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Winning shots

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When you have gained a big enough advantage in the rally, it’s time to start looking for ways to win.

This may mean that you change your choice of shot, or that you alter the nuances of your shots to make them more aggressive.

Why make this distinction?

The distinction between winning shots and building shots can seem artificial. After all, aren’t you always trying to win the rally?

The reason for making this distinction is that you must learn how to capitalise on your advantages: you must understand how to apply additional pressure when your opponent is struggling.

Conversely, you must learn not to go for a winning shot unless the situation calls for it. You’re not the only person trying to win the rally! If you play with 100% aggression all the time, then you’ll simply lose: you will give your opponent winning chances because of your ill-judged aggression.

The urgency of applying additional pressure

Don’t waste your chances! When your opponent is under pressure, you must look for opportunities to win the rally. If you fail to seize these opportunities, then your opponent will eventually neutralise your advantage.

When players have an advantage, they often make the psychological mistake of feeling that they deserve to win the rally — as though winning the rally is the inevitable reward for their previous good play. You cannot afford to patronise your opponent like this. If you don’t pursue opportunities to win the rally, your advantage can easily slip away.

It’s essential to understand how fragile an advantage is. To neutralise the situation, your opponent only needs to play one good high clear or lift (to the middle). After this shot, all of your advantages have vanished. These defensive shots are like a reset button on the rally: everything that happened beforehand becomes irrelevant.

When you have an advantage, you can take bigger risks

When your opponent is out of position, you can play shots that otherwise would be too risky. Because he is not in position to cover these shots effectively, you are much less exposed to a counter-attack.

There is a relationship between the amount of pressure a shot applies to your opponent, and the amount of pressure his response can place on you. Generally your most deadly shots are also your most risky ones. When your opponent is not in position to counter-attack, however, you can play the risky shot in safety.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you will play a completely different shot, but you may modify your shots to make them more threatening.