Playing a Better Player

Thanks to Ian Westerman at for these pointers on

Ian Westerman
how to play a better player, someone who is significantly better than you and will beat you unless you do something differently.

According to Ian, if you play your “regular game” and hit basic “rally ball” shots, your opponent will get into a nice rhythm and beat you. So, the first tip is: Don’t let him get into a rhythm.

So, what do you do?

One option is to be overly aggressive and go for winning shots sooner than you normally would. If you play your regular game and he doesn’t have an off day, you will lose. So take yourself out of your own comfort zone and pull the trigger sooner than normal (this will also have the added benefit of not letting him get into a good rhythm).

A second option is just reverse of the first one… To play like a pusher and try to keep everything in play and hopes he makes some mistakes and gets frustrated. Part of this strategy is to throw in some off-speed and “junk” shots.

The third option for style of play is a combination of the previous two: play the game of the consistent player and as soon as you get an opening go for the winner. Again, he will not get any rhythm in his game.

What have you done when facing a superior player – and did it work?

P.S. Congratulations on this Father’s Day weekend to Ian on becoming a new father!

If you are not on my “new posting alert email list” and want to be (I promise, no other uses of your email address!), just drop me a note at

4 thoughts on “Playing a Better Player

  1. From playing a couple of years in tournaments ( more than a couple). I have a couple of observations. First, when playing a better player no need to start out trying to hit winners or shots you are not comfortable with. Sometimes the ” better” player is having an off day and you just need to play your game. Usually, you will start to feel the pressure and realize ok I need to pick it up a notch or change my game a little. as the article said don’t be afraid to mix it up, maybe more loopies or drop shots. Second, somewhere along the line you will find that the ” better” player is better because he/she has some weapons. If a guy is hurting you on the second serve by running around and wacking forehands you have to do something. Either go for more on the second which is riskier but you know you are capable or hit a spinner on the first and make sure to go to the backhand. Lastly, usually everybody has some kind of weakness with the better guys it’s just harder to find. If you can find it, then work it until the sun goes down.

    Larry – great advice, from one of “those guys”! thanks. george

  2. Thanks for this post, it ws timely as I was about to “play up” to a stronger opponent. As the match progressed, I could get the game to deuce, but I could not seem to get over that hump and lost 2-1. However, I learned a valuable lesson in that I need to work on my mental game and not worry about how strong the opponent is. Oddly, I had a horrible love game, and she followed by double faulting the entire next game – who knew! Thanks for the posts – I always enjoy getting a new one and I hope your and your audience all had a fabulous Father’s Day!

    Christine – Ever onward and upward! tks, george

  3. Excellent advice from Larry Turville here. Especially the comment “everybody has some kind of weakness, with the better guys it’s just harder to find.” I have found this to be 100% true. But here is the problem. I am sure I am like many hackers in that I sometimes (all right, often) don’t really start to notice the weaknesses of a better player until too late in the match (if I notice then at all), or maybe more frequently I don’t pick up on those weaknesses until after the match is over and I am rethinking how the critical points occurred after the fact. In other words, in the heat of battle, it is darn hard to be observant and focused enough to pick up on the nuance that, say, my better opponent does not move quite as well forward and backward as he moves from side to side. Or that his forehand is much harder than his backhand but he almost always goes crosscourt with the forehand but he can put the backhand anywhere on the court. Or that he is tall with great reach but he sometimes flubs balls hit right at him. Or that he passes well and likes a target but doesn’t move all that well so it is better to stay back and rally with him, especially by moving him around a lot, instead of coming to the net too soon to try to put the ball away quickly. Etc. So, how do we train ourselves to pick up on these little nuances better as the match is in progress, rather than realizing them only after we have lost to the so-called “better player.” That has always been my dilemma.

    Marty – I am a big fan of scouting my opponent — either in person or by asking around (you’d be surprised how willing people will be to give you advice!). And if not that, analyze your performance and try something the next time you face him. tks, george

  4. True, George. I also try to scout whenever I can. But my comment was really directed to the situations when you ask around about your opponent and you get a lot of blank stares or “Who? Never heard of him” responses. BTW, true story: Recently, I played the finals of a local tournament against a guy who had ripped his Achilles tendons, not just one but both of them, years ago and who dropped off the face of the earth in terms of competitive tennis thereafter. Back in the day, when all of us of the same age were in our 20s and 30s, this fellow had been one hellaciousy great player — perennially ranked 1 or 2 in the Section’s Open Division and, thereafter, in the Men’s 35+, etc. And then he injured himself and stopped playing competitively for a long while. So, knowing what I was up against, I tried scouting him by speaking with fellow players and teaching pros that I thought knew his current game. Pretty much universally everybody told me he had movement problems, which I surmised myself, but I was also told that the best play would be to put him on the defensive by attacking the net relentlessly. So that is what I did. I tried serving and volleying off of every ball, second serves included. I also chipped and charged on almost as many returns. Yes, I did win my share of points by this tactic because he did, indeed, get a little rattled by my constant net rushing. But as the match wore on, I noticed that he got more and more composed and, after a while, he started passing my pretty regularly, often with some spectacular shots hit off the wrong foot, or with his balance about to topple himself over. It was only very late in the match that I stopped the net rushing tactic and just stayed camped on the baseline, trying to capitalize on his bad Achilles issues and to make him run. I had far more success with this “run him around” tactic than I ever had with the net rushing ploy. After the match was over, and he had won, another teaching pro that I know who had watched the match came over to me and asked why I felt that rushing the net would be a good play against my opponent. I told the pro of all of the people, including some other pros, who had specifically given me this advice. In response, he said something like, “They must have all been schilling for your opponent, because everybody who knows him well knows he cannot move for sh*t anymore with his Achilles problems but he absolutely loves a target at the net that he can hit passing shots against. He is a real shotmaker. I am surprised you won as many points at the net as you did.” So, the moral of the story is, sometimes you don’t get very good advice when you try scouting an opponent either.

    Marty – True. You must know your sources. george

Comments are closed.