You don’t have to be better than your opponent to pressure him.
1. Attack wisely. If you don’t have the most powerful strokes or precise approach shots, don’t worry. The next best thing to putting opponents in a terrible position is to put them in a seemingly good position that’s actually quite difficult. One way to do it is by approaching down the middle. This forces your opponents to create angles on passing shots; if they miss a few, they’ll begin to feel the heat. You can also try short, angled slice approaches, to see if your opponent is good at moving forward. The chip-and charge serve return is a great pressure tool. Few people expect to see it, so the element of surprise should make up for any deficiencies in your stroke.
2. Serve for percentage. If you want to pressure a superior opponent, you must get a high percentage of first serves in. I like to see 65 percent, maybe more. If this means that you have to take something off your first serve, then so be it. Let your opponent feast on too many second serves and you’ll be the one feeling the pressure.
3. Use your feet. There’s no better way to make your opponent feel the heat than to get to every shot. Move early and often. Stay on your toes. Even if a ball is well out of reach, chase after it. Your effort will make your opponent tense, even if you don’t have the better strokes.
4. Think spin, not speed. Pace is a great weapon, but it doesn’t really make your opponent feel pressure or get nervous. If you can just blow someone off the court with lots of pace, by all means do it. If you need to make them stress, though, use more spin. Nothing makes a player more nervous than an opponent who hits with a lot of spin and depth. They’ll know that your shots are going to go in every time, land near the baseline and bounce high. That breeds impatience and nerves. If your opponent starts to overhit on tough shots, you’ll be in great shape.
5. Attitude is everything. Most people think it takes superior skills to put pressure on your opponent. Not true. What you need is the right attitude—ask Brad Gilbert. He antagonized opponents with his persistence and confidence. Be aware of your court attitude. Always look your opponent in the eyes. Maintain good posture and try not to look like you’re breathing hard. This has a great impact on how your opponent responds to you.
Nick Bollettieri has trained many collegiate and professional players, including 10 who reached the world No. 1 ranking.
Photo by AP
Originally published in the April 2011 issue of TENNIS.