Tennis Singles Strategy - Top 16 Ways to Improve Your Singles Strategy
You can’t change your technique at the last minute to increase your odds of winning. In singles, the whole game is in your hands, which can be both good and bad.
It’s good that you never have to think about being teamed with a poor doubles player. It’s bad because there’s more pressure and no one to compensate for any weaknesses in your game.
Your forehand will be your forehand, your serve will be your serve, and your backhand will be your backhand. All you have to do is hope you perform them extremely well.
You do, however, have full control of your mentality and the strategy you have made for your tennis singles. These are two places where no matter how bad the situation is, you can rapidly make a difference in any game!
We all know that in a sport where there isn’t anything you can do, mentality and technique are two things you can control. But we get too caught up in how we strike the ball.
However, you will have terrible days when you will not strike the ball as cleanly as you would like, and you will still have days where your rival will make your life challenging.
This is something you can’t fix! But you can improve things by taking care of the things you can control, and one of the most powerful weapons is tactics and strategies.
The importance of having a strategy
Taking off in a different direction is rarely the best method to get where you want to go. You might get there if you’re lucky, but you will almost certainly need to ask for help if you get lost.
Although it is clear that most tennis players seem to play in this manner, at random!
They step onto the court and begin hitting balls, responding to the opponent’s shots in the hopes of winning the point with their shot combos.
You will not play to your full potential unless you have a specific target for each point, which can also be called a strategy. You will win some days, but you can almost definitely not play to your full potential.
On the court, a strong strategic plan is like getting a GPS in your vehicle. It ensures you stay on board. So, here is your singles match play GPS if you want to win more and more matches.
The good news is during singles play; there are only a few realistic strategic options. To put it another way, there are just a few options to score points.
Top 16 Strategies and Tactics for Tennis Singles Players
1. Maintain Consistency
It’s hard to stress how necessary it is to keep playing the ball right into your opponent’s court. Any time you do this, you force your rival to take another shot, increasing the likelihood of a mistake.
This may seem clear to others, but far too many players rely on playing killer shots and losing matches due to inconsistency.
2. Be aware of the opponent's strategy
The sort of player you’re up against determines a huge part of your plan and strategies for each match. “Hard-hitters” and “pushers” are two common categories of opponents.
Hard hitters have a lot of strength, but they still make a lot of mistakes. So you can try to be as consistent as possible with them and depend on them making more mistakes than you.
Pushers typically stay around the baseline and strike slower shots, often with a slice, providing themselves more than enough time to recover and making it difficult to catch them off guard. You must not only keep your game steady, but you must also steal time from them by stepping in and playing volleys.
You can do this, especially when they are out in one of the corners and seem to be about to play a weaker shot. The majority of players’ backhand shots are slower.
3. Keep Hitting at the opponent's backhand
Most players get some weaker shots than others. Continue to play to the backhand if the opponent has a comparatively powerful forehand but a poor backhand. They will make more faults and get angry when they cannot use their (favored) forehand.
4. Look for flaws in the opponent
Some tennis players dislike high-bouncing balls (virtually no one likes a high bouncer on their backhand).
What are their strategies for dealing with overhead? What are their strategies for dealing with spin? Is it possible to drop shots? Is it better to serve to their body or to their backhand? You want to rig the game so that you can spend as much time as possible using the best weapons against your opponent’s weaknesses.
5. Aim for long shots
To ensure accuracy, you want almost all your shots to land deep but securely inside the court.
Deep shots make it tough for your opponent to play a winning game, and they can also put them in trouble, particularly if they are played on their backhand.
Pushing the enemy back often allows you to aim into the net or play a drop shot. Playing half-court shots should be avoided in general since a skilled competitor can quickly target them. It’s suggested to aim for long shots that land within three or four feet of the opponent’s baseline.
6. Play Cross-Court shots
You have a longer court to target for, it’s better to return the ball in the same direction it came from, and the net is lower in the center, so you’re less likely to make cross-court mistakes.
However, suppose the opponent has a better forehand than you. In that case, you can attempt to stop long forehand cross-court rallies and turn the match to their backhand.
7. Hit down the line shots from the baseline
This is particularly true if they’re heading to the opponent’s stronger side (normally the forehand). The logic behind this is that it allows your opponent to react with a cross-court shot (relatively easy), leaving you with a lot of running to do to stay in the match!
Of course, hitting down the line to keep the opponent going or win a rally is often necessary. But keep in mind that hitting a cross-court ball down the line is more difficult than hitting it back in the direction from where it came.
8. Stand diagonally opposite the opponent at the baseline
Many players believe after each shot; they can return to their starting spot in the middle of the baseline. However, it is important to consider where your opponent is hitting from.
The only difference is when they are striking from a central position, in which case you can stand diagonally opposite them. From your perspective, if the rival is hitting the ball from their right back corner, you should be standing on the left side, and vice versa.
9. Follow the Ball when moving closer to the net.
Angles play a large role in tennis positioning. Whether you hit the ball to your opponent’s right-hand corner, you must move to the right of center; if you hit the ball to the left of center, you must move to the left of center.
