Points in tennis are NOT created equal. Within each game there are multiple score variations that require the careful navigation of risk and reward. This is where primary and secondary patterns of play become very important in creating and capitalizing on scoreboard pressure.
Primary Patterns (Lower risk/High reward) of play are your tried and true sequences that hurt your opponent the most. It could be a slice serve wide to the deuce court followed by a groundstroke to the open court, or an inside out forehand approach shot to your opponents backhand, or a body serve followed by attacking the backhand. These patterns of play are your go to when you need a point. The downside is that you can’t run these patterns all the time or your opponent will become wise and will begin predicting these attacks. So how do you keep your opponent off the scent without totally abandoning a pattern that is successful? You let the scoreboard dictate when you will use a primary or secondary pattern.
Secondary Patterns (High risk/High reward) of play are counter plays or sequences that are usually a little bit riskier but yield a high reward and get your opponent thinking about when you will use it again. Paul Annacone has referred to these strategies as investment strategies because using them even once can pay off big later in the match as your opponent will be thinking about when you will use them again, sometimes even if you are unsuccessful. Examples of a secondary pattern could be, kick serve and volley wide to the ad court and volley to the open court, or chip and charge to the backhand on a 2nd serve return, or running around a 2nd serve and attacking big with the forehand. Although these tactics are unlikely to win you the match if you use them as your primary patterns, mixing them in at the right time can win you the big points at the crucial moments of a match. So when is the right time to use a secondary or primary pattern? First, Lets take a look at all the possible scores within a game and what they mean in relation to influencing the outcome.
0-0: Win the first point and you get the first opportunity at a set up point.
15-0: Win this point and you create a set up point.
15-15: Win this point and you create a set up point.
Set Up Points
30-0: Win this point and your opponent faces 3 game points.
30-15: Win this point and your opponent faces 2 game points.
30-30: Win this point and your opponent faces 1 game point.
Deuce: Win this point and your opponent faces 1 game point.
40-30: Your opponent is facing 1 game point.
AD-In: Your opponent is facing 1 game point
40-15: Your opponent is facing 2 game points.
40-0: Your opponent is facing 3 game points.
I have grouped the game scores into 3 categories, base points, set up points and Ad points. Base points have the least significance to the outcome of the game and Ad points are obviously the most important but it is often the player who plays the Set up points the best that wins the match. Why so? Because winning the set up points puts your opponent at risk of losing the game and that makes them tight.
As Brad Gilbert writes in his must read book winning ugly “All players are tense when something is at risk. Pressure will be layered on your strokes and confidence, and to some degree pressure paralyzes most recreational players.”
When a set up point arises in a game, most of the time you are going to want to use your primary patterns of play to give yourself the best chance of winning the point. If you can do that and get to an Ad point you have the option of using a secondary pattern knowing that your opponent will be playing less freely and more timidly under the pressure that any miss will lose them the game. Certainly you must weigh your position in the the set score as to how much you need the game, but the more you are ahead in the set score the more secondary patterns of play you can use. This will keep your opponent off adjusting their gameplay to defend your primary patterns of play and keep you winning points with them when you need to.
Ad points create scoreboard pressure on your opponent and keeps it off you. This is the time to take advantage of your opponents position in the game knowing they will not be swinging freely. Especially with recreational players and inexperienced juniors, mixing up the play and using secondary patterns to shock your opponent often leads to free points and unforced errors.
Doubles Example. Recently, two of the ladies I coach in my Wednesday clinic (Vivian and Debbie) recently found themselves in a 3rd set tie break for their USTA doubles match serving on an AD point. Over the last year we have been working on using signals on serve (Poach/Fake) to get into their opponents heads a little bit and create some easy volleys or errors from the returner. Most players can be hesitant in using signals, especially under such high stakes as a 3rd set tie breaker but this is exactly where they can be most effective. At the business end of the tie breaker, and having not used a single signal leading up to this point the ladies used a fake sign on a big point and influenced the tight returner to go for low percentage line alley. Result, unforced error wide, Match over. Debbie and Vivian used scoreboard pressure to perfection and stole the match.
Developing winning primary patterns of play and practicing secondary ones are the beginning stages of becoming a smarter tennis player. Knowing the score and when to use them gives you the best chance to take advantage of your opponent when they are under scoreboard pressure.
Scoreboard pressure is real, and knowing how to use it to your advantage will win you big point in big matches.
Good luck and see you on the courts.
USPTA Elite Professional
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