Either at professional or recreational level, when you have played against an opponent many times you get to recognise patterns in their play and shots they are most likely to play in any given situation. We are after all creatures of habit and when we recognise something that works for us on the tennis court we have a tendency to re-play that shot many times. When we see this in our opponent we can start to anticipate their next course of action and position ourselves accordingly. We don’t always get it right but it can make the difference in tight matches. When our opponents begin to recognise patterns in our play then we must learn to try and disguise our intentions and the most obvious ways we know we are successful in this endeavour is when we wrong foot our opponents or leave them flat footed on the court (stuck in the mud). So, how do we go about disguising our tennis shots? Here are some tips:
It may sound obvious but having a consistent toss during the service action regardless of the spin employed will not only disguise our intention but will keep our opponent guessing. I have a player at my local club who I play against regularly and whenever he is going for an excessive sliced serve it is very noticeable that his toss is exaggerated out to the right and that allows me to ready myself for the oncoming ball. A consistent toss should bring more consistency to your serve too but it may limit the amount of spin you can generate. On the overhead in general, varying your amount of wrist pronation will change the direction of your shot regardless of the stance you are using.
Return of serve:
It can be very hard to disguise your return of serve because you often get very little time and if your opponents serve is strong you may also have very little choice. Although not technically a disguise, the best way to hide your patterns on return of serve is to mix it up a bit. Go for the shot down the line eventhough you are aiming into the smaller part of the court and your recovery is a greater distance. It will break up the pattern of always returning back crosscourt and is a good ploy to use in doubles to test the servers partner to see if they are competent at the net.
In order to disguise a groundstroke it may be necessary to hit from a different stance. A lot of players will move from their usual open stance into a more neutral stance in order to hit down the line. By moving to this neutral stance you can convince your opponent that you are about to hit down the line but then hit crosscourt.
Another good trick is to use the classic “V” tactic and then hit back behind your opponent on the next shot in order to wrong foot hi/her. This strategy can be employed a number of times before your opponent becomes wise to it.
We should always try to disguise a dropshot. The most commonly used ploy is to backswing your racquet like you are going for a powerful drive at then at the last moment loosen your grip and bring the racquet forward slowly with an open face. Swing high to low to generate a little (or a lot) backspin to complete the execution. Federer is a master at reverse disguise in this instance. He will set himself up like he was about to hit a drop shot and then and the last moment he will slice the ball long after his opponent has committed himself to running forward looking for the short ball. I have also seen him look one way with his gaze and then go about hitting the ball in the opposite direction. This is a risky tactic as it involves the player taking their eye off the ball which could easily lead to a mishit. You need to be very confident that it’s going to work or otherwise you could look like a little bit of a fool out there.
A great volleyer is capable of disguising their volleys at will. Again, hitting back behind your opponent is a good tactic to use. The disguised drop volley can be a very effective shot to play if done right and at the right time providing you have the touch and softness of hands. The only way to disguise your volley really is either with the amount of depth employed or the choice of angle used. You can vary your pace but most drive volleys are hit with power.