STRATEGY & TACTICS

Though we have peppered most of the text with strategic and tactical ideas and tips, we offer this consolidated section for those who really want to deepen their approach to the game of tennis. The difference between strategy and tactics is roughly the same as in politics or war: 1) Strategy is the design of an overall plan for a campaign (match) that is designed to gain victory by maximizing your strengths and exploiting the opponent's weaknesses; 2) Tactics consists of the means and methods to help make victory happen. Strategy is the conceptual and the macro level; tactics is the practical and micro level. Strategy is somewhat theoretical and general, while tactics requires flexibility and attention to changing circumstances.

SINGLES
Singles strategy comes in several flavors, each of which is associated with one of these styles of play:    Baseline All-court Serve-and-volley

Baseline play assumes certain principles and variables – groundstrokes, relatively long points and relatively little volleying. These factors clearly affect baseline strategies, though they do not dictate them. The same is true for all-court and serve-and-volley tennis. Strategies for different players also reflect the personal strengths and weaknesses of an individual player. For instance, one baseline player might be 'tilted' towards a powerful, aggressive forehand while a second owns a strong backhand 'kill' shot. A particular serve-and-volleyer might be so much better at volleying than groundstrokes that he should come in after both first and second serves. Another might not have a strong enough second serve to approach the net on a second delivery. Keep these differences in mind when applying our recommendations to your game.

BASELINE PLAY
Not long ago, baseline tennis was essentially defensive in nature. Players who were natural counter punchers, ran well, or were morally opposed to volleying played this style. They did so at least in part because it matched their approach to tennis and to matters outside of the game. Things have changed. Racquets, strings and philosophies of instruction have evolved with time. What was once a matter of camping out and hitting safe, loopy shots until the opponent erred has increasingly become an aggressive style of play married to an effective serve and a powerful forehand. What has this meant for tennis strategy and its tactical side? It has opened up baseline play, increasing the strategic options. It means that a player can alternate between defensive and offensive play while staying in the same zone of the court.

NOTE: The tactics and strategy you adopt will also partly be a function of court surface. Different tennis courts are faster or slower, producing lower or higher ball bounces. This not only affects how aggressive a baseliner might be. It actually might impact which style of play you adopt. Let's create profiles of two prototypical baseline players:  The aggressive baseliner hovers around the baseline. He looks to hit both forehand and backhand hard and with depth. Relies (typically) on the forehand to hit point-ending stroke. May hit many strokes with considerable topspin but ‘flattens’ strokes out at critical moments; comes forward to volley to finish points. The defensive baseliner: Hangs several steps behind baseline. Expects opponent to take offensive and prepares to defend. Specializes at counterpunching, which is accomplished by hitting deep, looping balls and angled shots that surprise the foe and take the sting out of his shots. Is prepared to rally until opponent makes an error. Will move up to the baseline if required, but rarely ventures forward past that point.

No one player will perfectly fit either, and most baseliners will adapt some of each style to their games. NOTE: The rules of court geometry apply to all kinds of play. Baseline play is predicated on groundstroke rallying, and the most effective form of such rallying is crosscourt. Hitting down the line is appropriate for approach shots and for outright (attempted) winners.

ALL-COURT PLAY
All-court play produces the most variety, possibilities and options of the three styles. All-court players move between backcourt and forecourt. This expands choices, which sometimes creates problems. Here’s a quick profile of the standard all-court player:    Versatile. Quickly shifts from offense to defense and back again. Enjoys hitting all shots. Will sometimes pass up an obvious shot to hit a more interesting one. Is likely to display good touch and ‘feel’ on court.

