Before the Start of Each Point
Before the start of each point, you should choose both a target and a gear. The shot selection at the start of a point is intricately connected to the way that you visualize yourself winning the point.
What I mean by the target is obvious – both the server and receiver should be choosing their targets before the start of the point. Since the returner is uncertain if she will have a forehand or a backhand, she should choose a target for either possibility. In doubles, both the server’s and receiver’s partners should also be reminding themselves of their basic responsibilities before the start of each point.
As mentioned above, the gear of any given stroke may be thought of as ranging from 1-5 as in a standard stick shift car. Most groundstrokes should be struck in the 3rd or 4th gear depending upon the situation. Here are a few examples.
A forehand approach shot should typically be hit in 4th gear – the player is in good control of his balance and inside the baseline – it is necessary to maintain reaction time pressure on the opponent.
A more subtle example would be on the return of serve. Recently, I was playing a doubles match where I was the weakest player on the court. My job on the return was to keep the ball in play, away from any poacher, and hopefully get my partner involved in the point. I was very successful, but my team was getting beaten because all of my returns, while low, were hit in 2nd gear. This allowed the serve-and-volleyer to stop in midcourt and lineup an aggressive groundstroke with which he pinned me to the baseline. I was not able to get my (very strong) partner into the point. While I was doing my job (getting the ball in play), things were not working. I resolved, for the next day’s rematch, to hit all of my returns with a minimum of 3rd gear with some forehands in 4th. Now the serve-and-volleyer was forced to play a half-volley, my partner was able to get in the game, and I got much better looks at my next shot. We did exceedingly well with this despite the fact that I now missed some returns because I was raising the gear.
This last example highlights one of the key ideas behind playing Percentage Tennis. Percentage Tennis means choosing the appropriate target/gear such that your chances of winning the point are maximized. It does NOT mean making every shot. From the example above, you can clearly see how making every shot was NOT my best percentage tennis choice.
At crucial times in a match, players often slow down their attacking gear and then wonder what happened. You must know your proper gear and stick to it! Again, the 60/40 split (a very one-sided match) is extremely informative when it comes to choosing the correct gear. Let’s say that a returner in doubles gets 10 attackable second serves in a set. If she returns in 4th gear, she will miss 3/10 approaches, but of the remaining 7, she will win 6 either by directly forcing errors from her opponent or setting up herself or her partner for relatively easy finishes from the net. Alternatively, let’s say that the same returner bunts all 10 approaches in and runs to the net, only now the server has adequate time to prepare her response. The server hits 6/10 well placed shots, either lobs or passing shots, which lead to winning the point. The better team has now lost the match by playing in the wrong gear (typically a slower or scared gear).
Or imagine that the better team has gotten the lead playing in the correct gear, but as the match remains close, i.e. as the points become more important, they begin to take pace off of their approaches. They have given the opposition a chance at victory without the other team having to do anything differently!
Bob Schewior Director of Tennis
Bob Schewior has been the Director of Tennis at CRRC since 1985. His playing accomplishments include playing #1 at Rutgers University 1971-73. In 1988 and 1991, he was ranked in the Top 20 nationally in Men’s 35 and 40 Singles respectively as well as a #6 national ranking in Men’s 35 Doubles in 1988.View Profile