What makes the game of tennis so wildly intriguing is that there are many different ways to play it and all of them are entirely legitimate… Except cheating, obviously! Cheaters never win.
Turning up for match day to face an unknown opponent is immensely exciting because you’re never quite sure what kind of player you’re going to have to work out. Trying to beat someone that has a game style that doesn’t naturally match up with your own is a problem that you’ll need to quickly work on solving.
Learning all of the different small intricacies of tennis is an almost mission impossible style of task. Even those that have played the game for years are still discovering new ways to apply tactics in order to win matches.
With that said, we here at Mind the Racket believe that it’s possible to narrow a lot of the different general typical court crafting techniques into four unique sub-categories. While the best players will use an immense amount of variety, if you look very closely, you’ll likely be able to apply one of the labels below to the brand of tennis that they play.
And so with that said, read on to learn how to best beat four different types of tennis player.
Types of Tennis Players
Now this type of player… This type of player can be SCARY!
We mean it. You pitch up at the courts to play them and there they are, standing on their baseline tearing into the ball as if it’s personally offended them. Over and over and over again, like a machine.
Throughout the match, they’re unlikely to move from their home at the back of the court and will instead choose to swing for the fences, using power play to win points. Using their groundstrokes, they’ll be trying to dictate the match and control the ebbs and flows.
Those aggressive baseliners with more experience will also incorporate angles into their shots, making for a scary combination of precision play. They’ll send you scampering around after their fearless directional pace and it’s going to be your job to work out how to go about neutralizing them…
How to Beat an Aggressive Baseliner
So how are you going to go about beating this kind of player? Well, we have a few suggestions for you.
1. You’re going to need to hit deep. No, we don’t mean hurl insults at them until you touch a nerve and make them start to cry. We mean that you’re going to need to learn how to consistently hit the ball as close to their baseline as possible with your groundstrokes. Fight fire with fire. If your balls are landing short, they are going to be swatted away for easy points by this kind of player.
2. Mix up your spins. This may sound obvious but flat shots with hardly any spin on them are going to be punished by power players. By working on your spin game, you’ll be leaving them uncertain of the bounce on every one of your shots. The more question marks you leave your opponent with in regards to your game, the better. Topspin, slice, and flat shots. Get a good combination of all three.
3. Bring ‘em in. Na, don’t arrest them. Simply work on your drop shots! Unsurprisingly, aggressive baseliners often aren’t comfortable in other areas on the court. Bring them in with a drop shot to see how their volleys are. Lob them to check their smashes. Make sure your droppers are on point though, otherwise you’ll be seeing winners crushed by you. And on that note…
4. Always remain vigilant. Baseline players like their rhythm. Because of this, it can be difficult to throw them off when they’re feeling the ball well. If you’re going to approach the net to try to volley away a winner, be careful. If not hit well, that volley will be past you quicker than you can say “game, set and match!”
Notable Aggressive Baseline Tennis Players
Novak Djokovic – The current men’s world number 1 is a BEAST from the back of the court. He’s ridden baseline play up to the very pinnacle of the sport and he shows very little sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Naomi Osaka – Winner of 4 Grand Slam titles so far and with her eyes forever on the lookout for more, Osaka’s power-hitting has seen her rise to the top of the sport at a young age. At only 23 years of age, she’s going to be around for a while yet.
Serve and Volleyer
We are going OLD SCHOOL with this game style.
Back in the days of wooden rackets and dodgy TV sets, the serve and volley was the prominent way to play tennis. A literal one-two punch and the points were won. Entire matches could pass by in this manner, with little variation.
With developing racket and string tech, and with more of a focus on player fitness, the sport of tennis has changed drastically. However, there’s still a place for the serve and volley brand and there are still players out there who choose to play this way.
It’s because of this that you need to know how best to combat it!
How to Beat a Serve and Volleyer
1. Return, return, retuuuuuuurn. Did we make that clear enough? Serve and volleyers can be fairly predictable and so it’s massively important to use that as an advantage. Make sure you have a selection of returns are your disposal to keep them guessing. Short, dipping returns, hard and fast returns, down the line, and cross-court. Master. Them. All. If you do, you’ll create problem volleys.
2. Use that Topsin. Yup, topspin is key here as well. A ball that’s quickly rotating through the air is going to be infinitely more difficult to volley away cleanly than a simple flat ball. Work on ripping some dipping spin so that volleyers will be struggling to pick a ball up that’s careering towards their shoelaces!
3. Keep them away from the net. OK, OK, OK! We know you’re probably rolling your eyes at this one but seriously, we have to mention it. Serve and volleyers aren’t known for their brilliance from the baseline. Keep them pinned back with some deep hitting and work on making them run for balls. Expose any inconsistent groundstrokes and look for that winning variety play.
Notable Serve and Volley Players
Pete Sampras – Yes, we know he’s retired! We did say this was a rare tennis playing style to see on the modern tour, in our defense. Sampras is easily one of the most famous serve and volleyers. He held the record for the most Grand Slams (14) won by a man until a certain man from Switzerland came along and broke it…
Carla Suarez-Navarro – A former top tenner and winner of 2 singles and 3 doubles titles, Saurez-Navarro is a wonderfully unique player amongst the modern women’s game. Only retiring last year, she was a consistent fixture at the top of the rankings for years and drew crowds with her style of play alone.