All-court players must develop the largest skill set of any. They must have a good transition game, which means they must be able to 1) hit groundstrokes, 2) hit approach shots and 3) volley. A wonderful asset of this style is that you can adapt tactics to the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. If he has great passing shots, you can play baseline tennis. If he tightens up with an opponent in net position, you can move forward to volley. The strength of this style is also its weakness. The all-court player is continually faced with choices. Stay back or come in? Hit a groundstroke or an approach shot off a short ball? Tennis is a quickthinking game. You can hit a great approach shot, but if you are not committed to following it to net, it suddenly becomes a vulnerable shot. True all-court players are fairly rare birds, but they can fly high.

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SERVE & VOLLEY PLAY
Serve and volley tennis, like baseline play, is a very specific way of playing the game. It requires very developed, specific skills. A player who comes to net consistently behind his serve is freed of the choices that may confuse all-court players. Serve and volley is a simple art, in concept. You hit the serve with the intent to come to the net and volley. The serve's purpose is to set up the volley. You should count on your volleying skills to decide the point. The type of serve you use is up to you. However, two have the most utility – slice and kick serves. Both force the opponent to hit defensive returns. The slice pulls the opponent out of the court or makes him reach for the ball, upsetting his balance. Both give you time to reach a good volleying position. The flat serve, on the other hand, is faster and doesn’t give you adequate time to get to net. Proximity to the net leads to high volleys, which are the easiest to hit. A good first volley position is at or inside the service line. After the first volley, move in further, choking off the opponent’s angle. One of the unspoken aspects of consistent serve and volley play is the overhead. A solid, consistent overhead is key to your security at net, discouraging opponents from lobbing you. Unlike baseliners, serve and volley players are in a distinct and seemingly endangered minority. Some of this has to do with equipment. Racquets boom shots off their strings these days. Groundstrokes and passing shots are potent at the higher levels of the game. Still, if you love to serve and volley, you can at least incorporate it into an all-court game, mixing it with baseline play.

GAME PLAN FOR A SAMPLE PLAYER
Let's cut to the chase and design a sample game plan for a certain type of player. Even if you don't fit the mold of our prototype, you can adapt the principles to your own play. Our player will be an intermediate singles player, a strong 30-something player with a fast, but erratic, serve, a nice forehand, a streaky backhand, good mobility, a decent if untrained volley, and a habit of pressing a bit in the clutch. He is a fairly well-rounded player, able to hit all the strokes, and he is mentally flexible and not 'married' to baseline or all-court play. Today's opponent is more experienced, steadier, a baseliner with less strength but steadier nerves. Let's look at the primary factors to consider before choosing a game plan that is right for our athletic, promising and inconsistent proto-player: ▪ ▪ ▪ ▪ The player's strengths and weaknesses; His opponent's strong and weak points; The role of external factors: court surface, weather, etc.; Our player's mood, energy level and attitude – if he is full of spunk, an all-court strategy might be on order. If he is more subdued, then a more conservative, energy-saving approach might be indicated.

In our hypothetical situation, we know that our player is aggressive and decisive on court. He can hit every shot but is a bit streaky, and prefers to go for winners. This is both a strength and a liability. He can expect his opponent to play a steady game of attrition, a fact which may influence him to be more aggressive. However, he needs to keep in mind that the opponent may want to provoke this, knowing that tennis is a game of errors. The weather is moderate today, the wind blowing only about 57 miles per hour but swirling. This suggests a somewhat more defensive approach.

Finally, our player is feeling strong and healthy, but did sleep restlessly in anticipation of today's match. The upshot? The game plan we design for our talented, up-and-down proto-player is mildly aggressive. He will try to play percentage tennis; when possible, he'll go for forcing shots but not for outright winners. He knows that his steady and patient opponents is waiting for him to lose patience, and play recklessly. Once an opponents senses your frustration and anger, his own patience will increase and he will slowly squeeze the tube until the paste leaks out. If our guy can stay focused, accept the loss of tough points, and recognize that this match will be close to the end, the battle is half-won. Soon, the opponent will weary of waiting for our man's errors and begin to make more. Gradually losing focus, his shots will lack depth and punch, and our man can gradually move to the offense.

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