You Must Recognize and Control The Pace of Game
This is one of the most important aspects to tennis that many players, young and old, do not fully understand or take adequate advantage of. Tennis is a unique game in that each player can completely control the pace of the game when they are serving. Sure, there are rules to how long you can stretch it out between points, but ultimately the time between the completion of the last point and the beginning of the next point is up to you.
You must use this to your advantage. Momentum is a big part to almost every sporting event. Think about a football drive. Imagine a team has been rushing and passing, hitting first down after first down, and now they are on the 15 yard line. The amount of momentum they’ve generated is enormous compared to the inadequacy the defense likely feels at this point. In this example, I’d recommend the offense keeping pushing in, and keep pushing fast.
The same goes for tennis. If you are losing momentum and you are serving, slow everything down. Accidentally bump a ball off your shoe and chase it down if you have to. Move your mind back to one of control and calm. Breathe deeply. Feel the air enter and exit your nostrils. Walk back and forth. Walk over to your bag and wipe down your racket handle if you think you are beginning to look weird. Ask your opponent the score if you want to annoy them a bit. Sometimes I’ll go and look at my other tennis racket in my bag, appear serious about switching, and then stay with the one I have. The key is that your opponent is watching all this, trying to figure out what you’re doing, and hopefully the momentum balloon is starting to release some air.
On the flip side, if you feel the momentum swing your way, ride it out. Serve quickly between points. Serve quickly between your first and second serves. Gather the balls quickly between points. Make them feel the pressure, not only of the score, but the pace of the game as their momentum fades away.
Winning Points Is (Obviously) Just a Little Important
When you start a point of tennis, your one and only goal is to win that point. You can’t win the last point, or the next point obviously. You need to win the point you are playing right now.
To do that, you either need to hit a shot your opponent can’t get to or get back, or you need to have them make a mistake.
Never forget the latter. Too often we feel we need to win the point by hitting a winning shot. But unless you are playing at a very high level, I doubt you have a scorekeeper keeping track of how you won the point. The overall score is your tracker, and that will just indicate who won the most points and the right points.
So play into your opponent’s weakness. Take as much pride in you beating them mentally by identifying weakness and then capitalizing on it as you do hitting a winner down the line. I know the exuberance isn’t the same. The thrill is completely different. You can’t really puff your outer chest. But you can puff your inner mind.
Plus remember that by your opponent making mistakes you are pulling their confidence down (kind of a double down on your part). I like to try to get my opponent to make the same mistake twice in a row. Then they are really feeling it. Let’s say they miss a couple of backhands in a row. I will purposely hit more to their backhand so they begin to think that I believe it to be a weakness. Regardless of how strong the backhand is, the simple self doubt begins to erode the effectiveness of their swing. They begin to think too much about how they are going to miss the shot, and then often times they will do just that.
You Really Want to Win The Right Points
You should also maintain a focus on winning the right points – the ones that determine who wins a game, or the ones that prevent your opponent from taking a set. Recognize when you are playing a big point for the match, and utilize your strong mental tennis mind, and your well thought out strategies to capitalize on the opportunity to win a big point. I’ve played close matches where they were decided on who pulled out their guns at the right time.
Your opponent is going to go after these big points with everything they have. Keep some tricks in your hat, and use them when you need a little magic.
Serving: When You Are In Control of the Game
Be super smart with your serves. Not only do you have control of the pace of the game when you are serving, but you have control of the game. This is why you are expected to win your service games.
First off, never double fault. This is like giving away free money. The recipient gets a nice reward for doing nothing. Double faulting shows weakness. If you do double fault, bounce back right away. Show your opponent it was a fluke and do not look frustrated.
Next, be sure to never follow a routine when serving; always have a strategy. Think about why you are hitting a particular serve at a certain pace, with certain spin at a certain place in your opponent’s serving box. Think about where your feet are positioned on the serving line. You will want to mix all of these components up so your serving game is a bit of a mystery.
I love playing people who hit the same serves over and over again. All I do is think about where I will place my shot and how I will base my game around my return. When this happens, the person serving, who should have an advantage, is quickly losing their advantage, and they don’t even know it.
A strong serving strategy will also help you in your quest to win the right points. If the score is tied at 5 games each and you are serving, you have an advantage with your ability to be a game ahead and win with a service break, or at least go into a tiebreaker if you should fail to break your opponent.
This is where you need to be smart. Recognize that you have some big points coming up. Try serving the first couple points identical to one another. Maybe even a third point depending on the game score. Keeping your toss the same, hit them with a completely different serve when you need a point. It could be a slow serve out wide that forces them to hit on the run. It could be a rocket right down the middle, squeezing them in and forcing a weak pop up return. It could be a huge kick serve that pulls them into the fence.
Sometimes on the ad side of the court I will purposely hit every serve out wide with tons of spin and kick, to the opponent’s backhand (if right handed). And I mean every single serve. When I need a point, and because we’re on the ad side it means that point is probably going to be a game winning point for me, I will rip a serve down the middle and charge the net. I am almost guaranteed a win on this point, from either a weak return from my unsuspecting opponent, or a straight up ace. Either way, I’ve shown this card now, and have to go back and formulate some new strategies for upcoming games. Maybe I’ll hit every serve down the middle now, and sneak one out wide later. You get the point…