The Importance of Having a Transition and Net Game [Tennis Tactics and Efficiency]

Kei Nishikori

Many people tend to overlook volleys, deeming them not as important as groundstrokes. While that may be true, without a transitional net game, becoming successful on the tour or even in college is very difficult. Take UCLA’s Gage Brymer for example. Ranked one nationally and being a three time Ojai CIF champion, he was a phenom in the juniors. Many people expected him to play somewhere at the top of the line-up (Single’s 1 to 3) for UCLA because of his tremendous results in the juniors. However, he ended playing the number 4 or 5 spot. Why was this the case? If you watch Brymer’s matches when he was a junior and especially in college, notice how he rarely ever transitions to the net. His match with Mkrtchian (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qb6mFdhkHic) is a prime example of his reluctance to approach. In many instances throughout the match, he would hit a damaging shot that would force a weak return capable of being easily volleyed away, but what does he do? He remains at the baseline, and you can even tell that he gives it a thought before he makes the decision. Mkrtchian ends up winning this match. While part of the reason may be because Brymer’s baseline game was not at its usual level that day, Mkrtchian was the one who utilized his transitional net game to great effect. His groundstrokes are not as good as Brymer’s, but what places Mkrtchian at #2 or #3 singles is his ability to attack the net and seize good opportunities, efficiently ending points.

 

On the pro tour, it is inevitable that to be successful, players must have a transition game. Having that kind of efficiency not only expends less energy, but it also makes you more unpredictable. Without a doubt, the top four (Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, and Murray) are the most efficient players on tour. If they know one of their shots will yield a weak shot, they know immediately to begin transitioning up the court to take full advantage. A notable player who has improved this aspect of his game is Kei Nishikori. He has made a tremendous stride on the rankings, beginning at #20 in 2014 and ending the year in the top 5.

 

In his match against Tomic at Brisbane 2015, Kei Nishikori demonstrates clearly his improved efficiency by attacking the net and seizing the moment whenever the opportunity arises. Check out these timed videos to see how he transitions effectively.

 

https://youtu.be/fSVgdMjmVGQ?t=144 (Kei Nishikori yields a weak return with his serve, takes full advantage of it by hitting a forehand approach, and puts away the next ball with an easy volley)

https://youtu.be/fSVgdMjmVGQ?t=224 (Nishikori serves to Tomic’s backhand, sees that Tomic floats the ball back, Nishikori quickly sees the opportunity and comes in puts away the ball with a volley)

https://youtu.be/fSVgdMjmVGQ?t=334 (Nishikori throws down a big serve, Tomic as a result is stretched and can only put his racket out to float the ball back, Nishikori is quick to act on this and sets up a swinging volley followed with a volley winner)

https://youtu.be/fSVgdMjmVGQ?t=436 (Serve stretches Tomic outside. Nishikori knows that if Tomic were to get the serve back, his next shot will be even more damaging. Tomic does get the serve back so Nishikori is ready with a  backhand approach. He knows that the backhand approach will force a very weak return and so he will proceed to the net to end the point with a volley, and in this case it is an elegant drop volley.)

 

Nishikori, despite not having the biggest serve on tour, still has a very efficient serving game. He knows what does damage and is very well aware of how to best capitalize on weak shots. This is what all pros essentially know how to do and is what separates the level of tennis from college/juniors. Albeit having a great baseline game is heavily advocated, many tennis players tend to overlook how important having a transition game actually is, let alone possessing decent volleys.

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