Walk around the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center during this year’s U.S. Open and you will see players from every part of the globe. Even multi-generations are represented in the junior and senior events. While the assortment of differing playing styles is vast, the fundamentals displayed by the world’s top tennis players are similar. Learn what the pros know about tennis success by studying their tactics, attributes and skills.
1. Ramp up your play
Even the pros are nervous at the start of a match. They handle these jitters by aiming conservatively, but striking the ball aggressively when beginning a match. After hitting their way into a personal comfort zone and only after having successfully made some shots, do the pros confidently go for more. Chris Evert once explained that her goal in the first game was to" hit her way into the match "and "ready herself to win."
2. Seize the opportunity
While the Girls 12 & Under players often choose to attack only when they feel comfortable and ready, this strategy is not going to work at the highest levels because here, aggressive play is opportunity driven. If a U.S Open competitor passes up a chance to go for it in the point, they know very well that they might not get another chance. Most elite players will play the open court in combination with their serves almost every time, because the best time to attack is the first opportunity.
3. Mix it up with a purpose
The specific purpose of variety is to expose weaknesses and increase uncertainty which limits reaction time. Therefore, shot variety is a means to an end, not just a goal in itself. Variety makes your play more offensive, because it delays an opponent's decision-making process. Serena Williams will serve wide to an opponent to force them to return from a more forward and wider return position. Once she sees her opponent has adjusted, she will go with pace to middle and keep pounding away until the returner repositions again.
4. Be decisive
How do the best players in the world know when to come to net? They don't, they take an educated guess, but they do so with decisive commitment. The pros believe that decisive decisions are often more important than making the right tactic or shot choice because by the time they know that it's the right choice, it's too late to start. Position and hit with no hesitation and make your willingness to commitment your strength.
5. Compete like a pro
Here is some bad news that you probably already know. Few people who ever pick up a racket will ever play as well as Maria Sharapova or Roger Federer. Here's some better news however, almost anyone can perform every bit as confidently and professionally as these great champions over 80 percent of the time because that's the amount of time spent in between points. The ratio of play to in between play is 7:1, which is just about 17 minutes of actual play in a two-hour match. The organizational court habits of every player at the U.S. Open in between points is remarkably uniform. You still won’t play like Roger even if you act like him, but you will play better.
The U.S. Open can be an exciting and eye-opening learning experience for tennis players at every level, if you know where to focus your attention.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve &Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.