It's time again for the Tennis Quick Tips podcast. This week's episode is all about how you can size up your opponent before your match even begins. TQT 017 is called “How to Quickly Evaluate Your Tennis Opponents” and you can listen by clicking on the gray media player above or by listening in with your favorite podcast app.
Below is an edited version of the transcript that you can read through for notes or to get more information.
In every tennis match you play, you not only have to play to your strengths, but you also need to figure out and take advantage of your opponent’s weaknesses. The best time to start figuring out just what your opponent’s weaknesses are is not during the match, but before the match even starts, during the warm-up. So just how do you do that? Well, here are a few things about your opponent that you should be looking for during every match:
- Is your opponent a righty or a lefty?
I’ve learned my lesson here. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I’ve actually served a whole set to someone and wondered why they were hitting such great returns over and over before realizing that my opponent was a lefty and I was serving to her forehand! So one of the very first and most important things you can figure out about your opponent is if he or she is a righty or a lefty. This will determine a lot about where you serve and the target of many of your shots.
- What is the physical condition of your opponent?
Is your opponent young or old? Are they on the heavy side or are they pretty fit? Do they move quickly or slowly? Will they tire out easily? You’re going to play people differently depending on how they appear to be moving. With an older, heavy-set opponent, you’ll most likely run him or her around and try to tire them out. With a younger, fitter player, you may have to be more consistent, more accurate in your shot placement, and you may have to try to make him or her hit clear winners to beat you.
- What is the mental attitude of your opponent?
You should be watching your opponent during the warm-up not just for their physical condition, but also for any mental tendencies or weaknesses they may show. Some players will easily reveal a lot to you about their mental state – they’ll tell you how distracted they are. They’ll tell you how the weather conditions bother them. They’ll be very chatty and friendly, showing they expect the same of you. Or they’ll be very cold and business-like, showing how much they hate chattiness and friendliness. Pick up on these little mental tells during the warm-up and try to take advantage of them during your match.
- What kind of serve is your opponent showing during the warm-up?
Does it have a lot of spin? Does it move around a lot? Is it hard and flat? Or is it a real “puff ball” that will require you to move in? During the warm-up is a good time to get a preview of what your opponent’s serve is like. Just don’t be fooled by what you see during the warm-up. Some players have a lousy serve during warm-up that really comes on line during the match. Some players don’t want to show you their real serve during the warm-up so what happens during the match may be a surprise. Of course, some players hit great serves throughout the warm-up and then you wonder what happened to those serves once the match starts.
- The strong partner vs. the weak partner
In doubles, the most basic strategy is to pick on the weaker player. So, during the warm-up, you need to pay attention as to who that might be. And this means you need to pay attention to both of your opponents – the one you are warming up with as well as the one your partner is warming up with. Be sure to look over and see what that other opponent looks like and what he or she is doing. Following the warm-up, before the match starts, be sure and talk to your own partner about what you picked up on during the warm-up as well as what he or she saw. While these observations may be about one of the partner’s weaker shots or serving tendencies, they should also be about who appears to be the team leader and what kind of personalities are involved.
If you’ve paid attention during the warm-up, by the time the match gets going, you should know several things about your opponent and what their strengths and weaknesses are. You can use this information to develop your initial strategy for playing your opponents and gaining an extra edge over them before the match even starts.
Hey – what are your best tips for sizing up your tennis opponents? I'd love to hear them. You can can let me know in the comments below.
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Thanks for listening and, as always, Happy Tennis!