While every player is different and has their own particular style, strengths, and weaknesses, there are certain patterns or skillsets that allow us to break down types of tennis players into a few distinguishable groups.
The list of seven types of tennis players is by no means exhaustive, however, these are patterns that are commonly seen in the game. You may be wondering which of these camps you fall into yourself. You may even find that you fall into a few.
The idea, however, is to find your opponent’s greatest strength or attribute and then try your best to neutralize it. In addition to studying your opponent’s strengths, you should also be studying their weaknesses and trying to exploit them as much as possible.
This list should provide you with some ideas on how to deal with certain types of players. On the opposite end, this list can also help inform you of how others may react to your particular style of play so that you can put yourself in a position to defend it.
1. The Big Server
Players who possess a powerful serve pride themselves in being able to put their opponent away quickly, if possible with only one serve. Even if a return is made, they usually put themselves in a position to win the point on the very next shot.
You need to try to anticipate their serve as much as possible. Try to study where they toss the ball relative to their body. This should help tip you off as to whether they are going to slice the serve, or hit topspin, or perhaps even a kick serve.
It should also give you a sense of the pace they will use. If the toss is off the side, chances are it’s going to be a slice serve with less pace. On the other hand, if the toss is behind the player’s head, chances are it’s going to be a powerful kick serve.
If you observe your opponent from the beginning, you should be able to start picking up cues quickly. Are there specific adjustments they use when hitting a certain type of serve? Where do typically they place the ball when serving wide or down the line?
Back Up a Few Feet if Needed
Ideally, you want to be returning serves at about waist-height. Position yourself relative to the baseline so that you are able to hit at the ideal height. If you need to back up a bit, go ahead and do so.
Standing behind the baseline will give you more time to react. If your opponent has a very powerful serve, you may need the extra time to be able to react. By back up a bit, you allow for extra time and ensure that you are hitting the ball at an optimal height.
It helps to split step on the return to set yourself up better and so that you are able to more quickly burst in either direction. when you see your opponent’s racket come behind their back to initiate the swing, this is the ideal time to split step.
You should turn your shoulders as soon as you know which direction the serve is coming. Avoid a quick arm swing, you want to turn with enough time so that you can get behind the ball. Remember that on a return you do not need to do a full backswing, especially if your opponent serves hard.
If the serve is very powerful, you can just block it back rather than having to swing fully. Use the pace of the serve to return the ball. If the serve is wide, you may need to hit the return in an open stance (body facing the net).
Target Your Returns Down the Middle
Hit your returns deep into your opponent’s court and down the middle to neutralize their next shot. This gives them less of an angle to move you wide. By hitting the ball deep, you keep your opponent further back from the baseline where they can do less damage.
On second serves do the same, but with more pace. If possible, run around second serves to hit a forehand return. Hit with greater power since second serves tend to be weaker than first serves. This will also help neutralize your opponent on their next shot.
Since your opponent has a powerful first serve, try to win every second serve you can. This is where you have the opportunity to even things out a bit, so make the best of every second serve. Move in closer to the service box to set yourself up for a powerful return and to create a better angle on your shot.
If you are finding you barely have enough time to recover from your opponent’s powerful first serves, slice your returns to buy yourself a bit more time. Just be careful if your opponent is a serve-and-volley type player. Floating the ball can set them up for an easy volley put away.
Ideally, you want to place your return so that on your next shot you play the forehand. While you can’t control your opponent’s game plan, by placing the ball such that hitting to your forehand is their best option, you can increase the chances they will do just that.
Your chances of winning the point increase substantially if you are able to play the forehand on your next shot. Much like in chess, if you are able to think a few shots ahead, it will give you a big advantage.
Get in Their Head: Make them Second Guess
By alternating your positioning from time to time along the baseline, you make the server have to think more. Even if you are dealt a bullet down the middle which you are not able to get to, doing so will keep them having to second guess what to do next.
If your opponent is burning you on wide serves, move further towards the sidelines and challenge them to serve down the middle. If on the other hand, they are blasting you down the middle, cheat a bit towards the middle.
You can also move in closer to the baseline even if they are smoking their serves past you. You may get badly burned on the next return, but it will make them have to think about it more. Just mix it up, move around from time to time to keep the server on edge.
Remember, it’s considered bad sportsmanship to hop back and forth before a serve to distract your opponent. However, if you shift to one side or back up, or move forward as they are serving, this is completely legitimate. It may also be the difference between getting to the shot or having an ace blast past you.