The Counter Puncher
When studying tennis playing styles, this is the one that’s going to grind you down into the depths of despair if you’re not sure how best to counteract it. Sometimes called a pusher, these players can drive you to the edges of your annoyance limit with their consistency.
They thrive on pace. You blitz what should be a winner and they’re going to send it back to you like a human pinball machine. Bang, bang, bang, time and again, without error. They’ll rarely hit their own winners, choosing instead to take your own and throw it back in your face.
You’re not about to be blown of the court by the weight of shot from this kind of player. No, no. Instead, you may need to be dragged off in a sweaty mess of exhausted mistakes.
It’s a good thing we’re here to help you out!
How to Beat a Counter Puncher
1. You’re going to want to take your time. What we mean by this is that playing a counterpuncher will have you feeling like you want to try and hit winners off every shot. Try to restrain yourself from this and bide your time. Play them at their own consistent game until the moment is right for you to pull the trigger or go for broke! Be patient.
2. Keep ‘em guessing. Yep, that old variety chestnut again. Be prepared to move into the net to volley away winners at a moment’s notice. Take them by surprise by hitting shots back behind them. Do anything possible to get them out of their stride. Go for winners when opportunities are there. You’re not going to beat these players by simply replicating their own game back at them.
3. Forward and back, forward and baaaaack. Let’s try some drop shot and lob combinations. The counterpuncher is going to love running side to side to side to side to side to side… OK, you probably get the point. So what you’re going to do is bring them in. Check out their forward and backward momentum control. You’ll likely find they’re not too comfortable being pushed off their baseline.
Notable Counter Punchers
Andy Murray – Ending a 77-year wait for a home-grown Wimbledon champion, Andy Murray is a Scottish sporting legend. And he did it all by taking everything that power-hitting players could produce and tossing it back to them with some well-placed variety sequences. Absolute hero.
Caroline Wozniacki – Winner of the 2018 Australian Open, Wozniacki would only stick around in the sport of tennis for another two years before retiring. Still, she finished up as a forever Slam champion and former world number 1. And of course, as one of the all-time great counterpunchers.
The All-Court Players
“What?!? I read all of that, only to find out that there’s a type of player that does EVERYTHING well?!?”
Well… yes. Sort of.
These players DO do (hee hee) everything to a decent standard and will often adapt their style to combat whatever their opponent brings at them. If you try to serve and volley them away, they’ll happily camp at the back of the court to pass you. If you stay back on the baseline, they’ll produce variety to throw you off.
So what do you do against these unstoppable menaces?
Because all-courters do a bit of everything, it’s often the case that they don’t actually have that one important power play shot. Watch them closely. You may well see that they’re struggling to produce their own pace on balls.
In the case that they DO have a shot that they rely on above all others, exploit that with variety to see if it breaks down under closer examination.
Give these types of players a strict test and they’ll often falter somewhat.
How to Beat All-Court Players
1. Do what you do and do it well. You follow us with that? If you have a weapon, you have your confidence shot. If you’re better up at the net, make sure to get there quickly. Don’t be scares to fall back on your strengths. Variety is good but winning points by doing what you know works is often better.
2. Do not shy away from being aggressive. We know we’ve spent a lot of this list telling you to mix-up your game with a selection of spins and paces. But if you’re good at hitting power winners, well… get hitting those power winners! All-court players can fold when trying to play against someone with a strong dictation-heavy game style.
3. Looooooooooooop them balls! This might make it sound like we’re telling you to try junkballing… And in a way, we are! You see, moonballing with high, topspin shots will keep your opponent tied back and leave them looking for a way to make an impact. OK, maybe don’t try mooballing ALL the time but high looping forehands and backhands should be incorporated into your game to help offset your opponent’s variety play.
Notable All-Court Players
Roger Federer – We doubt you’ve heard of this guy to be honest but we thought we’d mention him here regardless… The 20 time Slam champ has stunned crowds with his on-court wizardry for over 2 decades now and is still toiling away with the best of them. This man’s a great of the game and is roundly beloved by all.
Serena Williams – We’re really focusing on those lesser-known players on this list today… On a more serious note, this 24 time Slam GOAT has dominated her opponents with power-hitting for her entire career. On top of that, she also has the all-court variety game to help her as well. She has a fearsome combination of precision firepower that has led her to the summit of history-making tennis.
We started out this list by discussing that step into the unknown when it comes to playing opponents for the first time.
We hope we’re finishing it having helped you prepare yourself for that explorative tennis journey. It’s a scary experience, trying to work out all of the different types of tennis player, but with any luck, we’ve been able to lay out the notable areas for you up above.
Try to keep in mind that tennis is a frustratingly difficult sport. At times, you’ll get your tactics wrong for a match you’re trying to win and you’ll feel that sinking sensation in the pit of your stomach telling you that you messed up your pre-game preparation.
And that’s OK. As long as you learn from your mistakes and work to develop in advance of the next time that you play a similar opponent, your loss will not go by you pointlessly.
One final thing to keep in mind is to embrace any new and unique game styles that you get the chance to play against. Players are inventing new tips and tricks all of the time and every match should be used as a chance to properly educate yourself.
Only by doing that can you further burnish and polish your own game to combat as many different styles as you can.
And with that all said, we’ll bid you a farewell and a good luck on your path to Wimbledon superstardom.
We’ll see you out there on the courts!