Those Nasty Net Cords

The net cord is as unpredictable as it is unmanageable. Here are some tips to help deal with the hard and earnest world of net cords.

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A net cord happens when any shot other than a serve nicks the top of the net and lands safely in your opponent's court.   -  Getty Images

Television broadcaster Joe Garagiola once called the foul tip — when the batted ball is crazily deflected back at the catcher — the only situation in baseball that a player can’t practise for. Its close counterpart in tennis, the net cord, is nearly as unpredictable and unmanageable.

You may not be able to describe the various net cords, but you’ve certainly seen them spice up tennis matches. A net cord happens when any shot other than a serve nicks the top of the net and lands safely in your opponent’s court. To understand this sometimes frustrating phenomenon, one should categorise the three main kinds of net cords and analyse their effects on both the baseliner and net-rusher.

The Dribbler, aptly named, plops weakly over the net and then dies quickly, especially on clay and grass courts. The baseliner has great difficulty reaching the Dribbler on time. With fast reactions, he can occasionally scoop the ball up and over the net. But rarely can he arrive early enough to hit an attacking shot. In sharp contrast, the net-rusher, depending on his position and agility, can often respond with a respectable groundstroke or even a sneaky drop shot.

A more benign species of the net cord, the Teaser, pops up high near the net and hangs there, waiting to be pounded. If you’re volleying, you should pounce on this friendly set-up. The alert baseliner should swiftly move in and either crack the high-bouncing ball for a winner or, more conservatively, settle for a crisp, deep approach shot.

Unlike the other net cords, the Ripper loses little power after hitting the net and nearly maintains its original trajectory. The ball speedily deflects upward about a foot, just enough to confound unsuspecting volleyers. Groundstrokers, however, do enjoy the luxury of added time and distance against the Ripper although they must adjust their running and shot timing to the slight changes in the ball’s speed and trajectory.

To help you deal with the hard and earnest world of net cords, here are six tips.

1) Study your opponents’ style. If their groundstrokes are flat and skim the net like those of 1970s and 80s champion Jimmy Connors or current stars Karolina Pliskova or Juan Martin del Potro, they are more likely to hit net cords.

2) Check the tautness of the net before your match. The tighter the net, the more likely net cords will result in the Teaser and the Ripper and less likely the Dribbler.

3) Keep your volleying swing compact and your body balanced. These skills are always assets at net, but they can save the day when you try to stab volley the nastier net cords.

4) Wind sprint, alternating 5 and 10 yards, during training sessions to quicken your acceleration. The early-starting, fleet baseliner gets the Dribbler.

5) Practise volleys against a brick wall where bizarre deflections simulate Teaser and Ripper net cords. Or if ball machines turn you on, direct the balls so they graze the very top of the net.

6) Stay poised when you’re on the receiving end of a net cord. That will help you select the right shot and hit it well. And if you are confounded by a net cord, serenely accept your fate. In the 2017 Australian Open final, Serena Williams lost a point after slipping when surprised by Venus’s net cord. Infuriated at her misfortune, she smashed her racket.

If you think net cords are just a matter of luck, think again. Handling them takes the sharp eyes of a voyeur, the strong heart of a tightrope walker, and the quick hands of a pickpocket.

Think you got what it takes?