2. The Great Returner
On the other end of the spectrum is the great returner. They have the ability to neutralize your serve so that no matter how powerful or well placed, they get the ball back to you. If they are really good, deep into your court to keep you pinned to the baseline.
By neutralizing your serve, a great returner is able to shift pressure right back at you. This can be frustrating if you have a real weapon for a serve and rely on it for your points. So, what can you do against such an opponent?
Try to disguise your serve as much as possible by adjusting your swing to the ball. Rather than adjusting your toss for the type of serve you intend to hit, by doing the opposite you do not provide any cues to your opponent about what type of serve is coming next.
Vary Your Shot Placement
Your primary strategy should be to serve wide. By doing so you are able to open up the court more and set yourself up for a deep angled shot on the next stroke. Occasionally throw in a serve down the middle, especially when you notice the returner is beginning to anticipate a wide serve.
You can also try to jam the returner down the middle as a third option. By mixing up the placement of your serves, not just the type of serve, you keep the returner guessing and prevent them from getting too comfortable on their return.
Try to keep the ball away from your opponent’s ideal strike zone. For example, serve with a high kick or topspin so that the ball bounces to shoulder height. By slicing the serve wide you can make them have to stretch more. By slicing down the middle you can jam them.
If you aim the ball towards the returner’s body, you prevent them from being able to put their weight behind the return. This results in a weaker return. Try to aim for their right or left hip if possible. This is a tough spot to return the ball from.
Place Your Serve Strategically
Try to place your serve in an area of the box that forces your opponent to have to hit to your forehand. You should strive to make them return to your forehand about 70 percent of the time. This will increase the likelihood of you winning the point following the return.
Experiment with the exact location. Observe when your opponent returns to your forehand side, and where you placed the serve on that occasion. Once you have a better sense, place the ball there consistently. Mix things up occasionally, however.
You can mix things up further by serving and volleying every now and then as well. This will keep your opponent guessing on your next move and will throw off their rhythm. You can also throw off their rhythm by varying the spin, pace, and placement of your serve.
3. The Aggressive Baseliner
The aggressive baseliner is either uncomfortable to come up to the net or they have such a weapon on their forehand or backhand that they don’t need to. They can play back from the baseline and hit powerful groundstrokes to put you away.
Often times an aggressive baseliner will want to put you away immediately with their powerful forehand or backhand. You need to figure out what makes them uncomfortable. Once you do, you want to make sure you force them to play that stroke or position.
If you are playing against someone who is uncomfortable up at the net, force them up to the net as much as possible. If your opponent has a deadly forehand shot but a weaker backhand, force them to have to use their backhand as much as possible.
If their weakness is their backhand, serve wide so they need to stretch out to return their shot and then hit the ball to their backhand. You can also place the serve to their backhand directly. For variety, jam them on their backhand side by serving into their body.
On the return, slice the shot at an angle to their backhand. You can, and should hit deep returns, high off the ground to keep them behind the baseline. This also applies to groundstrokes. Since they are not coming up to the net, you can afford to hit your shots high.
Play the Forehand and Hit Deep to Their Backhand
Following your serve or return of serve, try to place the ball so that your next shot is a forehand. This increases your chances of winning the point. Aim to do this about 70 percent of the time.
If necessary, run around the ball to play the forehand. You want to control the center of the court and play to your opponent’s backhand. Hit your shots deep into their side of the court to keep them beyond the baseline where they will be less effective.
Use slice to your advantage. By slicing the ball, you keep the ball low to the ground, something baseliners are usually not comfortable with. At the very least, it will help slow down their groundstrokes.
Move up to the net when given the opportunity. Place your approach shot deep into their backhand, if possible deep in the corner. If in doubt on shots where you could either stay back or move up to the net, approach the net.
The reason you want to move up to the net is to disrupt their flow. Baseliners like to slug it out from the baseline, but if you manage to break that rhythm by making the move forward, it allows you to put points away more quickly and forces them to have to either lob you or hit a passing shot.
Keep Your Opponent Moving
You want to make sure you don’t give your opponent the opportunity to explode into the ball. For this reason, keep them on the run. Move them from side to side and keep your shots deep in their court.
If you have the opportunity to hit a drop shot on a short ball, force them up to the net. Hit the drop shot with backspin and place the ball just over the net. You want the ball to just clear the net and barely bounce, or bounce back towards the net.
This is one part of the court baseliners hate to be in, so make them have to come up. Now you’re moving them from side to side as well as to the front of the court. Once up at the net, either lob them or pass them.
Feed Off Their Pace and Control Court Positioning
The aggressive baseliner hits the ball with a lot of pace. Hit with less pace from your end, instead use their pace to create your shots. This forces them to have to generate their own power.
