Are your best shots failing you in a match? It may be time to change tactics.
Strategy and tactics go hand in hand when winning a tennis match. Strategy is an overall plan to achieve your goal, while tactics are the actions that implement the strategy. When your best efforts to win a match fail, it is the tactics that may quickly be adjusted to turn the momentum.
In club level doubles and league matches, players often rely on a singular tactic that involves using their best weapon shot to advantage. If you are a baseline player relying on consistency with a good forehand or a drop shot backhand, and this tactic is winning the match for you, then continue this tactic. When you encounter an opponent who can handle these shots or is better at them than you, you must find a way to win in different ways -- even if it takes you out of your comfort zone. Without reinventing the wheel, the occasional serve and volley, return over the net player’s head, or a move to the net may get your opponent off balance even if the net is not your strength.
Likewise, if you are routinely rushing the net yet losing the majority of points, try staying back and retrieving for a couple of games. If you are very patient and want to really annoy your opponent, stay on the baseline and hit nothing but high lobs for a couple of games. While not a glamorous way to win, I have seen stronger teams completely fall apart and crumble when forced to hit overheads for 20 minutes. If you are committed to winning, you may have to throw the kitchen sink at your opponent. You are on the court to win, not to give your opponent predictable shots that make them look good. It is equally about making the opponent play badly as much as playing well yourself.
Are you hitting to the weaker player on a doubles team? Are you hitting to their weaker side? Nothing is more upsetting to your opponent, than taking the stronger player completely out of the play and breaking down the weaker player. Besides feeling the heat of hitting consecutive balls and becoming frustrated, a non-supporting partner may create additional pressure on their partner by arguing, coaching, or exhibiting negative body language. Recognize when you have them on the run. You may break a team mentally and psychologically and begin winning more games.
Consider the pace of play. If points are ending quickly and you are on the losing end, slow down. Communicate with your partner between points. Take more time between points and on the changeover to slow down your opponents.
If consistency is the problem, focus on making a high amount of first serves and returns, and force the rally to carry a minimum of five hits. Club tennis is usually defined by unforced errors, so check in with the little computer in your head that tracks and records errors and percentages, and hit one more ball over the net than your opponent.
While you should never change a winning game, it is a rarity that all your shots will work all the time. Be prepared to adjust a losing game by changing tactics. A close first set is no need to panic, but if you are losing quickly or facing a known opponent that you usually lose to, try adjusting your tactics by giving then what they don’t like early in the match. There are many examples of coaches in various sports making tactical adjustments to respond to various hot players or teams, and turning a loss into a win.
In tennis, you are your own coach out there, so be flexible and creative in the adjustment and pull the tactical trigger when necessary.
Mike Puc has been the Director of Tennis at Gleneagles Country Club in Delray Beach, Fla. since 1998. A winner of 15 national titles and an ATP world ranking, Mike directs 25 teams with 350 players in nine leagues, while offering the most extensive Calendar of Events in South Florida that includes tournaments, lectures and social round-robins.