This volume of tennis tips seems like a fairly obvious one but I think it is worth stating anyway.
One of the most important aspects of general tennis strategy (and I’d argue life strategy) is to be unique. Another way to look at it is to diversify your own tennis portfolio with different types of shots and effects on the ball when you hit it.
Too many players play with a generic style of hitting the ball one type of way on the forehand and backhand side while simply staying on the baseline. The upside of this approach to the game is that it helps breed consistency…the downside is that it does the same for your opponent and allows them to get in rhythm while focusing their thoughts more easily.
When you diversify between top-spin, slice, flat, short, deep and angled in a somewhat asymmetric manner you force your opponent to guess and adjust based on YOUR control of the rally. Not only does your opponent have to work more on their footwork to adjust to the effect you put on the ball, but it also forces them to hit shots they do not want to hit and eventually set you up for point winning shots.
Of course, it is not easy for every player to do this in a match (practice hitting shots outside of your initial comfort zone when not playing a match to enhance this in a match)…but I believe the upside of this vastly outweighs the downside. For instance..if you are up 30-love or 40-love and hit shots that keep your opponent off balance but maybe hit an unforced error…it could be viewed as a long-term gain because even though you lost the point, it was YOU losing the point and not your opponent WINNING the point. Very little confidence will have been gained by your opponent and it still prevents them from getting some rhythm in their game.
When you do not diversify your shots, you are essentially just rallying with the opponent and it is likely that your opponent has spent hours upon hours of “just rallying” in practice sessions with friends or with a coach. That is inherently playing into their hands and either leveling the playing field or outright giving them an advantage. Keep them off balance and just like an investment strategy, diversify your portfolio and play winning tennis.
In terms of confidence, there are two terrible things you could do going into a match. The first thing is to go into it thinking you are going to lose and the second is to take your opponent for granted by thinking he/she is not any good.
I wouldn’t quite recommend adhering to the Middle Way of the Buddha Sidhartha Gautama in terms of confidence, but it is definitely best to avoid being at either extreme before a match. I think it is better to come into a match with unwavering confidence that you are able to win the match instead of being directly in the middle and not having any idea or thinking that you have no chance of winning or losing.
If you enter a match believing that you have no chance of losing, chances are you are going to find yourself surprised at some point in the match. Either the other player is going to get off to a hot start and you will find yourself down a break or you will be up early and allow them to sneak back into the match. In any event, it will cause you to perhaps play erratically and lose sense of any semblance of a strategy you have and force you to gather yourself and get your act together…otherwise you will be in a big hole and drop a set or even worse, lose the match.
It is imperative to feel confident in your abilities and also take note of your opponent’s skills and tendencies during the warm-up period if you haven’t yet seen them play.
Regardless of what you see in this period, your confidence shouldn’t change but your preparation and strategy might…as you pick up on things in the other player’s game that you should take advantage of. Warming-up is just as much for your own skills as it is diagnosing your opponent’s skills. Maybe they seem to have a weak backhand, have shotty volleying technique or have trouble with slice. No matter what you see, you should remain confident that you have the ability to expose the player(s) on the other side of the court and be able to play the best match you can against them.
In terms of your own skills during the warm-up…do not get rattled. It shouldn’t matter if you think that you aren’t hitting or serving well before the match. Furthermore, do not find yourself in awe of the other player. They could look like Pete Sampras in warm-ups and end up being more like Tommy Haas (that might be an on-going joke for my writings). Some people simply are practice warriors that look and play unbelievable until the first serve is hit. Just as you shouldn’t worry about your failures in warm-ups, you shouldn’t let the success of your opponent get to you either. It takes two to tango and you should be confident that you can lead the dance regardless of how the warm-ups go.
In conclusion, the only thing that should really change before or during your match should be your strategy. You should always consider different approaches and remain pragmatic and be able to improvise based on what you see…just do not change how you feel. All that can do is put a self-imposed handicap on the match and start an up-hill battle or a slide down a slippery slope. Stay unwavering on the plateau.
Look ahead physically, stay consistent mentally.