When using this strategy it’s important to hit your shots deep into your opponent’s court. Try to hit your shots within the baseline if possible. This will open up the court more for you and allow you to hit deeper.
Of course, if your opponent has a very powerful stroke and hits consistently deep balls, you may not be able to do this. But chances are, not all their shots are going to be deep, so you’ll have opportunities to move up. Take advantage of those opportunities.
Remember, your objective is to disrupt your opponent’s rhythm. Prevent them from hitting their most powerful shots. By doing so, you’ll be able to frustrate the aggressive baseliner and take them out of their game.
4. The Aggressive Volleyer
The aggressive volleyer loves to rush the net on any given opportunity. They will start a point, whenever possible, with a serve-and-volley combination. They often have a better volley game than a groundstroke game, which is why they prefer playing up at the net.
An aggressive volleyer tends to be impatient and wants to get points over with as soon as possible. They also tend to move better forward and backward rather than side-to-side. These are all characteristics that you will want to exploit.
You want to take the volleyer out of their game by forcing them to play back. If possible, take to the net yourself to beat them to the punch. Your goal should be to take away the net from this type of player.
Hit High and Deep Balls
Anticipating a serve and volley, hit your returns down the middle and inside the service line to force them to hit up on their shot. Hit high and deep balls to their backhand to keep them pinned back.
Deep shots with heavy topspin can also be effective to keep the player back. Likewise, chip shots hit low towards their feet will force them to hit half-volleys rather than aggressive volley put away.
If they manage to get up to the net, either pass them or hit topspin lobs to force them back towards the baseline again. If you decide to pass, decide early which side and be decisive, don’t second guess yourself.
In order to try to throw off their timing, try to get to balls early after they bounce. By doing so you give the volleyer less time to set up for the volley. This may be enough to make them miss or even prevent them from rushing the net.
Work on Getting Your First Serves In
When playing an aggressive volleyer it’s more important than ever to get your first serves in. Aggressive volleyers will prey on your second serves and move up close to the service line to be able to put you away as quickly as possible.
If you allow them to do this, they will take you apart little by little. Of course, you can hit your second serve with the same placement, power, and pace as your first serve as a way to prevent them from doing so, but at a cost to your serves in percentage.
Try to serve wide to stretch them and keep them further away from the net. By serving wide, it also gives you the opportunity to approach the net should you choose to do so. A secondary service approach is to serve into their body. This will force them back.
5. The Pusher (No-Pace-Hitter)
The pusher, or no-pace-hitter, will use the pace on your shots against you, rarely missing their shots. They are essentially the human equivalent to a backboard. Playing a no-pace-hitter is frustrating, something they are keenly aware of.
A pusher will get the ball to you at any cost. If they need to hit moonballs they will do so without hesitation. Every now and then a pusher may hit an aggressive shot to throw off your rhythm when they sense you are becoming comfortable.
Remember, pushers are very comfortable grinding it out. Their hope is also that you will make an unforced error by getting impatient with your shots. They are extremely astute players, so you need to remain a step ahead of them.
If you begin to play into their game, they will beat you. They are better at hitting with no pace. They are better at keeping the ball in play for extended rallies. So how do you beat them? By forcing them out of their game.
Get to the Net As Soon As You Can
First and foremost, you need to get to the net. Remember, their weakness is that they don’t possess particularly strong groundstrokes. This is why they hit weak shots back at you. This is precisely why you want to get up to the net where you can easily put them away.
A good pusher will lob you though, so be prepared to have to defend the lob with an overhead. However, because their shots tend to have little pace, you shouldn’t fear the lob. Anticipate it and set up quickly to put the ball away with a smash shot.
When volleying, try to angle your shots. This will keep the pusher away from the middle of the baseline, which is where they are most comfortable playing. Drop volleys can also be very effective in pulling them off the baseline.
Place Your Shots Wide Not Down the Middle
On serves, serve wide then hit to the open court. Try to follow your return with a forehand shot to increase your chances of winning the point. On the return, slice wide to keep them off the baseline.
On returns, hit shots cross-court. If you can, slice your returns wide to move them further to the side. Remember the goal is to move them away from the baseline. Don’t put too much pace on your shots, force them to have to generate their own pace.
Try to play as many shots as you can within the baseline. This will allow you to hit deeper balls and at the same time give your opponent less time to set up. You don’t want to rush your shots, but by getting sooner to the ball, you gain a timing advantage.
