Visual blocking is a technique you can use to force your opponent to hit the ball where you want them to. The benefits are obvious. If you can dictate where your opponent will hit the ball you can anticipate earlier and cover the court easier.
It can also be used to expose weaknesses. Several years ago I was watching a player of mine in a match where his opponent was having trouble hitting forehands down the line. In the heat of the battle my player couldn’t see this pattern but sitting off-court in the shade I could!
The opponent would return most balls crosscourt and when they did hit the ball down the line it was done very cautiously and without any confidence. Two things could develop from this knowledge that would help my player gain a big advantage in the match (1) we could anticipate that the vast majority of forehands would be returned crosscourt and be under no real pressure because we are essentially only guarding the crosscourt side of the court (2) we could hit more balls to the forehand hoping that they would make mistakes when they did try to hit the ball down the line. This is a common scenario in matches and visual blocking can allow us to exploit this situation much better. Here’s how to do it.
During this particular match my player began to hit to the opponents forehand and remain slightly crosscourt after his shot. This sent a subtle message to the opponent that the down the line option was open to be attacked and that the worst option was the crosscourt target where my player had still not “recovered” from. On the first attempt the opponent made to strike at the vacant down the line target he mistimed the ball late into the doubles alley. From that point onwards the match became a formality. Whenever we were in trouble in the rally we quickly shifted the ball to the wide forehand corner, blocked the crosscourt and either attacked the weak returns towards the opponent’s vacant backhand corner or forced an error.
Another good opportunity to use visual blocking is when you are at net. If you have played a volley wide to your opponent block their preferred option and leave their least preferred option slight open. This will again subtly influence their decision making and allow you to dictate the opponents shot selection.
On fast surfaces against a big server any way we can read where the serve will go the better. By visually blocking the wide serve on both the deuce side and the ad side, you are planting a seed in the opponents mind that the serve down the middle is the best option. You now have a better than average idea of where the serve will go, plus after returning the serve through the middle you physically finish hitting the return near the middle of the court, meaning you are in great position to start the rally from the centre of the court. In other words you have dictated where the opponent will serve and where you will start the point.
Visual blocking can help change matches by eliminating your opponent’s strengths and give you the advantage of anticipation.