The goal of any tennis player is to continue to improve their game. Regardless of whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, there is always room to grow and improve.
Apart from regular practice and dedication, there are ways to improve your tennis game by using tactics that provide you with an advantage over your opponent. If you can control ball placement, court position, tempo and pace of a match, you will put yourself in a better position to win.
We’ll take a look at how you can achieve this by expanding on these tactics as well as many others you can use to improve your game. Here are 15 ways you can grow as a player and increase your chances of success on the court.
Of all the ways you can improve your tennis game, consistency is perhaps the most important of all. If you can play with a level of consistency and make one more shot than your opponent, you will be winning many matches.
Considering most points are played with 4-5 shots on average, you just need to get the ball back a few times, but do so consistently without making unforced errors or overhitting your shots.
You can increase your consistency by hitting high percentage shots and saving the riskier shots for situations where you are either leading by a large margin or have an open court situation.
Consistency is developed through continuous repetitive practice. You become consistent with your shots when the mechanics become automatic and you don’t have to think much about execution.
When playing matches, consistency should be your goal. Instead of focusing on winning or losing, focus on improving your strokes in incremental steps. Eventually, you will get to a point where you are hitting with regular consistency.
Control is achieved by playing your strengths and exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses. This is where tactics come into play. You want to play shot combinations that give you the advantage and put your opponent at a disadvantage.
An example of control is playing repeatedly to your opponent’s backhand (assuming it’s their greatest weakness) and forcing them to have to hit to your forehand (assuming it’s your stronger groundstroke).
Another example might include hitting consistent deep shots to your opponent’s side to keep them on the defensive and then approaching the net on a deep backhand corner shot.
If you are able to control the middle of the court and spread your opponent out so they are constantly running from side to side in defensive mode, this allows you to control the point.
You can increase your chances of controlling points by playing within the baseline. This will allow you to hit deeper shots, control the middle, and better dictate the placement of your shots.
3. Serve Placement
Aside from spin and serving wide or down the line, where do you need to place the ball so that your opponent is forced to hit back to your strength? This is something you should be thinking about when serving.
If you can force your opponent to have to return the ball to your stronger side, this will give you an edge on the next point. Think about where you need to place the ball within the service box to make your opponent hit to your favorite shot.
Chances are your forehand is your stronger shot. Maybe your backhand is stronger than your forehand. But beyond this, do you prefer playing back from the baseline or approaching the net at the first opportunity?
A short return to your stronger side will set you up for an easy winner, so perhaps place the ball such that it forces a short return to that side. If you are a net rusher, a short ball will give you the opportunity to get up to the net right away.
You will need to study your opponent a bit to see how they react to your serves. Once you notice a short ball make a mental note of where you placed the serve and try serving in the same spot again to see if you get a similar result.
Likewise, if you notice the return coming back to your stronger side, keep in mind where you placed the serve. It will take some trial and error and you will need to vary your serve to find the optimal placement. But, once you do, place your serves in that spot.
4. Return Placement
Just like the service, the return of serve provides you with an opportunity to place the ball such that your opponent is forced to hit to your stronger side. By setting up the return this way, you can ensure that you will have the shot you want on the next ball.
Most service returns are hit down the middle as a general rule. This is because it limits the angles of your opponent on their next shot. Whether they choose to hit to your backhand or forehand, the shot will be relatively easy to get to.
For this reason, returning down the middle is a good general approach to use. But, what if you could force your opponent to hit to your favorite shot? This is where you want to study your placement to see if you can get this to happen.
When you notice a shot coming back to your stronger side, note where you placed the ball on that sequence. Try the same return again and see if you get a similar result. If you do, then try to hit consistently in that spot.
Sometimes you will be playing someone with a powerful serve and might just be happy to get the ball back. This will limit your ability to place the ball somewhat, but it doesn’t entirely eliminate the opportunity to place the ball.
You should still aim to get the return back to the spot that yields the best results. You may just need to shorten your swing and rely on your bodyweight and forward momentum to guide the ball.
If you can hit the ball consistently deep into your opponent’s court, you will win matches. It’s important that you do so with regular consistency, however. This is what separates the best players from others.
