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Tennis Strategy #15 Broad Strokes Of Strategy Part 2b

Why Don’t Players Play A Strategy Very Well?

The problem for many players is that they feel lost when it comes to strategy, so they revert to what they think they see, and what they have been told. They play with vague objectives, or nearly none at all, and they seldom are measurable. Generally, people will fall into one of two categories by default, they will try to overpower their opponent and when that is not working, then they will push, becoming the retrieving baseliner. What they often lack are clear objectives when it comes to what they intend to do on the court. If you are only thinking about getting your serves and returns in the court, instead of having a speed, location and/or spin plan for each one, then you are missing out on some effects you can create for your opponent. If you are only making shots, and you consider every shot in the court as good, and each that are outside as bad, then you are missing out on the risk:reward ratios that create a winning game plan. In order to play any kind of offensive game, you will need to risk possibly hitting the ball out.

The Player With A Strategy Has An Advantage

The vague and general way of playing leaves you vulnerable to a player with the same skill level who has a more specific plan of attack, and they are going after your relative weakness. This gives the player with a strategy a physical, mental and emotional advantage. The shots create a physical advantage, knowing what you are doing gives you some certainty, and attacking your opponent’s weakness gives you the emotional advantage of not worrying about your own weaknesses. I see a major shift in my player’s confidence level when they begin to see the strategic advantages.

Disbelief At Losing To An Inferior Player

That’s why you can’t believe that player beat you, because you missed the subtlety of it. This book will clear that all up for you! You will have a crystalized idea as to the five major playing styles, and also begin to understand which one should be your A Game. This book is targeted to you the strong intermediate on your way to advanced (3.0-3.5)* player, and maybe slightly better. Maybe you are a 4.0, but you could be higher if you filled in a bit more detail into your game. In order to play 4.5 and beyond, you will need a strong A and B game, and when you have a serviceable C game, then that will help you win the other matches not won by A/B. On the UTR Range you are between a (4.0 and 7.0)* Some players have not divided strategy and tactics in their mind. Having two or three known game styles, that you are confident to play, makes the clarity of the decision to change from one to the other much easier. What most people do is try to make up a strategy during the match, which can lead to a lot of confusion and frustration.

Venn diagram (coming)

Logical Construction

The first piece of making your strategy very understandable, is that it has to be logically constructed. Strategy is the big category, and the tactics are the members of that category. Depending on your strategy, the opponent and how you are playing on the day, you may want 3-5 tactics to be active under your strategy for the day. Some tactics are universal across strategies, others are shared by some but not all, and others are exclusive to one strategy.

Determination With Flexibility

It’s important to realize that their is a tension and a flexibility between exclusively attempting to use only the tactics that fit your strategy, and being able to improvise, and respond defensively to the tactics of your opponent. There are no hard fast rules, or cookie cutter solutions, and this is what makes tennis players amazing problem solvers. You absolutely do want to avoid mindlessly playing shots that don’t fit the strategy. I catch myself in every match playing shots and combinations that are not what I intended to do in my plan, but use that as a reminder to get back to the program.

Be A Problem Solver

When the other player is enforcing their strategy on you, you may find it difficult to return the favor, and this is the crux on which matches are won or lost, when everything else is nearly equal. I have seen many matches won by the inferior athlete with inferior strokes, because they played a strategy the other player was not equipped to thwart. I have also seen many superior players lose matches, because they didn’t play a game plan that worked for them, or that they played more or less brain dead with no idea what they were trying to do in a match. The first part of this is having a coherent strategy that is supported by tactics.

Major In The Majors

If you wanted to place sand, pebbles and rocks in a jar, you would start with the rocks first, then the pebbles, shaking the jar until the pebbles settle, then add the sand which fills the empty space. If you put the sand and pebbles in first, you will not have room for the rocks. This is analogous to your gameplay. Your strategy, the overall game plan, is the big rock, your main tactics are the pebbles, and the secondary tactics are the sand. When things are going well, your opponents strategy is minimized, while yours is maximized.

