Tactics and strategies in tennis are wide and varied and there’s no one-fits-all approach to developing the right one. A serve and volley strategy would be better for a quick surface like grass whereas groundstrokes with heavy topspin would be more suitable for clay. We can also talk about the tennis singles strategy to play to your own strengths or your opponent’s weaknesses. The truth is most players will have to develop different strategies for different matches whilst learning by trial and error the best approach to winning.
Eliminate Unforced Errors and Develop Consistency
Simply put, the best way to win points in tennis is to hit the ball in the court more times than one’s opponent. The first part of any successful tennis strategy therefore is to reduce unforced errors as much as possible. This means eliminating double faults, groundstrokes where you’re not reaching or stretching and volleys and smashes at the net. By doing this you are forcing your opponent to hit good shots and putting pressure on them to make mistakes.
Know the Court and Learn to Play High-Percentage Shots
The second part of developing a solid and consistent game is to think about the angles on a tennis court and also the low and high parts of the net. When getting into a ground-stroke rally with your opponent, the high-percentage shot (i.e. the safe shot) is to hit cross-court groundstrokes. There are three reasons for this:
- There is a bigger margin for error on cross-court groundstrokes compared with down the line
- Hitting cross-court means hitting over the middle, and therefore lower, part of the net.
- The ball will be in the air for longer on a cross-court groundstroke, giving you more time to return to the ready position in the middle of the court.
As long as your opponent can’t hit winners past you from the baseline, returning your ground-strokes cross-court will give you the best chance to stay in rallies and force mistakes from your opponent.
Know When to Approach the Net and Develop Solid Volleys
After becoming a consistent ground-stroke player it’s time to be more aggressive and force your opponent into making mistakes. The key here is to be patient and wait for the right opportunity to approach the net and make the most of your volleying abilities. It’s definitely more difficult to hit the ball past your opponent from the back of the court therefore knowing when and how to approach the net is the third big part of developing a solid singles strategy.
A good starting point is to ‘attack’ your opponents short shots. This means for any shots landing on or before the service line, you step forward to meet the ball and continue forward to the net after hitting the shot. This is where you want to hit down the line as it creates a tighter angle for your opponent to pass you at the net.
Tip: practice approach shots as much as you can. They are more difficult than they look as you have to hit over the high part of the net. Therefore learning to hit groundstrokes with topspin down the line will be a huge advantage. Another technique is known as the ‘chip and charge’ where you play a slice forehand or backhand just to make sure you get to the net. The chip and charge might be effective against players with weaker groundstrokes but perhaps ineffective against better players.
From the net, your opponent will be under pressure and forced into trying a passing shot or a lob. Depending on the quality of your approach shot, this might be difficult and simply approaching the net could put enough pressure on your opponent to make a mistake. If they do manage to return the ball, you will be in a good position to play a volley and hopefully finish the point.
Tip: when approaching the net, you want to be about three feet behind the net when hitting volleys. The idea is that you will be able to hit the ball as it is rising and therefore have a better chance to hit aggressively and down. If you don’t manage to get close enough to the net, your opponent will have a chance to hit the ball at your feet making it difficult to hit an effective volley.
Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses and Your Opponent’s
Now that you have an understanding of when and how to approach the net it’s time to start thinking about your strengths and weaknesses versus your opponent’s. In the above strategies for example, it might make more sense to always hit to your opponent’s backhand if this is clearly their weaker shot (and obviously vice-versa for the forehand). Maybe your opponent hits a lot of slice backhands? Again, this will be easier to intercept at the net and therefore approaching the backhand would make more sense from anywhere on the court.
Trust me, it can be hard and very frustrating trying to beat a solid groundstroke player from the back of the court. Some players can build their whole game on this strategy and this is where being able to effectively approach the net can make a huge difference. Alternatively if you are up against a big hitter who is overly aggressive, it might make more sense to just get the ball back in the court and wait for their mistakes. There’s no need to force the point if your opponent is making lots of mistakes on their own.
Always try to be aware of your own abilities, what is working and what is not. Perhaps you have a weak backhand or just having an off day. If this is the case you would want to position yourself on the court to hit more forehands. Or perhaps everything you are doing is right but you still can’t seem to get ahead in the match? Try something different like hitting softer serves or serves with more slice or topspin: whichever is the opposite of what you were trying before. Opponent’s will hate variation and get frustrated at the different rhythm you are setting.
Whatever tennis singles strategy you end up using, remember that it will only be effective if you get the basics right. So keep practicing your serves, groundstrokes and volleys as much as possible. And the number one tip: enjoy it.