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If I am a bit late to a short ball which has dropped below the level of the net I tend to hit up fairly crudely and the ball will land somewhere in no mans land which can be easily attacked by an opponent.

What is the best approach for handling this scenario, take it as a topspin forehand or backhand and really accelerate up the ball to give it some lift? Do a low volley? Or something else?

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If you are late to the ball & it has dropped below the level of the net then drop shot would be a better & safer shot in the circumstance. Also if you could introduce sideways spin with backhand/forehand, then it would be difficult for opponent to reach it. I've seen Anastasia Sevastova do it a regularly(Will add video link later).

Playing a top spin forehand or a normal slice bsckhand is risky. If the ball is below the net & your knees & you play top spin forehand, you'll most likely hit the shot in the net. If instead you play a backhand slice, you'll mostly have to upper cut it a bit to gain elevation. And with lack of speed & such high elevation, it will land in opponents half mid-court & easy for him to put it away

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