Are You Losing Because of the "Spread"?


You've been working on your tennis technique, your tactical and mental game and are physically well prepared and yet, for some reason, you still make too many unforced errors.

The reason for your mistakes may lie in the "spread". What is the "spread"?

Spread around the target
The "spread" is an area around your imagined target, where you spread your shots. It's almost impossible to hit an exact spot on the court, so most of your balls will land somewhere around that spot - they will spread around.

Here's an example (picture 1) of where the balls landed, when I asked the player (intermediate level) to hit the cone.

I was feeding the balls nicely so that the player did not have to move and was trying to hit the cone from the baseline with a forehand cross court shot.

(I put the balls in the place where the player's shots landed)

The main reason for making too many unforced errors can therefore lie in the fact that your imagined target is too close to the sideline or baseline and that some of the shots that you spread around your target will land outside. (picture 2)

Missing shots because of the incorrect target
If you experiment with trying to hit an exact target on the court, you'll realize that it's easier to control direction than depth. This means that you'll miss less in the sideways direction and miss more in length / depth.

That will make the "spread" area elliptical and not a symmetrical circle!

This fact also gives you an idea where to position your imagined target - it can be slightly closer to the sidelines and farther away from the baseline.

The width and length of the spread area is determined by:
  • your skill level - professionals have a much smaller spread area than club players
  • your position - the longer the distance to your imagined target, the more you will miss it
  • movement - your spread area is much bigger if you are moving than if you are standing still (when hitting)

Once you understand this, and especially the last two factors, you'll know how to force your opponent to play less accurately - make him move and keep him far behind the baseline!

Reducing the spread area is the main objective of tennis training. In fact, when it comes to the professional level, players practice every day for 4 to 5 hours and most of this time is spent working on hitting closer to the desired target in various difficulty conditions: (moving forward, backward, running, attacking, defending, ...)

And how exactly does one reduce the spread area?

Simple: try to hit the target and notice where the ball lands. Then adjust. See the 4 Mistakes article for a more in-depth explanation...

How the Pros Play

Professional tennis players are well aware of the spread and they play most of the shots very safely - away from the baseline and away from the sidelines. Observe the rally in the video below and put a dot on a picture of the court for every ball that is hit during this rally.



Here's how the picture would look for this great point:

Chart of landed balls in one point

See where the balls landed?

Most of them (blue ones) are far away from the baseline and the sidelines.

Also note that two (one from Nadal and one from Federer) of the red shots that landed close to the lines were defensive shots...

This leaves only 3 shots in the whole rally that landed close to the sidelines, because the player was trying to hit an offensive shot with some degree of risk.

(I chose this point to illustrate the idea of spread. If you observe lots of points played and where the balls land, you'll see a very similar pattern.)

And if you could see the rally from a lower camera position, you would also see that players play safely ABOVE the net.

There is, of course, a spread area around your desired height too. Obviously, it's almost impossible to hit the exact height you're aiming for, so you need to make sure that even you when you miss that height, the ball still goes above the net and into the court.

Some players (juniors and club level) are aware only the of the direction and speed of their shots when they play. If I ask them how high above the net they were trying to play, they have no idea. No wonder that some many of their shots end up in the net.

EVERY shot you play has to clear the net and on every shot you need to decide how high above the net you want to play, in order to compensate for the spread of the height too.


A tennis game requires you to direct a moving ball with a moving racquet, while you too are often moving. All of these factors make it very difficult to be accurate when aiming for a desired target on the the other side of the net.

This inaccuracy shows as a spread of shots in the long term around your target area. Your goal, then, is to take into account this spread area (including the spread area around your desired height of the shots) and choose targets in a such a way that, even when you miss them (which is almost every time), your shots will still land in the court.

If, of course, you choose to aim in the middle of your opponent's court, then you won't miss much; but you also won't put your opponent into trouble by making him move.

So Where Should One Place Imagined Targets?

Aim for the middle of the second half of the court on each side. The red dots in the picture show you the targets where you should aim most of the time, when playing from the baseline.

Where to aim in a baseline rally

This target will help you hit most of the shots in and when you happen to miss the shot slightly towards the baseline or the sideline, you will actually play a very good shot, forcing your opponent into defense.

If you start watching more carefully where the shots from professional players actually land (or mark that on a piece of paper), you'll quickly be able to determine where their target lies on the court. Use that knowledge to take your game one level higher in a very short amount of time...


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