Tennis Singles Strategies and Tactics

Should high school tennis players play singles like the pros? Probably not, based on the difference in conditioning and power levels. However, high school tennis players should not play like beginners, either.

Sound singles strategy does not rely on “being patient” and outlasting an opponent, or blasting winners from the baseline.

All competitive players should strive to play forcing tennis, which focuses on either: a) forcing errors; or b) creating winner opportunities by: 1) creating short balls which can be attacked from mid-court; or 2) opening the court for clean winners.

The difference in strokes between the pros and high school players dictates that there will be a difference between the pro and high school games. The main difference in game plans is that while the basic strategy might be the same, the tactics used will be different.

Strategy vs. Tactics
What is the difference between a “strategy” and “tactic?”

A strategy is “what” you want to do, while a tactic refers to “how” you’re going to do it.

For example, an all-court player may use the strategy of starting out at the baseline and waiting for or producing short balls he or she can attack. The tactics this player would use would include shot combinations which exploit the geometry of the court, as well as the weaknesses of a typical opponent (e.g., hitting low-bouncing balls, shorter in the court to players with Western grips or two-handed backhands to produce weak replies).

A baseliner might want to use their steadiness or power to force errors and hit winners. The tactics this player would use would revolve around the use of depth and direction to: 1) force errors; 2) open the court for winner opportunities; 3) produce short balls which can be hit for winners.

A net rusher would want to serve and volley, as well as attack on returns. This player would use tactics that included: 1) taking speed off the serve and serving down the middle; 2) going for first-strike opportunities on first serves; 3) attacking second serves to gain the net.

While there are many strategies and tactics used in every singles match, players should focus practice on those which are most appropriate for their style of play. Players should also develop a base of strategies and tactics based on their skill level.

Since most high school players are not aggressive serve and volleyers, it’s probably a good idea to work on your team members’ fundamentals for baseline play. This will help baseliners play more effectively from their position, while all-court players will be able to work on producing the short balls which will allow them to attack.

Following are several, basic strategies and tactics for singles play.

Return of Serve
Top players are ending points sooner, relying on “first-strike points.” These are pre-determined shot combinations off the return of serve or the serve and volley. For example, based on where the serve lands, receivers have pre-selected and practiced the one or two highest-percentage returns.

Based on the server’s next shot after that, the receiver has one or two automatic responses. This is usually enough to end a point, or at least force the short ball or open court that forcing tennis creates. (see Practicing Shot Combinations).

Baseline Rally
Another strategy relies on the use of depth and direction to produce a short ball that a baseliner can attack.

Making an opponent take two or three steps laterally (wide) and one or two into the court (forward) to hit a forehand gives your player an opportunity to hit the next ball deep and crosscourt to the opponent’s backhand. The opponent must now move backward, running five or six steps in the opposite direction to hit their backhand.

Any time you can make your opponent hit a backhand while running backwards, you can expect a weak response. If the opponent does not make an outright error, he or she will probably hit a short ball, which your player can now hit short and crosscourt to the open court they have created.

Passing Shots
Players should rarely, if ever, try to pass an attacking player off the advancing players’ approach shot, if the attacking player has an effective approach shot.

Statistics bear out that even nationally-ranked juniors are twice as effective when they use a two-shot combination to pass (see Passing Shot Drill).

As you can see, players who play with a variety of strategies and tactics, based on their style of play, and practiced beforehand under match-play conditions will be much more successful than players who simply rely on their strokes to respond to opponents.

No matter what specific strategies or tactics your players use, make sure they are familiar with the five priorities of play discussed in the article, Tactical Priorities for High School Tennis Players.

Work with your players to determine what style of singles player they wish to be (baseline, serve-and-volley or all-court) and develop and practice strategies and tactics they will find easy to use during their matches.

Back to Top