35 years playing this game, and I just learned an absolutely fundamental point. You can hit inside-out, inside-in, or straight, but you cannot hit outside-out consistently. I watched a couple matches at Wimbledon with this in mind, and it enriched the matches unbelievably. It helped me win a match the other day, too.
It's easy to explain, but this video may be even easier to understand.
An outside shot is one that crosses your body as it's on its way from the opponent's racket to yours. It's called an outside shot because the ball is moving away from you as it reaches the strike zone. An inside shot is one that is moving toward your body as it's on its way into your strike zone. Hitting "in" is hitting across your body, and hitting "out" is hitting away from your body.
So, if you have two right-handed players, when they're hitting forehand to forehand, they're both hitting outside-in shots. And when they're hitting backhand to backhand, they're still hitting outside-in shots. If Player 1 hits his backhand down the line instead of crosscourt to Player 2's backhand, the other player is going to be hitting an inside forehand. If he hits his forehand crosscourt, then he's going to be hitting inside-in, which works. If he goes back at Player 1's backhand again, he'll be hitting inside-out, which works.
The situation that bites most of us is when Player 1 is standing deep in his forehand corner and hits a ball down the center of the court. Player 2 will take that shot on his forehand side, and be tempted to hit it to Player 1's open backhand court. That's an outside-out shot and it doesn't work.
I had no idea!
The magic here is that it's not the ball's relationship to the court that matters, but the ball's relationship to your body.
The simple rules are:
+ Never change the direction of a deep inside shot. Hit it back where it came from.
+ Usually change the direction of a deep outside shot. If it came from the backhand, hit it to the forehand.
+ Hit a short ball straight down the court to minimize risk, instead of hitting for lines.
+ If you're standing in your backhand corner, use the inside-out forehand as a weapon.
When you hit "in" across your body, you're using the natural rotation of your body. When you hit "out" away from your body you're working against the natural rotation of your body, so that's always a less safe shot. When the ball coming toward you is an extreme "inside" shot it will naturally come closer to your body allowing you to rotate through an "inside-out" shot naturally, so you can use the inside-out forehand as a strong and safe weapon.
So, the next time you watch a match you will be amazed as you watch the pros follow these 4 simple rules. And you'll be even MORE amazed as you watch them break them ... and be punished! You've heard players described as "steady" or as "gamblers". It all boils down to how often they try to hit an outside-out shot to the open court, and more often than not I watched the pros who tried to go outside-out miss.
I expected Federer would break these rules constantly, but he actually followed them more closely than anyone against whom I watched him play. He hit the ball where he should and with conviction over and over until his opponent decided he had to gamble.
I was awed. I hope you will be too.
Highlight videos are not really good for seeing the normal flow of play, but this one is interesting. The first 3 misses off ground strokes by Soderling are 2 backhands and 1 forehand attempting to hit outside-out to the open court.