If you want to pressure movement well, you at least need to be either a better player at making angles with your shots, or a better, faster mover on court. If you are not either of those, then it’s foolish to play the strategy in that match. Ideally, in order to excel at this strategy to make it your A game, you will both be better at making angles and moving.
Will It Work Today?
Assessing which gives you the better advantage, early in the match, will determine how you approach the pressure movement battle. Just like with the power game, the higher levels of tennis you play, the better overall level of movement you will encounter from most players. One player who changed their fortunes by changing to a movement game style was Andre Agassi. For almost the first half of his career, Andre was a pure power player, and if he could hit the other player off the court, then he could win, otherwise he was going to make too many errors and lose, it was a simple formula. But he took solace in the notion that he controlled the outcome of the match, good or bad. I try to coach everyone away from this “Checkered Flag or Crash” mentality borrowed from auto racing. Brad Gilbert convinced Andre to use his superior fitness and quickness around the court, while retaining most of his power to become ‘The Punisher’, the nickname he began to live up to in every match. Andre’s opponents knew that he was not only going to move them all around the court, but also hit more pace than most players all match long.
Andre Agassi's Change Of Game
Andre focused more on keeping the ball in, but not by completely abandoning power, he simply added a bit more spin, and played shots with more intention to keep players deep, or moving all over the court, mostly deep along the baseline. One tactical thing Agassi did that every pressure movement player should do, is serve to the corner of the service box on the majority of serves. This serve placement starts the opponent moving as they may have to have one or both feet outside the singles sideline to return the first ball. This naturally opens up a great opportunity to take the next ball deep to the other side of the court, deep crosscourt, getting your opponent on a string. It also introduces a diagonal movement that is very challenging to them. Perhaps the best aspect of this play is that it isn’t complicated and done well, you can be predictable and effective. It takes fewer brain cells to execute this tactic. In fact serving wide, then going crosscourt with the next ball plays well into any major strategy to set up what you want to do. What you will lose in element of surprise, you will make up for in taking immediate control of the point. It won’t matter if the opponent sees what you are doing, if they can’t stop you from doing it, in fact that gives you more mental and emotional control of the point.
Venus And Serena
Venus and Serena Williams also played similarly, especially earlier in their careers, which at this writing are wrapping up soon. Both sisters were great movers and angle makers around the court, so it was a mistake for most players to try to play into that. Instead, smart opponents tried to keep the ball centered as much as possible. What you will find when you play intelligent players is that they will center the ball against you to try to keep you in the middle of the court to take your angles away. You will want to work on hitting deep corner shots from the center of the court to allow you to open up the court again while not pitching in too many errors.
When It Won't Work
On a day when the opponent is the better mover and angle maker, to a degree that you do not have an advantage in the movement game, you may need your B game, otherwise you are walking straight into the edge of their saw blade. Because there is not a large catalog of tactics for pressuring movement, you should be able to determine quickly if this is the best strategy in this match. The only factor that would create a situation for you to keep playing this way, would be if you are simply not executing early and can solve that issue in short order. If you are not executing and your opponent is also very good at this, then you definitely need plan B.
50% to 80% of your serves should be directed to the corners of the service box. A few should also go wide in the box with just enough to the T and at the opponent’s body to keep them honest. The corner ball gives you the best combination of keeping the opponent deep, and pulled off the court into the doubles alley. The wide ball gives them something else to think about although you will have to give up some ball speed, and maybe some serve percentage points to hit it.
Alternative Serve Tactic
The T serve does also give you an opportunity to move your opponent in a tighter space if you turn then around, hitting to the deep corner of the same side of the court. Do in the deuce court to a right hander, the serve to the backhand, followed by a deep crosscourt to their forehand. In the ad court this might be harder to do serving to their forehand, turning them around to their backhand, depending on on good their forehand return of serve comes of their racquet. The larger the stature of the opposition, the more likely it is to be effective in turning them around to hit the opposite shot in a small space. Smaller players generally will move more nimbly to counter this.
Planning Beats Not Planning
Having a plan for how you would like to play a point increases the likelihood that you will execute your play. However, even if you know how you want to play it, after the serve the next shot you hit is part of a contingency plan. You can and should have different options for how to play different returns. You have to be ready to respond to a bad mishit or an amazingly well struck ball, and be ready to take the routine shot deep crosscourt. The player who plans ahead AND has a contingency plan has an edge over the player who does not have those.
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