There are a lot of different ways to play the game of tennis.
You may prefer to play aggressively, always looking to take the ball on, step inside the court and dictate the points as much as you can.
Alternatively, you may be the sort of player that likes to counter punch and defend, soaking up your opponent’s pressure, waiting for them to make the first mistake.
Regardless of which of these tactical approaches you prefer, one thing that all tennis players can benefit from is playing ‘cross court’ more often.
Of course, the main aim of tennis is to hit the ball where your opponent is not, so you can move them around as much as possible and force them into an error.
However, playing the ball cross court can have a lot of benefits when compared to going up the middle or down the line.
The best players in the world base their games around having strong, reliable and aggressive cross court shots, as these help them to open up the court and expose their opponent’s weaknesses time and time again.
So, how exactly can you benefit from hitting the ball cross court? Well, let’s find out!
Why You Should Hit Cross Court
There are a number of benefits to hitting the ball cross court, from margin for error to drawing your opponent out of the court.
First of all, it is important to remember that every point in tennis starts with either a serve or return.
Both of these shots are inherently going to be played cross court, simply because the serve will travel diagonally to the opposite service box on the court.
This also means that it is more natural to return cross court, as you will be hitting the ball across your body.
This follows the natural tendency for your arms to swing across your torso, so it is generally easier to control and generate power using this technique.
Because of the angles created by serving and returning cross court, it is actually the safest option in terms of the amount of court you have to hit into.
If you stand on the intersection of the baseline and the sideline, you will see that the furthest distance to the other side of the court is on the diagonal, to the opposite corner of the court.
Therefore, there is the most amount of court to hit in between these areas, so it is the safest to hit in to.
By hitting the ball cross court, you are giving yourself the largest target to aim at.
This means you can focus on hitting the ball as aggressively as possible rather than being too worried about threading the needle through a tight gap.
Moreover, hitting the ball cross court also gives you the advantage of hitting over the lowest part of the net.
Generally speaking, the net on a tennis court will have a net strap down the center of it, keeping the net held taught at the right height.
This is usually lower than the height of the net posts, meaning that by playing the ball cross court, you will have more margin for error than going down the line (over the higher part of the net).
Not only do you have more safety when hitting the ball cross court, but you can also open up the court and hit a lot more angles.
This helps to create more space for you to subsequently hit into and move your opponent around, especially if you run around your backhand and start to dictate play with your forehand.
From this position you will be able to choose whether to go inside out or mix it up and go inside in, but continuing to pepper your opponent’s backhand by hitting cross court will offer the best return on investment here.
Finally, hitting cross court helps to keep things simple in your mind. It is easy to over complicate the game of tennis by thinking too much.
This is especially the case when you are a player that has a lot of options on the court, as it can be difficult to decide which shots to play in a given situation.
However, by simply focussing on hitting the ball to a big target cross court, with as much quality as possible, you will still wear your opponent down whilst playing with more consistency and conviction.
This is a very simple tactical and mental adjustment you can make, but it will greatly improve your game!
How to Hit Cross Court
So, we have discussed the importance of being able to hit the ball cross court and the many benefits that it can bring. But, how exactly do you hit cross court?
There are a few things you need to take note of if you are struggling to keep the ball cross court, so pay attention!
The first thing you need to think about when trying to get the ball cross court is your body position.
What I mean by this is focussing on where your shoulders, torso, hips, legs and feet are facing as you prepare and then hit the ball.
As you prepare to hit, you will want to make a full unit turn, by turning your upper body (including your racket) to the side of the court that you will be moving to.
This helps you align your body correctly and gives you the potential to generate the maximum amount of power in your shot.
Next, focus on opening up your body and actually aiming cross court.
This may sound like an obvious point, but many players will think they are aiming the ball cross court, but their body position may actually be facing more centrally.
This creates a tendency to drag the ball back to the centre of the court rather than hitting it strongly cross court.
Furthermore, it is important to point your front foot towards your target, so the rest of your body can follow.
It is quite common to point the front foot dead straight, but this actually closes off the stance and the rest of the body as you transition though the shot.
This can then lead to an off balance shot as your base won’t be wide enough.
Early Preparation and Set Up
Preparing early is important on all tennis shots, but even more so when you are trying to hit the ball cross court.
This is because you need to actually come around the outside of the ball as you hit it, so you can effectively curve the ball back into the court with spin.
You should aim to hit the ball as early as you can, so you can generate topspin and a bit of side spin.
This will help drag the ball away from your opponent as you hit cross court, further opening up the court for your next shot.
Be sure to set up your racket, body and feet nice and early if you want to have enough time to hit cross court!
Striking the Ball
In terms of actually striking the ball, it is important to remember that you want to hit around the outside of the ball.
This is what ultimately gets the ball going cross court, but this is only possible if you get to the ball in plenty of time and prepare early, as we have just mentioned.
Again, be sure to strike the ball early so you have plenty of space to have a full swing and get the racket moving quickly through the ball, this will help to generate more spin and power.
Drills to Improve Your Cross Court Play
We have mentioned the importance of hitting cross court and how you can actually do it, but we also love to give you some practical advice as to how you can actually improve your game at TheTennisBros.com.
So, let’s explore some of our favourite drills for improving your cross court game!
Cross Court Rally
One of the most simple but effective drills for improving your cross court game is to continuously rally cross court.
Now, this is not just about mindlessly hitting the ball cross court, you need to think about recovery and actually hitting different types of shots throughout your rallies.
However, simply by hitting the ball cross court consistently, you can improve your understanding of the court dimensions and the angles you can generate.
This will go a long way to improving your game and help you to improve your consistency.
Cross Court and Recover
A progression that can make this drill more match realistic is to add deliberate recovery into the cross court situation.
When playing a match, you will be recovering near the centre of the court almost every time you hit a shot, so it is important to replicate this whilst you are practicing.
An easy way to set up this drill is to place a cone or throw down line on the court, where you are aiming to recover to.
Then, simply tap this marker with your foot after every shot to ensure you are recovering to the right position consistently.
Angle and Deep
This is more of a feeding based drill as it focuses on the specific shot you are trying to play when hitting cross court.
The aim here is to practice both hitting a heavy ball deep as well as a shorter angled shot.
Having this variety in your game means you can make things difficult for your opponent and move them both forwards and back, as well as side to side.
The heavy deep ball is mainly used to push your opponent back behind the baseline, whereas the shorter angled shot is hit with more spin, so it brings your opponent out wide.
Practicing each of these shots alternatively forces you to adjust quickly both mentally and physically.
This is also a great drill for practicing your hand speed, as you need to get up and over the ball quickly to whip your shots cross court with a lot of spin.
Overall, there are a range of benefits to mastering the cross court game when you are trying to improve your tennis.
These include the additional margin for error, larger space you have to hit the ball into, heightened mental clarity and the ability to open up the court and move your opponent around.
It is important not to become too predictable when you are playing, but developing a solid cross court game is an essential part of becoming a better tennis player.
There is a lot of variety you can implement into your cross court shots, hitting the ball both high, deep and heavy to push your opponent back behind their baseline, as well the short angle cross court that drags them outside the sideline.
Rafael Nadal mastered the cross court forehand and has used it to great effect across his career.
He used his monster topspin predominantly on his forehand, but also on his backhand to open up the court and then hit the ball down the line with plenty of safety once he had his opponents practically in the tramlines.
So, next time you step on the court, take after Rafa and implement your effective cross court game to improve your tennis!