While dismissed by many as “easy to do”, being able to go down the line with your shots when you want to do so is crucial in match play and harder to do than it seems.
The first instinct of many is to simply adjust the racquet head and perhaps the grip based on where they want the ball to go. This doesn’t lead to consistent nor great results. Once in a blue moon a fantastic shot can be hit… but it is oftentimes fools gold.
What is more important to change, on a base level, is the footwork in preparation to the shot. Don’t get me wrong, the racquet head angle and grips change depending on which type of shot you are trying to hit (slice, extreme top-spin, flat etc.), but this happens no matter what anyway so it is independent of the subject at hand.
In terms of foot-work and going down the line, a quick and easy solution to your problems is to simply attack the ball coming diagonally forward towards the line of which you are targeting. This will bring your body and momentum naturally in the right direction and won’t tamper with your head causing you to perhaps over-think or incorrectly time your swing to make contact. As per most shots, short and quick steps are better than a couple long strides to the ball so don’t get lazy!
It is vitally important to be able to hit down the line in matches. You’re not going to win matches often by keeping the ball in the middle of the court and thus not making the opponent move…and you’re also not going to win matches if you can just hit cross-court. Hitting down the line is particularly useful if your opponent has a glaring weakness in one of their ground-strokes…and is the best (and I’d argue that it should pretty much be the only…with rare exception) shot to hit as an approach to the net. If you have a strong forehand and your opponent has a weaker backhand, the automatic play is to go down the line, especially when A) you want to put away the point aggressively B) want to force the other player to hit a great shot to beat you if you come to the net or not or C) simply try to get an unforced error.
Caution #1: Don’t focus on a weakness too much because it may become less of a weakness as the match goes on. Practice makes perfect, even in a match. Pay close attention to whether they are improving during the match with said weakness or not and adjust game-plan accordingly.
If you do not know from geometry, you can see by looking at the graphic at the beginning of the article that it is a far shorter distance when you go in a straight line. Perhaps shorter than you would initially expect. 4.5 feet is a lot of distance in tennis. It doesn’t take the most vivid imagination to realize how much less time the other player will have to get to the ball when you hit down the line…unless you have an absolute cannon cross court shot or the player is all the way off the court. Another reason for this is that it gives you as a soon to be net player less of the court to cover in order to get to the spot you want to get to. A shot 75% as hard with good precision down the line is more likely to be effective than a shot cross court as an approach shot.
Caution #2: The net is higher at their ends. You need to be able to adjust to this.
In conclusion, hitting down the line well is a necessary ability to win matches…in singles or in doubles. Whether it is to expose weakness in your opponent, put the ball away, hit an approach shot, tire your opponent out by giving them less time to get to the ball, or to just simply mix it up…you need to be able to hit down the line if you want to win more matches than you lose.