Unlike most major sports, tennis allows you to warm up with your opponent rather than by yourself or with only your own team. This unique difference gives an advantage to those who use the warmup to not just prepare physically but also strategically. Here are three match strategies you can use based on what you learn in the 10 minute prematch hit-around.
Just Keep The Ball In Play Longer Than Your Opponent – The first strategy you should try using is simply keeping the ball in play longer than your opponent. Let’s say that during the warmup you notice your opponent is spraying balls all over and being very inconsistent. If you realize that you can keep more balls in play during a rally, then you have instantly come up with your first game plan. Remember, the scoring system in tennis is different than almost every other sport. Could you imagine how different basketball would be if missing a free throw resulted in the other team’s score increasing by a point? How about if kicking and missing a field goal in football gave 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 just as many points whether you hit a winner or your opponent hits an error. So, if playing it safe wins you point after point due to your opponent’s constant mistakes, then just keep play the ball in play and watch how your opponent ends up beating themselves.
Pick On Your Opponent’s Obvious Weakness – Now let’s say that during the warmup against a different opponent you realize that they have clear strengths and weaknesses. Using a strategy as simple as ‘keep it in play’ won’t work as well as it did against your other ‘inconsistent’ opponent. Now you’ll need to put the other player in their least favorite position as often as possible. But how do you know what that is? Well, for starters, notice what they do well and not-so-well in the warm up. Most people like their forehand more compared to their backhand. If you send a ball to someone’s backhand and they try to run around it, that’s a sure sign that they don’t want to hit backhands. So during the match, do everything you can to serve, return, rally, approach and volley as many shots to their backhand (weakness) as possible. Or, let’s say you offer to warm up their volleys and they only hit two or three, miss all of them and quickly move back to practice serves. This is very common and tells you that they don’t like being at the net. This is your invitation to hit dropshot after dropshot in an attempt to get them off the baseline (where they are most comfortable) and up to the net where they feel a lot less confident. This strategy really frustrates your opponent because they so badly want to hit their best shots, but can’t, because you won’t let them.
Work The Angles And Dimensions Of The Court – Finally, you’re warming up against a third opponent, and you notice they are very consistent and don’t seem to have any glaring weaknesses. This is when you’ll need to use real tennis strategy and hit a variety of shots. First, make a high percentage of your serves and returns of serve. Next, attack all short balls and hit them to a corner of the court. Look to hit your approach shots to the side on which your opponent hits higher over the net, then move forward preparing to angle the volley short to the opposite side. If your opponent comes to the net, do everything you can to hit the ball low to their feet. Most people hate hitting low volleys and you might get a short ball that will make it easier to pass them. And last, be mentally ready for a match with ups and downs. It’s not over till it’s over and there’s always a way to win if you keep your mind focused and your strategy evolving.
So the next time you step on the court, don’t just warm up your body; warm up your strategic mindset as well. Your opponents will give you clues as how to play them if you just pay attention. Try it out… I bet it results in less frustration and a lot more wins.