Playing “Big” Tennis Points

Is there such as thing as a “big point” or “key points” during a tennis match?

Many believe that big points can turn a match because of the psychological effect they have on one or both players. Some believe that big points occur randomly, with two or three points affecting the outcome of the match.

Others believe big points occur more regularly. Some coaches and players consider ad court points as big points. At love-15, the next point can tie the game or put one player up by two points. At 15-30, the next points can again tie the game or give one player double game point. And so on.

Bjorn Borg is said to have believed that the third point of every game was the biggest, because of the swing it could cause in a game. A well-known belief is that the seventh game of a set is the most important, while others believe the winner of the first set is usually at a disadvantage the second set because she relaxes, even for a few games, with her lead.

Statistics, however, bear out the Jimmy Connors mentality that every point is equally important, no matter the score and it’s important to try and win every one.

According to decades of research and thousands of charted matches by the German Tennis Federations, 99 percent of all matches are won by the player with the most total points at the end of the match. In the one percent of matches in which this does not occur, there is usually one set in which the winner was blown out, causing this aberration. In 97 percent of matches, the player who wins the most series of points (of three or more in a row) wins the match.

Consider that at love-40, if the player who is down wins the next point, all he has to do is win one more point to close to within one point of a tie. Another factor in playing every point hard is the pressure it puts on opponents. Players who played against Connors said that because he ran down every ball, no matter how futile, they were never given an opportunity to relax and put away an easy winner. They knew if they mis-hit the ball, Connors would be there, and this mental pressure wore down many of his opponents.

While statistics show that no one point is more important than any other in a tennis match, the reality of the game is that the mental pressure a player attaches to a point or points can be critical.

One of the most effective ways deal with, and even take advantage of the pressure attached to certain points in a match is the pre-point evaluation and subsequent planning developed by top international junior and pro coach, Carlos Goffi. In his book, Tournament Tough! A Guide To Playing Championship Tennis, Goffi correctly points out that when a player is winning handily, she will play more aggressively, while a player who is trailing should play more conservatively the more she is behind.

Goffi’s players learn to evaluate their opponents strengths and weaknesses, as well as how opponents are likely to play certain types of points, in order to anticipate what they can expect from their opponent before each point. Goffi has developed a systematic way for his players to play each point, based on the game score, using an analogy based on the colors of a traffic light.

Goffi considers a two or more point lead (30-0, 40-0 or 40-15) a green light, during which the player with the lead should be aggressive, attempting to end the point in three or fewer shots. With a two- or three-point lead, you can anticipate that your opponent will be playing more conservatively, and that you are more likely to find success with a big serve, big return or attacking second shot. Green light points are opportunities to end the point at the net with a volley.

If the score is even or you are within one point, you are in a yellow light situation, which means that you and your opponent are probably on even terms, mentally. During these points, playing forcing tennis is your best bet.

If you are trailing by two or more points, you can expect your opponent to play more freely and go for bigger shots. Since you have more to lose, your response should be to play higher-percentage tennis and let the opponent make the mistakes.

In certain situations, however, points should be played differently than their normal “color.” For example, at 0-5, love-40, you have nothing to lose by playing all out, so the red light situation is ignored; if you have won the first set and are leading 4-3, 30-15, Goffi recommends playing this point as a green because of the enormous advantage you will have to win the match if you get to 4-3, 40-15.

Players should keep themselves in touch with what the set score and the game score is before each point, and anticipate what their opponent is likely to do. Teach your players to assign a red, yellow or green light to each point before they play it, and as you coach, randomly ask players what color the point they’re playing is. If they can quickly answer, they are mentally focused and into their match. If not, they may be reacting to points, rather than dictating them.

Coach Goffi’s Comments
“I’d like to point out that ‘conservatively’ should not be mistaken as ‘defensively.’ There is NO ROOM FOR DEFENSIVENESS in this game. There are different levels of risk (margin for error) in your AGRESSIVENESS at any LIGHT COLOR situation of a match. The ‘pressure’ you mention that Jimmy puts on opponents by running balls down is the same pressure one puts on the opposition by being constantly aggressive and playing with the correct margins for error in each and every point of the match. THAT’S WHAT BREAKS DOWN THE OPPOSITION DOWN THE STRETCH – WHEN IT COUNTS!

If you’re looking for an excellent book on coaching juniors players, the classic Tournament Tough! A Guide To Playing Championship Tennis is an excellent reference for any level coach.

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