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A GAME PLAN AT A 2.5-3.5 LEVEL
An Abbreviature of Tried and True Guidelines by TennisTom
With Explanations and Tips
Overall Strategy. Obviously the basic idea is to hit one more ball over the net and in the court than your opponent. So rather than try for risky shots, focus on placing the ball back into play one more time. Notice that I said “Placing.” Never mind spectacular shots. The secret here is to hit a “safe” placement shot, which is a shot that you intend to place in a certain target area. Many players play without specific targets. Three types of safe placement shots are:
“Down the middle,” more properly described as a shot placed equally between the opponents. This is a dynamic shot because your target area is continuously movable during a point. You should always be aware of where both opponents are.
A Usually Soft, Low, Angle Shot. This is a touch shot designed to make the opponent have to run from their baseline and hit up on the ball or miss it altogether.
A Shot at the Opponent’s Feet. This shot does not have to be hard. If it is at the opponent’s feet it will often cause the opponent to hit a defensive shot (half-volley) or miss it completely.
Hitting Down the Middle. Hit many of your balls between your opponents. If You Know How, use some topspin to clear the net safely and try to keep your opponent deep in the back court from where it is difficult to attack. This is the time you will want to hit to your opponent's weaker wing – usually their backhand.
Where to Aim Your Wide Shot. Don't go for the boundary lines on your angle shots. Give yourself some margin for error. Instead of aiming near the outside line on a cross court angle shot, aim two feet or more inside the line. Low and soft is a good rule. If you are slightly off on your shot, chances are it will still land inside the side boundary line. This is a circumstance when your net partner, seeing your wide shot, should close toward the center of the court. This makes the opponent’s return target area even smaller. If you hit a wide shot too wide and lose the point, hit you next wide shot even softer. Practice soft (touch) shots. Many players avoid practicing these shots for reasons I have yet to understand.
Hitting to the Opponent’s Weaker Side. Almost all players have a weaker wing, usually the backhand. Make a mental note to notice their weaker side during the first couple of games. Many players fail to discover and use this tactical, valuable information.
Notice Opponent’s Misses. Pay close attention to your opponent’s shots. When an opponent makes an error, remember how they missed the shot. Make sure you give them another opportunity to miss the same shot. What you are doing is identifying weaknesses. Try to exploit those weakness. Many players ignore this valuable information during play. The trick is to have concentration and patience. If you do not have focus and patience as a player, you will likely lose against more or less equal opponents.
Try to Control the Net. Usually the team which controls the net is the team which wins, everything being more or less equal. The only way to control the net is with you and your partner at the net near your service line. If your opponents try to keep you from controlling the net by lobbing you, you should play two or three feet behind your service line in order to make returning lobs easier for you.
Generally Ignore Alley Shots, AKA down the line shots. The safest place to return an oncoming cross court shot is diagonally back across court but out of reach of their net player. The net is lower in the center and you have more diagonal space in which to hit when you hit cross court. Going down the line is riskier from the baseline: the net's higher, the court's shorter, and you might also push the ball wide. If you see their net player attempting a poach, hit a wider, somewhat softer return rather than a harder return. Many players tend to hit this return harder in an effort to overpower the poacher and this often results in your error.
Unforced Errors. Try your best not to make unforced errors. Overall most points in tennis are won because of opponents’ errors, not because of your great shots.
Close In Towards the Net From Your Baseline. It makes no sense to stay at your baseline all the time. However, if you tend to come to the net at inopportune times, your team will be put on the defensive. You need to choose to come in when your opponent is under some pressure, otherwise you will be chasing a lot of lobs.
Know Ahead of Time How to Retrieve Lobs. Your best ways of returning a lob are:
If You Have Time, Hit a Controlled Overhead. Generally you should let their lob bounce and hit an overhead. This is your best choice if you do not try to overhit it. Aim mostly between the opponents, the deeper the better but not too deep. Forget the alley unless the open court is big enough to drive a truck through.
Hit a Groundstroke. If you do not have time to get under the ball and to hit an overhead, this is your second best choice in this defensive baseline situation. It is far better to hit a controlled medium paced groundie than to go for a high-paced shot. Many, many players tend to hit unproductive ground strokes by habit.
Hit a Backcourt Volley. This is your poorest choice, but if you do not have time to let their lob bounce, aim for their baseliner’s weaker side. Your job in this instance is to keep the ball in play. If you have hit a good shot, you may want to close to the net; if your have hit a weak shot, you should retreat to your baseline.
Waiting for an Error or Short Ball From Your Opponent. Be patient and wait for the opponent’s error. The error by your opponent can be either a point-ending shot into the net or out of bounds. Or the opponent may hit you a short ball which you can try to take advantage of.
How to Play Short Shots. If your opponent hits the ball short (i.e., one that bounces weakly near the service line), come forward and hit a placement. If the ball is below the level of the net when you are ready to hit it, a slice shot is in order If You Know How to Hit Slice. If the ball bounces above your waist level, then you can hit it flat or with a little topspin. If you are relatively new to topspin, here is where you might accidentally hit long, so Do Not hit too hard. Generally, you are not trying for a winner on this shot. You want only to hit it fairly deep, allowing you time to advance a little closer to the net and wait for a shot that you can volley firmly for the point.
Don’t Stay Back at Your Baseline Too Long. Close to the service line at a good opportunity. The best opportunity is when you or your partner has hit a good (forcing) shot and your opponent is having trouble making a decent return.
[Note: This tip is general good advice for winning. However, early learning players will have to wait until their playing skills have advanced to a 3.0 level.]
First Serves. In doubles you have a real and psychological advantage if you get your first serve in. You should be aware of your first serve percentages. Many players do not have any idea what that is. Adjust your first serve in proportion to your success rate. In doubles getting your first serve in is even more important than in singles because you have your net player to threaten their returner with an interception. If you have to hit a lot of second serves, you are not optimizing your advantage. Take some of the pressure off your net player by getting more of your first serves in. You may need to take the pace off your first serve a little to improve your consistency, but that is a small price to pay. Go for a harder first serve only if you know from experience that you can get most first serves In. If you can get 60-70 percent of your first serves in, your odds of winning the match are favorable.
COURT POSITION -- On All of Your Opponent’s Return Shots You Should Split Your Opponent’s Groundstroke “Probable Angle of Return.” On every ball that you hit, your opponent has an angle of probable good groundstroke returns: 1) down the line, 2) a lob, 3) cross court, or 4) directly at you.
(Definition of probable angle of return from the perspective of your opponents: It is that space between your net player and the outside boundary line of your doubles court. See my instructional “Angle of Possible Good Shots & Percentage Tennis.”)
Your best defensive court position almost anytime your opponent is ready to hit a groundstroke is more or less in the middle of their reasonable angle of return. If your forehand side is stronger than your backhand side – often the case – you can fudge a couple of feet to one side so that you can take more balls with your stronger side. Most really good doubles players bisect this angle from experience / intuition. The more you assume this court position, the less emergencies you will find yourself in, and the better your return shots will be. When playing a point, assuming this court position is the reason that you should be constantly moving. Although subtle, this dynamic court adjustment is enormously important in your doubles success. Practice it relentlessly.
Play Percentage Tennis. Simply put, you should avoid taking risky shots. You should know from experience which shots are risky for you. Most of the advice above relates to playing percentage tennis - that is, playing shots that are likely to result in your successful return of the ball over the net and IN the court.
The content of this instructional has taken four decades to congeal. Learning to play better tennis is a process. Now you have a roadmap.
As I often like to say, the ball is in your court!
[25-A Game Plan at a 2.5-3.5 Level by TennisTom] [Rev 1/14/11]