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How To Beat A Dinker

BY: Vic Braden 1/9/2000

Having traveled to many tennis clubs and countries around the world, there is one constant on which I can count. Dinkers are still winning a ton of trophies and opponents are pulling out their hair with frustration. As a psychologist, I looked at this issue many years ago and it turned out to be quite complex.

From a pure tennis standpoint, the issue doesn't seem too complicated. The dinker simply returns the ball until his/her opponent misses a shot. But, from a psychological viewpoint, there are several points worth considering if you want to beat the dinker.

The majority of dinkers are introverts. They have a great ability to stay focused on the retrieval issue and aren't easily distracted. One year I was doing ski research at Vail, Colorado. We had three introverts and three extroverts listening to the instructor. I hid a camera and had a person ski down right behind the class. All three extroverts turned to see what was happening and all three introverts stayed focused on the instructor. Extroverts are more easily distracted and want to make something happen.

Dinkers seem to have a much higher frustration tolerance level. They are normally not surprised that the big hitters go bonkers failing to hit outright winners, which is almost impossible against dinkers. Often the big hitters will declare that 'Today I'm going to just retrieve the ball and force the dinker to die on his/her own style'. It seldom works longer than a game or two before the slugger wants to commit suicide. Plenty of rackets have landed in trees, which were thrown by opponents of dinkers.

From a motor learning standpoint, the dinkers only have a few software packages that they send down to the muscles. The slugger has many times more and thus it's easier to become confused when things don't work.

From a physics point of view, it's important to remember the formula espoused by tennis physicist, Dr. Howard Brody. That is, the speed of your shot is derived from getting one-half of your opponent's ball speed, plus 1.5 times your own rackethead speed. Thus, the harder your opponent hits the ball, the faster your shot goes back with the same amount of effort. As dinkers have no speed to speak of, the opponent will then have to swing harder and faster than normal to produce the desired speed. In motor learning, there is a formula called the 'speed-error' ratio. The bottom line is that the faster to try to swing and make things happen, the higher is the error ratio. Bingo.

Jack Kramer was an extremely smart player who could make strategy seem simple. In his words, 'If your normal game is stronger than your opponent's game, stick with your game. If your opponent's game is more effective than yours, you will have to make you opponent hit shots they ordinarily do not like to hit. Dinkers are normally more successful up to the 4.0 level. After that, players normally have developed a solid game that is simply too strong for the dinker.

One, dinkers like to lengthen time frames for hitting shots. Thus, they normally stand way behind the baseline and allow the bounce to reach the apex and then fall. In physics, that just about doubles response time. So, one needs to develop short angle shots to force the dinker into the court to reduce response time. If dinkers are forced to hit 'up' from a low position, the slugger can attack from midcourt and hit volleys while the ball is being lifted and the dinker is out of court. The problem, most opponents of dinkers can't hit short angle shots. Dinkers often will run in for the short angle and then quickly retreat to the baseline. But if they have to do that ten times in succession, they often turn blue and disintegrate. Opponents of dinkers need to develop a slower slice serve to open up the court. A slower, but excessively sliced serve, actually can force a dinker to take seven to nine steps to reach the ball. Dinkers like to take a maximum of three steps to the left or right for every shot. Straight hard serves only make dinkers smile. Dinkers enjoy staying inside the sidelines, regardless of speed.

I take my hat off to dinkers because they have discovered a way to beat a ton of players. The complaint I often get comes from players who try the suggested tactics and they don't work. For example, I hear them saying, 'Yes, but what happens if the dinker can beat me from the baseline and from the net. The answer is, you will lose.