Tennis tactics are defined as the collection of calculated strategies used now and during every second of a match. Think of a lion who wants to attack a gazelle. Face to face, the lion pounces, the gazelle dodges him, the lion gathers himself and pounces again. Only the gazelle takes off in the opposite direction, tricking the king of the jungle. We know the outcome of this situation but consider here how the gazelle attempted to break away from the lion. It recognized what was about to take place and chose to gallop, taking great strides, because it sensed that it needed to escape. This process comes down to tactics which lie at the heart of confrontation, the essence of the game.
The 4 indespensable steps (Short version)
Perceive: Recognize what’s happening
Let’s take a specific moment: you’re playing for the point on a clay court. Your opponent has time and gets situated (an unfavorable situation from your point of view), he sets up his forehand (his strong point) with amplitude. Look at the ball, it’s on the right, low, fast, and level. Your opponent has just roared, like the lion, and you’ve failed to look in the right places when it counted. Next time, noticing a single detail might guarantee that you’re on the ball and beat your opponent.
Decide : Choose your tactic
Your opponent has just surprised you, but there’s always a solution. Passing shot, passing to the feet, long and low or high and fast, there are many solutions, the only difficulty is in choosing.
Execute: Take action
You’ve made your choice, settling on a sliced backhand at a sharp angle and close to the net. How can you make the backhand happen? You change your grip, turn your chest, bring your racket behind you followed by your left hand, everything is thought out, it’s already time to plan your next move.
Predict: Evaluate, what is likely to happen
It’s now time to evaluate how your opponent will respond to the move you’ve just made. Little by little, narrow down the possibilities and refine your mastery of the game.
Take a step back from the situation (more global vision)
Certain knowledge can help you reconstruct your vision, taking a step back: If we go through the play by play, take some time to assess.
Some crucial moments and questions:
- During warmup, take in some essential information: Does your opponent play with the same type of ball, does he make a lot of errors on the right side, does he have a powerful serve? From your warmup on, begin picking out your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses!
- If not during warmup, the first sets can be even more revealing. If you have a working hypothesis (playing far from your opponent because he’s tired, moves slowly, or stays in one spot…), stick with it and try it several times. Every opponent has weak spots, whether technical, tactical, mental, or physical, so put your opponent in different situations, detect them as early as possible, and center your game around one of the weaknesses (For example at the tactical level: he stays within the service box for right forehands.) This will allow you to get familiar with the territory, win points off their weak spot, and be secure.
- During the match, before you’re in this situation (see 1.1), break the pattern by offering something else, maybe focusing on your forehand, changing up the ball’s speed, it’s length and height… This will put you in a different situation… Perhaps a situation that favors you enough to shift the advantage. You’ll potentially be able to neutralize your opponent’s game so as to come back with the upper hand.
- Finally, think on the spot, consider the whole game, the set… Maybe it doesn’t jump out at you but how many times has he retreated? How many times has he attacked along the line? How many times has he been at the net?
- Complete a rapid assessment of your situation, you know yourself better than anyone. This will give you a few clues that could be vital to your next decisions and your match.
Applying and adapting tactics involves taking in information regularly and acting upon it. Some strategies will lead to consistent results (Example: you’re playing short, don’t be surprised if your opponent attacks regularly, comes to the net etc.). Tactically speaking, you must impose your own game (playing to your strong points, not your weak one(s)) or else neutralize/stop your opponent’s (playing to his weak points, not his strong one(s)).