Hitting the ball to good length is so important but often underestimated. With the ball hit to good length you are making it extremely difficult for your opponent to dictate the rally. If you continue to hit to good length and mix in shorter angles your opponent will eventually set you up with a short ball to kill, or even better, make a mistake. The short angles that pull your opponent out of court are far more effective if they are contrasted with good length.
What can I do to improve this?
There are many technical aspects that can play a part in you hitting to good length (which will be covered in other tips) but there is a simple exercise which can help.
When you walk on to the court and start hitting balls in a practice session, don’t just hit the ball to any length, try to hit the ball so it lands on the baseline. Use the baseline as a target. If it helps, imagine that the baseline has drink cans lined up along it and try and knock those things over. If you hit a bit long, don’t worry. A ball that lands 12 inches past the base line is much closer to being excellent length than a ball that lands on the service line. The Swedish junior National team used to employ this mentality during practice and as a result they all hit fabulous length ground strokes.
Should I try to hit really deep in matches?
The more this is practised the easier it will become in matches. If you set very high standards in practice you can afford to lower the bar slightly in matches and still be effective. If the ball is struck hard with heavy topspin the length is not quite so important as a ball that is not. The reason for this is that the ball will bounce with a terrific kick which in itself puts pressure on the opponent. So there’s the first big advantage of hitting with topspin!
Another situation where really deep hitting could be tricky is when you are getting your eye in at the start of a match. It can be easier to get your rhythm first and then progress your length.
Set high standards with hitting to length in practice = ability to lower the bar in a match = less risky but effective length