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An opponent hits a backhand (righty to righty) to your backhand; you have, in classical tennis theory, 2 options; go cross-court or down the line. Count in modern day tactics, and you have many more options; hit a drop shot, run around your backhand to hit a powerful inside-out forehand, or hit a low slice down the middle that isn’t quite a drop-shot yet it doesn’t go so deep either, to cause an opponent to make a forced error.  There are many more, but these are the essentials from traditional and modern tennis.

Yet of all the options above, it is hitting down the line that is perhaps the most effective (with reasons why)  and this is a short guide on when, how and why to hit down-the-line backhands against your opponents, at any level, amateur, semi pro, or even professional.

When -> If you are inside the baseline, you should be looking to take the cross-court ball earlier than usual to hit a DTL (down the line) backhand; the reason for doing it inside the baseline rather than outside is that your chances of making an error are generally less due to being closer to the net,  which goes from a straight line to a little dip back to a straight line, this is why a cross-court shot is a “percentage shot”, doing a DTL is more riskier, but when you are inside the baseline, you not only are taking it earlier which means you are generating more pace, but you can see the court more and you’re able to hit with more precision as you can see the court more clearly!

How? Well the technique is often over-looked when hitting down the line, it’s all about exquisite footwork, for either one handed or two handed, getting ready very early with your feet planted towards hitting down-the-line, meaning if you’re a righty and one handed, your right foot should be far more to the left of your body than if you were hitting a cross-court shot.

Why? Andy Murray was destroyed by Federer in the Australian Open 2010 final by often hitting to his backhand which allowed Federer to get into a comfortable position for their baseline rallies, yet in their recent Roger’s Cup encounter, by hitting down-the-line with his backhand; he pushed Federer back and won the match. Hitting down the line makes the receiving player feel uncertainty; is he going to hit back to me or down the line? When I go cross-court do I need to put more power otherwise he’ll cream a down-the-line backhand winner? It is a tactic that offers variety and is designed to beat all-kinds of players; from offensive baseliners (Federer) to defensive, counter-punching baseliners (Nadal).

Look at these two highlight packages and notice how many times Murray (in the first) and how many times Federer (in the second) hit down the line with their backhands; both are on different surfaces, yet both caused Federer and Nadal, respectively, troubles in their best surfaces (Federer is statistically superior on hard court than on grass, while Nadal’s favourite and best surface is clay) and caused them to lose. Hitting down the line differs you from other players; in a line of 30 000 Average Joes playing tennis, you want to be that 1 or 2% who can utilise this tactic in every single match.

The third video shows Safin using the backhand down the line effectively against Federer; Roger is placed to the left of the court as he is expecting a cross-court backhand at an early stage of a rally, Safin knowing this, does an unpredictable, yet exquisite-timed backhand down the line to win the point.

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