How To Pressure Your Opponent in Tennis

The subject today is how you can start using your game style, the way you enjoy playing tennis to create pressure on your opponents when you’re playing a match, so you can start winning more matche

What we’re gonna cover is adding pressure before we even play the match, and then utilizing that game style, your shot selection, all that, to create pressure during each point, and dictate how the match is going to be played and hopefully play it in your style and not your opponent’s.

So first, what happens before we even get on the court? So I’ve talked about this before in our channel, and I truly believe that for you to be successful in competition, you need to have a very good understanding of who you are as a player (a player identity), but most amateurs have a very limited understanding of their own style, like who they are as a player or even their opponents.

We’ll define ourselves as things like baseliner, serve and volleyer, an aggressive player, an aggressive baseliner, a counter puncher, all those terms – but those terms are very vague. They don’t really bring in any substance. So instead of defining yourself with these vague terms, I want you to try to understand your game from your opponent’s perspective? What would your opponent’s scouting report be on you? What would that be?

Let’s use my game as an example. So if someone’s writing a scouting report on me, I’m sure it would come up as something like “great backhand returns, consistency, able to take the ball early and you know, just good timing, good ball striker.”

And then on the weaknesses side, maybe “forehand breaks down a little bit more, serve is okay. Decent mover, nothing special, but still can come up with good shots from difficult positions on the court.”

So when we reverse engineered this, we can think “what if I was playing myself?What would I try to avoid? Where would I try to avoid hitting? I know what shot would come if I hit a certain ball, right? Like I try to dominate, for example, with my backhand down-the-line, so that’s a shot my opponent won’t want to give me.

That adds a little bit of pressure, but it’s also just one example. We can look at professional tennis players. You have a John Isner, who is going to get on the court and you know what he’s gonna do, right? He’s gonna try to serve really big. He’s gonna end the points really fast, even off the return he’s going for it. And even if he’s not a very consistent guy, he’s adding pressure because he understands his game style. So you’re getting on the court, and you know you have to make a lot of first serves because if you hit second serves, he’s gonna go for it.

Or the complete opposite from him, maybe a guy like Rafa Nadal. He’s incredibly consistent, has a deadly forehand, and is really fast. So he’s, he’s adding pressure in lots of ways around the court.

So yes, you can say, yeah, Rafa’s is a grinder or is a baseliner – or whatever you want to call him. But that, again, that’s too vague. We need more substance. Um, when we’re defining ourselves, when we’re trying to find a player’s identity, I could never add pressure like Rafa. I could never add pressure with a lot of top spin. That’s just not my shot. I play a little bit more through the ball, and my game style will be different.

Think about it: we all kind of know what every player is gonna do on tour. We know what Federer likes to do. We know what Gael likes to do. We know what Novak likes to. We know what all the guys like to do. And obviously they know that as well. They get on a court and they’re prepared to face what that opponent has to throw at them. So they don’t have to be this surprised.

If anything, when people kind of know who you are as a player, you automatically add a little bit of pressure to their game. Maybe it’s just your serve like “ah, man, I’m gonna play John today, who has a great serve” and so they’re feeling a little bit of pressure. Maybe they’re feeling pressure on their own serve at that point or whatever it is, having that understanding is super important.

And the second part is how do we actually add pressure point to point. So again, we try to implement our own game styles when we’re playing. If we’re not doing that, we’re probably losing the match. If we’re just improvising, just kind of playing off the other players’ tactics, you’re probably going to lose.

You want to be playing with your own style and point in and point out you wanna try to implement it. So for example, you know that I like to hit my backhand down the line, right? So you’re playing against me in this situation. So as we’re playing the point, it’s going to be in your head that if you hit a cross court ball or if hit a shot without quality – you’re in trouble. Ultimately, that adds pressure.

All of a sudden, my left side of the court becomes much smaller, since you’re trying to avoid it. And maybe I already know that you’re trying to avoid that. I’m starting to cover the other side. I’m more ready to hit forehands. And all of a sudden you’re thinking “where do I hit?”

So you need to look at your own game and think, “okay, what are a couple things I do really, really well. Maybe when I hit my forehead from shoulder height, I can really crack it. So every time I see it, I’m gonna go big and that’s gonna add some pressure.” So your opponent is gonna try to avoid playing high and all of a sudden, maybe they can’t do it. Maybe they’re overthinking. That’s why professional tennis players, especially at the top, they make silly errors as well because they know what their opponents do really well.

And they’re trying to avoid that. So they have to play with much smaller margins. They have to play great shots sometimes just so their opponent doesn’t hit the shot that they want to hit. That’s why it is easy to say, oh, how did he make that mistake? He could have just gone crosscourt here. But maybe if he had gone cross, he would’ve given the exact shot that their opponent wanted to put it away.

Just think about all the pros, right? Like Rafa with his forehead, you know, can go inside in or inside out. Like if you hit that shot and he’s hitting a forehead there where he runs around the back end, good luck knowing where he’s gonna go. Right? So you’re trying to avoid that at all costs, and then maybe you press it.

You make a mistake? It happens. But it’s important that you understand your game that way. Like what, what are the couple shots that I do really well that can add some pressure, maybe even early on? It could be returns. It could be with your serving volume, it could be whatever. But that way, you are making the court a little bit smaller, right? Your opponents are gonna try to avoid hitting that spot over and over. And if you can make them hit that spot over and over, that’s going to be obviously beneficial to your game and probably lead to more wins. And just to wrap it all together and end this conversation, I think a good way for you to look at this is okay. I, maybe you only do one thing. Well today, maybe it’s only like you’re focusing on you forehead down the line. That is great start.

Try to add little components to your game that will add pressure. You, you most likely won’t be very good at everything. You will be pretty good at some things. You’ll be pretty average at certain things and probably pretty bad, at a couple things as well. You always gotta work on all those things, but you know, if you can add, for example, a few things, it will help a lot. In my situation, for example:well, good ball striking. Good redirecting up the ball. Good backhand, good returns. Those are four things that add pressure to my opponent. I can manage everything else and I’ll be okay in a game.

Maybe your forehead down the line is really good. Maybe you add the component of like, oh, I have a lot of top spin actually. So I play high and heavy. So all of a sudden I have a good, big ball down the line that I can hit it, but I also play high and heavy, which is annoying.

And then I add speed. Maybe I become a bit faster on the court and I can do all thesethings. So I add them, and all of a sudden I have like three different things that put pressure in my opponent. They will know before they play you, they will feel it as they’re playing you. And then, you’re just going to be more successful during matches. I think that’s a good way of actually improving again as a competitor, it’s not about hitting the ball great.

There are plenty of good hitters who are bad players, because they don’t understand this part of the game.

Karue Sell

I’ve had some pretty cool experiences during my tennis career. I’ve reached the semifinals of the Orange Bowl U16 and as a junior, I ranked as high as #33 in the world. I have had wins over Dominic Thiem, Kyle Edmund, and Hugo Dellien (not sure how well I would do against them today, though). One of the coolest things I’ve done while playing was reaching the finals of the NCAA’s with UCLA, so I’m a great supporter of college tennis. I’ve won 3 futures since graduating, and I broke the top 400 on the ATP rankings. And most importantly, I have been to Pete Sampras’ house.

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