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Tennis Strategy #13 A Lack Of Subtlety In Strategy

You have read Tennis Strategy 101, or you think you don’t need to do so. It’s important to be sure you have stopped making the subtle mistakes that are like a ship taking on water, making you sink in your match. You no longer are losing winnable matches that you now win convincingly. Now it’s time to take it all to the next level, so you can improve your scores, ratings and ranking. and now you are ready to start building more blocks on the foundation you have already established in your game. If you are still hitting too many balls in the net, or unable to hit the targets you want on the court with any kind of regularity, then you should stop, go back and read or re-read Tennis Strategy 101. It’s vitally important to stop and be sure you have plugged the leaks in your boat before you set sail onward to new adventures. It doesn’t matter how fast a start you get off to in your journey if you later sink in the ocean, under the waves. The cannons on your battleship won’t fire very well underwater.

Testing Readiness

Are you getting your first serves in over 60% of the time, and not double faulting twice per game? You are ready to discover, refine or build a game style, your primary strategy, and you may also begin working on your secondary strategy. We will refer to primary strategy as A Game, secondary strategy as B Game, and tertiary strategy as C Game. Don’t be confused, sometimes A game is used to describe how well you are playing, but here I use it to denote your favorite, most comfortable strategy to use in most matches.

My Origin Of Five Major Strategies

There are five major strategies to win in tennis. My major influences in developing these are Master Tennis Professionals David Smith from St. George, Utah, and Ken DeHart from San Jose, CA., both are well noted, but I will always remain open to new information, as should you. I recommend their books and courses. Ken has said for years that all the strategy you need can be found on one hand, giving a letter to every finger. PDDSS, get the ball in Play, hit to a Direction, with Depth, then work on Spin, and finally Speed. Ken was influenced by Dave. This book creates a much more detailed structure to developing your scheme.

Strategy and Tactics

The strategy you play is your overall gameplan, the tactics you use are the specific shot choices, and combinations of them, that support the game plan. Your tactics either support your strategy, or they don’t, and it’s your job to align your tactics properly. You either impose your way onto your opponent, or they impose their’s onto you.

Power Game Alignment?

If you want to overpower your opponent, but you only hit 70 MPH kick serves, that doesn’t line up, you won’t be imposing your game on them with power. There are certain thresholds of speed of shot that you will need to attain in order to be a power player at higher and higher levels. An 80 MPH serve to one returner might seem fast, but as you go up the levels, it’s very returnable, and at some levels, it invites the returner to crush it.

Things That Don’t Add Up

If you want to pressure time and space, but you stand 5 or more feet behind the baseline, running sideways often, rarely coming to the net, then you are not really executing the strategy. You want to play close to the baseline, take balls early, at least occasionally pressuring the opponent at the net. If you want to disrupt your opponents rhythm but you hit the same shot to them consecutively often, then you are not achieving what you set out to do.

Common ‘Style’

American tennis players commonly try to play one of two strategies. Although over time, I think this is starting to change. The most common style that you see is the counter punching base liner, the so-called grinder. These players are obsessed with the word ‘consistency’, so they worry about missing, and that seems to be the major objective of their game. We can’t really call it a tactic, because it’s so vague and general. Every shot they hit inside the court is considered a good shot, and every shot outside is bad. These players are not thinking offensively, in fact they may dread an advantageous situation on court, because of the load of expectations that comes with it. They will also beat themselves up quite a bit mentally, if they were to miss a shot that could have been made for a winner. I know because I have done it myself, and I have seen so many of my new competitive players do the same thing.

Risk Averse

These players will push their serve or only hit a very predictable amount of spin to keep it in, and eschew the possibility of taking control of the point from the outset, because they are so risk averse. Once the point has begun they will worship at the altar of topspin or slice, because that’s what grinders do. Lower level grinders slice more often, higher level grinders hit more topspin. This kind of player is best advised to be more fit than their opponents, because they are going to need every bit of their endurance and speed to run down a lot of shots every point all match long. These players don’t think about forcing the opponent to make errors. The number one way this player can win is my outlasting their opponent, wearing them down, waiting until they miss more, but when they meet someone with more offensive weapons and good fitness, things will be hopeless for them.

Cross Courters

The smarter of these kinds of players place a premium on hitting cross court shots, which was outlined in great detail in Tennis Strategy 101, and will not be repeated in Tennis Strategy 201 or 301.

First Strike All The Time

On the other side of the spectrum are the impatient players, who want the point over now, and once they have hit 3 or 4 shots they will want to go for a big point ending shot. This kind of player hits their first serve about as hard as they can every time, but they might have a patty cake second serve. At lower levels they may only be making 25% of their first serve attempts, but a very high percentage of that small number may be instantly gratifying, because they are un-returnable, or they get the occasional ace. Some of these players are actively trying for aces, and are disappointed if the opponent gets a racquet on the ball.

What They Don’t Realize

The fact that up to 75% of the points could be played on their second serve is lost on them, and that will also contribute to an inflated number of double faults that will eat into the stat behind their overly aggressive first serve philosophy. One thing that can keep this player hooked on speed is the infrequent day, when their serve is ‘on’, when they make over 50% of their serves in, and thus are very difficult to break. Those days can trick them into thinking that a day will come when they can do that all of the time. Some of these people also go for big serves on second serves and might be double faulting every game, even up to 2 or 3 times a game.

The 0-4 Fallacy

Some people incorrectly interpret the data which shows how a high percentage of points end quickly, believing that it suggests players should strive to win or lose fast. The ill-advised power player is so aggressive they are obsessed with what they think is ‘First Strike’ tennis, but they are losing too many points too quickly to be effective with that thought.

It doesn’t matter how fast

your shot is, if it’s out.

These types of players will often go for too much on their first shot, instead of playing a smart shot to keep them in control of the point, so that they can put the opponent in a bad position, put them under pressure, then finish the point at an appropriate time. As Styrling Strother points out, you should think in terms of two shots at a time, but you want to make them. It’s great to have short points as long as you are winning most of them. But you will need to chart your match in order to determine if you are winning points quickly or losing them.


Line up your game with your actual skills. Play shots you can make. Take some calculated risks. Playing mindlessly consistent or powerful is a mistake, and learn more about a very well dialed in strategy as we go forward.


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