To the man who only has a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
~ Mark Twain
You will want to have more than one way to win a match, because each opponent is a unique problem. It’s nice on those those days when your opponent cannot deal effectively with your primary game plan, but when your strategy plays right into the teeth of their strength, can you find a different way to win? Finding a different way to compete can turn a blow out loss into a competitive match, a loss into a win, or a hard fought struggle into a routine victory. So the adage “Never change a winning game plan” is not really 100 accurate. If you are barely winning a match and you can make one or maybe two adjustments to win going away, that can save you a lot of time and energy. Develop a primary, secondary and a tertiary way to play, and your ability problem solve on the day will increase. As you move up the levels, there aren’t many 3.5 or 4.0 players who can deal with a positive strategy change on their end. Part of what keeps them at that level is a locked in mentality of “this is how I play, win or lose”. It’s that fixed mindset that holds people back from growing their game to new levels and discovering new capacities.
Don't Use Your Illusion
There is an illusion that fools people into playing the wrong way. Yes, I am saying there is a wrong way to play the game. One of the worst ways to play is a strategy that does not fit your physique, skills, abilities, or mental/emotional profile. The slower player should not play a running game, the player lacking power should not play a power game, the power player should not play a ‘retriever’ game, because it simply doesn’t fit or take full advantage of their abilities. Fish should not be judged on their ability to climb trees, and sloths on their swimming.
Cope With Reality
So take a deep breath and blow that illusion away. If I were reading this, and had just now coming to the concluding that I was playing the wrong way, I might gulp, or do a face palm, or worse. You can’t go backwards, but we can all move forward, and I certainly experienced the frustration of wishing that I had started earlier to play like myself. Moving forward, move toward maximizing your strengths, and diminishing your relative weaknesses. Play smarter tennis for you, not someone else.
One way players get caught in that cycle is that they try to imitate their favorite player, even though they have a completely different physique, skill set and personality. I admire Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal, but I don’t model my game after any of them. I didn’t become a Patrick Rafter fan, until I realized that his style of play was a perfect fit for me. I also think our personalities have some similarities, and that helps a lot. Rafter was not afraid of a little conflict, and he did not mind putting his opponent’s under a considerable amount of pressure throughout a match, but he also had a very strong defensive ability so that he wasn’t losing points easily when the other player played their strength. It makes much more sense to look at players who have similar physique, tall or short, with more body mass, or less mass. The lightest player I can think of off the top of my head is David Goffin, so if you are not extremely tall or carrying a lot of weight, you might want to watch his game. Iga Swiatek has a unique physique, and so does Coco Gauff. Iga has a wide variety of shot making, and Coco is easily the fastest player on the WTA tour. Consider yourself relative to your competition now, and in the future. The players at the next level, how do they play? What do they have that you don’t have. When I realized that most people had bigger serves and forehands than me, I went to work to improve those, but I also continued working on my strengths of kick serves and serve and volley.
Realistic Role Models
Instead of trying to imitate a certain player, mimicking their strokes, and their quirks, learn to play like yourself. While I draw some comparisons for myself with Rafter, it’s quite obvious that I was never that good, and It would be a mistake for me to try to be exactly like him, and when I finally did learn to play with self expression of this is my game, I also found a lot more satisfaction in playing it. So, whether you are playing your A, B or C game, make them yours, and I will love to hear stories about how you made them your own, playing like yourself.
Another Pair Of Eyes
A great coach will help you discover your unique strengths, and areas that you can improve. It’s best if you can find a coach work with in person, who can actually experience your shots on the other end of your hit, but there are also a growing number of coaches that offer remote coaching using video technology.
Some Finite Characteristics
I never like to think in terms of weaknesses, but you have certain strengths, some aspects of your game you can improve, but you aren’t going to easily change your bone mass, absolute speed, power potential or your height. It's fine to you admire a player, fantasizing about being like them, wanting to do what they do, but in the short term it may not be ideal, and in the long term could be destructive. If you feel like you want to be a serve and volleyer but you have a bad serve, or are under 5’8, it might not be a great fit for you, because you will be under immediate pressure to cover the court. If you want to you want to run balls down like Djokovic but you're slow, and not very flexible, then it’s not going to work quite the same, and you might hurt yourself. If you want to approach the net like Federer but you can't volley well, or overpower players like Serena Williams, but you lack power, or the forehand technique of Ash Barty, you are out of luck. If you think you want to mix things up like Peng Shuai, but you don’t spin the ball well, it’s all the same. One common theme in all of my books is that you need a coach, and in-person live coach who can give you immediate feedback. Watching YouTube videos can be helpful, but they can’t tell you if you are actually doing what is shown in the video. A virtual coach can’t really see you in three dimensions on a two dimensional screen, or fully experience your game’s effect on opponents.
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