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Tennis Strategy #46 How Does Injury Factor Into Tactics?

For he who fights and runs away

May live to fight another day

But he who is in battle slain

Can never rise and fight again.

~ Oliver Goldsmith

The problem with most tennis coaching is that it’s often directed at how things will work under ideal conditions. This book however digs into how to deal with less than ideal conditions. Your body might not be in ideal condition, the courts and the weather may also present some extremely unique challenges.

Let’s dig into how you might change strategy and tactics based on how you are feeling on the day.

You should be wise, and know the difference between a little pain, stiffness and discomfort, and an acute injury that you might be making worse. I strongly urge anyone who thinks there is a risk of making their injury worse to seek medical attention, and go all the way to a physical therapy specialist. Let the experts tell you if you injury is that serious and wether it’s ok to play through it. This book in no way is to be considered medical advise. Every strategy here is meant for those who have a manageable situation.


Let’s say you are having a sore shoulder and it’s making it difficult for you to hit the power serve that you are used to hitting, because it’s stiff and sore. The most obvious adjustment is that you might go for slightly more risky placements to gain the same edge, so while your speed is reduced, and you might lose a few percentage points on your first serve, it can pay off allowing you to still play your power game. It might be that even that won’t work given how sore your shoulder is on the day, or that you are worried about hurting it worse. That’s when you might have to reduce power significantly to dramatically increase the frequency of serves that are in, and reduce the amount of serves will you need to hit overall. In a no-ad game there is a maximum of 14 serves you might have to hit, and a minumum of 4. If you can find a way to get through your service game using 7 serves or less, that will be better for you in the short and long term compared to having to hit 10 or more per serve game. One thing to consider is that if hitting more spin on your serve is easier or harder on your sore shoulder. It all depends, and I can’t feel it from where I am writing. Once you get into a situation where you have to slow down your serve in order to make them in, then you most likely will also want to change to a B game, away from your A game of power, because your #1 power weapon has been taken away.

Time For B Game?

If you are a serve and volleyer, or another player who relies on heavy or a wide variety of spins, and your sore shoulder makes that difficult, then you should eliminate the serves that feel the worst, and hit many more of those that you can execute with the least amount of pain. It’s one thing to have your options limited, but if you can’t hit your favorite serve, then you likely also want to shift to your B game. There have been times that almost all the offense in my game was taken away because of shoulder pain, because I could not make an impression on opponent with it. That’s a good time to simply focus on very high serve percentage, and mixing up your serves just enough to keep the opponent slightly off balance, doing your best to play the retrieving baselining grinder game. So the pressure time and space player, the movement player, and the rhythm disruptor can all be diminished if the serve that sets up their +1 shot is not working very well.

Hold On, Avoid Retiring

I one time was struggling with a very sore shoulder, was considering retiring in the match, continued and fought to the end out of respect to my opponent, who when he reached match point came to the net to shake hands. I was mad, the match wasn’t over. He gave a reassuring smile, “I’m defaulting, because I can’t play the next match, something came up at work.” I put my shoulder through some good therapy and managed to win one more match, before playing one of my better matches against the #1 seed before losing, but even so it helped me to improve quite a bit. If I had quit that Round of 16 round match, I might not have make it to the Semi-Finals against the #1 seed.


Some leg injuries make it difficult to move sideways, some forward and backward, and some make it hard to move in any direction. If you are not able to move well side to side, then you won’t be playing the movement game that day. If you can’t easily move up and back, then you won’t be playing a pressure time and space game. If you can’t move well in any direction, you will have to play a power game and do everything in your power to end points quickly, because the longer the point goes on the more of an advantage the other player has. A leg injury can be a lot more serious, because you are going to put more pressure and move considerably on every point, even when you attempt to mitigate that. The shoulder you might only be affected on a few shots. If you have an injury to your groin, achilles or soleus, you might want to pack it in for the day!


If you have an abdominal or other injury to your core. The only way I would recommend that you continue your match is if it’s the very end of the match and you simply need to complete it to be a good sport and allow your opponent the excitement of the win. Otherwise in the vast majority of cases it’s best to retire, because those are very easy to make worse, and the recovery time can be quite protracted. Core injuries might affect everything you do. As soon as you realize that you can’t serve without pain, or you have very little power on your serve, it’s time to pack it in. You might be able to use your arm a bit more to get the ball in, but that comes with it’s own risks, because of the added strain to your shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand.

Loss of Condition

If you are starting to cramp, having elevated heart rate or rate of breathing, then it’s probably time to make sure you use the maximum amount of time allotted between points, and changeovers. You will also want to use tactics that are less tiring. Go for a few more aces and serves at the body. Try for a return winner once or twice a game, follow approaches to the net, take +1 balls and come to the net, anything to shorten the points. Sometimes when you realize that your opponent is going to do all they can to lengthen the points to break you, it’s a great time to go for a drop shot for a winner, or when pulled wide to go for the down the line, but you better make 50% of those. If you are losing 75% of the points that go longer than 9 shots, then prematurely ending the point and winning 33% of them gives you 8% more efficiency, but frustrates the opponent trying to grind you down. You absolutely must avoid long rallies.


(this week, got to #1 in Physical Education a few times on Amazon)

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