Cheap points are when you do something seemingly simple, often subtle, and force the opponent into an error. For example, you might push a serve back extra heavy, and the opponent loops into the net. Or, after serving short several times in a row, you serve fast at the receiver's middle, catching him off guard, and again get an easy point. Or a last second-change of direction. Or a suddenly well-placed dead block. There are many possibilities.
The problem is that most players are so focused on either ripping winners or keeping the ball in play that they don't develop the instincts to win these cheap points. Most of what they do is predictable, and while they may rip lots of winners and keep the ball in play, so does the opponent.
How do you learn to win such cheap points? Experiment, observe the result, and learn. This doesn't mean playing all sorts of weird shots; it means trying out different things and seeing what works - a last-second change of direction, an unexpected change of spin, a change-of-pace block, and so on. These are the type of things that win cheap points for you by your opponent missing or making a weak shot. You can also win cheap points on your serve by throwing in an occasional "trick" serve.
Here are some of my favorite ways to win a cheap point:
- Sudden fast serves, either breaking into wide backhand, no-spin to the middle (receiver's playing elbow), or quick down the line.
- After several backspin serves, a side-top or no-spin serve, but with a big downward follow through.
- Quick blocks and other attacks to the opponent's middle.
- Set up to loop crosscourt from forehand, at the last second rotate the shoulders back and go down the line.
- Set up to loop crosscourt from the backhand, at the last second whip the shoulders around and go down the line.
- Backhand loops that go down the line or at the elbow instead of the normal crosscourt ones.
- Aim a backhand crosscourt, then at the last second bring the wrist back and go down the line.
- Against short backspin, sudden very aggressive and angled pushes.
- Aim a push to the right, at the last second drop the racket tip and push to the left. Can be done short or long.
- Take a shot right off the bounce, throwing opponent's timing off. This can be done against serves or other shots, with quick drives, blocks, or pushes.
- Dead blocks that mess up opponent's timing. They can be no-spin, or chop blocks and sidespin blocks.
- Suddenly aggressive dead block, especially if you pin them down on the backhand.
- Slow spinny loops that drop short, near the net. Opponents often mistime them if they hesitate.
- No-spin "Dummy" loops. Exaggerate the normal looping motion but use no wrist.
- When fishing and lobbing, vary the height, placement, and spin of the shots.
- Place your weak shots. If you have to make a weak return, at least make the opponent move! Perhaps aim one way then go the other to catch the opponent off guard.