Taking the ball early is one of the best strategies to put your opponent under pressure and Novak Djokovic has used it with incredible success this year!
With his supreme confidence, Djokovic is able to take balls incredibly early around the baseline, which often results in shots that I would consider almost half-volleys. Djokovic hits these shots best with his two-handed backhand, but often he is also confident enough to hit them with his forehand.
Roger Federer can also hit this shot incredibly well with his forehand and at times with his backhand. Whenever Federer has supreme confidence, he is capable of taking the ball earlier than other players and therefore hitting winners that appear to be effortless!
Rafael Nadal has mentioned many times before that he plays his best Tennis when he manages to be very aggressive. What does very aggressive mean ? Usually it means taking the ball early and even Nadal with his extreme forehand grip will hit shots that are close to half-volleys when he is at his best!
From Agassi To Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal
Combining The Best Of Both Worlds
Andre Agassi was of course known for taking balls extremely early and hitting many shots that appeared to be half-volleys from the baseline. Opponents always complained that they had no time against him.
The game has changed since Agassi though and players are moving a lot better. This has resulted in lots of guys relying on heavy topspin and covering the court extremely well.
What I believe is happening now at the top of the game is a merging of these two styles. Djokovic, Federer, and even Nadal at times are combining the best of both worlds. They hit with plenty of topspin whenever necessary but they also take the ball extremely early whenever they get a chance to get past opponents.
Taking Time Away From Your Opponents
A Timeless Strategy
Taking time away from opponents has been a winning strategy in Tennis since the game is
being played. Coming to the net and volleying is about taking time away from
your opponents. Tennis is essentially a battle for time and space.
The top guys are showing super-human movement these days and in order get past them you have basically two options: Hit the ball even harder than usual or take the ball earlier. Since the guys are already hitting at incredible speeds with high spin rates, I believe one thing that separates the absolute best from the rest is their ability to take the ball very early!
What Is Necessary For These Shots ?
In order to hit these kinds of shots two things are extremely important. First of all you
have to move incredibly well in order to position yourself perfectly for this
kind of shot. Secondly, you need to have supreme confidence in your strokes in
order to take balls so early at a very high speed!
A technical element that really helps for this shot is a short compact swing motion. The
best players have these kinds of swings. Federer’s forehand and Djokovic’s
backhand are two great examples. I would consider Nadal’s forehand a short
compact motion as well.
An example of a motion that does not lend itself for this kind of shot is Maria
Sharapova’s forehand. Her arm action is bigger and not as short and compact. As
a result it is extremely difficult for her to take the ball very early and not
hit it late!
Justine Henin – The Female Equivalent
There was one player in the women’s game in recent years that I can think of, who played
in a similar fashion and was able to take balls really early on a consistent
basis. Justine Henin was capable of using heavy topspin shots or taking the
ball extremely early, almost half-volleying form the baseline in order to get
Evolution Of The Game
The level of play in Professional Tennis is getting better and better almost every year. The game is getting faster and players are able to hit aggressive shots from positions where they previously couldn’t think about anything but defending.
Therefore it is only natural that we will see more and more players taking balls this early.
Taking Balls Early In Your Game
Taking balls this early is very difficult and requires great technique as well as coordination. I suggest you experiment with it a little bit but only with strokes that you are very confident in!
In general this is a strategy better left to the top players who are doing this for a living!