13 Singles Tennis Strategy Tips to Help Your Game!

Updated on March 17, 2019
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Paul has been an enthusiastic amateur tennis player for over 35 years. In 2013, he competed in the USTA tennis nationals in Arizona.

Female player lining up to serve.  Variation is usually the key to successful serving at singles. Placement, spin, and speed should all be  mixed up to keep your opponent guessing where to stand and how to respond.
Female player lining up to serve. Variation is usually the key to successful serving at singles. Placement, spin, and speed should all be mixed up to keep your opponent guessing where to stand and how to respond. | Source

Singles is much more physically and mentally intense than doubles and any weaknesses that you may have in your game will be sought out and exploited by a good opponent.

Everything is up to you in singles, which can be good and bad. Good because you never have to worry about being partnered with a weak doubles player, bad because there is more pressure and no one to cover for any weaknesses that you may have with your game.

My tennis strategy tips have been learned through many years of experience playing competitive singles, initially in England and later here in Florida.

Here are my tips. Of course, there are many more strategies that could also be mentioned, but I have tried to outline the main ones. Feel free to add your own in the comments below, however, all thoughts and ideas are very welcome.

13 Key Tennis Singles Strategies and Tactics

  1. Consistency is Vital
  2. Your Strategy is Usually Influenced by Your Opponent
  3. Usually You Should Keep Hitting at Your Opponent's Backhand
  4. Probe Your Opponent For Weaknesses
  5. Aim for Deep Shots That Land Three or Four Feet of Your Opponent's Baseline
  6. Cross Court Shots are Easier to Play Than Down the Line
  7. Hit Down the Line Shots Sparingly From the Baseline
  8. At the Baseline, Stand Diagonally Opposite to Your Opponent
  9. If You Move in to the Net, Follow the Ball
  10. Move in to the Net When Your Opponent is Under Pressure
  11. Angle Your Shots When at the Net
  12. Mix up Your Serve
  13. You Will Generally Improve More by Working on Your Weaknesses, Than Focusing on Your Strengths

I go into more detail on each strategy below.

1. Consistency is Vital

It is difficult to stress how important it is to keep playing the ball back into your opponent's court. Each time you do that, you make your opponent play another shot and create the chance for a mistake. This may sound obvious to some, but too many players focus on playing killer shots and lose matches through lack of consistency.

2. Your Strategy is Usually Influenced by Your Opponent

Your strategy and tactics for each match are dictated to a large extent by the type of player that you are up against. Two examples of common types of opponent are "hard-hitters" and "pushers".

Hard hitters play powerful shots, but often make mistakes, so you should try to be as consistent as possible with them and rely on them making more mistakes than you.

Pushers generally camp out at the baseline and hit slower shots, often using slice, giving themselves plenty of recovery time and making it difficult to catch them out of position. As well as keeping your game consistent, you need to take time away from them by stepping in and playing volleys, particularly when they are out in one of the corners and seem likely to play a weaker shot. Most players hit weaker shots on their backhand side.

3. Usually You Should Keep Hitting at Your Opponent's Backhand

Most players have some shots that are weaker than others. If your opponent has a relatively strong forehand, but a weak backhand, keep playing to the backhand. They will make more mistakes, and they will get frustrated because they are not being allowed to hit their (favored) forehand.

 Rafael Nadal playing in Melbourne at the Australian Open in 2012.  The Spaniard is widely regarded as the finest clay court player of all time.
Rafael Nadal playing in Melbourne at the Australian Open in 2012. The Spaniard is widely regarded as the finest clay court player of all time. | Source

4. Probe Your Opponent For Weaknesses

Some players don't like high bouncing balls (virtually no one likes a high bouncer on their backhand). Ask questions of your opponent. How do they deal with overheads? How do they cope with spin? Drop shots? Serves to their body or backhand? What you want to do is to manipulate the game, so that you maximize the time that you are utilizing your strongest weapons against your opponent's weakest ones.

5. Aim for Deep Shots That Land Three or Four Feet of Your Opponent's Baseline

You want most of your shots to land deep but stay comfortably inside the court so that you maintain consistency. Deep shots at the very least make it difficult for your opponent to play a winning shot, and can sometimes put them in trouble, especially if it's on their backhand. Pushing your opponent back also gives you opportunities to go into the net and/or play a drop shot. Be generally wary of playing shots that only go half-court, as these can often be easily exploited by a good opponent.

6. Cross Court Shots are Easier to Play Than Down the Line

You have more length of court to aim for, it's easier to hit the ball back in the direction it came from, and the net is lower in the middle, so you are less likely to make mistakes with cross court shots. If your opponent has a better forehand than you, however, you should try to avoid getting into long forehand cross court rallies and try to switch the play to their backhand.

7. Hit Down the Line Shots Sparingly From the Baseline

This applies particularly if they are going to your opponent's stronger side (normally the forehand). The reasoning is that it gives your opponent the opportunity to respond with a (relatively easy) cross court shot, and you will have a lot of running to do to stay in the game! Of course, sometimes you will need to hit down the line to keep your opponent moving, or to win a rally, but remember that hitting a cross-court ball down the line is harder than hitting it back in the direction it came from.

Kim Clijsters at the Australian Open 2012 playing a two-handed backhand.
Kim Clijsters at the Australian Open 2012 playing a two-handed backhand. | Source

8. At the Baseline, Stand Diagonally Opposite to Your Opponent

A lot of players think that they should return to a position in the center of the baseline after playing each shot. It actually depends where your opponent is playing their shot from, however. You should generally be stood diagonally opposite them, the only exception being when they are hitting from a central position. If your opponent is hitting the ball from their right back corner, from your perspective, you should be stood towards your left side, and vice versa.

9. If You Move in to the Net, Follow the Ball

Much of tennis positioning is about angles. Following the ball means moving to the right of center if you hit the ball to your opponent's right-hand corner, or to the left of center for the left corner. Normally you want to position yourself about halfway between the net and the service line.

10. Move in to the Net When Your Opponent is Under Pressure

If your opponent is having trouble with a shot at their baseline (they might be struggling to play a deep high bouncer on their backhand, for example) you should try to move into the net, and attempt to close out the point. You should try to develop an instinct for when your opponent is about to play a weak shot that you will be able to pick off at the net.

11. Angle Your Shots When at the Net

If you are at the net and your opponent is at their baseline, you should play aggressively and generally hit your shots deep to the corners, or play angled shots. Avoid playing shots down the middle. It is quite possible to win from a corner shot with one volley, but if you play down the middle, it will take at least two volleys to win, and you may lose momentum - or worse, you will give them time to put together a winning lob or passing shot.

12. Mix up Your Serve

Even if you have a great serve, your opponent will gradually get used to it and find the optimum place to stand when receiving. Mixing up your serve, by adjusting placement, pace, and spin will keep your opponent guessing and make it harder for them to attack your serve.

13. You Will Generally Improve More by Working on Your Weaknesses, Than Focusing on Your Strengths

Take note of which shots that your opponents make you play most often. These are generally the shots that they think are your weakest ones. You should go away and practice these shots after the match. You will generally improve more by working on your weaknesses, then focusing on your strengths.

Roger Federer about to serve.  The Swiss player is regarded by many as the greatest player of all time.  His versatility as a player is legendary.  His has one of, if not the greatest forehands in tennis.
Roger Federer about to serve. The Swiss player is regarded by many as the greatest player of all time. His versatility as a player is legendary. His has one of, if not the greatest forehands in tennis. | Source

Who is Your Favorite Singles Player of All Time?

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© 2014 Paul Goodman

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