Tennis Pro Corner
Being my 8th season as Gwendolen’s Head Professional and third season directing Gwendolen’s junior summer camps I look forward to seeing adults and juniors learn new skills, find great hitting partners, and challenging themselves to reach new athletic goals.
Strategy for the Recreational or Advanced Player
When you have a game plan in place, it helps to serves as a roadmap to success.
- How do I come up with a tennis game plan?
- What do tennis strategies and a tennis game plan even look like?
- Do I even need a tennis game plan if I am playing a recreational match or a competitive match?
Instinctively, whether we have thought of it or not, we often consider our game, and consider our opponent's game through a game plan. Some refer to it as, sizing your opponent up. This face off between your opponent, or opponents if you are playing doubles, tends to happen whether we have played against them previously, or are watching them across the net during a warm up for the first time.
It is difficult, because I hear from a lot of club players I don't want to overthink things in a warm up, During warm up I am trying to hit a good ball, feel my shots, warm up my feet, and work on my swings. I am not really thinking of much during warm up.
Fair enough, good point made, but after the ball has travelled over the net during rallies or shot exchanges, there is time to be had, watch your opponent, pick up information as to what they like and what causes them trouble. Read their body language, which way they like to move? What shots do they want to hit? What shot/shots is your opponent avoiding hitting during warm up? Is there an area of the court your opponent feels more comfortable in?
Our goal here is to take in the information we have gathered, process it to a game plan and turn the game plan into patterns
we can repeat on the court that will win us points. Below I will discuss a step-by-step of what this looks like.
But how do I Formulate a Game Plan?
The key to formulating an optimal game plan is to ask yourself a series of questions about your game and your opponent's game. Even if you don't know your opponent, you can still think through how you can set up points to favour your strengths and minimize exposing your weaknesses.
1. Answer The Following Questions About Your Game
- What are my strengths?
- What are my weaknesses?
- How do I win most of my points during matches?
- What is my biggest weapon on the court and how can I use it the most?
- What shots do I hate hitting the most?
- What style of play am I most comfortable with?
2. Answer these Questions About Your Opponent
- What do you know about this player?
- If you have played this player before, what made you successful against him/her?
- How was this player successful against you?
Is my opponent a mentally tough player?
- If the answer is "have not played this player" then as stated before information can be gathered during warm up
- What are this player's strengths?
- What are this player's weaknesses?
- What shots bother or annoy my opponent?
- What style of play does your opponent primarily use (i.e. baseliner, serve/volley)
If you know who you are going to play, and you have played that person before, seen them play, or gotten advice from a coach or friend on your opponent, you should ask yourself several questions.
Put the information into action
3. Formulate Your Game Plan
Once you ask yourself the questions above and formulate answers you can make sense of, It is time to put your plan into action. There are a couple main things you have to focus on when formulating your strategy.
How can I use my strengths or my best shots to exploit my opponent's weaknesses?
- (One example in my game is I try to take a couple steps after hitting a quality shot to position myself on the backhand side of the court allowing me to take more forehands which I can direct better to my opponents weakness which I have discovered is their backhand)
How can I minimize my opponent's ability to exploit my weaknesses?
- (Footwork and anticipation before the ball comes over the net play a key role to protecting a weakness. Not allowing your opponent to hit to your weakness)
4. Exploit a Pattern you know will win you a point
Patterns in tennis are essentially reoccurring themes that are happening in the match. For example when I hit this shot
or this spin or to this spot in the court my opponent generally will do X. Here are two good examples of patterns you might
have entered or executed without even thinking about it. One pattern is more recreational and one pattern is more advanced
and requires more directional control.
When I hit a high looping or lob ball to my opponent at the baseline (maybe to a certain side if we can) I know they will
usually give me a short ball. After I hit the high looping, lob style ball from the baseline I should take a couple steps
in the court because I know in this setting my opponents ball will land short. That will allow me to be more on offence
after my shot.
When I hit to my opponents backhand a short ball is often provided, after hitting to my opponents backhand I should take
2-3 steps into the court knowing what ball will come next. When I hit a slice serve out wide in the deuce court my opponent
is in the doubles alley. This leaves the entire court open for the next shot.
Juniors - Forehand
Juniors - Backhand
Serve Return 01
Server Return 02
A great way to make sure your body is warmed up and ready for the rigors of tennis is “Mini Tennis” shown in the video below is a fantastic warm up drill that is recommended by Tennis Canada for beginner level players all the way to competitive national players. This drill is performed in the service boxes and makes use of making light non-aggressive swings or taps as I like to call them, back and forth between partners to warm up your torso, shoulders, and help to get your feet moving in a shorter, more consistent space. The mini-court rallies are a fantastic way in a slow rally setting to ease into your hand eye coordination at the point of contact. The goal of this warm up activity is working on watching the ball as it centers on the “sweet spot” of your strings.
Below I have attached a video of a standard Tennis Canada warm up. We begin our warm up in the half court/“mini tennis”. You will notice our follow through and racquet speed when contacting the ball is very slow and minimal. Trying to center the ball in the middle of my racquet with a minimal swing is the goal of the video with my feet on our toes for quick reaction and movements. This exercise can be done in singles or doubles format.
||Mini Court Rally
We begin our warm up in the half court/“mini tennis”. You will notice our follow through and racquet speed when contacting the ball is very slow and minimal. Our feet are constantly on our toes for quick reaction and movements, and we are positioned in the center of the court for singles “mini tennis”. This exercise can be done in singles or doubles format.
After you and your partner feel warmed up and have had several touches of the tennis ball on your racquet, agree to back up to the baseline and try hitting the ball at 50-75% of your normal swing. Below I have attached a video of a warming up with a standard Tennis Canada baseline-to-baseline rally.
This baseline “soft” rally is a good way to gain your swing speed and hand eye coordination, while eventually building up to 100% of your swing when you feel ready. Similar to the video of “mini court tennis” you will notice it is important to be on your toes while preparing to receive the ball, and positioning yourself in the center of the court in ready position.