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Tennis Strategy #9 Do Your Shots and Tactics Support Your Strategy?

"Therefore you, knowing I am not a fool, would clearly not put the poison in front of yourself." ~ Vezzinni from Princess Bride (Clearly Overthinking)


Your Tactics Need To Support Your Strategy


Some people run around and hit one more ball back, but in the fantasy world of their minds, they've got this idea that they are playing a strategy. Maybe you know someone like. In 30+ years of coaching, one thing I know is that the default position is that people will wander from their strategy, and might need a reminder by themselves or a coach. Minimize this effect by having a very clearly thought out game plan to that you can say to yourself, because it’s not too complicated. You can also talk yourself into a tactic that is working great, supporting your strategy, or out of one that doesn’t and isn’t.


Do They Line Up?


It’s vital that you take stock of how often you play the shots that constitute the tactics that fit your strategy. If you are unable to do that, because your opponent is imposing their strategy on you, thus preventing you from playing the tactics and shots you want to play, it’s fundamental to understand that as well. You will need to make adjustments. If your strategy is to pressure movement, then you really do need to serve to the corners and wide in the service boxes on both sides. If you don’t do it, then you are not really playing that strategy.


The Most Predictable Style


Wide and corner serves are the staple to hold together that strategy. It doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes hit to the body, or down the T, but you will need to be very mindful of your next shot so that you aren’t giving up opportunities to make your opponent run. The wide serves should be somewhere around 70% to 80% of the serves you hit, with the remaining 20% to 30% to other locations to keep the opponent honest. At the 3.0 level, perhaps you aren’t that great at hitting out wide as much as you want, so your accidental serves will be enough to keep them honest. But this brings us back to the idea that you need a coach who can teach you the skills, to hit the specific shots you need to be more effective in your play.


Predictable, But Unstoppable?


If you start to hit the same shot to the same place five times in a row then, you better be dominating play, or you will find that by the fourth and fifth time the other player may start reading and reacting to your offense. The real magic is in putting together shot combinations that require your opponent to do different things from one shot to another, mixing things up that way creates enough confusion and difficulty for you to draw more errors out of them. If you can get your opponent to react like "Oh no, here we go again", that's a good thing.


On the other hand, you will want to be careful not to overthink your shots, but do you do want to intentionally mix them up. Once you start thinking about what they are thinking, then you have gone too far. But you can notice if they are reacting easily to your shot, because that’s an outward behavior you can see. When your opponent easily reads what you are doing, you better be controlling the point with that shot, or it is time to mix things up. Depending on the opponent, you might not want to hit the ball in the same place more than 3 times in a row. A common pattern in professional tennis as a rally continues is a two shots of one type and a third shot of a different type. I saw this often on the great Joel Meyers Tennis IG account where he does amazing analysis in his short reels. You should also have that unpredictable shot pre-planned. This way you can keep the opponent off balance, and not able to predict what you will do next.


Summary


Think about strategy and tactics, but don't overthink it. You need to align your shots with your tactics, with your strategies, or you are not really playing a strategy. You might be mildly predictable, but that’s ok if you have the skills to make it work even when they know it’s coming. Don’t be unpredictable for the sake of unpredictability, instead it should be part of your plan to keep people off balance. If you start thinking about what they are thinking, please stop and only think about what you are thinking. Develop patterns that put your opponent in tough situations to draw errors.


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