All players need to develop a specific strategy and tactics for each match. This should take into account many factors, such as the following:
- The player himself (e.g., his own strengths)
- The opponent (e.g., the opponent’s weaknesses or style of play)
- The environment of the match (e.g., the surface, the altitude)
They also will have to be ready to adapt the tactics during the match according to the situations encountered. Irrespective of this, one of the greatest influences on the tactics chosen is the court surface the match is played on. Before looking at the tactical implications of playing on different court surfaces, let’s look at some of the most fundamental tactics required for players to achieve success:
- Play percentage tennis. Eighty-five percent of tennis points are not won--they are, in fact, lost as a result of an error. There are some keys to avoiding errors: clear the net on every shot, use a margin for error, hit the ball high and deep to gain time, play the ball back in the same direction for safety, get into position early, work the point before attacking, and so forth.
- Keep the ball in play. This is the most obvious but also the most important tactic in tennis. You need to be consistent if you want to achieve good results in matches.
- Analyze your opponent. During match play, the player has to be able to (a) recognize and evaluate the tactical plans of her opponent, and (b) analyze the impact of her own tactics on the match. The player then will need to draw conclusions on what to do to overcome any negative situations.
- Put your opponent under pressure. Modern tennis demands that almost all successful players have an attacking mentality and continually try to apply pressure on their opponents. They are capable of taking advantage of half opportunities and attacking when an opening is created. The faster the surface, the more important this attacking mentality becomes.
- Use your strengths. All players have certain strengths that their game is based on. Some players have great serves, others have great forehands, some a good net game, and for others their passing shots are their strength. These players usually will construct their strategy and tactics around the strengths in which they have absolute confidence. The extent to which they can use their strengths will depend on the surface. For example, on grass a net rusher might serve and volley on all serves, but on clay he may do so only 50 percent of the time and only on first serves.
- Exploit your opponent’s weaknesses. You should try to take advantage of your opponent’s weaknesses by forcing her to play in more unfamiliar game situations or play her weaker strokes (e.g., draw an aggressive baseliner into the net with a drop shot to make her volley).
- Play your own game/play the ball. You should concentrate primarily on playing your own game and not change your style dramatically to suit either the opponent or the court surface. A good example of this occurred some years ago with Ivan Lendl. At Wimbledon he changed his game style dramatically (slicing backhands, serving and volleying on second serves, etc.) and never looked comfortable. However, Andre Agassi in the same circumstances made minor adjustments to his game but continued to use the game style that he was comfortable with (aggressive baseliner) on all surfaces. As we know, he has won grand-slam singles titles on all four surfaces. Many people believe that if Lendl had played with his normal game style at Wimbledon he might have won the title there.
- Avoid unforced errors. There are two types of errors: forced and unforced. Forced errors are the ones made by a player due to a forcing shot of the opponent. They are considered “good errors.” An example of a forced error could be a mistake returning a good first serve. On the other hand, unforced errors are those made by a player when in control of the ball. They are considered “bad errors.” An example of an unforced error could be a mistake made when returning a short second serve. On slower surfaces where there is more time to prepare and get in position there should be less of a necessity to take “risks,” and therefore the number of unforced errors should be kept to a minimum. The mentality of the player on slower surfaces also needs to change, with patience (building the point, waiting for the opening) being the key to accepting the necessity for longer rallies and consistency.
- Use the court space effectively. You need to be able to use the court space as effec¬tively as possible in order to win points. This can involve some of the following:
- Hitting to the open court--the player should aim to hit the ball away from the opponent.
- Hitting behind the opponent--this ploy is used to good effect against very quick players who tend to anticipate the change of direction of the shot, and it is even more effective on more slippery courts (clay).
- Using angles and spin to open the court and then going flat down the line to win the point.
- Using combinations of shots (e.g., ground strokes deep down the line, followed by a shot hit short and crosscourt; volley deep down the line followed by a short, angled volley crosscourt) to make the opponent move.
This ia an excerpt from World-Class Tennis Technique, edited by Paul Roetert and Jack Groppel.