Pushing your opponent back is even more important than moving them from side to side. Every foot your opponent moves back, your win percentage goes up. You can increase your chances by playing deep to their weakness, usually the backhand.
To create deep balls, play your shots close to or within the baseline and hit with a fair amount of topspin to ensure your shots drop and bounce further towards the baseline, making it that much harder for your opponent to return the ball.
If you like playing up front at the net, hit your approach shots deep into your opponent’s weaker side, typically the backhand. This will allow you more time to get up to the net and make passing you more difficult.
When returning serve, also hit your returns deep into your opponent’s court. Usually, a deep shot to the middle of your opponent’s side works well. This will reduce the angles that they have to attack you with.
6. Playing Above Net Level
Aim to get the ball about 5 feet above the net to allow yourself enough of a margin for error and to produce a deep shot. As mentioned in the previous section, hitting the ball deep and with plenty of topspin should be your goal.
If you are able to get the ball on the rise and make contact when it is just above net level, you will increase the likelihood of clearing the net and hitting deep. Try to play your shots within the baseline if possible, this will help ensure you are hitting on the rise.
Sometimes you’ll need to hit the ball low, but as long as you use topspin and aim to clear the net by 5 feet, you will be fine. Getting to the ball on the rise takes some practice, but once you get used to it, you’ll be able to better control the tempo of the match.
You can increase your shot percentages by hitting your groundstrokes mainly cross-court. This will give you a bit more distance to work with and more room to clear the net since it is lowest in the center.
Rhythm refers to the timing of strokes, from the time you initiate your backswing to the time you make contact with the ball. You play your shots with a certain rhythm, and so does your opponent.
You control the rhythm of a match by how you react to the ball and how you place the ball on your opponent. For example, if you hit your shots high and with plenty of topspin, you force your opponent to have to hit out of their strike zone.
This allows you to throw off their timing. Likewise, you can use power and heavy spin to also throw off their timing. Your ability to switch from one type of shot to another will dictate how well you control the rhythm of the match.
On the other end, if you are able to hit balls on the rise and control the pace of your shots, you can control the rhythm of play. If you are in complete control of your strokes, you have the ability to change from one type of shot to another seamlessly.
The difference between tempo and rhythm is that tempo refers to the time in between shots among two players. Rhythm, as discussed earlier, refers to the time between initiating a shot and finishing the shot.
You control the tempo of a match by increasing or decreasing the pace on your shots. You can, for example, play a very aggressive shot in terms of power and placement and then follow that up with a softer shot.
By hitting the ball hard you take away the time your opponent has to react. On the other hand, if you purposely take a bit longer to hit the ball, you increase the time between your shot and your opponent’s.
By varying the tempo, you can eventually throw off your opponent and make them hit an unforced error. Vary the timing of your shots so that you keep your opponent guessing.
If you can dictate the time in between you and your opponent’s shots, you will put your self in a better position to control the tempo and the match itself.
9. Strike Zone
Every player has an ideal strike zone, somewhere between their knees and chest, where they are more efficient at hitting the ball. Your job is to study your opponent and determine where that ideal strike zone is.
From your end, you need to also know your ideal strike zone and move your feet in order to position yourself to hit your shots most effectively. By hitting your shots in your ideal strike zone you will be a more consistent player.
On the other hand, once you know where your opponent’s ideal strike zone is located, you want to avoid hitting shots that will land in their ideal strike zone. If their strike zone is high, at chest height, hit them low balls, including slice shots.
If on the other hand, their strike zone is lower, say at knee level, then hit them high shots with plenty of topspin. You need to develop the ability to place the ball high or low out of your opponent’s strike zone.
Power is used in tennis to either finish off shots or to put your opponent on the defensive. If you can hit the ball faster than your opponent can run it down, chances are you are going to hit a winner.
You create power by swinging the racket faster and harder. You can also increase racket head speed by creating lag in your stroke. Prior to bringing the racket head forward, bend your wrist back and begin rotating your hips.
This process of pushing off your back leg and rotating your hips before moving the racket head forward is what creates lag in the racket. Lag will generate greater head speed and a whipping motion that will increase power.
In addition to racket head speed, you can generate greater power through the transfer of weight or by using your torso and hips to generate added power. Power can be used intermittently to control the tempo of a match, as discussed previously.
