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How an item from the Nando’s menu can help you do better speed ups

In my blog posts, I always like to come up with cryptic titles. During the planning of a recent session with some solid players, I wanted to bring something fun to the table when focusing on speeding up the ball and where to target. That’s when it occurred to me that the Nando’s menu item, the wing roulette, is a perfect analogy for considering where to aim, and the diversity of shots needed, if you are going be able to speed up the ball effectively.

I often discuss targeting the “chicken wing” area, also known as the paddle shoulder. It’s challenging to defend this area without mimicking a chicken wing movement with your arm. Experienced players know that attacking this common area is a strategy worth pursuing but also a common target so are often ready for it. Or as ready for it as you can be!

In higher-level and professional games, players are now employing the “scorpion” shot to neutralise the chicken wing. They raise their arm, lower their body, and strike the ball with their “scorpion’s tail” (paddle and arm), creating an arcing motion almost behind them. Having a roulette wheel of speed up options gives you the opportunity to surprise your opponent with varied attacks. Arguably, your primary target should be just outside your opponent’s forehand volley. By aiming there, they’ll be slightly off balance upon contact, making it difficult for them to slide or step over and maintain their balance while hitting the ball.

The forehand wing attack is effective because players often anticipate a backhand position in their ready position, leaning towards 11 o’clock or 10 o’clock for right-handed players. This means they have to rotate their paddle more than 90 degrees to position for a forehand wing attack. If executed correctly and with the right amount of space, the paddle will be slow to position and slightly too closed or angled up, giving you an advantage to reattack back.

Your secondary target is just outside the backhand wing. Here, your aim is to hit the ball wide enough to throw your opponent off balance, yet with enough pace to overcome their reaction time while still landing within the court. This is slightly riskier since players are often more skilled at backhand volleys and blocks, so you need to aim a good distance away from their body. As up to 75% of volleys are backhands (your torso gets in the way of your elbow when trying to play forehand volleys in front of your body), backhand is a more comfortable place for players to counter your speedup so your margin for error is smaller.

The tertiary target is the chicken wing. This shot is more likely to land out of the back of the court, making it a challenging one to do successfully. If you don’t hit the body or defeat the reaction time of your opponent to make them flinch and pop up the ball, it’s almost always going long. Consequently, this is a bit of a Goldilocks shot: there is less margin for error and you have to get it “just right”. You are aiming directly at the paddle shoulder, and depending on the ball’s height, you may be able to go a bit lower.

To practice this, you can throw a feed to your hitting partner and extend your arms out to the side. Ask them to hit the ball slightly wider than your arms, and your goal is to catch it. If the feeder becomes off balance or lifts a foot off the ground, then you’re targeting the correct area. Work specifically on forehand or backhand, before moving to the chicken wing (put your hand in position to catch in that location). The “chicken wing” catch actually starts to develop the hand position for the scorpion counter attack: another benefit of this drill.

Once you have practiced all three target areas with a ball feed from a throw, you can progress to using a paddle feed and increase the speed from there. As your confidence grows, you can start incorporating dinks before speeding up on a specific number of dinks hit. A final progression is to speed up at any wing from a dink rally at any point you see an opportunity: this simulates real match play.

You can further advance by changing the location on the court from where you initiate the speed up. Speeding up from the non-volley zone is different than doing it from three feet back. Additionally, you can experiment with different ball heights. Side wings are easier to attack when the ball is a bit higher, as it allows for a flatter trajectory: in your yellow traffic light zone. You’ll find that the chicken wing can also be effectively attacked from a lower ball so has more ball heights you can hit it from. It’s simple geometry: you can’t hit the low wing targets from a low ball without hitting the net first, as the angles just don’t work.

The other common thing to be aware of is that you need to try to speed up straight ahead, rather than cross court. Cross court speed ups will have further to travel, flirt with the untargeted player poaching and any counter attack will tend to come to your partner not you. As it’s effectively being hit from behind your teammate, they are less ready for the counter attack that may come back. Counters are almost always straight ahead so unless you are ending the rally with the single speed up, attack cross court with care.

By consistently practicing deliberate and focused speed ups to these three main locations, while also varying the ball height and your court position, you’ll develop a wing roulette strategy that rivals the best of Nando’s. This will provide you with ample attacking options during a match to keep things.

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