When you are playing an opponent who is brimming with confidence and is getting on top of you regularly you need to have a plan and a tactic to fall back on.
One common fault I see in the amateur game is players responding in the incorrect way to this situation. A sense of panic sets in and players start hitting the ball harder and being a little more desperate in all they do. There are a lot of cross-courts and short lengths and the odd Hail Mary shot into the front.
A solution I propose to help stem the tide of a confident opponent is to move quick but play slow. If you can get this balance and relationship correct you will give yourself a good chance to be impactful. Maybe not for the current game you are in, but setting the scene for future games also.
Ok, this is no use if your opponent already has two games on the board. You will need to try this tactic and try make it effective in the moment as you do not have another chance to come back on court and start again. But regardless, I still feel this is the correct way to play in this moment.
The key is to begin to lift the ball, use height, get some guaranteed back walls in play. If your opponent is going to play and try and attack you, make sure they are doing it from as deep in the court as possible. You need to be strict and hard on yourself as it will be tempting to clobber the ball to the back. Play slow!!
Also, there is not much use playing slow if you are still leaving the ball half-court and allowing them to step up and pick off easy volleys. The ball needs to be accurate and out of the range of your confident opponent. Pick specific targets on the front wall as well as on the floor to try and hit. See if you can land the ball about a foot away from the back wall really forcing them to the back of the court.
But as much as you are playing and hitting slow, you need to move quickly! Do not fall into the trap (which I did too many times) about playing and hitting slow and thinking you then move slow with flow. Ok, yes if you’re able to get a slow and chilled movement and flow around the court this is great, and you have the game back on your terms. But you need to remember this is a time your opponent is on top of you and playing at a high pace and making you stretch and struggle.
You need to move those feet. Get out of your shots quickly. Be explosive off the T to get all balls back. But be able to have soft hands and slow the game down. It is not an easy combination as when you are having to move fast and quick the body can tense up, especially so the grip and the shoulders and all you do is whack the ball. See if you can separate out your upper and lower halves of your body. Your legs may be on fire, but your hands need to be on ice!
Move quick, play slow.
I talk about this concept in this clip as well as some videos of the pros demonstrating this tactic to perfection.
Good luck and be mindful to go here when you need to in matches. It can really help and drain confidence from your opponent and transfer it back to yourself.
Want to learn more about common amateur faults?
Check out the series where Jesse explores common amateur faults and explains how to rectify them.Watch now