; changing your top is a must.
Mitt or glove. Again that will help to keep your grip dry and your hands warm.
Platform tennis shoes with good tread. The theory of using your old tennis sneakers because you don’t want to ruin your new shoes is old hat! New shoes not only offer safety in inclement weather, they also give you more support – paddle requires a lot of footwork.
Check your paddle – if you haven’t upgraded in the last 2 years, it’s time!! All the latest models have extra grit, which will help the ball from sliding off the face of your paddle.
Stay hydrated, just because it’s raining or snowing doesn’t mean you’re not loosing fluids.
Lastly, an energy bar really helps to give you a quick boost especially if you are going into a third set.
Don’t let the weather become another opponent. Be prepared and let your opponents worry about it!
Below is a great video which shows you the transitions from offence to defence and back again. It also demonstrates that the real key to winning a point, is to keep the ball in play.
For the Love of the Game
Every player is different, and every doubles partnership will have strategies that work for them as a team and are effective against opponents with varying skills and capabilities.
When working in a team, you need to assess your own skills and try to improve them as much as possible. Then you can work out a strategy with your partner which compliments their play and minimises each others weaknesses. Lastly, use your familiarity of each others skills and weaknesses and strategy to exploit your opponents weaknesses. But remember, platform tennis was not one in a single shot, aim to keep the ball in play, manoeuvring your opponents till they make an error.