A Tennis Shot Quality Chart / Guide - Depth and Placement Regions

Left: Nadal. Right: Sharapova.
Left: Nadal. Right: Sharapova.

Judge the quality of your shots and your opponents'.

This guide is going to be simple and straightforward. The chart (below) will be accompanied by a written guide that you can use to rapidly judge the quality of your shot, or your opponent's shot, while playing or watching tennis. This is not a "how-to" shot-selection guide.

But; before we get right in to this article about how to judge the shot quality of a tennis shot, I want to disclose a little about me and my credentials. I'm not a tennis professional, just an average recreational tennis player (NTRP 4.0, USA) with a love for the game. I've done my fair share of reading, and watching, and spectating, so I'm comfortable with the accuracy of this guide for its intended use.

Tennis Shot Quality Chart

You're looking at one half of the tennis court, from a bird's eye perspective. At the bottom of the image is the net, and at the top of the image is the baseline. These regions are not shot selection targets.
You're looking at one half of the tennis court, from a bird's eye perspective. At the bottom of the image is the net, and at the top of the image is the baseline. These regions are not shot selection targets. | Source

Will you try to implement this guide in your game?

  • Yes.
  • No.
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Judging Your Own Shot Quality

The context of the above chart, and the following guide, is necessarily general--baseline rallies, singles play--and typically doesn't relate to situations where players are in extreme positions or hitting specialty shots, (i.e., drop shots, short angle set-ups, intentional short balls, etc...). This chart generally assumes that you and your opponent are hitting cross-court "rally balls" (i.e., you hitting your forehand to their forehand, you hitting your backhand to their backhand, or the so-called inside-out shots). Shots hit "down the line" should be judged differently. With all that being said; depth and placement are two critical components to determining the quality of your shots. Shot quality is comprised of many attributes: depth, placement, pace, spin, trajectory, etc ... This guide focuses solely on depth and placement. In general, the deeper the shot, the better, and the closer to the baseline and the side lines, the better. Use this information to rate your shots, your opponent's shots, and also the shots while spectating a match.

An explanation of the Shot Quality Chart zones.

  • Too Good (red) -- A shot may be too good to return effectively if it lands in this area. It will certainly apply pressure.
  • Great Shot (orange) -- A shot that lands in this area was struck extremely well and will generally apply some level of pressure.
  • Good Shot (yellow) -- This area represents a good depth for most rally balls. It's a good shot that keeps the rally relatively neutral.
  • Short Ball (light green) -- The short ball is usually the result of a poorly struck rally ball, or the result of a defensive return. This ball can be--and usually is!--attacked.
  • Weak Reply (dark green) -- The weak reply is usually a botched shot, and quite often "sits up." The person returning a weak reply usually has the opportunity to end the point, or at least gain a significant advantage.
  • Unmarked Area (gray) -- This area is not labeled because if the ball is landing there it's typically the result of a specialty shot, trickling over the net, or an extremely botched shot that ends up sitting up at the net.

^ The above terms are not technical tennis terms, but terms that professional commentators and players use often. This chart is designed to provide visual connotation.

Why should I be actively judging the quality of my shots?

I don't want to stray too far from the purpose of this guide, and into general coaching, because there are many people more qualified to talk on this subject than I, but I will touch base on why I created this chart.

At the recreational level of play, this chart can help you avoid mistakes, and capitalize on the mistakes your opponent makes. I did some research to discover if a chart like this existed, and when I couldn't find one, I knew that a visual aid like this would help some people. Those terms; too good, great shot, good shot, short ball, and weak reply--while seemingly self explanatory--can be too arbitrary to make sense in the context of a neutral baseline rally, or while watching a tennis match. The goal was to create a simple chart that would allow you to ingrain basic shot quality into muscle memory.

Every time you hit the tennis ball, you should be judging your shot quality. This will help you anticipate what your opponent might do, and what you might need to do in response. Similarly, you should always be judging your opponent's shots as the happen. I'll give a few examples, relative to the terms in the chart.

