By Larry Hodges
No matter what your level is, at some point you've had to go up against some up-and-coming junior player. If he was your average up-and-coming junior, and you are an average adult, and the two of you were roughly equal in level, then the following was probably true:
1. The junior was faster and quicker than you.
2. You spent much of the match on the defensive, trying to withstand a barrage of all-out attacks from the junior player – much of which would hit, much of which would miss.
So how can you increase your chances against such a player? You can't match him in speed or quickness. But you can beat him with control and tactics. The key is to use your own strengths, but vary your shots enough so the wildly-attacking junior can't get a rhythm. Play solid shots with few unforced errors, force the wildly-attacking junior into erratic shots, and you'll take control, even if it seems the kid is taking most of the shots.
You don't need to be fast or quick to attack the first ball in a rally. And you don't need to attack it wildly. Why not focus on making steady aggressive shots to start off each rally (such as looping), and force the wildly-swinging junior to go for difficult counterattacks? The catch is you have to vary your attack. If you do the same type of attack over and over, the wildly-swinging junior will find a rhythm, and his shots will become too strong and steady. You also don't want to turn it into a speed contest, if the junior is faster and quicker. Try attacking at different speeds, at different depths, with different amounts of topspin, and change directions constantly. Down-the-line shots are particularly effective against juniors who often drill too much crosscourt. Aggressive, angled shots give smaller juniors difficulty, as they don't have your reach. This is especially true of younger juniors.
When Not Attacking
Play ball control with lots of variation. Wildly-attacking juniors have difficulty timing their attacks if they have to do it against varied shots. When you push, push very heavy and deep, which will force many errors. However, many players make the mistake of playing too passive, and giving the wildly-attacking junior easy balls. Make sure you choose which balls he gets to attack, and which ones you get to attack.
Lobbing is often a good tool against juniors, as is any type of defense. However, even if they can't hit as hard as you, do you really think you are favored to win if you let them smash at will? But if you do play defense, the key is to vary your shots to force mistakes. Juniors are very good against predictable shots, and can sometimes get into what seems an unstoppable rhythm. But usually this is because of a lack of variation in the shots they are facing. Don't let this happen to you!
This is often the most difficult aspect. Remember, the wildly-swinging junior is swinging wildly for a reason – he's been trained to attack! If he's near your level, and is training regularly, he's a serious threat. Many players, while consciously knowing this, subconsciously play down to junior players, and pay for it.