Developing Junior Players Ages 10-12 (12u): Hitting the Corners
This is part 3 of a 3-part series on developing junior players in the 12u age group. If the 12u player has mastered the 2 skills discussed in parts 1 & 2, they are able to break serve by attacking the 2nd serve with Dip Drive returns, and they are in the right place at the right time to attack and receive groundstrokes. The next thing the 12u player has to add to their game is the ability to keep their groundstrokes out of the middle of the court as much as possible. A more offensive minded way of describing this skill is hitting to the corners.
Few players have demonstrated the benefits of hitting to the corners in recent times like Swiss ATP Player Stan Wawrinka did in the 2014 Australian Open Final vs. Spanish player Rafael Nadal See some of Stan's awesome angles off both forehand and backhand groundstrokes using the below links:
The reason why this skill is such a high priority is due to the increased space the 12u player has to cover (78 ft. court, up from a 60' court). With that increased space comes a baseline trap they can easily fall into. Here's how that trap goes:
- 12u Player A hits a groundstroke down the middle of the court
- 12u Player B moves around their backhand and hits an inside-out forehand to Player's A's Ad side corner
- Player A does well to get the ball back over the net and recover inside the singles sideline.
- That's when Player A finds themselves in a trap. If Player B hits cross court, Player A is forced to run the entire width of the court and hit a forehand on-the-run. For the average 12u player, that shot is a consistent source of errors.
- If Player B hits back to the Ad side, the ball will go behind Player A and either be a winner or a forced error. A weak return is possible by Player A, but the cross court winner will be wide open on the next shot.
This whole chain of events began with a groundstroke down-the-middle. It allows an opponent time and space to hit their preferred shot on balance with maximum racquet speed. A steady attack of groundstrokes to one corner or the other (or better yet, alternating on each shot) is the best way to prevent that scenario. Shots to the corner are also the most efficient way to produce short balls. (i.e. balls that land between the net and the halfway point into no man's land).
Since it's very difficult to hit clean winners from anywhere behind or near the baseline with the 25% Low Compression Green Dot balls, short ball production is a mission critical goal for 12u players. Clean winners can be consistently hit from around the service line. Armed with the ability to produce short balls, the 12u player has a way of winning with high percentage shots they are consistently capable of hitting. Whichever 12u player is the first one to launch a groundstroke attack from the closest possible position is going to have the advantage. The road to that position is won through groundstrokes to the corners!