Not all tennis players aspire to be steely-nerved Chris Evert clones. There is a bit of the Ilie Nastase in all of us. After you master the fundamentals of the game, there comes the show-off's natural yearning to do a bit more with the ball. For those ready to enter the Twilight Zone of tennis, here are the tricks of the trade:
BUCHAREST BACKFIRE. This shot was popularized by none other then Ilie Nastase. It's what you do when your opponent has successfully lobbed over your head. If you catch up with the ball, instead of returning another lob (how mundane) or twisting both ankles in the attempt to hit a regular groundstroke, just flick the ball with your wrist, back over your shoulder. Ideally, it should drop just over the net. Often, you have no idea where it will go, but that's half the fun.
BOLO SHOT. If your fleet-footed opponent seems to run down your soft-touch drop shots with exasperating regularity, here's something that will drive him or her crazy. Put even more underspin on the ball: The racket face should almost be looking at the sky. Pretend you're tossing a Frisbee, or a boomerang. On grippy surfaces like clay and indoor carpeting, the ball will come bouncing right back over the net to your side. Believe it or not, this shot is legal -- and easier with a hurricane blowing in your face.
MIRROR SHOT. This shot creates such an acute angle that it's sometimes difficult for your opponent to tell which side of the net the ball has fallen on. Simply volley the ball with your racket nearly at right angles to the net. Your opponent will go into the next court to retrieve it. A classic in good doubles play at net.
THE SNAKE SERVE. You may know the familiar cannonball, the sweet slice and the tortuous twist, but here's a service variation that's a guaranteed eye-opener. (People watch it more often than they hit it.) Line up over by the doubles alley. Toss the ball up to nose level as far to your right (left for lefties) as possible. Make a wristy swing across the ball and bring the racket across your body. Like the mirror shot, you will not feel much contact with the ball. This shot makes John McEnroe's slice serve look like a body shot. An automatic winner on indoor courts with court dividers.
BEHIND THE BACK BLOCK. This is a favorite hotdog number among the pros, but it can actually win you points. If wrong-footed at the net going for a forehand when the ball comes to your backhand -- just swing the racket flat around behind your back. It is testimony to the natural coordination of the human organism that you will usually make blind contact and eventually learn to return these balls. This may be the only shot in tennis where you must take your eye off the ball before contact.
BETWEEN THE LEGS FLICK. An easier variation of the Behind-the-Back Shot. Especially good when caught at net in doubles under your partner's weak lob and the opposition smashes the ball to your feet.
Q. How can I anticipate the angle when my opponent sets to hit a trick volley?
A. Scout your opponent's tendencies against other players; then watch your opponent's racket head very, very carefully.
Q. Do you advise hitting underhanded trick serves?
A. this is the old standby for those with weak second serves, or if you're tired of staring into the noonday sun. A valuable shot if used as a surprise tactic with proper disguise.