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Tennis playing styles: using and counteracting them effectively

June 21, 2021 8 min read
Tennis playing styles: using and counteracting them effectively Tennis playing styles: using and counteracting them effectively

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    There is no one single way to win a tennis match. There are many different playing styles in the  game of tennis. These include:

    • players who serve and volley
    • players who dominate on the  baseline
    • players that have an all-court game. 
    • players who counterpunch 

    Each playing style  can be used to win matches, but it is also important to know what playing style the opponent is using as an opportunity to counteract their style of play.

    Baseline Players  

    Baseline players are those that stay on the baseline the majority of time, that can move from side to  side across the court, yet will rarely come up to the net. The majority of players in today’s game play  with this style, as they perfect their groundstrokes and enjoy the long rallies where both are  exchanging shots from the back of the court.  

    Most of these players have a strong forehand and a consistent backhand and will wait until they  get a ball on their forehand that they can attack and finish the point. Baseline players will move  their opponent side to side, but if they get a ball inside the court, they will attack, but then choose to recover at the baseline again as their style is against coming to the net too often.

    If the baseline player has a strong forehand, they will typically be aggressive every chance they  get. This will often see them run around the backhand to hit forehands the majority of the time. When  playing forehand dominant baseline players, it is important to keep the ball on their backhand the  majority of the time, only hitting to their forehand if attacking.  

    There are also rare occasions where the opponent will hit better backhands than forehands. In  this case, they will be more aggressive with the backhand and just make sure the forehand  keeps them in the rally. When playing backhand dominant baseline players, it is advised to keep  hitting to their forehand until receiving a ball that can be attacked.  

    The best strategy to beat a baseline player who does not miss on both the forehand and backhand  side is to put them out of their comfort zone. The opponent wants to receive the same ball back every  time, which is a ball that is between waist and shoulder height, that involves a little side to side  movement, but nothing up and back. Thus the advisable way to make them uncomfortable is to change up  the speed and spin and make the opponent’s contact point be below their waist or above their  shoulders. Hitting a high deep ball, and then a shorter low slice, and continually changing the  shot selection will force the baseline player to hit a variety of different shots and will make them  have to move up and back more. Another strategy is to hit drop shots and short slices, as it will  force the opponent to come into the net, which is where they do not want to be. Moving a  baseline player up and back is the best way to make them uncomfortable and force them into errors.

    Serve and volley  

    The serve and volley is rarely used in the modern game and is predominantly used by tall players with  big serves or when playing on grass courts. The serve and volley is when the player hits a serve and immediately rushes into the net after it. The goal of the serve and volley is to hit a good  serve that makes the opponent play a defensive shot, and then close at the net and put away the  volley.  

    To have an effective serve and volley, a player must have a great kick or slice serve, as the majority  of players do not come into the net after a flat serve. A kick or slice serve is used on the majority of occasions because it is slower, thus giving the player hitting the serve more time to get to the net.  When using a flat serve, the ball will travel to the opponent faster, and therefore there is limited time  to get up to the net. A kick serve to the opponents weaker side is the preferred type and location  of the serve in order to receive an easier volley at the net.  

    When playing a player who likes to use the serve and volley, the advisable strategy is to take the return of serve as early as possible. By taking the return early, the opponent will have less time to  come into the net, making it harder for them to be set up properly to hit a good volley. To take  the return early, it is important to have a short backswing or no backswing at all, and keep all  momentum going forward through the ball. Also, if the serve is not that difficult to return, the  best place to hit the return is low at their feet, as that causes them to have to hit a tough low  volley that will have to travel up over the net, giving more time for the returner to set up for the  passing shot.  

    It is also possible to stand really far back for the return if the serve is difficult to return. This will  give more time to set up properly to aim to play a ball low at the opponent’s feet or out wide  near the sidelines. A lob can also be useful, as long it is only used on rare occasions and as a surprise stroke. If the  returner is standing far back, the opponent will have had plenty of time to come up to the net,  making the lob an effective strategy as it forces them to hit a difficult overhead or chase down  the lob.  

    It is advised not to go for a perfect winner off the return since it is a risky stroke and the majority of the time the  return will not land inside the court as it needs to be placed perfectly in the corner for the server  not to be able to reach it. The player returning should not be trying to win the point on the first  shot, but instead set themselves up well for the second shot, where then they could hit a passing  shot that is a little more calculated and has a better chance of winning the point.

    All-Court players  

    The best players in the world tend to be all-court players, meaning that they are good at hitting  every tennis shot. They have a good serve, solid return, are consistent on both the forehand and  backhand, play with lots of variety, and come to the net to finish with a volley or overhead.  

    The all-court players are the toughest to beat, since their weaknesses are not obvious, as they are  able to play every shot needed in the rally. Another reason why they are difficult to beat is  because they are able to adjust during the match depending on the opponent and how they are  playing. If one of the all-court players’ strategy is not working, they have four or five other  strategies they can use, as opposed to a player who just hits at the baseline, and when that does  not work, they have limited backup options. The all-court player is capable of staying at the baseline and playing long rallies, however they are also  capable of moving into the net when receiving a short ball and finishing the point at the net. All court players can play defense when necessary, but when given the chance to attack, they will  take it.  

    A player can defeat an all-court style opponent by playing with their strengths. Although an all-court player does everything well, they do not have that single go to amazing shot that can be  used to punish the other player. That is why when playing an all-court opponent, the player  should use their best shot majority of the time, as it should be stronger than the opponent’s best  shot. For example, if the player has a really strong forehand, they should be trying to hit a  forehand 70% or more of the time, using it as a weapon to break down the all-court player.  

    Another way to defeat an all-court player is to find their weakness on that day. Not all their tennis  shots are going to be working all the time, so switching up the pace and hitting slice, flat, and  topspin shots to both the backhand and forehand is a good way to find out what might be the  opponent’s biggest weakness on that day. Once establishing a weakness, continue to target it,  slowly breaking it down and that will increase the chances of winning the match.

    Counter Puncher  

    The counter puncher is the player who is the best at turning defense into offense. As soon as a  player thinks they are going to win the point, the counter puncher comes back with an even better  shot. The way the counter puncher usually achieves this is by using the pace of the opponent’s shot.  

    What counter punchers like to do is stay back in the point, and when the opponent attacks with a  ton of pace, the counter puncher will redirect the ball into the open court, using the pace of the  opponent’s shot to generate considerable power. To counter, a player must have a short backswing  and be strong on the racket, as the ball will be traveling fast. When the opponent attacks, the  counter puncher must step into the court, which will take time away from the opponent by taking  the ball early. All momentum must be going forward as the counter puncher uses the pace of the  ball to guide it to the open court, and because of the speed the ball is travelling from the first  shot, the counter shot will have a ton of speed, thus putting the opponent in trouble.  

    The way to beat a counter puncher is by not letting them have the opportunity to use the skill  they are best at. That means avoid hitting a lot of flat forehands and backhands, which have a lot  more speed and are easy to counter for counter punchers. It also means to avoid coming into the  net unless with an extremely aggressive ball, since counter punchers are really good at passing  players at the net. Instead, hitting high, deep balls that have less pace on them is a smart strategy,  since counter punchers are used to using the opponent’s pace to generate power, and will now need to rely on their own power to generate momentum.

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