Time is one of the most valuable commodities on the court. In essence a tennis match is nothing more than a battle for time, with both players trying to gain time and take time away from the opponent. Even a fraction of a second can make a difference between hitting a ball in balance and aggressively, and hitting off balance and defensively. Therefore, it is very important to be stingy with time. A great way to do this is by hiding the intended direction of your shot until it leaves your racquet.
Camouflage is important in every shot, but on certain particular shots such as serves, passing shots and drop shots, it is essential. It is much more important to disguise a drop shot, lob or passing shot well than to execute them perfectly.
The process to learn to camouflage is always the same: Make sure that you can execute your disguised shot and its alternatives with similar preparations, then work on changing targets at the very last instant before contact.
In the case of the serve, make sure you can hit all three targets (wide, body and T) with the same toss and swing. For the passing shot, work on hitting down the line, crosscourt and lobbing with a similar preparation and basic swing pattern. Finally, learn to drop shot preparing as if ready to drive the ball.
The next step is to learn to change between your options at the last moment. To practice this, you will need a partner who will call the intended target right before you make contact.
For example: Have your partner stand behind you as you practice your serve, and instruct him/her to call T or wide after you toss the ball, right before your swing. The goal is to give you as little time to react as possible but not so little time that it becomes impossible for you to change your swing path. With a little trial and error, the right timing should become clear.
The same system can be used for passing shots and drop shots. For passing shots, your partner will feed a ball that mimics an approach shot and will call the intended target just before you start the swing – cross, line or lob. Start with two options first and then progress to all three.
For the drop shot, your partner will start by feeding you a short ball a few feet inside the baseline that you can attack. After a while he/she can call “Drop” just before you hit so that you can make the necessary adjustments.
Camouflage is one of those skills that is seldom addressed but that can provide any player with an edge. With a little practice you will quickly notice that taking time away from the opponent by hiding your intentions is a valuable tool to add to your arsenal.