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Licensed to Drive
Rich Fiocchi, PPTA
A lot of players view the lob as a utility shot -- a way to stay in the point until the opportunity to drive the ball presents itself.
The fact is that most drivable balls well-constructed lob and offensive shift by the back-court team.
There are various ways to set yourself up with your partner to earn the team tag, "licensed to drive."
Keys to Earning Your License
The first step to earning your "license to drive" is lob depth. A good lob is a ball that goes in, a great lob is one that pushes your opponents past their service line. When the lob has depth, there is always a chance of getting a drivable ball, primarily because it limits the overheader's options as to what they can do. If a player is pushed past the service line the side screens are taken away, which forces the "bail Out" overhead to be hit deep to the deuce court player's backhand. This can often be a difficult overhead to hit and, if not done correctly, will result in an offensive opportunity for the back-court team.
The next step to earning your license to drive is lob placement. Some players feel lobbing directly down the middle causes the most confusion; however, this is not entirely accurate. Players tend to shift with the ball so lobbing to the middle of the court is actually just hitting to the deep player. To cause the most Confusion you need to lob to all area between your opponents, which will not always be straight down the middle. Target the spot that is equidistant from each player so there is a chance that both players will react to the ball, thus causing confusion. If Your opponents are not up to speed oil their positioning or communication, you will receive some good drive opportunities or even free points.
Learning to Shift
Once you and your partner feel confident with the lob, you can begin to look for balls to drive. However, this alone doesn't give You the "license to drive." The back-court team must set up their forehands in the best possible position to have the right to drive. This is done by performing an "offensive shift" as soon as the lob has been hit deep. This means that with a righty/righty team both players will shift to their left. The deuce court player will end up in the middle of the court at the centermark and the ad court player will end up outside their alley or even against the side-screen. Both players should also have their shoulders turned, knees slightly bent and one foot inside the court as they anticipate the short reply (see Photo #1). When this shift has been achieved, you and your partner are now "licensed to drive." At the same time, the key to remember is that when you make your "offensive shift" you are not necessarily looking to drive, but for the opportunity to drive. If your opponents manage to hit a successful overhead, lob the ball back and repeat the process.
There also are some situations in which your offensive shift will be slightly A righty in the ad side will shift to the same spot as previously mentioned, but a lefty will shift to their Iright, which will put them outside their alley or against the side-screen on the deuce side (Photo #2). This will leave a lot of room down the middle, but still give either player a chance to drive a forehand. Another situation that requires a different type of offensive shift is when a player favors their backhand drive, particularly from the deuce side. In this situation, the player in the deuce court need not shift at all as they are already set up for a drivable ball in the middle. This can be very effective at putting additional pressure oil the overhead team because it takes away one of the most utilized "bail out" spots oil the court.
Dude, Who Should Drive?
Now that you and your partner are "licensed" who should do the driving? Either player can look to drive, but what if you're on fire and you want to see more of the balls? If you find yourself in this Situation, there is a great technique that will give you more offensive opportunities. To set yourself up for more drives, lob the ball cross-court. Lobbing the ball Cross-court takes away the angle to your partner's corner and makes your opponents either play a high risk shot down the line or play the high percentage shot, which is generally right back to you. This type of play is a great Opportunity for you to make an offensive shift and set yourself up for an aggressive drive. For those of you who are blessed with a partner who has an incredible drive, there is a fantastic way to set them up as well. Lobbing the ball down the line sets up your partner in the same way that lobbing the ball cross-court sets you up. When you lob down the line your opponents will have difficulty hitting the ball to your side screen and must either play that high risk shot back to you, or play the high percentage shot cross-court to your partner. Imagine how thankful your partner will be for making them look so good!
Platform tennis involves a lot of strategy that not only requires You to move with the ball but also without the ball. The best players in the game have earned their "license" and know how to set LIP their drive and when to use it. Mastering the offensive shift will make you a more feared driver because your court position will be better. So next time you are playing in a tournament, league match, drill or just with friends, make sure to shift when you or your partner have hit that great lob and you will be "licensed to drive" every time.
Rich Fiocchi is a PPTA instructor and the Director of Racquets at The Winter Club of Lake Forest