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Sizing up the opposition

Working out how to beat your opponent
By: Nick Bollettieri

Sizing Up the Opposition

One of the most important skills that any tennis player can have is the ability to size up their opponent quickly and easily. Often times a player will face someone they have never played before or have never seen play before.  Knowing how to read their opponent starting at the warm-up gives a player a distinct advantage.  Whether playing for high school, college, a recreational league or even in the professional ranks, the ability to size up your opponent is a huge advantage.
During the warm up concentrate on getting yourself physically and mentally prepared for the match, but it’s important to not forget to keep an eye on your opponent as they warm-up.  Here are a few things to be watching for…

1. Stroke Preferences – Hit your shots down the middle of the court and see if your opponent favors one side over the other. For example, do they run around their backhand to hit their forehand every time?

2. Strokes – Does your opponents practice all the strokes in the warm-up? Some players will skip volleys or overheads all together. Others will only hit one or two balls before changing to something else.  This could give you an indication as to their strengths and weaknesses.  *Hint:  Players typically warm-up with their strengths.

3. Volleying – Hit your groundstrokes to them and determine where they stand on the court. Do they come forward to the ball? Are they aggressive? Include a few lobs, hitting a few over their opposite hitting shoulder and see if they come forward after the overhead.
4. Serving – Does your opponent only practice their first serve, blasting it all around the court? How many serves do they hit? Are they in control of their swing and can they control the ball? Does the ball seem to go in the same direction all the time, or do they rotate the placement of their serve?

Studying your opponent in these four areas will give you an excellent read of your opponent’s game even before the match begins.  Any advantage you can gain from the warm up will be a huge boost for you throughout the match.

Now, during the match there are some things you can do early that will determine your strategy on how to win. Many of today’s players are going to stay on or near the baseline.  They will usually have one big weapon they use to dictate play and only come to the net behind an attacking shot for the easy volley to finish a point.

Here are four tactics that you can use to combat that style of play:

1. High, Deep & Heavy – Keep the ball deep with plenty of penetrating topspin. This will keep the ball out of their strike zone and force them to create their own power.

2. Play Every Ball – The more balls you retrieve, the more you will frustrate this style of player. Show them that they will have to hit it harder and harder to get it past you and, hopefully, this will force them to make many unforced errors.

3. Stay Contained - Stay within your game. Avoid matching their power and hitting shots that are beyond you. Accept the winners and use your mental game to force them to hit more and more from difficult situations. Use your time between points to regain control of your intensity of play.

4. Serve at Them – Take away their ability to attack from the first ball by serving at the body.

These are easy things that you can do to be a successful player. Remember, Andre Agassi always said that the most important point is the next one. To be a true champion on the court, you must think of and play every point as if it is the first of the match – that will ensure you don’t obsess about a lost point or get too confident on a single great play.  Having really poor short-term memory is a plus in the game of tennis. 

Now get out there, size up your opponent before the match begins and then dictate the style of play for the match by using you’re newfound strategies!

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