HOW TO BEAT ANYONE, ANYTIME
BY TOM GULLIKSON
The author is U.S. Davis Cup captain and a
USTA Touring Professional Coach.
TENNIS MARCH 1994
I AM GOING TO ARM you with the information to beat anyone, anytime. How? By giving you a simple game plan for every opponent.
Most players fall into these four styles of play: the counterpunching baseliner, the aggressive baseliner, the all-court player and the serve-and-volley player. First, I will define each style of play and then I will map out game plans to use against all four. All you need to do is identify your style and your opponents' style, then follow the game plans outlined on the subsequent pages.
The counterpunching baseliner
is a reactor rather than a dictator. He waits for his opponent to do something, then he reacts or counterpunches. He is extremely fit, is mentally tough and is totally aware of his opponent. He moves well and has good ground strokes, returns of serve, passing shots and topspin lobs. His main virtues are patience and persistence. When you play against a counterpuncher, you should be prepared for a long battle--bring your lunch and dinner. Michael Chang and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario are good examples of counter-punching baseline players.
The aggressive baseliner
, likes to dictate the points rather than react. Typically he has a couple of big shots. In the modern game, those are a big serve and a big forehand. The aggressive baseliner can hit clean winners from the backcourt or force errors from his opponents because of the power of his shots. He is physically very strong. He always is looking for the short ball he can attack. He goes to the net on occasion but is not looking to go in. He would rather batter his opponent with a powerful array of shots from the baseline. Monica Seles, Steffi Graf, Jennifer Capriati, Ivan Lendi, Jim Courier and Andre Agassi are aggressive baseliners.
The all-court player
looks comfortable in every part of the court. He can play solid baseline tennis, attack mid-court balls with drives or good approach shots and finish points the net with solid volleys. He is the most adaptable and flexible player of the four. He can change tactics depending on what type of player he is playing or what surface he is on. The key to being a good all-court player is being alert to any opening your opponent gives you and taking advantage of it. A potential downfall is that the all-courter may be good at everything but great at nothing. He must identify where he is at his best, then make sure he is great in that part of the court and solid in other areas. Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, Gabriela Sabatini and Jana Novotna are all-court players.
is the ultimate attacker. He is the great white shark of tennis. He has an excellent serve, moves forward and backward well and has great volleying skills. He excels at hitting approaches off short second serves or any short ball in a rally. He has an excellent overhead. He is an adequate ground-stroker who is looking for any opportunity to go in. When he is playing well, you feel constant pressure to come up with great shots to win points. He is a master at putting you under pressure by his position on the court. Stefan Edberg and Martina Navratilova are serve-and-volleyers.
Now that we have defined the four different styles, let's see how each matches up against itself and the others.
Since neither player has any big weapons, the rallies tend to last forever. The match boils down to a mental battle of who is willing to stay out there longer, grind it out and make fewer mistakes. The winning game plan on this day is simple: You must be more patient and tenacious than your opponent. One good play is to hit drop shots and short angles; try to bring your opponent in where you can use your topspin lob and passing shots. There won't be many spectacular winners in this match.
Your best plan is to mix up your shots and give the aggressive baseliner nothing to hit. That means play the ball high and deep with heavy topspin or low with sharp slice, so the ball is below the level of the net. The aggressive baseliner usually loves pace and likes to bang a hard shot back even harder. Make him manufacture his own pace and force him to lift the ball up over the net. He sometimes will lose his patience and go for winners from bad positions on the court. You also could use drop shots or short angles to draw him in where he is not very comfortible. Patience and tenacity will sometimes win out over sheer power. The keys are being consistent and giving him no pace.
You must keep the ball deep, mix up its speed, spin and trajectory and keep the all-court player moving. Whenever you hit the ball too short, he will attack you. It is important for you to get a high percentage of first serves in because the all-court player probably will plan to attack your second serve. When he does attack, you must mix up your passing shots and lobs well to keep him off balance at the net.
You must be sharp on returns of serves, passing shots and lobs. Try to direct the return to the serve-and volleyer's weaker volleying side. Lob early in the match, so that he does not get too close to the net. This tactic will help open up the passing lanes. If he is serving big, change your returning position to him think. Once again, get first serve in as much as possible. He will try to come in on your second serve. If you can counterpunch effectively early in the match, you might force him to stay back more, which plays right into your game. When rallying, keep the ball deep and vary your spin, speed and trajectory to keep him off balance.
AGGRESSIVE BASELINER VS.
What a counterpuncher should do to beat...
A counterpuncher: Grind it out.
An aggressive baseliner: Slow it down.
An all-courter: Mix it up.
A servedand-volleyer: Return with precision.
Be patient. The counterpuncher cannot hurt you. You only can hurt yourself by ing to hit big shots from bad positions on the court. Take your time--go for your big shots when your opponent is out of position. Move him to a part of the court where he is not comfortable with drop shots or short angles. You can dictate the match. If you do not beat yourself, this should be a match-up for you.
Think of playing against yourself. Remember what you do not like to do to you and do that to your opponent. Keep the aggressive baseliner off balance by playing high deep shots to his weaker side and slicing some to keep the ball low. Make him move. When you get your big shot and are in good position, go for it. Since aggressive baseliners like to dictate the point rather than react, they sometimes tend to go for offensive shots when they are out of position or off balance. Instead, be willing to play defense when your opponent hits his big shot. That means playing a safe shot, such as a low slice or high looper that buy you time to get back in good court position. A good mixture of patience and controlled aggressive play should be the winning formula in this match-up.
You must try to dictate the rallies against the all-court player. If you hit too short, the all-court player can come in on you. You want to keep him deep in the court and on the move. Use some high, heavy topspin to force him behind the baseline and then look for the short ball. When it comes, step up and hit your big shot. After your serve, look for the short return so you can dictate the point from the beginning. Be aggressive with the second-serve return. If you gain control of the point early, you will be in good shape. This, too, is a good match-up for the aggressive baseliner.