It's worth reiterating here that this guide is not a shot-selection guide. Shot selection is completely beyond the scope of this article.

  1. Too Good -- If you hit a shot that lands in this region, it's reasonable for you to approach the net, or take a few steps into the court and wait for the weak reply. Don't assume it will be a winner! A too good shot is likely to produce a short ball, or a weak reply. Conversely, if your opponent's shot is too good, and you're able to get your racquet on it, quickly judge your reply. If it's short, or weak, get ready to guess, and defend.
  2. Great Shot -- If you hit a great shot, you can feel confident that some amount of pressure is being applied to your opponent. Similar to the too good shot, you may want to approach the net or anticipate a short or weak reply. But be careful to not overestimate great shots. Good rec-level players can return great shots well, and sometimes will feel so much pressure that they go for the outright winner.
  3. Good Shot -- If you hit a good shot, you can reasonably feel confident that the ball is coming back, and will probably be matched by another good shot. "Coming in" off a good shot is probably a mistake, as it gives your opponent a look at a passing shot. A skilled rec player can hit winners off of good shots that are closer to the "short" region of the good shot box, so watch out for that. Drop shot replies are not likely here, but not unheard of.
  4. Short Ball -- This is where guessing starts coming in. If you hit a short ball, and your opponent has to come into the court to hit it, get ready for an attack. Depending on how short, and the skill level of your opponent, this is when it's appropriate to "guess" and give up the winner if you guess incorrectly. Also, watch out for the drop shot.
  5. Weak Reply -- Don't cede the point just yet, but if you hit a weak reply you're in big trouble. Similar to the short ball, you're going to need to guess. Your goal here, if you hit a weak reply, is to make your opponent hit "one more shot." Since a weak reply can sometimes be an unintentional drop shot, you may consider charging the net to cover the counter-drop, however, if the ball is going to bounce / sit up above the net, you're better off backing up and guessing.


Why does it look like some players don't even try for some shots?

To put it simply: it's because they hit a short ball, or a weak reply, and had to guess. If they guess wrong, it looks like they're flat-footed, or didn't try, but that's not the case. They just guessed wrong.

Sometimes you have to "guess" when you drop the ball too short, because you will not have enough time to get to the next ball if you were starting from a normal recovery position. If you stand in the normal recovery position, you give your opponent two sides to hit a winner to (nobody is going to go up the middle on a winner ball like that, at least not often or on purpose). If you guess to one side, sure you may still cede the winner, but you cut their chances in half by guessing. If you guess right, you may be able to catch your opponent off guard and turn the rally in your favor.

Should I be guessing out there? Seems risky.

If your opponent has demonstrated the ability to hit winners, then yes, you need to be guessing when you drop the ball short or weak. If your opponent doesn't really have any weapons, a normal recovery might be a passable response.

Would you like to see similar illustrated shot quality guides from me in the future? (first serve, second serve, drop shot, lob, etc ...)

  • Yeah.
  • Nah, those are sufficiently covered elsewhere.
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Conclusion -- wrapping up my Tennis Shot Quality Guide

Well, that's it, everyone! I hope you enjoyed my Tennis Shot Quality Chart and Guide. If you have comments, please leave them for me. I will read and respond, and if you're on the money, I may even alter the article to include your feedback. I'd also like to give a shout out to the Talk Tennis forum community. They've put some eyes on this, and given me feedback, although--in light of full disclosure--at this point the feedback has been highly critical.

The realm of online tennis instruction is supersaturated, for sure. And while I love tennis, and would love to write about it more, I reserve myself to only writing about things that I feel are not sufficiently covered elsewhere, by the greats already doing a wonderful job. For instance, I found some of the articles on how to beat pushers / lobbers to be somewhat underwhelming so I took a stab at it from a different approach. If you can think of an area that hasn't been covered well, and think I'd be a good fit to write about it, let me know in the comments.

Thanks, and play well!

Time Spiraling

© 2013 Time Spiral

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