When To Be Aggressive

“Go for it!” Crootof photo

You see both tennis pros and us club players sometimes “go for too much” or conversely “not do enough” with an opportunity.  There is a time to be aggressive and a time to be conservative in shot selection and court target.

What Really Happened?

Years ago as I was just developing my tennis game, I used to have a weekly singles match against a local teaching pro, who would beat me just about every time we played.  As I improved, I would get closer; but would leave his court thinking “he just made the shots at the end of the match.”

But in reality, he made those shots because, at the end of the match, I would get conservative and GIVE HIM THE OPPORTUNITY to make those shots.  So, when do you put something extra on your shot and when do you get the ball back in play into a safe location?  Here are four scenarios …

  • Aggressive shot to a conservative location – This is Paul Annacone’s mantra… “On big points, hit an aggressive shot; but to a conservative (safe) location.”  Hit it hard; but give yourself plenty of margin on where you are aiming the shot.

  • Conservative shot to a conservative location – Let’s say you have your opponent way off the court and there is no way they are going to be able to get back as you are hitting a volley.  So, just block that ball back into the open court.

    But this is also the situation above, where I gave my opponent the opportunity to win the point by NOT being aggressive enough and just “putting the ball back in play in the middle of the court.”

  • Conservative shot to an aggressive location – Again, you have the offense and your opponent is out of position; but coming back to where you want to hit the ball.  I think it is OK to go closer to the line; but don’t overhit it.  Just put it safely out of their reach.

  • Aggressive shot to an aggressive location – You are up 40-0 and have your favorite shot “just sitting there” or your opponent is serving at 0-40 and pushes over a soft second serve.  I say go for it and give that ball a ride … and possibly send your opponent a message.

What do YOU think … when to be aggressive and when to be conservative?

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11 thoughts on “When To Be Aggressive

  1. My aggressiveness tends to be motivated by the score. When it’s 40/love or love/40 my way, I’m going for it! I remember Gilbert’s “Winning Ugly” saying that if you can win the first two points of any game you have a better than 85% chance of winning the game.

    Jim, and you are usually more relaxed and fluid in those score situations. thanks, george

  2. Hi George,

    The best way to determine shot selection, in my opinion, is through a system known as DNO.

    In every situation in a match you are in one of only three possible situations:

    1) Defense
    2) Offense
    3) Neutral

    To determine which situation you are in, consider these three factors:

    1) The height of the ball at contact
    2) Where your feet are at contact

    Once you have determined exactly where you are, you can hit the particular shot that is required. The only other factor to consider is YOU.

    Are you comfortable with yourself and how you are playing and fully committed to the shot that the situation requires?

    One school of thought (one committed to the process and to long-term growth and development) would say regardless of how you feel play the shot the situation demands, while another school of thought (one more result-based and wanting to win right now) would say that you can vary your shot selection slightly based on how you are feeling.

    Basing shot selection on tangible factors that are fixed makes decision-making much easier and less arbitrary.

    Happy, excellent perspective. Too many times, players go for an offensive shot from a defensive position. thanks, george

  3. Jim Gelhaar, former high school coach and league player in Naples, had a simple
    concept of what type of ball one is hitting, green ball, yellow ball or red ball. Green ball –
    hit hard, go for it put opponent on the defensive. Yellow ball – medium pace to open court if possible looking for that green ball. Red ball – just get the ball back in play with a lob or floater, never go for the winning shot with this ball. I know that this is a simple concept, but it works. This appears to be similar to Happy’s comment above.

    Ron, good analogy. thanks, george

  4. happy is correct (of course).
    you’re either in an offensive, neutral, or defensive position when rallying. we make mistakes when we try to go offensive from a defensive position, we should go from defensive to neutral (lob?). when in a neutral position, you can either stay neutral or go offensive. when in offensive position, stay offensive.
    the time you have to go from defensive to offensive is when your opponent attacks the net (passing shot). i’ve always played by these “rules”.
    same for doubles?

    Joe, sure, i think the concepts are the same for dubs too. One pro told me he thought i lobbed to early in a rally (i.e. going defensive when i could still be offensive). thanks, george

  5. If I tell you what I think, then you will use it against me!! Okay, I’ll tell you anyway. 🙂 I like Coach Kriese’s advice, which goes like this. When you are up 40-0, make your opponent work as hard as possible to win the next point. Then even if he wins, he’s gonna be thinking, OMG I have to win two more like that just to get even! The mountain is too high! You’ve beat him psychologically even if you lost the point. Conversely, if you go for some outrageously aggressive shot, you’ve given him hope that if he hangs in there, he just might get back in the game. That’s why I say, grind it out when you are ahead 40-0.

    Mike, an interesting/different perspective! thanks, george

  6. Re: Jim Gelhaar, former high school coach and league player in Naples,
    Jim was my high school math teacher. We started a ping pong club! Is he still playing with you?

    Scott, i have not seen him. george

  7. Being involved with the USPTA, I believe proper, judicious shot selection is the basis of percentage tennis. This is what separates a good lesson taker or practice player, from a good match player. Unquestionably, this is the most critical single step in a player’s steady improvement. A common error made by the average competitive player is trying the wrong shot at the wrong time. Points are concluded not by the player attempting to maintain the longest rally, but by the player who puts the ball away when given the opportunity. For a player to “climb up” that ladder of improvement, seven sequential steps should be the goal, If a player is to achieve his or her true potential. Consistency first, next depth, then accuracy, followed by variety, shot selection, power, and disguise.

    Glenn, great stuff! thanks, george

  8. The key problem with Happy’s analysis, and I quote:” The only other thing to consider is YOU”!!!!!

  9. Great topic! The only comment I’d add is that your opponent (and your partner if your playing doubles) should be a major consideration in your calculations about when and how aggressive you should be.

    The analogy that comes to mind is betting in Las Vegas. There the odds are in the houses favor. If you must bet your best chances of winning are to bet everything on one roll of the dice or spin of the roulette wheel and succeed or fail based on that one bet. The longer you draw things out by repeatedly betting small amounts, the more certain you will be to lose. In the long run the house always wins.

    Obviously you would prefer to be the casino. In tennis you do that by trying to figure out your best opportunity to win points.

    But what happens if your partner is weak or having a bad day or if your opponent is simply better than you are. In that case then your best chance of winning may to be more aggressive in an effort to shorten points. I’m certain we’ve all played with “black hole” (shots go in but nothing comes out) partners from time to time. Anyone who has played with me enough certainly has. In those cases your best strategy is most likely be to try to shorten points by being more aggressive.

    Conversely if your opponent is a human backboard who runs everything down, but rarely hits winners, then you’ll want to dial back your aggressiveness just enough to make them uncomfortable, and more likely to eventually give you an easy put away shot.

    Lawrence, good/different perspective! thanks, george

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