Depth before direction.
There are many different singles strategies that can help win you matches depending on your opponent. However, simplifying singles tennis strategy to depth before direction can radically help your club and junior players win more matches. Too often mistakes are made by players looking to pull the trigger early in the point on a change of direction play without first earning a shorter ball. Most commonly, going down the line from a deep crosscourt ball accounts for more errors than almost anything else on the tennis court. Watching the Australian open, it is clear that the most successful players at this point in the tournament understand that they need to establish depth first in the rally before they attack with direction. Points at the highest level end in the first 4 shots 70% of the time, so how do you get depth early in the point?
The 1st serve
The first serve is your best chance to earn a short ball right away from your opponent. Rather than looking for aces and service winners, be smart with your serve and use it to set up the next shot. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are the masters of this. They use their 1st serves (their biggest weapon) to set up their forehands (their second biggest weapon). When they use the 1st serve and the forehand back to back they win around 80% of the points. Pretty solid strategy! Take a page out their playbook and use your serve as a depth weapon then attack direction with your favorite shot. Not everyone has a Milos Raonic missile, so work on your accuracy and movement on serve and win more points.
The 2nd serve
At all levels of the game, if you make your first serve into play you generally win 70-80% of the points. If you have to hit a second serve you win between 40-50% of points. Check the stats at the Aus Open. Players are having a good day at the office if they win 50% of their second serve points. What can you do to maximize your winning percentage on second serve?
- Get the ball to your opponents weaker wing
- Jam the body to generate a shorter ball
- Stay aggressive on your 2nd*
*Finishing a match with no double faults isn’t necessarily a good thing. Obviously a double at the wrong time can be fatal. But being more aggressive with your second serve will win you some free points and keep your opponent out of an offensive groove.
It is much tougher to get short balls from your second serve so you have to be more patient to start the rally. If you cant get something shorter from the 2nd. Forget about direction and work on length first!
1st serve return
This is your opponents best chance to generate a service winner, ace or short ball from you so you need a plan. Going for direction is tough due to the high chance of an error so use the middle of the court (the biggest target) to take away your opponents angle for attack. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are the masters of this. Obviously their return depth is the key. Deep down the middle will often jam your opponents and push them behind the baseline, and will often lead to a short ball you can attack with direction. If the score is in your favor maybe you take some more chances with direction but you want to be constant with making your returns and deep down the middle will give you the best chance.
2nd serve return
2nd serves are you opportunities! Kei Nishikori is one of the best in the world at attacking his opponents second serve. What he does so well is move up into the court and take time away from his opponents recovery. This takes some practice to get the timing down but once you do you can really put pressure on your opponent every time they hit a second serve. Good, quick footwork up to the ball and more compact swing to help with the timing. Depending on the score and the quality of the second serve depends on your target area and how aggressively you go after the shot. If your opponent gives you a meatball and the score is in your favor, be aggressive. If your opponent has a solid second serve and its a tight point, still take it early but to a larger target area. Remember you are trying to earn a short ball from this return, not hit a winner!
Depth before direction will help you cut down your unforced errors, simplify your strategy and help you focus on executing winning, pro patterns of play. Sometimes its not always that easy, but sometimes it is.
See you on the courts!
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