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#9 The J

The two keys are movement and timing.

The movement is exactly like the letter “j” , moving from the top downwards.

The first part of the movement is dead straight. Then there is a cut and a new pathway at the end – right to the Center Window.

The net player that is going to run the “j” the most is going to be the returner’s partner. Here’s how it works.

Eyes Wide Open

The toughest position on the court is the Returner’s Partner, as they are last in order to hit the ball. Their job is to evaluate the point as it develops, especially with regard to the other net player. As soon as the Server’s Partner is not a threat, and offense is possible, AND the server is at least a little bit uncomfortable, then the “j” is open for business.

Body Position

The “j” is going to work a lot more when the return or groundstroke goes deeper in the court and the server is pushed onto the back foot. It is critical for the Returner’s Partner to look for as many clues as possible from the Server’s body position to figure out if it’s the right time to be offensive to run the “j”. The body, not the ball, will offer the most amount of clues.

Cutting To The Middle 

When to cut to the middle is a delicate matter of timing, You certainly don’t want to get too close to the net as you will run out of valuable real estate to continue moving forward into. If you cut too late after the ball has been hit by the opponent, then you are never going to make it to the middle of the court. Ideally the cut will take place around the middle of the service box at the exact same time the opponent is hitting the ball.

3 Parts To Executing the Perfect “j”

Part 1: Moving Straight Forward

What this is all about is pretending to cover the alley. By moving straight forward you are essentially covering the alley without taking one step towards it. Nice huh!

Also by moving forward you are not moving to the middle of the court too early, which would then open up the alley for a relatively easy passing shot.

Part 2: The Cut

Right as the opponent is about to hit the ball – indeed, right as they are committing to their shot and especially the direction of it – you cut towards the Center Window. When moving forward you get to evaluate the opponent’s balance and body position to figure out where they will most likely hit the ball. One very important thing you are evaluating is how comfortable they are hitting the shot.

The more uncomfortable the opponent is, the successful you will be.

If the opponent is very comfortable hitting their shot, it’s going to be tough to get the ball. But if they are uncomfortable in any way, the “j” is the perfect movement to to go and get the ball in the Center Window.

Part 3: The Ambush

Just a moment ago you appeared like you were just going straight forward to get the ball – not a threat at all to your opponent’s shot through the middle of the court.

And just like that, you changed directions when your opponent was focused on hitting their shot and all of a sudden you are ambushing their cross court shot for a winner in the middle of the court. Gotta love it!

 The “j” will not work if:

  • Weak Return –  The Returner’s Partner is not going anywhere if the return is weak. In fact, the service box is the last place you want to be. Stay back and buy more reaction time if attacked.
  • Covering The Alley – That turns the “j” into a “c” where a wide berth is initially taken to visually cover the alley but it does not leave enough time to get back to the Center Window to intercept the ball.
  • Closing Too Hard – Getting too close to the net gives you less time to adjust to a shot and less distance to cover in a forward and sideways movement. Closing too hard gives you a small space right in front to cover – but the ball is probably not going there.
  • Leaving Too Late – You won’t be able to get far enough down the “j” (close enough to the net) to then cut and then make it to the middle of the court. There is some territory to cover and leaving late doesn’t get at all involved in the point.

Don’t run a “c”

This happens a lot. Players want to have it all – cover the alley and also feast in the Center Window. Well, it’s too much territory to cover and who cares about the alley anyway? If you see the opponent is uncomfortable DON’T run a “c” – don’t go to the alley to cover it because the ball is not going to go there anyway plus you won’t have any success in the middle of the court.

Strategy Drills

1. Playing Drill

Objective – Create an awareness with the Returner’s Partner on the specific movement and timing of this tactic.

  • Play a set.
  • Draw the “j” on the court with sidewalk chalk x 4 (for all positions on both sides of the court).
  • Once the player’s see the shape in front of them, they will figure it out much quicker, particularly if they are used to running a “c”.
  • Evaluate the Returner’s Partner point to point if they moved correctly during the point.

Variations – Award two points for a successfully run “j” that directly contributes to winning the point.

2. Feeding Drill

Objective – To get the timing right of the “j” for the Returner’s Partner.

  • Serve to the Returner and have them aim at a specific target.
  • If they are successful with the return, feed the next ball through the Center Window and have the Returner’s Partner run the “j” to learn the correct movement and timing.
  • Always better to draw the movement in sidewalk chalk for the player to understand. Do it successfully 10 times in the deuce court and then switch to the ad. Then switch returners.

Variations – Hit the serve and simulate a good return (no returner present). Then feed the ball to the player in the Returner’s Partner position who works on the correct pathway along the “j”.

Go Do This

This tactic is primarily for the Returner’s Partner – getting involved immediately after the return of serve.

Must wait to see you are on offense then go straight forward into the service box.

Moving straight forward allows to you fake like you are covering the alley without ever going there.

Look to see the opponent is uncomfortable with their shot. Split step and cut to the middle as they hit the ball.

Ambush! There you are taking over the Center Window and putting away a volley. Where did you come from???

Practice the timing of when to move forward and when to cut to the middle of the court.

It’s the perfect movement to get involved at the front of the court. You get to cover it all – but really only have eyes for the Center Window.

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