Back in the 80’s, players like Ivan Lendl and Martina Navratilova embarked on nutritional regimes that were considered extreme but would later become the norm. A little later, players began adopting more scientific fitness programs that would take us to where we are today, with players now able to sustain a high work rate in matches for long periods of time.
In my opinion “the next frontier” for coaches and players to conquer in tennis is strategy. I’m not talking about the current levels of strategy seen at the top of our game. I’m talking about a systematic approach to strategy that includes an analysis of an opponents’ strengths and weaknesses and designing a systematic strategy to exploit this knowledge in the match.
Over the years I have used a system of spotting strengths and weaknesses that has worked well for me. I look at an opponent in terms of 8 opposites…
1. Fast v Slow (Speed of the ball)
2. High v Low (Height of ball)
3. Tight v Wide (Ball into the body or ball wide)
4. Up v Back (Playing up at net or on the baseline)
No player prefers both the options, but one of the options will definitely be the weakness to target. Here are some examples I have experienced.
· Fast v Slow: Serving hard and fast to an opponent, only to have the ball come back consistently and at the same speed. Changing to a slower serve speed and forcing the opponent to generate his own pace, resulting in timing errors or short balls off the return which can be attacked.
· High v Low: An opponent who soaks up your fast ball during the baseline exchanges and sends it back at the same speed, but struggles to get any pace on the ball when they have to contact the ball around the shoulders.
· Tight v Wide: A player approaches net wide but is passed numerous times and loses the match. The following week against the same player he approaches through the middle and wins easily, without being passed in the entire match.
· Up v Back: Losing the majority of the baseline exchanges, but making a change by working into net and finishing points with a volley or overhead.
Creating a Strategy:
From the previous examples you can see that once the correct analysis has been made it’s a matter of creating a game plan based on exploiting your opponents’ weaknesses or neutralizing their strengths. By the use of spins, speeds and target areas you can execute a match strategy specifically for your opponent.
Don’t fall into the trap of trying to win matches based solely on talent alone. There is always someone out there who can beat you on any given day. By designing game plans for each opponent you can win matches even when you are not playing at your best.