Tennis: the inside advantage

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IF YOU’VE BEEN STRAINING to groove a service toss in the wind or working to time an overhead with the sun in your eyes, playing indoors this winter may give your technique just the boost it needs.

Indoor play no weather distractions, so you can concentrate on your game. Fatigue is less of a factor the constant 55-degree temperature of most courts keeps you peppy. You’ll notice that your sound and depth perception become more acute, too-but that your visual perspective may need adjusting.

As you begin hitting balls indoors, your first concern will be adjusting to the speed of the court. Since the 1960s, synthetic carpets have been glued over an asphalt floor in most indoor facilities. You may also find granular or clay courts, hard court surfaces of layered acrylic, or an interlocking grid of plastic tiles.

Although no two carpets play the same, some generalizations hold true. The game will be fast, so you’ll need to step up your tempo rather than playing defensively. Since balls take a low bounce off a carpet, the slice is an effective means of attack.

The ball travels through the air more quickly inside, so you’ll need to read the ball coming off your opponent’s racket even faster than you do when playing outside. With less time to prepare, you may need a shorter backswing on your ground strokes and on return of serve. Keep your return of serve low by aiming at the feet of the onrushing server.

If your indoor play brings you to slower surfaces, such as clay, you can expect long baseline rallies.The ball bounces slower and higher on clay; you’ll get passed if you come charging in trying to rush the point. You’ll need more strategy when playing long points, and, because endurance is particularly important on clay, you should be in top physical condition.

If your indoor facility has hard courts, the best strategy is the aggressive one-attack the net at every opportunity. A retriever with a purely defensive game will inevitably be beaten.

The artificial lighting on indoor courts is more diffused than natural outdoor light and may require adjustments in technique. Take a full range of practice shots before your match, noticing how the lighting affects the way you hit. If you’re double-faulting into the net, you’re probably dropping your head and shoulder while serving to avoid the glare; try moving toward the sideline to serve. Learning where the lights are will help you better track high volleys or overheads.

A low indoor ceiling may be blocking your lobs. During your warmup, take a look at the ceiling, fixing the height of the lights and any other hanging fixtures in your mind. Then use top-spin lobs to control the trajectory of the ball.

Side netting used to separate indoor courts may be a help: Try using slice serves and spin serves to pull your opponent into the nets. When you’re receiving serve, move in closer to the service line; this lets you take the ball early so your opponent can’t use the same tactic on you. On groundstrokes, a short angled shot can put the other player into the side net.

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