Today’s post is a guest post from Mountain Side Racquet Club’s Director of Tennis, Steven Ondish. You can check them out at mrctennis.com!
Playing in a tournament is a much different experience than playing in practice. In a tournament, the pressure is on, and only your child can decide how to best move forward with the match. While a lot of what to do will come with experience, here are 11 things your kid can start doing now to improve their match results.
- Assess your opponent’s ball. Is it flat or does it have heavy spin? Do they hit the ball deep or short? How your opponent hits the ball will give you an idea of where to stand behind the baseline to return their shots from the most comfortable position.
- Assess your opponent’s strokes. You have been taught good stroke production and know what a sound one looks like. Look at your competitor’s – does it have a hitch? Do they take a large back swing? Are they able to produce spin? Do they have the ability to step in and hit a closed stance shot? Do they use their open stance off both sides? Do they hit their shots the same way every time? Or do they have an inconsistency that will cause the stroke to break down if they move around or hit a lot of balls in a row? These questions are critical in allowing you to put together an effective game plan.
- Change return positions, especially at the beginning of a match. Most people tend to favor particular serves. If you’re watching your opponent, you will probably be able to pick up on these tendencies. Give your opponents different looks to keep them thinking about their serve and make it uncomfortable for them to hit their favorite one. On important points, force them to hit the serve they like the least or have used the least in the match.
- Maintain a winning strategy. If you find a weakness in your opponent’s game, bury them with it until they make an adjustment. Remember you’re not playing Nadal, Djokovic, or Federer. Kids will have a weakness that they will not be able to change in a match. Play enough balls to expose that weakness, and you will win.
- Make first balls! No opponent wants to have tough points, especially after they have won a long and tough one. Make sure not to give them any free points and make them play the first ball over and over again. You will be able to force a lot of errors and tire your opponent out by doing this.
- Look for crucial points and dig in. You can’t expect to beat a good player by having them hand you the match. If you are up, 30-15 or 40-15 or 30-0 on your opponent’s serve, GET TOUGH. Play that point like you’re down set point. Make your opponent hit a great shot to win the point. Grind and give your opponent a chance to make the error and don’t go for the winner unless the opportunity is clear. A good player won’t make points easy but they are human and will make a nervous mistake if you give them a chance.
- Look for the opportunity ball. If you want to be a good player you have to play to win. There’s a difference between grinding and playing scared. You make balls to get an opportunity to end the point either by pressuring your opponent to an error or hitting a winner. Good players capitalize on these opportunities regularly – if you do not capitalize on them, you are playing at too much of a disadvantage to win. If an opponent senses you won’t ever be aggressive they will not fear the depth or direction of their shots and will be able to play carefree. Letting a good player get comfortable will almost always end in a loss.
- Quickly assess your shots that day. If your backhand is off, put yourself in a position to hit more forehands. If you’re missing your mid-court forehand, hit an approach instead of going for the winner. If your flat serve is off, hit more slice serves to keep your first serve percentage up. Being inflexible about how you play will inevitably interrupt your ability to find the right strategy to win.
- Fight fire with water, not fire. Do not try to beat an opponent with your strengths if your opponents strengths are stronger that day. For example, you may like to hit hard and force the point, but if that day your opponent is handling the ball and hitting harder, stop trying to beat them at their own game and change things up. Federer doesn’t try to out-hit Del Potro, and he does not try to out-grind Djokovic. He changes speeds on Juan and attacks Novak to avoid long rallies. Sometimes your weaker stroke is better than your opponent’s and can give you a much easier path to victory.
- Look for patterns. Most players hit shots the same way regularly, so keep an eye out for them. If they always hit short balls crosscourt make sure you try to force them to go down the line. If they go down the line when taking balls on the rise, move that way and force them to change the direction. If you can figure out your opponent’s patterns and can force them to play shots they are not as comfortable with, you have a good chance of winning
- It’s never a break until you hold. If you get your serve broken, don’t get down, get even. Most players have a letdown after breaking serve. Use that to get back into the set. Buckle down and turn the tables right back to your favor.
P.S. Make sure your child is always ready to adjust their game plan. Tennis is all about making your opponent uncomfortable. Try to implement what you have learned but don’t stay with a losing strategy for too long. Don’t be afraid to make your opponent hit a tough shot until they have proven they can do it by hitting it multiple times. When they do, it’s time to change strategies.
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