Before developing any tactics or strategies in tennis, you must already have a good grasp of all the basics. Here are a few basic things that you can do to your opponent from a strategic point of view:
• Play to his backhand
• Play to his forehand
• Hit a lot of high balls
• Hit as close to his feet and the baseline as possible
• Play into his body
Coming up with a strategy means developing an approach that you can successfully and practically implement on the court. The practical part is very important, and you must always remain realistic about your own abilities when coming up with strategies. For example, if you are a beginner, you might want to keep things simple and only focus on hitting deep up the middle of the court. This has the following benefits:
• It keeps your opponent behind the baseline
• The net is lower in the middle of the court, making errors less likely
• If you hit to the middle of the court, your opponent has fewer opportunities to hit diagonally
The only downside of this strategy is that your opponent can usually run around his backhand and hit his forehand all the time (if that is his best short, else vice versa).
While the above is a good strategy, the reality is simply that most beginners cannot focus on a strategy while also focusing on their shotmaking. In most cases, it is better to worry about your shots than to fret over strategy during a point.
Approach the net at the first opportunity
If you follow the above strategy, it is particularly important to approach the net at the first available opportunity. Intermediate players are often hesitant of coming forward, but anticipation is a key element in the development of an advanced player. You must remain vigilant for when your opponent hits a short ball, which will then give you the opportunity of hitting a strong shot and coming to the net. It might not win you the point every time, but it often will, and will place extra pressure on your opponent because he knows you are willing to come to the net. He therefore has to focus extra hard to hit his balls deep.
Play the percentages
If you look at the stats after a match, even professional matches, you will often see that there were more errors that winners in the encounter. One of the most important things to remember as a beginner is that if you are the player with the fewest errors, you will likely also be the winner of the match. Keep mistakes to a minimum and play safely. This is why the strategy of hitting the ball deep down the middle is so effective, since it is a safe tactic that still puts pressure on your opponent. It is important to play the percentages. If you attempt to hit a winner, you might make it and strike a spectacular blow, but there is a better chance that you will commit an error. Also, if one strategy or another is working for you, stick with it until it stops working. If you find yourself losing, it is always a good idea to change tactics to try and turn things around.
Play the right shot under pressure
When you are under pressure during a point, it is extremely important to hit the correct shot. If you do not, you will either make an error or your opponent will easily hit a winner. A good strategy under pressure therefore is not to try and hit a fancy winner, but to hit a consistent and relatively safe shot that will allow you to stay in the point. That being said, often under pressure our nerves fail us, and we completely mishit the shots we intended to hit. But the likelihood of that happening with low percentage shots is much greater than with safe shots.
If you are under pressure, hit the ball high
If you are forced badly out of position during a point, the temptation is to simply try and hit a winner, even though it is almost impossible to do so from such a poor position. In such a situation, the best thing to do is to hit the ball high over the net. If your opponent stays back, a high ball with lots of top spin can be difficult to deal with, and if he tries to sneak in to the net you can hit it even higher as a lob. If you hit it well, your opponent will be forced to take a defensive position and basically restart the rally. This will also hurt his confidence, since his best shot came back.
Break your opponent’s rhythm
If you are playing against an opponent who hits very hard and likes to play in a rhythm, it is a good idea to mix up the pace of your own shots. Hit slower balls, for example, which will force him to generate his own pace instead of feeding off yours. Short slices and high topspin shots are also very effective in break such a player’s rhythm.
Focus on your opponent’s weakness
If your opponent has a very strong shot, such as his forehand, it is important to try and stay away from it. Do not let him use his best shot to dominate the game. Instead, do your best to engage his weaker shots, then once he is used to you focusing on his backhand, the court will open up on his stronger side for you to hit winners into.
It is often very tempting to hit down the line at the first opportunity. Granted, these shots look spectacular when they are successful, but they are also very hard to pull off. In fact, it is much safer to hit cross-court for a number of reasons. Firstly, the net is much higher at the sides, meaning that you have to hit the ball much more precisely if you hit it down the line. It is also much easier to hit the ball back where it came from rather than to try and change its direction. If you try to change direction and are even a little early or late in your timing, you will most likely commit an error.
Hit with purpose
More experienced players know that mistakes are more important than winners. It is therefore important to hit safe and consistent shots, and always hit with purpose. At high levels of play it is always hard to find the open court for a winner. It is much more important to play the right shot at the right time, minimizing errors and taking advantage of poor shots when your opponent hits them.