Be sharp on your returns of serve, passing shots and lobs. Try to direct the return to the serve-and-volleyers weaker volley. Lob early to force him back from the net. This will open up the passing lanes. Hit a high percentage of first serves in and try to dictate the point right away. Be on the lookout for short balls that give you the chance to hit your forcing shots. After your second serve, be ready to pass, because the serve-and-volleyer will try to come in behind his return. If you are moving well and hitting good passing shots and lobs, you might force the serve-and-volleyer to stay back more. That would play right into your strength.
ALL-COURT PLAYER VS.
What an aggressive baseliner should do to beat...
A counterpuncher: Be patient.
An aggressive baseliner: Move it around.
An all-courter: Keep it deep.
A serve and volleyer: Lob as well as pass.
Take your time and be patient. The counterpuncher cannot hurt you from the back, so move him around until you get the ball you want to hit hard or approach the net on. Play high to his weak side and look for a short return. Play short, low, sliced angle shots and drop shots Io force him into the forecourt. Approach down the middle, so you do not give him an angle for his passing shots. When you serve and volley, mix up your volley placement--sometimes go to the open court, sometimes go behind him and sometimes go down the middle to give him no angle. This should be a good match-up for you as long as you do not make too many unforced errors or try to force your shots too much. Wait for the right ball then attack.
Mix up your plays against the aggressive baseliner to keep him off balance. Stay back some, approach some off short balls and serve and voliey some. When the aggressive baseliner hits his big shot, play de fense because he probably will not come in behind it. Mix up the height, speed and spin of your shots. He will want to dictate the point, but if you serve well and return well, you can control the match. The keys are to get his big shots back, change the pace to give him nothing to hit and vary how and when you attack.
Try to force the all-court player as much as possible. Look for short balls that let you step up and dictate the point. Serve and volley some to keep him guessing on his return Try to take advantage of his second serve by hitting the return deep and going in behind it. Keep your ground strokes deep and keep him moving. Mix up your speed, spin and placement to keep him off balance. Play defense when he hits a big shot and make him hit another ball. Two all-courters playing each other makes for some interesting and varied tennis.
The serve-and volleyer will be at the net every chance he gets. Since you are a solid volleyer, you need to keep him back as much as possible by getting to the net first yourself. On your return of serve, try to take the ball early to give him less time to get to the net. Lob early to back him off the net. It will help open up the passing lanes. Mix up your placement on passing shots to keep him off balance. Serve and wolley on most of your first serves and mix it up on your second serves. To beat the serve-and-volleyer, you must defend his net approaches well and take the net away from him every time you have a chance.
What an all-court should do to beat...
A counterpuncher: Take your time.
An aggressive baseliner. Change the pace.
An all-courter: Force the issue.
A serve-and-volleyer: Get to net.
You must vary your serve's speed, spin and placement so it does not become too predictable. The counterpuncher normally has an excellent return of serve. Vary the placement of your volleys, too. Hit some to the open court, some behind him and some down the middle. By keeping him off balance, you will take away some of his effectiveness with the passing shots and the topspin lob. Do not serve and volley every point if he is dumping his returns at your feet a lot. Since the counterpuncher cannot blow you off the court, rally patiently until you get the ball you want to come in on. Approach off his second serve sometimes, and other times hit a big return and stay back. The only way to get in trouble in this match-up is by making too many unforced errors.
Once again, you need to vary the pace, spin and placement of your first serves to keep the aggressive baseliner off balance on his returns. If your opponent consistently is hitting at your feet, mix up your natural serve-and-volley game by staying back and approaching off the return. Unlike the counterpuncher, who cannot hurt you from the baseline, the aggressive baseliner can dictate the points if you rally with him too much. If possible, you must get to the net early in the rallies. He likes power, so mix up the pace, spin, trajectory and placement of your ground strokes to keep him from getting into a good rhythm against you. Because of your attacking style, you can dictate the tempo of the match. If you serve and volley well, get in quickly on his service games and stick the volley, you should be in good shape.
If the all-court player is smart, he will try to take the net away from you. Play your serve-and-volley game on all first serves and mix up coming in and staying back on your second serve, depending on whether he is hurting you with his second-serve returns. You must return well, because the all-court player probably will try to serve and volley as much as possible to keep you off the net. Try to make some plays on the second-serve return. Chip and come in on some points, run around and hit the big forehand on others. The more you can intimidate the all-court player into staying back, the better off you will be. Then you can use your attacking skills to work your way up to the net as much as possible. Once again, as the more aggressive player, you can dictate the tempo of the match. If you execute well, the all-court player will be in trouble. All in all, this usually is an interesting contest.
The rallies will not last too long in this. The points will be short and intense, with both players trying to dominate from the net. The keys will be the serve and the return of serve. The first shot or two will determine who grabs control of the point. Take your time on your service games and concentrate in getting a high percentage of first serves in. Get to the net every chance you get. Take the return of the first serve early to give him less time to get into net. Vary your return among drives, blocks and chips to keep him off balance. Try to intimidate him with some big second-serve returns. If you make them, he may start staying back on his second serve, which will. give you the opportunity to hit an approach shot and move to the net. Lob early to keep him a little farther back from the net and open up the passing lane. This match boils down to serves and returns better and who can make the passing shots at critical times.
What a serve-and-volleyer should do to beat...
A counterpuncher: Vary your shots.
An aggressive baseliner:. Focus on execution.
An all-courter: Keep him back.
A serve-and-volleyer: Key on serve and return.
Gullikson, T. (1994). How to beat anyone, anytime. Tennis