How Many Is Too Many?

How do your tactics fit in under your strategy? I recommend 3-5 strategies depending on the complexity of your game. More than 5 can lead to overthinking, less than 3 is too simple. The first two should be a Serve+1 Tactic, and a Return+1 Tactic, then another few tactics once the point has extended beyond the 4th shot. You may also want to have another tactic for breaking up and taking charge in a longer rally. I like to hit a very high arcing shot and sneak into the net, rather than engage in long baseline rallies.

Absolute Control Is An Illusion

How much control does your opponent have over how the match is played? You will not have 100% control of how the match is played, but in those magical moments when you are in the zone, you can come close. I have seen a few matches played by my players where they played out of their minds and won very close to 100% of the points, although I can never be sure if my players ever won a golden set, because we never tracked that. When you concede that the opponent will have some say so, as they execute their strategy well, the job becomes one of percentages. If they win 73% of their first serve points, if you can get that under 70% during the match, that helps. If they win 69% of their net points and you can get them closer to 50% you can wreck their confidence, because coming to the net is then a push in card playing terms, not a blackjack hand. Simply finding shots and combinations that make them work harder for each point can have a cumulative effect. If there is a certain shot that you hit or they hit that is the precursor to them doing their favorite tactic, be sure to hit the ball to a different place, height, spin or speed. An example would be that I sometimes catch my players hitting too much topspin, which leaves the ball short without much power, and jumping up into the strike zone of the opponent. When they hit a bit less topspin, then they get a faster more penetrating shot deeper in the court, and the win percentages shift accordingly. Another mistake which is the converse, is giving the other player the pace they want. They use the power given to make their game work. When my players use a slower or mixed up pace, that really throws the energy vampire player off tremendously.

Common Problems In Execution

What are the common problems people face, when they're executing a strategy? The first one is a lack of early execution in the beginning of the match, due to nerves, lack of confidence, getting used to opponent’s shots, or not being fully warmed up. It takes time to get your execution in order, but the better you get the earlier in the match your execution will meet your game plan. The most pervasive reason for all of the above is a lack of purposeful practice of the tactics, the specific shots and combinations of shots that make up the strategy. Practice! Yes, practice the game you love. A progression that is very effective in building new tactics into your game goes like this: take a lesson, practice the shot, practice the shot in an open rally, then in a point play situation. Once you can execute how you like in point play situations, then do it in a practice match, where there is no pressure on the outcome of the match, and your opponent also has something they are working on, so that you give each other opportunities to hit that shot in a competitive environment, do this until you can execute well, and you will find that you can get it to translate to actual match play.

Influence The Match In Your Favor

How many points do you need to affect in a match with your strategy to win the match? As we have said before, if you win 51% of the points, you will win 95% of the time. That means you can lose 49% of the points and still win 19 out of 20 times. Hypothetically, if your opponent had absolute control over 49% and you 51%, then your chances of winning are great. Of course, it’s never that neat. But it stands to reason that if you can impose your strategy and execute well for the majority of points, you will win. If the other player imposes their strategy, and you don’t have a defense for it, then they will win.

Be Realistic And Respect Your Opponent

What is a realistic maximum for the percentage of points you can influence? As I have also stated before, I am not sure if I have ever seen a golden set in my life, where someone wins every point. But even in that situation, the opponent presumably serves and has an opportunity to establish their strategy on 50% of the points. So it’s going to be less than 100%.

There are very few matches where you can influence anywhere close to 100% of the points, but we will discuss that later. The number one factor that keeps you from having complete control over the points is that the other player can serve anywhere they want, with whatever spin they want, and the better they are at finding your relative weakness, the less control you have to dictate play. The same is true if they can easily return your serve, allowing them to create a foothold in the point. The higher level you play, the better your opponent’s will be at executing their strategy, and the more important it becomes to learn to defend that, turning things your way.

* These standards are vague and evolving, but they serve as a good starting point.


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