There are two ways to win at tennis: one is by hitting hard, the other is by hitting soft.
Finesse is the fine art of psyching out your opponent with the light touch, forcing him to generate all the pace and run all over the tennis court chasing down your junk.
Besides the psychological advantage of playing with finesse, you can produce sharper angles and use parts of the court that go unplayed in cannonball matches. Try dragging a sharply sliced backhand cross-court service return right across the path of a net-charging server -- and giggle to yourself when he reaches in vain as the ball falls good inside the service line. Instead of blasting all your approach shots into his backhand corner, try chipping a sweet little dropshot cross-court to his forehand and see if he is fast enough to get it.
Finesse, in short, will round out your game. Finesse is what makes John McEnroe, who can blast shots with the best of them, one of the most complete players in tennis today. This is why he's the only man in the world who has beaten the nearly invincible Bjorn Borg three times in six matches. After McEnroe stopped Borg on his home turf in Sweden last year, Arthur Ashe described the young American's finessee: "He just sliced Borg up like Zorro. A cut here, a nick there, until he bled to death. Borg did not know what to do."
Finesse has the great advantage of breaking up the pace -- and your opponent's game. Besides dropshots and cross-court slices, another way to get the other player out of his groove and into your pocket is to "moonball" him. This is the Harold Solomon specialty: during baseline rallies, hit half-lobs, or topspin lobs that clear the net by about 15 feet. The high bounce will force your opponent to the fence -- and possibly into an error.
Finesse tennis enables a player to win long after he has lost the strength to win with sheer power. This is why some slow-footed senior players befuddle, and beat, younger ones who don't know how to slow down and vary their games. The time to learn finesse is before you need it -- now. Touch tennis will help you become a more complete and self-assured player.
Q. Is it a good idea to dropshot an opponent who has a strong volley?
A. Yes. Good volleyers are used to blocking hard passing shots or service returns. An underspin drop shot is difficult to volley with authority.
Q. How do I retaliate against a touch player who moonballs me all the time?
Q. Watch his patterns and anticipate the shot, then come in quickly and volley it from the service line. If he reaches that shot, you're at net in position to put away the return.