There are some players who are so good or so confident (those two are not necessarily the same thing!) that they just walk out onto the court without a Match Strategy against their current opponent. They insist they will just “play their game” and react to whatever their opponent throws at them.
I guess I am not that good (or confident) and feel much better going into a match if I have scouted my opponent in person or talked to others who have played him. It really helps my match preparation to have a good idea …
• Is he lefty or righty?
• A baseliner or net rusher?
• Does he hit a lot of good dropshots?
• Is his serve very strong or attackable?
• Is his first much different from his second serve?
• Is he quick around the court?
• Is he in good physical condition and can he last for a long match?
• What are his strengths?
• His weaknesses?
With some or all these questions answered, you can start to form a mental picture of what his game looks like – and, how your game will match up against it! That is the critical ingredient … how do YOUR strengths and weaknesses match up against his?
For example, if he has a weaker second serve and you have a good forehand return of serve … plan to run around your backhand every chance you get to attack his second serve. This will really put pressure on both his second and his first serves.
Or if you are in great physical shape and feel like you can stay out on the court for a long time and you KNOW he cannot, plan to play long, conservative points early in the match to wear him down. But be careful of this one … some guys look chunky and over-weight, but can last all day long.
If you are losing, how long do you stick with your match strategy? Sometimes your match strategy doesn’t seem to work once you get onto the court; but you need to make sure you have given it enough time to really see – without getting yourself into too deep of a hole. Normally, you should stick with your plan (or your revised plan) for at least three games to get a good feel for success/failure.
But no matter what your plan WAS, if you are going down the tubes, you have to ask yourself the question, “What is happening here?” What is he doing or what am I doing to cause the score to be this way?
Then, it is time to revise your match strategy.
The basics of this strategic thinking are:
• What shot does he LIKE to hit? So I don’t want to give him the opportunity to hit that.
• What shot does he NOT like to hit? So I will try to create the opportunity to make him do that.
For example, you’re playing a guy who loves the drop shot and is killing you with it. What do you do about it? First, you try to keep your ground strokes deep enough so he doesn’t have the regular opportunity. But also try standing INSIDE the baseline; so that you are saying to him, “OK, you want to hit the drop shot; but I am going to get to them.”
Now, the better opponents will then try to drive the ball deeper to hit at your feet. BUT you have taken him out of his favorite game and made him change HIS strategy; and if he can change his game to hit ground strokes within a few inches of the baseline, he is good and may deserve to win.
I figure you need to have a match strategy even against a far superior player, who will beat you most every time you play. My goal here is not necessarily beat the player who is the former #1 in the world in his age group (having lost to several of those guys!); but to have a strategy that will help me do AS WELL AS I CAN DO against him … and have a learning experience and fun in the process!