In most cases, you will want to be around halfway between the service line and the net.
10. Move into the net when the opponent is under pressure.
If your opponent is having difficulty with a shot at their baseline, step into the net and try to close out the point. For example, they may be struggling hard to play a deep high bouncer on their backhand. Build an instinct for when your opponent is about to play a bad shot that you can take off at the net.
11. Angle the shots at the net
If you are at the net and your opponent is on the baseline, play hard and strike your shots straight into the corners or play angled shots. Playing shots down the middle is a bad idea.
It’s possible to win with one volley from a corner kick. But if you play down the middle, you will need at least two volleys to win, and you risk losing momentum – or worse, giving them time to bring together a winning lob or passing shot.
12. Keep changing the serves
And if you have a perfect serve, the rival will get used to it over time and figure out where the best position to stand while receiving is.
By changing the positioning, speed, and spin of your serve, you can keep your opponent guessing and make it more difficult for them to target your serve.
It’s much more difficult to constantly adapt than it is to return the same shots repeatedly. Variety in your serving technique is a great way to force mistakes or hit short balls that you can attack effortlessly.
The factors that you can change in the game are:
- Spin: topspin, flat, and slice
- Depth: short and long
- Height: low, medium, and high
- Direction: left, middle, right
- Speed: slow, medium, and fast
You can also mix all these up and make your own unique serve, which will make this strategy impactful.
13. Work on any weaknesses
Keep track of the shots your rivals force you to play the most. These are usually the shots that they consider to be the weakest. After the match, you can go away and practice these shots.
Working on your weaknesses rather than your strengths will result in greater improvement.
14. Play Aggressively
This strategy involves being defensive from the beginning, hitting the ball hard, and attempting to catch balls early. The objective is to compel the opponent to play defensively from the very beginning of the point.
That is, you must begin the point with an aggressive serve or return, then continue to strike by stepping into the court, catching the ball on the rise, and pushing it back with force.
You will keep driving the competitor backward until you either force a mistake or hit a winner. Of course, if your opponent hits a great defensive shot, you will not be able to continue attacking the shot, so you will be preparing for the next one.
This is how this strategy can be applied to become more aggressive:
- 3 serves
The server has three serves, two of which are first serves, so must take the point in three shots, including the serve. The returner wins the point if he or she hits the ball into the court after the server’s third strike.
- 1 serve
The server has only one serve, and the returner has three shots total, including the return, to complete the point. The server wins the point if he or she can hit the returner’s third shot into the court.
15. Open the Court
In most cases, the player who has to move the most is the one who loses. Angles are a perfect way to drive the player across the court, force mistakes, and build opportunities to strike winners.
For this strategy, you will drive deep and consistently before your opponent hits a fast, wide ball, which you can angle back to drag the competitor wide and off the court.
When you’ve dragged your opponent off the court, take a step forward into the court and attempt to hit the next shot slightly earlier and on the rise to the open court.
Here are the drills you can undertake to practice opening the court:
- Angle to down the line
On half of the singles court, play cross-court points. The drill’s target is to wait for a chance to angle your opponent off the court. Once one of the players has successfully forced their opponent outside the doubles line, they must come to the court and play the very next shot down the line. The point has been made.
- Off the court
Players are not able to travel past the doubles sideline, which has been expanded past the baseline. The point is over if one player pushes the opponent over the line. The drill is a perfect way to practice on angles while still practicing early catch to prevent stretching over the doubles sideline.
16. Out-rally, the opponent
The target is to win the point by holding the ball in play until your opponent misses, which necessitates consistency and depth.
Your goal is to avoid making any unforced mistakes by playing defensively and retrieve all your opponent’s shots while also hitting the ball deep enough to keep your opponent from showing aggression.
To make this technique work, you must:
- Hit the ball at a controlled speed.
- On the court, choose huge targets
- Hit the ball high and away from the lines, high over the net.
- Prepare to chase down the ball.
Moreover, since cross-court shots allow you to hit over the low part of the net and into a larger hitting zone, you will be hitting mostly cross-court. To put it another way, you turn into a human ball machine capable of outlasting your opponent.
Here are some drills to help you improve your strategy:
Rally with your partner
One of you will hit across the court, while the other will hit down the line. Change positions after seeing how many balls you can hit without making a mistake.
Play points where there is no winner.
Play points against your rival, with the restriction that no player will strike an outright winner. It counts if a player hits a winning shot after a series of placed shots, but no player should ever attempt to blast the ball past the opponent.
No errors on the net
Play a point where a net mistake gets counted double or triple to help you practice hitting for more net clearance.
Keep it deep
Maintain your depth. When you strike with depth play points, the ball cannot bounce in the service boxes. If this happens, the player will lose a point.
This article has highlighted the different steps that can be taken to improve a singles match, suggesting certain drills and activities to help become familiar with these approaches. Each player will have an individual strategy personalized to their style of play, but it is a good idea to have some general strategy approaches to have a wide, varied skill base.