Adoni Maropis at the 2012 US Open Championships
How to Play Against Hardbat
Let’s start out by realizing that if your opponent is using hardbat, and you are using sponge, you have an advantage. If it weren’t so, most players would be using hardbat! Few players use hardbat against sponge players to improve their game; they do so because they like playing with hardbat, and are willing to play at a somewhat lower level to do so.
But a hardbat player has one advantage – you probably aren’t used to playing against it. To a non-thinking, robotic-type player, this can be fatal. If you use a more tactical and flexible approach, however, you hold all the cards. Unless the hardbat player’s level is simply much stronger than yours, he should be at your mercy.
You have to adjust your tactics to the specific player. While in theory, you can do more things with sponge then hardbat (because of the extreme spins you can generate, and the ability to counter against even heavy topspin), in reality a hardbat player usually uses more shots, since he can more easily do defensive shots such as chopping, chop blocks and short pushes shots that sponge players can do, but often can’t control.
A simple approach is to divide hardbat players into three types (but noting that some players play combinations of these):
- Choppers and chopper/hitters
If the opponent is primarily a chopper, then go check out the Playing Choppers Tip and follow those instructions.
If the opponent is a blocker or hitter, you have two tremendous advantages: you can loop (which is difficult for a hardbat player to adjust to, since his surface doesn’t "grab" the ball), and your sponge gives you more "bounce," so you can counter-hit more easily. If you get out-countered by a hardbat player, he’s either much better than you, or you simply didn’t adjust to his surface when counter-hitting. (How do you adjust to his surface when counter-hitting? By forcing counter-hitting rallies until you feel comfortable against the surface. Just serve fast and deep, and prepare to counterdrive.)
Ultimately, you will beat most hardbat players simply by looping every chance you get. You don’t need to overpower the loop just loop steadily, and you’ll have plenty of time to tee off on the next shot, since a hardbat player cannot block a loop back with any pace.
Make sure to serve mostly deep against a hardbat hitter or blocker. Against a short ball, they can beat you with quickness and angles, so keep the ball deep!
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