Force them up to the Net
Pushers generally are most comfortable playing back from the baseline. So bring them up to the net. Use the drop shot to surprise them and force them up. Ideally, you want to play shots deep to keep them back and then counter with short shots to bring them up to the net.
Another useful strategy is to make them play in no man’s land, between the baseline and service line. You can then counter your shot with a deep shot to the backhand side where they will have to back up and swing wide on their weaker side.
Don’t be afraid to hit a few moonballs yourself. It’s effective to hit high balls well above the net to keep them pinned back. This will allow you to either rush the net yourself or bring them up to the net on the next shot.
Playing a pusher will be tough, be prepared for a long-drawn-out battle. Be prepared for some anguish. But if you want to stand any chance of winning, you can’t let them frustrate you. Use the tactics outlined here and do so methodically in order to prevail.
6. The Slicer (Hacker)
The slicer differs from the pusher in that they are able to wreak havoc using underspin. Often their style of play tends to be somewhat unorthodox. However, don’t’ let this fool you. If you fall into their game, they will eventually beat you.
Just as with the no pace hitter, you need to find a way to win points without losing your cool. Prepare yourself for a long-drawn-out battle. The slicer will slice every shot they hit, forehand, backhand, even their serve.
Get to the Net as Soon as Possible
Since slice shots tend to float more, you need to take advantage of this and approach the net any chance you get. Serve and volley whenever possible to take advantage of any floaters on the return.
You want to make sure you don’t give this type of player any power to use against you. Your best recourse is to approach the net often and put their floaters away. If in doubt, approach the net.
In order to keep them pinned back and keep the ball away from their ideal strike zone, hit the ball high and with topspin. A high and deep shot to their backhand will make it difficult for them to answer back.
Anticipate The Low Bounce
Because slice shots tend to stay low to the ground and not have much bounce, you need to hit the ball early. Move closer to where the ball is bouncing to set up. Expect the ball to bounce low, so anticipate it.
Keep your feet moving so that you can make any necessary last-minute adjustments. Using an open stance in this situation can be helpful for adjusting to the ball. Playing the baseline against a slicer is frustrating, so try to set up for the volley as soon as possible.
7. The All-Around Court Player
Of all the types of players, this is perhaps the most difficult to defeat. They have developed their game to the point where they can hit all their strokes consistently and with good placement, spin, and power.
They are just as efficient from the baseline as they are from the net. They can effectively play from anywhere in the court. However, despite their apparent ability to play any shot, they will have some weaknesses.
Sometimes an all-around court player may lack a weapon. Unlike other players who have shots that stand out as exceptional, this player will possess no signature stroke. They will, however, make up for it with the variety of shots they have available.
Identify Their Weakness
Your first goal should be to find their weakness. It may not be immediately apparent. You may need to test them out for a while to find out, but they will inevitably have a weakness. Once you identify it, hit to their weakness as much as possible.
Put yourself at an advantage by serving and returning to a spot that will result in you hitting a forehand on the next shot. Run around your backhand if necessary. Play down the middle shots with your forehand.
Hit High Deep Balls
Hit your balls deep and with a lot of topspin so that they rise high above the baseline. When possible, hit high balls to their backhand side. If you have to, hit moonballs that land far back in their court.
You can limit your opponent’s reaction time by hitting your shots early and on the rise. If you are able to limit their reaction time and control court positioning, you will have a leg up on your opponent.
Vary Your Shot Selection
Vary your shots so that the pace, spin, and height of the ball is always changing. You want to keep your opponent guessing. Keep in mind as well, however, that they will be able to change tactics quickly given the range of shots they have available.
Mix in some slice shots to keep the ball away from your opponent’s comfort zone. If they like to hit their shots above the waist, slicing the ball can throw off their timing. If they tend to hit their shots lower, high topspin shots should make life more difficult for them.
If you are able to win the court position battle, make sure your opponent consistently on the run. Move them around as much as possible, and when you do, finish shots behind them where they will not be able to react.
As you may have noticed from the list, there are certain tactics that can be used for a variety of players. Hitting the ball deep into the court and targeting the backhand (assuming that is their weaker stroke), for example, is always a good strategy.
Advancing to the net against players who slice their shots or hit with no pace is also going to be a successful approach. So is placing your shots or running around your backhand so that you are able to hit a forehand shot.
On the serve, you generally want to try to go wide to force your opponent further away from the baseline and give yourself more time to set up. on the return, typically you want to go down the middle to limit your opponent’s angles.
These tactics are not going to guarantee that you will be able to defeat your opponent, but it will put you in a better position from a statistical standpoint. If you can consistently hit your balls deep and control court positioning, you will be in a good place against any type of player.
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