5 Minutes with Nick: You Win!
What does it take to win on a tennis court? Here’s what you need to know.
1. Be steady. Most people come to me and say they need a bigger serve or a harder forehand to win matches. Those things would be nice, but they’re not the most important tools on the tennis court. What you need most is consistency. Unforced errors lose matches. Don’t believe me? Pull up the stats of any match, in men’s or women’s tennis, and see for yourself. It’s rare when a player commits more errors and wins the match. Here’s one thing you can do right away to improve your consistency: Don’t go for broke when you’re trapped well behind the baseline. Instead, hit a high ball deep into your opponent’s court. This will give you time to recover, move closer to the baseline and assume a strong ready position.
2. Get in shape. Winning takes patience, and in order to be patient, you have to be in shape. If you’re carrying a few extra pounds or can’t survive long rallies in the heat, you’re going to look for quick points and play low-percentage shots. Mardy Fish is a great example of what I mean. Once he lost weight, he made better decisions on the court because he knew he could execute a smart strategy the entire match without getting tired.
3. Do what you do best. Say you’re a club player with a strong first serve but erratic groundstrokes. It’s 30-40, and you decide to take a little something off your serve to make sure you get a first serve in. No! That’s a bad move. If the serve is your strength, go for a big serve. Maybe even go for two big serves and forget about your second serve. You need to ask yourself, ‘What’s my best chance of winning this point?’ Then use that shot. You would never see Goran Ivanisevic holding back on his serve when the pressure was on. He went for it. You should use your best shot as often as possible, and with conviction.
4. Play, don’t pray. Make things happen on the court, rather than hope that your opponent misses. Unforced errors lose tennis matches, but your opponent isn’t going to make as many errors if you’re just standing around hitting weak shots while hoping he or she will miss. Move the ball side to side, change the height of your shots and make your opponent run as much as possible. Your opponent’s errors will surely follow.
5. Have an attitude. All physical skills being equal, you need a mental edge to win a tennis match. It’s here where you should look to the pros. Rafael Nadal, Lleyton Hewitt, Serena Williams, Monica Seles—the list goes and on. These players never give in. That’s the attitude you need to have on court. Every point is a new one, different from the last. And it can be won.
Nick Bollettieri has trained many collegiate and professional players, including 10 who reached the world No. 1 ranking.
Originally published in the January/February 2011 issue of TENNIS.