Every tennis player has a playing style and personality on the court. We have weaknesses, strengths and patterns in our play. But sometimes we don’t know who we are, we know who we want to be and it’s not doing us many favors on the tennis court.
Let me explain. I have always pictured myself as an aggressive baseliner. I have a weaker backhand (but a decent backhand slice) and a pretty big forehand and I try to get myself into hitting it as often as I can. This often leads me into over-hitting when I have the opportunity. I want to utilize my strength and finish the point fast.
But in recent matches I have realized that this view of myself isn’t doing me much good. My forehand is good, but I’m not Gonzales and I can’t rip winners from everywhere on the court because I often start missing as soon as I start putting too much juice on my shots. Instead I should use it to move around my opponent to get into position to play with margins and not go for broke.
Two recent training matches has taught me this. I played a competent clay courter I’d never played before and since I saw he lacked weapons I for some reason thought I should blast away on my forehand.
This was worked for two games and I was up 2-0. I started to relax and think that there’s no way I can lose to this guy, although he’s very solid he can’t hurt me from the back. This was partly true, but he didn’t really need to do anything because somewhere deep down I thought I was on court to show my big forehand. So what happened? I never got any rhythm, my opponent started playing better and I lost the set 2-6.
It was very depressing. But I didn’t stop to change my game plan. Instead I continued with it until I was down 1-3 in the second set and on the way to losing the match. Then something must have happened because I suddenly woke up and said to myself: “My legs are still fresh, I can easily hang with this guy from the back, I’ll just play super solid and not make any mistakes and see what happens.”
What happend was that I still didn’t play very good (my timing was way off that night) but I ended up saving two match points and winning the second set 7-5.
This felt like a big triumph to me. I have been on a bad tennis streak lately and I really needed to turn the trend. It took me quite a while, but at least I DID manage to analyze the match while it happened and change what wasn’t working. I also realized that I don’t have the biggest forehand, but that I can move pretty well, both the ball and my legs and that I need to play safer to maximize my strengths.
I tried this new strategy yesterday in a match against I player I usually have problems with. If I give him pace he takes control because he can hit a heavier ball. So I decided to move him around and make him run. I went for a safe first serve and all placement on my groundstrokes.
Probably it wasn’t his best day ever, but I like to think I broke him down a bit with hanging tough as well and showing a concentrated and positive attitude. It’s very frustrating to play someone who doesn’t give anything away and since I was feeling the ball feel and felt fresh physically it was an absolute beat down 6-1 6-0 and likely the best match I’d ever played.
So now this is what I’m going to do in most of my matches, depending a bit on the opponent of course, move the ball, play solid, not go for broke. It might be less exciting than painting the lines, but what’s the most exciting thing in tennis? You know the answer, it’s winning, and if that strategy can help me do that more often – then that’s what I’m going to do.
I’ll write more about different players styles and personalities in an upcoming post. Keep checking the blog.