All the strategy in the world won't help you win,
if you are getting physically dominated in the match.
There are some great benefits to playing a power game. The first is that you save energy and time. In saving energy and time you also save brain power, because playing with power is not particularly complicated, although you do want to have different ways to play it, so that you are not completely predictable. On the other hand if you start to overthink your play, or overplay your power, then you might start to make more errors. Yours is a high risk game, so you want to keep the rewards higher than the risks.
Simple, But Effective
You will have fewer targets, compared to other playing styles, that you hit, over and over again. You will be hitting the ball pretty firmly in the court, forcing a lot of errors and getting some winners too. It’s tempting to think if some power is good, than more power is better. What you need to find is the optimum amount of power, blended with a bit of topspin to keep the ball in the court, because it doesn’t matter how fast it was, if it was out.
To start points well, you will want to develop a powerful first serve, with strong returns of serve to make sure that you begin the power game from the beginning to the end of the points. These tactics are pretty simple, hit the ball hard often, but in the court. The objective of your serve, is to get some some weak returns, un-returnable serves and a few aces, in that order of priority. When you obsess about getting aces, or balls that don’t come back, then you are less prepared to pounce on weak returns. Turning that around to the point where you root for your opponent to return the ball, so that you can have another chance to pummel it, will make you more ready to do so, but also will take the pressure off of you to produce aces and un-returnable serves. Your strong serve as a set up for the next offensive shot. The best approach mentally seems to be one of continual ‘controlled aggression’. I see many players who make a strong serve, get a not so great return back, and leave a great opportunity on the table because they did not attack the +1 shot with enough aggression, because they quickly settled into a rally.
Go All Out?
In order to keep your first serve percentage up, you are not going to attempt your fastest serves at all times, slower serves have a larger window of acceptance into the court, so you can make a much higher percentage when you go for 80-90% of full speed, then save a little more as a surprise at a big moment. Adding a little bit of spin to the ball also helps improve the accuracy of your shot, and makes it a bit less predictable. Again, there will be those rare days when you can go all out, and every ball seems to be in on lines, have fun with that, but realize, it’s not sustainable. As your game improves, you may start to have more days like those, but you also have to plan for the days when things seem a little off, so that you can still make shots and win. Additionally, your 80-90% speed might not have the effect on today’s opponent the way you wish. When that happens, your first thought should be to go for a little more on your shots, If that dramatically increases errors, or has little effect on your opponent, it will be time to try a different strategy.
Mixing It Up
Serve to different places on the court. I have had some matches where I was playing someone who had a big enough serve to give me major problems, because return of serve was not often the strongest part of my game, if only they moved their serves around a bit! If they had been a little unpredictable, they might have won. Instead, they too often served to the same place, with the same speed and spin. As the match went along, this gave me a chance to learn how to return just that one most common serve, and it was enough for me to get the break of serve I needed, or simply to get into a tiebreaker for the win. Not because I was smart, but because they were too easy to read, I returned more than they expected, because I knew what was coming.
Think Just Enough
The value to you is that moving the ball around, adding a little spin, and changing the speeds a bit can keep the opponent enough off balance that they can’t quite get a bead on your shot. They will be frustrated, instead of you wondering how hard you have to hit it to get a free point. The danger is in over thinking it, you can hit two or three serves the same exact way if the opponent is not hitting strong returns. Don’t think too hard, but try to avoid hitting the same exact serve to the same exact location more than twice in a row.
Discount Lucky Shots
Even a blind squirrel finds a nut, and broken clocks are right twice a day, so if the opponent makes one or two solid returns, don’t overreact to that. Just say nice shot and move on. If a certain ball you hit seems to come back better, then simply remove that one speed and placement from your arsenal. As you go up the levels, it’s more difficult to create a huge advantage, and it’s easy to start pressing, but you have to trust your ability to create some offense with strong serves. A corner serve that didn’t quite get to the corner, or a body serve that wasn’t quite hit hard enough can put a ball right into the opponent’s wheelhouse, so make sure that you are executing the way you want, before making a change.
The Safest Power Serve
Hitting the corner serve allows you to have the furthest distance, the widest angle of acceptance into the service box, so you can hit harder serves to that box. The other benefit is that you open up the court for your next shot. If your main objective is to produce a weak return, and a forced error from. Your opponent with the second shot, or another weak shot, you can gain many good points using the Control, Hurt, Finish mantra. Your strong serve put you in Control of the point, or maybe Hurt the opponent. Your next shot may Hurt or even Finish, and when you hit that serve just right, you might just get the Finish right there. What is more demoralizing for the opponent is when you go quickly through the progression. and you want to be on the ready for whatever comes your way. If that happens to be a very weak reply, you want to be ready to finish the point.
Serve As Set Up Shot
When you shift your mindset and performance to using your serve to create an opening, instead of relying on it for cheap and fast points, you might not have many fewer one shot rallies, but you will greatly enhance the amount of three shot rallies you have. If you are going for too much on your first serve and not anywhere close to 60% of first serves in the court, then you will have many more second serve points to defend. Than means you will have more 2 shot rallies, and as the server that means, they made the return, but you did not make your +1 shot. Keep in mind, most things are subtracted from 100%. If you are only getting 40% of your first serves in play, then 60% of your points you will be defending second serves, and winning less than 45% of those points. This is why first serve percentage will always be one of the most influential statistics in tennis.
Minimize Non-Power Tactics
If you are trying to play a power game, but you are slowly spinning most of your serves in, then your tactics don’t line up with your strategy. Some people are shocked to find out that their kick serve that they put so much energy into is only traveling at 60-70 MPH. To balance this out, a few kick or slice serves sprinkled into a serve game, can make your flat serve look even faster, but you will want to have your serve clocked, and if you are wanting to play 4.5 and above, your flat serve 100 MPH or better for men, or 85MPH for women.
Slice And Drop Shots
The same is true of slice shots or drop shots in a match, too many are not a great idea, but then if a few of them force the other player to come forward a little bit, then they have to respect that and then that helps your power. Djokovic did this against Nadal at the French Open, sprinkling in 20 drop shots to Nadal’s backhand to keep him honest and not able to back way up as he generally likes to do. This helped Djokovic to be affective in his baseline hugging power strategy. Consider that just enough salt or other spices in your food can complement the flavors, but too much can ruin the meal. That is a good analogy to using too many minor strategies to support your major objectives.
Imposing Your Game On The Match
If you find yourself running around the court a lot, more than you want to, then it seems your ‘power game’ is not making a big enough of an impression on your opponent. If they are able to impose their running game on you, then you are not imposing your power game on them. If this is true, then you might not be the power player that you think you are, or you have found a physically superior opponent. As you go up the levels, the standards for what constitutes a power game changes, because better players have better shot tolerance. We will do a deeper dive into shot tolerance in a later chapter for the 201 Course.
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