South Central Missouri Community Tennis Association

» Adults / Seniors

A play you must know
If you want to win your battles, take an’ work your bloomin’ guns.
—Rudyard Kipling
In the diagrams below, Player C is returning a lob over her partner that caused her team to
switch. Let’s read her mind. She sees all that room straight ahead and no reason to lob. So she
can be counted on to drive the ball down the line, leaving ample margin for error.
Now let’s see what happens when she does.
Ouch. Player B scores because she can poach with impunity in this situation. Especially if her
partner’s lob lands near center, or Player D crowds the net, or both. The shadow in the left dia-
gram illustrates: Player D casts a protective shadow over a large and crucial part of Team AB’s
How so? For one thing, Player D is in his partner’s way, blocking the only shot a poaching
Player B fears—the one behind her, to the side she vacates. Poaching is normally risky busi-
ness, but not when a player on the other team covers that part of your court for you.
Plus, Player D is not just a block, he’s also a blind. Switching has left him in his partner’s line
of sight on the poacher. Especially if Player D crowds the net, or Player C hits from self, or
both. Notice also that the poacher has improved her situation by crowding the net to help put
Player D between her and Player C.
Since Player C must watch the ball, she sees Player B only peripherally. Peripherally, she has
no depth perception. Normally that’s no problem; any premature movement or antsiness on
Player B’s part would jump out of the background and come to consciousness as a warning
that she’s going to poach. But in this situation Player D’s and B’s body lines blend to form one
compound image in the corner of Player C’s eye.
The principle here is the one behind the military art of camouflage: Break up the lines of what
you want to hide; though in plain sight, when viewed from a distance (or peripherally) it will be
virtually invisible. And what’s out of sight is out of mind.
So, though normally the poacher must worry about a shot behind her and be careful not to
betray her intent or jump the gun, in this situation she has a poaching block and blind. She can
get such a good jump on the ball that I’ve seen switch-poachers reach shots practically going
down the far alley!
You should be asking, But what if Player C lobs? Good question. Though a lob is a good
choice for Player C’s return, it just prevents the poach, it doesn’t really hurt Team AB. They will
have switched is all. And that’s good, for their switching unswitches the switch. That is, it puts
the opposing net players kitty-cornered from each other again. Which is what they want when
it’s their turn to hit the ball.
But what if Player C lobs down the line? Unless she’s familiar with Operation Doubles, that’s
unlikely. We usually lob over an opposing up-player, not to a back-player. Nonetheless, if Play-
er C lobs down the line, Player A has time to cross after he hits the ball. His partner should
duck down below net level to let him drive over her if he wants.
You can run The Switch Trick Play on many teams till the cows come home. Many people view
shots cut off by the opposing net player as occasions for blame-laying, not problem-solving.
Consequently, they diagnose the problem as poor play by Player C, when it’s really Player D’s
fault. Seldom does anyone notice that Player C is NOT hitting too close to Player A. And sel-
dom does anyone notice that it’s returns of lobs getting cut off, let alone that it’s returns of lobs
that Team CD switched for.
In summary, here’s how to run the Switch Trick Play, broken down to steps:
The Switch Trick Play
1. Your back-player lobs over the opposing up-player to get your opponents to switch. If they
will switch for a lob that lands near self, you aim there.
2. Your up-player comes close to the net and hides behind the opposing up-player, watching
for the opposing back-player’s racquet to start coming forward at the ball.
3. At that instant, he or she crosses to poach the expected straight-ahead shot, volleying it
through the hole.