It's a Grand Slam semi-final and the stakes are high. Rod Laver Arena is buzzing with crowd anticipation, and the players are walking through the hallway of champions.
An interviewer approaches them and asks, "What are your tactics coming into the match?" It's true that part of their reluctance to answer the question is down to not wanting to share their secrets, or to simply maintain their focus, but there is some truth to the good old saying, "I'm just going to play my game."
Tennis analysts like to glorify what happens in a match, particularly when the stakes are high. Often enough, it does come down to a moment of courage or brilliance, but brilliance isn't the key to success. The sky's not the limit, but it doesn't mean you should give up. Instead, adjust your goals accordingly to your strengths and weaknesses, and structure your playing style to what you're good at. Keep up the same mindset on the big points, and don't get caught up too much with the glorious clutch points from your tennis idols.
Everyone has a weaker side, either a shot that is liable to unforced errors or a side where it's more difficult to hit winners. Don't try to hit as many winners from one side if you can’t back it up with execution. Equally, if you have a big strength, allow yourself the opportunity to use it by being more conservative with your weaknesses. For example, James Blake could have become a better player if he used his speed more wisely to get back into points instead of trying to hit a low percentage winner.
Become knowledgeable in the exact strengths of your game. Know more about yourself beyond simply whether you prefer the backhand or forehand. Figure out which shot wins you the most points. Is it consistency and speed that wins the most points, or the sudden changes of pace, or overall power? The art of winning in tennis is knowing what will reliably win the most points.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga knows that he can achieve an edge over his opponents with his transition game, so he builds his matches around imposing himself with his approach shots and net game, and the constant threat that he will regularly do it.
Using consistency or fitness as a strength can be a tricky one, as it shouldn't be the only thing you base your match tactics on. You still need to think about what other strengths you have that can create more damage. Juan Ignacio Chela uses power to hurt his opponents, while Tommy Robredo uses accuracy combined with favourite patterns of play.
Strategy over Technique
Tennis analysts always mention that a match court is different from a practice court, and they're right. For starters, there's a mental component involved. You can't simply make an error, then focus on perfecting it the next time. Not when the shot costs you points. Therefore, it's not only about adjusting technique. It's not as easy as thinking back to that practice session a while back, and remembering how it worked back then.
If you get caught up too much in obsessing over your opponent targeting your weaker shot all the time, then your opponent has succeeded in the psychological game. Think about what else you could do to change the pattern of play, so that it is more favourable for you. Perhaps start giving less angles or less pace for your opponent to work with. Start aiming your serves in different directions. Keep experimenting with little things, while remembering your strengths.
Take Calculated Risks
Don't change your game completely in hope of producing a once-in-a-lifetime performance. Take calculated risks. Play a slightly better version of your regular game. Despite what commentators tell you, if you haven't served-and-volleyed much before, it's probably not going to suddenly work now. Unless if you notice that your opponent is feeding you many weak replies on the return. Don't try to throw in many slice backhands if it floats too high and without enough spin. If touch shots and dropshots aren't in your repertoire, then don't throw it in there. It's fine to throw in a little bit of variety, as long as you realize that it won't have the same effect as the player that you borrowed the tactic from.
Of course, there are a few exceptions to the rule, examples of players that have shown an amazing versatility in big matches. You'll probably know yourself after all those practice sessions and matches, whether you really have the capability to pull it off. If you want to add some versatility to your game, start first by finetuning it in practice then gradually implementing it in matches.