A few years ago I was stepping on court for a match after a long day of high school teaching/tennis coaching so I decided it was best to have low standards for my play and go with shots that I knew I could make due to the fact that I haven't hit much lately and was quite tired mentally. So I kicked in my first serve. I chipped the first serve return and tried to keep the ball in away from the lines. Instead of teeing off on a short ball, I would place it deep with a little pace in front of me and force my opponent to beat me. I won easily.
I'm guessing many of you are saying "duh" to this but I constantly talk to players who describe their match play as "frustrating" and "poor performing." The main culprit to these problems is having too high of expectations on your game. Instead, consider playing at a level that you feel comfortable with and would be surprised if you missed a rally ball. Another way to put it is this; did you put in the time in preparation for your match to be upset at your performance? I try to remind myself that I'm not a professional and do not hit a lot so I need to have standards for my play that is comparable to what my training is. Here are some tips that have helped me play a much more smart (and enjoyable) match.
React To The Situation
Rarely should players stay right at the baseline. There needs to be anticipation from your last shot in regards to what you think your opponent will be hitting. Did you just hit a ball short to your opponent's strong side? Back up. What side do you think he/she will hit it at? Most players have a pattern to where they like to hit the ball. Try to move in that direction if you are pressed to make a guess to where the ball will be hit. On the other side, don't be surprised by a weak ball. The top players differentiate themselves with not allowing someone to hit a short ball and get away with it.
Down The Line
A^2 + B^2 = C^2. The diagonal shot (crosscourt) is longer than the down the line. This means that you should hit harder crosscourt than down the line. Try to put more spin on the ball when you do go down the line or just know that you are risking more when you do that. Top players also know that hitting down the line makes them have to recover more as the crosscourt shot can pull you off the court more than down the line. This means you have to favor the crosscourt shot and if you just hit down the line, you have a ways to go to get to the other side of the court to cover that. Down the line is a great shot to throw your opponent off but don't rely on it too much.
Approach Straight Ahead 80% Of The Time
This might be counterintuitive to what I just mentioned about down the line but when you are at the net, you should keep the ball in front of you at all times. Hitting cross court while coming to the net leaves too much of the court open to hit in to. Hitting an approach shot down the line does not leave nearly as much court for your opponent to pass you with. This doesn't mean it should be done all the time but when your opponent surprises you on a short ball and you can't hit a great shot, be conservative and keep the ball in front of you by hitting down the line.
Risk Your Serve Based On Your Opponent
Feel out your opponent when he/she returns. I try to see what my opponent has trouble with. Is it a certain side? High balls? Fast? If you have variety with your serve than this is definitely something to be considering. For example, I like to hit my serve hard but against certain opponents, they prefer that type of pace rather than a heavy spin ball that gets over their shoulders. Also, does your opponent hurt you on second serves? Take something off of your first serve to protect yourself from that hard return. I would do this if my second serve is a liability as well.
Think During Your Warmup
A warmup is not really about what you're doing. It should be about what your opponent is doing. Did he/she hit mostly forehands? Where did they go? Where did the serves go? How were the volleys? Overheads? All of this gives you an idea of what type of game plan you should have when playing. Stop thinking about what you're doing or wondering how well you will play your match. Focus on what you can do to make it difficult for your opponent to play a relaxed game.
In General: Ego Is The Enemy
Not only a great book but also good words to remember when playing a match. Yes, we all want to play incredibly well. Yes, we have high standards for our performance. But that will only get in the way of you playing the best match you CAN play at that time. Cut yourself some slack and enjoy your match rather than set yourself up for failure.
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