11. Court Position
The player who is able to control court position will win their match 9 times out of 10. You need to think about your positioning as well as how you can affect your opponent’s positioning. Both are important.
If you can play your shots inside the baseline and the ball on the rise without having to back up, you will put yourself in a better position to control the court. Positioning is also important when setting up for your next shot.
When hitting to your opponent’s forehand (assuming they are right-handed), you don’t want to position yourself in the middle of the baseline, but rather off to the right a bit since they have a better cross-court angle than down the line.
Try to find the spot along the baseline that is exactly in the middle of where your opponent can stretch you in either direction. This way regardless of whether they hit to your forehand or backhand the distance to get to the ball is the same.
You can also position your opponent by placing the ball strategically. For example, you may place the ball such that your opponent’s only logical shot is to play to your favorite stroke, whether that is the forehand, backhand, or volley.
In tennis, much as in life, time is an important commodity. You should use it to your advantage by either reducing the time your opponent has to get to the ball or by increasing the amount of time you have to recover on an offensive shot.
To reduce the amount of time your opponent has to get to the ball, you can use power to reduce tempo, or placement to stretch out your opponent thus making it take more time for them to reach the ball.
If you are in a defensive situation, on the other hand, you can give yourself more time by returning the ball high and deep in your opponent’s court, or by hitting a lob shot. That extra time can make the difference between getting to the ball or not.
The slice shot, when placed deep in your opponent’s court can also be very effective in buying you more time. Because the underspin used on the shot will make the ball float more, it will give you added time to get back into position.
Pace refers to the speed of the ball after it leaves your racket. The faster the pace, the less time your opponent has to react to the shot. The slower the pace, the more time your opponent has to react.
At the same time, shots hit with heavy pace allow your opponent to work off of your shots, meaning they can use the pace of your shot to generate power without having to do much work on their own.
Shots hit with very little pace, on the other hand, force your opponent to have to hit harder. Both heavy pace and slow pace have their uses during a match. If you can vary the pace of your shots during a match, you can throw your opponent’s timing off.
Chances are, your opponent has a certain preference. If you can find out what pace they prefer and then alter the pace so that you affect their timing, you can put yourself in a good position to win.
One of the keys to winning in tennis is moving your opponent around the court. If you are in control of the direction of the shots, you can control your opponent and exhaust them in the process.
Move your opponent from side to side and keep them back behind the baseline by hitting deep shots. Throw in an occasional drop shot to bring them up to the net and move them back and forth.
Vary the direction of your shots so that your opponent is constantly on the move. If you can place your shots consistently so that your opponent needs at least 3 steps to get to the ball, you will increase your chances of winning.
Put your opponent on the defensive. Force them into no man’s land, or if they don’t like being up at the net, bring them up to the net. Remember, depth variation can be just as effective as side to side movement.
You don’t need to switch the direction of the ball on every shot. Play the percentage shots when you need to. But, when you have the opportunity to open up the court and go down the line, take the shot and move your opponent.
While moving your opponent around and controlling the direction of shots should be part of your strategy, you need to be able to move well on the court yourself to win points.
Movement on the court is synonymous with good footwork. Keep your feet moving at all times to allow you to adjust to the ball more easily and to get to shots more quickly.
Move towards the ball as soon as you know where it’s going. If you are on the balls of your feet at all times with a wide base, you’ll improve your ability to move throughout the court.
You can also use the split step as a way to spring to the ball more quickly. Just before your opponent strikes the ball, hop slightly off the ground and then spring towards the direction of the oncoming ball.
It’s important to go after the ball rather than waiting for it to come to you. This will help improve your movement and get to the ball sooner so you can set up for your shot.
Try working on at least a few of these tactics during your matches. Work on improving them during practice and apply them during competitive play. You want to be one up on your opponent by coming in with a plan.
Some of the tactics will require you to study your opponent before and during play. Try out different shots and combinations to identify any weakness your opponent has. Once you find their weakness, exploit it.
Your ability to gain the upper hand will depend on your ability to problem solve. Find the one thing you do better than your opponent, and then try to focus on that aspect of the game as much as possible.
If you can do this along with exploiting the weaknesses of your opponent, once you are able to identify them, you will gain the upper hand and put yourself in a better position to come out ahead.
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