Be Extra Nice When First Greeting the Opponent.
I like to think of myself as a nice guy, but on the court I’ve been known to completely shift the other direction. I even went through a period of time where I wouldn’t greet my opponent before a match or shake hands afterwards. That was a long time ago and I’m not proud of that now. Today, I make it a point to be the nicest guy in the world when first greeting the opponent. I want them to like me. It will make it harder to rip me off on a bad call. Plus it will negate their ferociousness a hair if you don’t come on too strong out of the gate.
I’m not talking about kissing their ass. Rather, just being polite and professional. It can only help.
Be Smart When Warming Up – Just Warm Up, Don’t Win
Warming up is when your opponent is most likely sizing you up.
Conventional wisdom holds that warm-ups are often about trying to figure out who’s better than who. But don’t play that game. It’s a fool’s game. You don’t want to run out there and start ripping the ball back. You actually don’t want to play good in warm-ups. You simply need to loosen up.
Don’t hit the ball hard, be consistent and your opponent will think you are a backboard, and feel as though they need to put the point away by playing aggressively.
If you have some sneaky shots, or unique spins, whatever you do, do not hit those shots in practice and give your opponent a look at them. Instead you should tank warm-ups a bit. Sometimes I will hit all slice backhands, every time. My regular two handed backhand is a strength of mine, and once the match starts I am guaranteed a few good shots that my opponent doesn’t see coming. Plus by that point, they have it instilled in their mind that my backhand is weak.
Same with serving. Don’t hit any good serves during warm-ups. Hit all second serves, just to loosen up your shoulder. If you do this right, you should be able to sneak quite a few serves in throughout the match that are completely unexpected. The surprise nature of these serves is why they are going to win you points. Sometimes I hold them until the second or third set if needed. Or pulling them out in a first set tie breaker can really be handy.
I played a match recently with a doubles partner who is capable of hitting an extremely odd, heavy spin, slice serve that drops just over the net, and then just dies. It’s a mastery of his, which he does not show during warm ups, and the first time he uses it, he is guaranteed a point almost every time, laughing as the competition is scratching their head wondering what they had just seen.
While you are warming up, make your opponent hit every single shot, at different depths in the corner, at different paces and from every side. You need to be looking for an advantage here. In order to spot a weakness you need to fish for it, and then confirm it once you see it. It’s kind of like spotting a tell in poker. Once you spot it, hit away from it so they don’t know you’re on to them.
Weather Is a Great Variable That Is Actually In Your Favor
Weather is a great variable in the game of tennis. If you’ve ever played in a strong wind or with the sun beaming down directly into your eyes when serving, then you know how it can change a match.
You need to immediately realize that weather is your best friend, not an enemy. The weather is exactly the same for you as it is your opponent. If you embrace the conditions and use them to your advantage, you will have a leg up on your opponent. If you turn into a complainypants, the weather will get the best of you, and your opponent likely will to.
Try to experiment with the weather without letting your opponent do so. If they are taking overheads during warm-ups and you notice the sun hitting a spot hard, do not give them a look at what a lob will look like in the sun. Try to give them anything else, so that you can use that lob in the sun later to win a key point.
When taking warm up serves, test your toss to find the best spot with the least amount of blinding sun. It also helps to pull out your smartphone and look at the compass to determine the exact path the sun will take during the match.
With wind remember to hit through the ball, like you would if a ball was coming in with a ton of spin. You have to try a little harder on every shot to maintain control. But during warm ups, hit with spin, miss some lines intentionally, appear to your opponent as though the wind is completely throwing off your game. Apologize for not hitting the ball right back to them. You may “lose” the warm-ups, but you will win the match.