“Never give a player a shot he likes to play.” ~ Bill Tilden
When You Know The Opponent
One reason it’s a great idea to keep a book on players and do some journaling about your matches, is that you want to record things that you can take advantage of next time. What was their most common error? What is the most memorable play they made most often? 2nd most often? It’s far better to work on coming up with a game plan for what they do often, than it is to plan for something they don’t often do. Do they like to hit their forehand hard up the middle a lot? Do they come to the net? Do they serve mainly to the corner, or to the T. Do they have tendencies for how they play certain points, like the first point, 30-all, break point or game point? If you find a pattern there, you may be able to gain an advantage in those situations. Charting the matches also can help, but taking mental notes in the match can do you well. You can also take note of how they play differently in the Deuce or Ad courts.
When You Don’t Know The Opponent
It’s a good idea to watch people play at events you play, and also compare notes with other players. If you are playing a tournament, and you get a chance to watch the potential opponents for future rounds, go watch them. Take a few notes. Your mindset of self-belief that you can execute your game plan against anyone, can and should be redirected to adjusting your game plan to meet the relative strengths and weaknesses of your opponent as you discover them. Let’s say you have 5 different tactics selected and there is an order of preference.
For a pressure time and space game it might be.
1. Serve And Volley On All Serves
2. On Return games come in on every second serve
3. If a rally develops come in on the first short ball
4. Sneak in behind lobs
5. Drop shot a few times to bring them in against their will.
Let’s suppose that you play someone who has an amazing return of serve, and they happen to really love returning kick serves, with the ball coming back faster than 90% of your opponents. You have a problem on your hands. If you aren’t winning over 50% of those points, then you will need to change #1. It’s doesn’t mean that you have to completely give up on coming in, but you might want to immediately stop coming in on second serves, and use #3 on second serves. You may in fact need to stay back on one or two first serves per game to keep your opponent guessing. If you serve and stay back, it will be great if it catches them off guard, and they are fully prepared to hit the ball low down the line, because then that gives you a lot of good options with a groundstroke, and you might just come right in on the approach. Also, you will force them to consider hitting returns higher, so that they won’t be vulnerable in that way, and then you get an easier ball to volley in the future. That’s just one common example of an adjustment you can make in your A game based on their relative strength. You might discover that for whatever reason they can’t control your kick serve to their forehand, because they hit too much topspin on their forehand to begin with, and your topspin serve added to theirs makes them sail the ball long, and hit a lot of high returns that are easy to pick off for overheads and high volley winners. You might not want to overplay it, but if you get down in the game or need a 30-all, game or break point, try serving to that forehand.
The Game Within The Game
When you are in the five minute warm-up, remember that it’s a misnomer, and it really should be called the five minute scouting session. This is when you find out a little about how your opponent warms up, but it might not give you the reality of how they really play. if your opponent loves or hates pace, high or low balls, topspin, heavy topspin or slice. This will guide you in your tactics during the match, either they like to move or they love to stand still for their shots. When you develop your tactics for a particular match, your opponent’s least favorite shots should figure into that.
Be careful not to read too much into the warm up. For instance, I was usually a lot more comfortable hitting spin serves with little or no warm up, but flat serves needed more warm up to feel comfortable. So I would take the majority of warm up serves as flat, while in the match most of my serves were going to be spun pretty heavily. Some players come out very laxidaisical for the warm up then really turn it on, but you can start to detect if they are comfortable at net, like certain things about certain shots.
You will never purely play your A game, because you will make subtle changes to attack an exposed weakness, or plan around a presented strength, to increase your winning percentages on points. Every match will have some time of discovery, but learning your opponent ahead of time can really pay off in making adjustments more quickly. ***
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