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Tennis Strategy #20 Consistency: Branching Out

Every level you go up, you face a new level of power. So even though you were a power player at a certain level, you might not be able to win that way at a new level. The same is even more true of the counter punching baseliner. You could hang out of on court at one level, but there is a finite amount of foot speed you can muster, and eventually the ball will be harder and harder to outrun.

Rock Beats Scissors

The power player who can overpower the counter punching baseliner, because they're on offense and they're looking for offense and the counter punching baseliner is not. If you could boil this whole book down into one essential thought, it’s the pursuit of offense. Simply attempting to become ‘consistent’ has no regard for that essential tennis element of winning points mainly by forcing errors. The rally player will nearly always have to wait for the opponent to have an unforced error, or only gain accidental forced errors.

All the consistent player can hope for is that the power player, or another more aggressive style player, gives many errors and essentially loses to them. The more competitive heights you reach, the more you have to do to win the match. If you are the power player, be mindful that it might take longer to beat the retriever than the other styles, and you sometimes will have a ball come back that was normally a winner, and you may have to win the point two or three times. You must guard against getting impatient or going for too much. The one who strives to be consistent, that's up against the player who pressures time and space is going to find themselves uncomfortable. Safe shot players don’t like to be forced to hit a great shot right now at this moment. They want to play slower on their own terms. If you want to succeed with this style, you will need good lobs and passing shots, developing better shot tolerance. Shot tolerance is the ability to withstand the attacks of opponents in a variety of forms, speeds, spins, angles, heights and distances. You might have to play a little further back in the court to give yourself more time, but then you will be exposed to drop and angled volleys, so pick your poison. If you find yourself exposed, then adjust your positioning accordingly.

Proactivity Beats Reactivity

As a retriever you are basing your game on running down shots, so it makes better sense to try to become a pressure movement player, working on your ability to make angles. This way you can be more proactive in your play. If two players are equal at movement, and one is taking advantage of this strength and the other is not, guess who has the advantage?

Sadly, many players fall into this grinder style, running around hitting only heavy topspin, because that is all they have ever been taught, and they simply never thought about playing another style that might be more suited to their unique skills. Their only solution to any problem is to hit more topspin.

To the man who only has a hammer,

every problem looks like a nail.

~ Mark Twain

The good news is that while you won’t often beat yourself, the number of players who will easily lose to you will get smaller as you increase your rating, ranking, NTRP, or any other such measurement. You will have to play much more error free than the player that can force errors from you. If they can force you into 10 errors, and you make 3 unforced errors, but you can force them into 5 errors, and they make 6 errors, or twice as many, you will be running at a deficit during the match.

Short And Long Term Consequences

Then there is the effort level that goes into play many long patient points, and long matches where 45% of the rallies go 5 shots or more, and more than 10% of them are 9 shots or longer. You will be losing the war of attrition. Ideally, you will be only playing 30% of your points as longer rallies. This is important, because one of the most important factors for success in a deep tournament with two matches in a day, or matches every day for consecutive days is the total amount of time on court. A common example is that you have just finished your over two hour match, and you then get an hour to recover, before playing someone who played earlier and finished in 45 minutes. That’s going to be a tough matchup against the one who had an easier and longer recovery. The longer that match goes, the harder it’s going to be for you.

Fatigue makes cowards of us all.

~ Winston Churchill

Playing sets that take over and hour may succeed in giving you a sort of badge of courage, and a saintly reputation as a sufferer, they don’t really help your chances to go deep in the event. You will find it much more difficult to proceed with difficult recovery, and perhaps also a shorter window to recover caused directly by your long grinding matches.

Frustration Factor

The disruptive player who can take away the rhythm can also really mess up that counter punching baseliner. You will face the added pressure of trying to read and react to what's happening with that other player. They will draw more errors out of you that will feel like your fault, and that can be frustrating for you, if you have that perfectionistic mindset. I have played this way with so called consistent players, and at the end they didn’t want to shake my hand, because I didn’t play like a man. These players are going to draw more errors out of you because they're mixing up their timing and the heights of the ball and moving you all over the place, keeping you uncomfortable and off-balance.

Get The Win

As we discussed previously, some days it comes down to this way to play, because whatever it takes to get the W within the rules, that’s what you must do. I have been there, and some of my top players have lived in the same space where nothing else they try is working, so they resort to playing the super high effort game of not giving up errors, and waiting patiently for the other guy to miss, while playing great defensive shots. As a long term strategy as an A game, it will only take you so far.

Open Yourself Up

You may consider adding more variety to your shot making and become the disruptive player instead of simply playing the high effort game. It all depends on your creativity and situational decision making development.

Where I Settled

My A game was pressure time and space with nearly all out net assault. If that didn’t match up well, then I would go into my B game which was a disruptive style, and finally my C game was to use my speed and defensive ability to grind if I had to do that on the day to get the W.

That could be you who's disrupting people's rhythm and you can make them make more errors. Unfortunately, you may be playing the way you play because of the fascination with consistency.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin

of small small minds.

~ Emerson

Conclusion: Branch Out

The hobgoblin of small minds lends lends itself to a teaching the extreme safety style to the point where people only really believe that there are two ways to win, the extreme first strike, and the rally until the cows come home approach. Branch out, try another A game, and it will do you well, you can still keep the grinding, rally style as your B game, or even C game as you add new strategies to your game.


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