Tennis match strategy 101: how to formulate your game plan during warm-up

Unlike most major sports, tennis allows you to warm up with your opponent rather than alone or only with your own team. This unique difference gives an advantage to those who use the warm-up not only to prepare physically but also strategically. Here are three matching strategies you can use based on what you learn in the 10 minutes of play before the game.

Just keep the ball in play longer than your opponent – The first strategy you should try is to simply keep the ball in play longer than your opponent. Let’s say during the warm-up you notice that your opponent is spraying balls all over the place and is very inconsistent. If you find that you can keep more balls in play during a play, then you have instantly devised your first game plan. Remember, the scoring system in tennis is different from almost all other sports. Can you imagine how different basketball would be if missing a free throw caused the other team’s score to increase by one point? What if kicking and missing a field goal in soccer gives the other team three points? I think we can all agree that if these scenarios were true, the strategy of each sport would change dramatically. Well, in tennis, the equivalent is true. Receive the same number of points whether you hit a winner or your opponent makes a mistake. So if playing it safe wins, point after point due to your opponent’s constant mistakes, then keep playing the ball in play and watch your opponent end up hitting himself.

Pick your opponent’s obvious weakness – Now let’s say that during the warm-up against a different opponent you realize that they have clear strengths and weaknesses. Using a strategy as simple as ‘keep it in play’ won’t work as well as it did against your other ‘inconsistent’ opponent. Now you will have to put the other player in his least favorite position as often as possible. But how do you know what that is? Well, for starters, take a look at what they do well and not so well in the warm-up. Most people like their forehand more than their backhand. If you send a ball to someone’s backhand and they try to run around it, it’s a sure sign that they don’t want to hit the backhand. So during the match, do your best to serve, return, come back, get close, and volley as many shots on your backhand (weakness) as possible. Or, let’s say you offer to warm up their volleys and they only hit two or three, miss all of them, and rush back to practice serves. This is very common and tells you that they don’t like being on the net. This is your invitation to launch shot after shot in an attempt to get them off the baseline (where they feel most comfortable) and into the net where they feel much less safe. This strategy really frustrates your opponent because they want to make their best shots, but they can’t, because you don’t let them.

Work the angles and dimensions of the court – Finally, you are warming up against a third opponent, and you notice that they are very consistent and don’t seem to have any obvious weaknesses. This is when you will need to use real tennis strategy and hit a variety of shots. First, make a high percentage of your services and service returns. Next, attack all the short balls and hit them to a corner of the court. Look to hit your approach shots to the side where your opponent hits the highest over the net, then move forward in preparation to tilt the short volley to the opposite side. If your opponent reaches the net, do your best to hit the ball close to his feet. Most people hate low volleys and you may get a short ball that will make it easier to pass them. And finally, mentally prepare yourself for a game with ups and downs. It doesn’t end until it ends and there is always a way to win if you keep your mind focused and your strategy evolving.

So the next time you step onto the court, don’t just warm up your body; warm up your strategic mindset too. Your opponents will give you clues on how to play with them if you just pay attention to them. Give it a try … I bet it results in less frustration and a lot more wins.

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