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Tennis Strategy #23 Pressure Time And Space Intro

I’m starting this section with a story of a very successful college player that I coaching beginning when he was 13 years old. He came from a Romanian family, brusque and a paternally dominated clan, and that plays into his reactions to what follows. The boy himself carried himself like a man, and was maybe the most stubborn player I have coached. We had a lot of fun anyway as the trust grew between us, as I teased him many times for his stubborn traits. The father paid me well to spend two hours a day three days per week to teach and train his boy. One thing I found myself doing, because the boy did not want things explained, because he didn’t have much patience for lectures, I began to teach him by exposing weaknesses in his game using subtle strategy and tactics that he had not previously been aware. After repeatedly being beaten by the same tactic, he then was a bit more open to knowing why it was happening.


Support Confidence, But Expose Weakness


In order to do what I could to support his confidence, I would rally with him for a few balls, push him harder for a bit. I wanted to hit plenty of balls that challenged him, but that I knew he could hit back, before making a subtle change to what I was doing, causing Daniel to make an error. As most people do, he blamed himself for any error, because he had high expectations. I would ask him if he knew what caused the error, allowing him to struggle through the analysis of what went wrong.


Make Him Think


When I told him that I was causing the error, he was skeptical, but then then when I would step two or three feet forward to take the ball a bit earlier, taking time and space away, rushing him, forcing an error, he was finally able to see through his own skepticism. I did it over and over, and showed him how I moved forward, then I would warn him before I was going to do it. Finally, he learned to deal with the shortened amount of time space, but most players you face might not even notice what you are doing.


Mixing It Up


Another trick I would pull would be to unexpectedly give him a heavy high bouncing topspin shot over his shoulder or even head height. That can be another time and space play, because when you back someone into a corner with a higher ball, you force them to have to hit the ball higher and farther than they might be comfortable hitting. Daniel never grew above 5’10, so at 13 those high balls were real trouble, and he rarely handled that well. My final trick was a low slice hit fairly softly which pulled him forward into the court. The slower, lower ball did not give him much work with in terms of pace of shot, because he was now closer, it left him vulnerable to be massively pressured on the next shot, so that low slice is a great first shot in a pressure time and space combination.


Learn To Respect Opponents


Once he fully understood that the opponent has an effect on how points are played and how he can respond, that set him up for the kind fo cerebral play that would make him the winningest player in his college’s history, and his team was bouyied to it’s best team results in many years.


While he was in a self absorbed mode of not giving credit to his opponent for shots well played, he would go for too much, on too many balls. Later, he was much better at muting my attack, then changing the complexion of the point to suit his style.


Predictably Winning


Another fun episode with Daniel was when he teased me back over being so predictable. I said, “I am predictably beating you. So, when you are winning, you can laugh.” The point being that he said he knew I was going to hit deep cross court often to set up my points. What he didn’t realize is that there was nothing he could do to use my predictability against me. In contrast, in his efforts to be unpredictable, Daniel hit down the line too often and short attackable balls, thus giving me many opportunities to attack him in different ways, after the initial boring vanilla play.


Chess Moves


Over time he began to understand the chess moves on the court how I was causing him to respond poorly, so we got to work one at a time with recognizing the incoming shot and how to respond best. He began to recognize when I was stepping into the court. He then knew he would need to give up some ground at the baseline, or stand his ground, taking shorter backswings, and withstanding the time and space pressure I was placing him under. This is something that is now called shot tolerance. Being able to tolerate strong shots without giving up court space is an important element of playing at higher levels.


Train Against Attack


Once he began to be a lot less vulnerable attack from the sudden step in, then we worked on his ability to deal with the higher ball, and in fact he developed a strong ability to not only hit back high balls, but hit back a ball that was even higher to the opponent that would stand to discourage them from continuing that kind of attack. Finally, we worked on his ability move forward quickly to take a slice ball much closer to the bounce, so that he could use the remaining pace to hit back a deeper shot that allowed him also recover better in the court.


He improved dramatically by no longer being a victim of time and space pressure plays, but instead being the one that pulled the subtle strategies on others, inducing the kinds of shots he wanted, so he could set the points up the way he wanted. He was no longer a player who simply want to hit his forehand hard all over the court. When he came to the realization that my shot making decisions had a bearing on his consistency and ability to hit hard, he made a breakthrough in his understanding of how to win a tennis match.


Rallies Are Short, Get Over It


One important way to win tennis matches is to have different objectives to achieve for each new phase of the point. 55-75% of points will end before you make your third shot, so playing your first two shots intelligently with a good risk/reward ratio is important. Making a high percentage of this first two shots is paramount, but placing them with objectives in mind can make all the difference. 15-30% of points will end before anyone makes their fifth shot, so having a plan for what you will do with the third and fourth shots is also important. Knowing what you want to do to regain or continue to control the point also makes a huge difference. This is a mark of a great champion when they can take a point in which they were under attack, play some great defense, then use a leveraged shot to change the momentum, before seizing on the first opportunity to attack. Those are wow moments in any match.


Shot Combinations All The Way


I gave three examples of first shots of a sequence that can keep you in charge of the point and ready to pounce if you are the time/space player. 5% - 20% of points will end after the 9th shot, and you certainly don’t want to lose all of them, and while it’s much more important to play smarter in the first two phases of play, playing more intelligently in longer rallies can make the difference in a dominating outcome, and one that is a bit closer. If you lose patience in longer rallies, then your opponent will likely do their very best to extend them, meaning you will have longer rallies often. But if you keep your head together, and are looking for a way to change the complexion the point in your favor, you can stay on offense during the entire point until you win, or you force the opponent to have to make an amazing shot to win it. Rarely are the longer rally points truly the deciding factor in a match. When you understand their true impact, you are more impervious to a let down from losing them, and also less likely to be overly impressed by winning them. If a player wins a long point then double faults, or hits an attackable serve which you can jump on, winning the point, then it’s even for those last two points.


Cumulative Pressure


All three of the above plays have cumulative effects. When you move forward to take the ball earlier, closer to the bounce, not only do you take away the time and space that the ball would have traveled to you if you had stood further back, but you also eliminate the time and space that the ball would have had to travel forward from that further back position. When you hit high deep shots that push your opponent back behind the baseline, you gain the cumulative amount of time from both things, and when you slice low pulling the opponent forward, you take time and space away from them, but also from yourself, so you will need to be a bit more ready to react to their shot.


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