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Tennis Strategy #41. Big Sets, Smaller Sets

The plot lines along which these things are decided

are not very complicated.

~ Mary Carrillo

There are two main polar opposite problems that players face when it comes to balancing their use of strategy and tactics. One is playing it safe, failing to branch out adding new ways to win. So they simply try to keep the ball in the court without much more going on, although they might try to serve to a certain spot, or at some point in the rally try to aim one ball. On the other extreme is the player who when losing will wildly shift from one tactic to another trying to play a certain way for a few points, before pivoting to play another way. Some players vacillate between these two and can become quite confused. So on the one hand this book is about helping you branch out, but it’s also about making the use of certain tactics to support a finite strategy very manageable. When you are playing your game it will be simple, elegant and you will find flow. When the other player is imposing their game on you, finding the play that allows you to turn the point back in your favor is key. Example, one player hits a great approach shot, comes forward for the volley, but the other player hits a nearly perfect high lob, realizing the opportunity to sneak into the net, turns the tables finishing with a volley of their own. A complete turnabout in 3 shots.

Clarify What You Want To Do

Solving these problems mainly comes from developing clear objectives for what you intend to do on the court. If your thinking is too simplistic and is only about getting your serves and returns in the court, making a few shots, then you lack the specific structure to your game to take you higher. By the end of this book, you will have a very clear idea as to the five major playing styles, which ones are for you, and how to build new ones into realistic options for winning. This book is targeted to you the strong intermediate on your way to advanced 3.0-3.5 player, and maybe slightly better, but in time you want to become a 4.5 and better. Some 4.0 players are going be helped here, because you are playing that level mostly on your athletic ability, but not on your tactical prowess. When you play smarter, you won’t have to work harder to win. On the UTR Range you are between a 4.0 and 7.0 or so, and yet if you gain more clarity about your primary, secondary and even tertiary style of play, you can win more matches, because you can make a shift mid-match to a better style against today’s match up on the court. Some players have not divided strategy and tactics in their mind, but you will have more clarity on this, and have increase ability to come from behind that is not predicated on your opponent playing worse, because you will be better equipped to attack their relative weakness and mitigate your own.

The Hieirarchy Of Game Style

To be clear, it’s important to understand the hieirarchy of play. Strategy is big category, the larger set, while tactics the smaller set inside the larger and are the members of that category. Some tactics are universal across strategies, others are shared by some but not all, and others are exclusive to one strategy. When you start to realize, as I have many times, that you are playing shots and tactics that are not part of your strategy, then you can consciously make the shift. In the case that the other player is enforcing their strategy on you, then you have a problem on your hands, and your solution will be to think strategically. The first part of this is having a coherent strategy that is supported by tactics and not confounded by yours or theirs

Big Things First

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, and so it is with the strategy, the overall game plan is the big rock, your main tactics are the pebbles, and the secondary tactics are the sand.

Know What You Can Control

What are the common problems people face, when they're executing a strategy? How many points do you need to affect in a match with your strategy to win the match? What is a realistic maximum for the percentage of points you can influence? 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.


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