#25 Pass Cross


 2012 Roland Garros: Novak Djokovic def. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 5-7, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-1 

Jo Wilfried Tsonga had arrived at a important moment in his career.

It was his first match point just over three hours into his French Open quarter final match with world number one, Novak Djokovic.

Tsonga  had 1.3 seconds to figure out which way to hit his backhand passing shot for a huge upset.

Which way to hit it to advance to the French Open semi finals?

1.3 seconds was the amount of time between Djokovic’s backhand volley and Tsonga’s backhand passing shot that could have ended the match and Djokovic’s chance of being the first man in 43 years to hold four consecutive grand slam titles.

It was decision time – 1.3 seconds to feel the subtleties of Djokovic’s balance and movement and figure out the better side to hit the passing shot. Djokovic had volleyed cross from the Ad court and then moved to the middle and was standing with one foot either side of the center line when Tsonga made contact with his backhand passing shot. Tsonga chose to hit it down the line as it looked more open, but it was an illusion. Djokovic easily cut it off for a cross court winner.  Victory came and went in an instant.

Tsonga had two main options in going cross court or down the line, and could have even used two secondary options with a lob or hitting it right at Djokovic.

Djokovic ultimately saved four match points to defeat Tsonga in five sets and the backhand passing shot was the defining moment for the talented Frenchman.

Often times, especially under pressure, its best to hit where the opponent has come from, not where they are going to.

It was not wrong for Tsonga to go down the line with his backhand pass, but it was also not his best option either. Let’s be crystal clear about this – the number one passing shot in all of tennis is cross court. It carries far greater advantages than hitting down the line – and it is an easier shot to execute.

Here’s exactly why your primary passing shot should be cross court.

Cross Court Passing Shot Advantages 

  • Wrong Footing – your opponent will naturally follow the ball with their movement and their weight will be leaning towards whatever side of the court you are on. Passing cross makes them have to stop and change direction which is definitely tougher than running straight to a ball.
  • Open Court – when you pass down the line you leave cross court wide open for the volley winner. When you pass cross court, the open court is a lot smaller and tougher down the line.
  • Unspectacular – A down the line passing shot normally has to be a considerably better shot than a cross court one. You can get away with an average pass cross court because you bring other factors into play rather than simply winning the point with the quality of the passing shot.
  •  Spin/Net – Hitting a heavy cross court pass makes the ball dip below the height of the net and enables the net to be an additional weapon. It is much tougher to change directions with a low volley down the line to the open court when you have to hit up on the volley.
  • Power – You don’t have to hit a cross pass hard in order for it to be very effective. The direction, spin and height of contact for the volleyer can all be used in your favor. In fact a slower ball with heavy spin actually works really well.

 Let’s see what Rafael Nadal had to say.

Tsonga played fantastic for moments. He was a little bit unlucky, that’s true. But he had two mistakes in two match points, important ones. The first was a passing shot with his backhand. He hit the ball probably in the worst place to hit, against the forehand volley of the opponent.Rafael Nadal

Here’s how it works.

 2014 Wimbledon Final: Novak Djokovic def. Roger Federer  6-7(7), 6-4, 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-4  

I was fortunate to be on Center Court for the men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer this year. Federer came to the net an amazing 67 times (won 44 = 66%) so there was sure to be plenty of passing shots attempted in this match by Djokovic.

Djokovic Passing Shot Winners

  • 11 Backhand
  • 2 Forehand

A majority of Djokovic’s backhand passing shot winners went down the line. The problem for Federer is that he often approached wide (too wide) which opened up angles down the line and cross court. Djokovic just happens to be a little more talented than most at his down the line backhand passing shot and likes to rip it with excellent power to quickly get it by Federer, which is exactly what happened in the final.

Against an opponent like Djokovic you are actually better approaching more to the middle of the court to provide no angles at all for the passing shot.

Go Do This

 The next time your opponent comes to the net to pressure you, your primary pass is cross court. 

Rolling cross court low makes the net an instant weapon for you.

It does not have to be hard. Slow works just fine.

 Your opponent will have to change directions to go to the open court. 

Good secondary plays are down the line and right at your opponent. Then you can throw in a lob or two.

Don’t be shy to use lots of spin on the pass. It takes the net and the sideline (and the opponent) out of play.