Unlike most major sports, tennis allows you to warm up with your opponent rather than alone or only with your own team. This unique difference gives an advantage to those who use the warm-up not only to prepare physically but also strategically. Here are three match strategies you can use based on what you learn in the 10-minute pre-match hit-around.
Just keep the ball in play longer than your opponent – The first strategy you should try is to simply keep the ball in play longer than your opponent. Let’s say during the warm-up you notice that your opponent is spraying balls all over the place and is very inconsistent. If you realize you can keep more balls in play during a rally, you’ve instantly established your first game plan. Remember that the scoring system in tennis is different from that of almost every other sport. Can you imagine how different basketball would be if missing a free throw resulted in the other team’s score increasing by one point? What if kicking and missing a basket in football gives the other team three points? I think we can all agree that if these scenarios were true each sport’s strategy would change drastically. Well, in tennis the equivalent is true. You receive as many points whether you hit a winner or your opponent makes a mistake. So if playing it safe wins you point after point due to your opponent’s constant mistakes, just keep playing the ball in play and watch how your opponent ends up fighting.
Pick your opponent’s obvious weakness – Now let’s say that while warming up against a different opponent, you realize that he has obvious strengths and weaknesses. Using a strategy as simple as “keep the game” won’t work as well as against your other “inconsistent” opponent. You will now need to put the other player in their least preferred position as often as possible. But how do you know what it is? Well, to begin with, notice what they are doing well and not so well during the warm up. Most people prefer their forehand to their backhand. If you throw a ball at someone’s backhand and they try to get around it, it’s a sure sign that they don’t want to hit the backhand. So during the match, do all you can to serve, come back, rally, approach and fly as many punches as possible on their backhand (weakness). Or, let’s say you offer to warm up their volleys and they only hit two or three, miss them all and quickly come back to practice services. This is very common and tells you that they don’t like to be on the net. This is your invitation to hit dropshot after dropshot in an attempt to get them out of the baseline (where they’re most comfortable) and down to the net where they feel a lot less confident. This strategy really frustrates your opponent because he wants to hit his best shots so badly, but can’t, because you won’t let him.
Work the angles and dimensions of the yard – Finally, you warm up against a third opponent, and you notice that they are very consistent and don’t seem to have any glaring weaknesses. This is when you will need to use real tennis strategy and hit a variety of shots. First, do a high percentage of your serves and returns serve. Then attack all the short balls and hit them in a corner of the court. Watch to hit your approach shots from the side your opponent is hitting on higher above the net, then move forward preparing to aim the volley to the opposite side. If your opponent makes it to the net, do all you can to hit the ball really low. Most people hate hitting low volleys and you might get a short ball that will make the passing easier. And finally, be mentally prepared for a game with ups and downs. It’s not over until it’s over and there is always a way to win if you keep your mind focused and your strategy evolving.
So the next time you step out on the court, don’t just warm up your body; also warm up your strategic mindset. Your opponents will give you clues on how to play them if you are just careful. Give it a try … I bet it results in less frustration and a lot more wins.